Which lenses and accessories for a Canon Rebel XTi?
April 7, 2007 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Help me pick which lenses and accessores to buy with a Canon 400D (Rebel XTi) for urban travel / shooting.

I'm about to buy a 400D (I've been eyeing the Canon dSLRs for a while) and would appreciate some opinions on the most useful combination of lenses and accessories for the near future.

I'll be in DC and London taking a combination of outdoor shots (monuments, buildings, people on the street, etc.) and inside shots (primarily in museums), though I suspect most of the shooting will be outdoor. I'd like to stick to one good walk-about lens or maybe two lenses to cover a variety of needs for the immediate future.

I've narrowed it down to the following four options, all roughly within a $1600 budget. Basically, I want to get the most bang for my buck for this upcoming trip and still have a decent upgrade path in the future (which is why I'm not very interested in the kit lens). I'm also having trouble prioritizing between glass and accessories.

Basics (400D body, bag, 2 CF cards) +

Option 1: battery, battery grip, 17-40L
Option 2: battery, battery grip, 17-85, 50/1.8
Option 3: battery, battery grip, Speedlite, 50/1.4
Option 4: 17-85, 50/1.4

Any comments on the above options (or is there something super obvious that I haven't considered?) Thanks!
posted by ahughey to Shopping (18 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I think you could skip the battery grip, at least for the time being. Better to spend the cash on lenses. I know this is only a partial answer, but you may want to reshuffle/redefine options 1-3 accordingly.
posted by rbs at 10:11 AM on April 7, 2007

Within your budget, option two will allow you to cover the most ground. You may reconsider whether you need the grip or not. And although the 50 1.8 is a fantastic bargain, the 50mm f/1.4 is WAY more well constructed and has a much larger, easier to use focusing ring. And if you do decide on a flash, I'd consider the Sigma Super 500 - its far less expensive than the comparable Canon flash and just as good (I own 3 of them).
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:13 AM on April 7, 2007

Best answer: The battery grip is incredibly useful *if you like the feel* - the battery life on one battery is good enough for most people, especially with the $15 3rd party batteries being great quality meaning you can have a few extra to swap, but for me, the camera doesn't feel right without the grip. It really makes vertical shooting and all-around handling better.

Anyway, as for lenses, I'd skip the 17-40mm since it's too much of a compromise. Yes, it has a red ring, but as you see by the cost you're paying more for that than the usual features of the L series. It's only f4 constant, which is "ok", but inside shooting suffers and that's too much money to spend for mediocre all-around ability. You'd be better off with the 24-135mm IS lens.

I don't like zooms, though, so I recommend the 50mm f1.8 (the $220 difference isn't worth the f1.4) and a Sigma 20mm f1.8, and then perhaps something in the 100-200mm range of your choice. It really depends on what you like shooting: if you're a portrait person, a 70-200mm zoom may be a great lens for you, while a street shooter is really mostly going to want a fast fixed length inconspicuous wide-angle. You seem to have an idea of this, so, plan accordingly.

I suppose my advice is to buy one lens and one lens only, perhaps the 50mm, and see what you dislike and like about it, then purchase another to fit what's missing. Repeat as necessary. People don't seem to get it right the first time around when following the natural instinct to purchase a menagerie of lenses right off the bat.

(I still don't understand why "d" in "dSLR" has to be lowercase..)
posted by kcm at 10:17 AM on April 7, 2007 [1 favorite]

Sorry, the 28-135mm IS.. and I do agree about Canon flashes, although, for the money, they are very very nice (I use a 580EX+ST-E2, though if I had to pay full price for both I'd think twice).

Buy a few very nice primes. You'll likely find you miss zoom less than you'd think and that you don't really need to switch lenses all that often, unless you're on the NFL sidelines, in which case you just buy more bodies to put each lens on. :)
posted by kcm at 10:21 AM on April 7, 2007

Look at the high end Sigma and Tamron lenses f2.8 lenses in the 17-50mm range. They should be $100+ cheaper than that Canon L glass, and faster. Plus, I think the image quality on my Tamron 17-50 f2.8 compares well with my one piece of canon L glass (the 70-200 f4L). A faster lens is going to be useful indoors, and it will give you a greater range of depth of field to work with too.

A nice flash is great to have, but it seems to me that a lot of museums frown on flash photography.
posted by Good Brain at 10:23 AM on April 7, 2007

I have big hands and my Rebel XTi fits just fine in them, so I'll second the "Reconsider the need for a battery grip" unless you think you'll be away from power for 3 days at a time.

First let me say "Yay! You included a 50 in most combinations," but... if you're doing indoor/outdoor shooing in a travel context, you may just want the 17-40. Its hotspot is almost unnoticeable indoors and its wide will do you great good in cramped quarters. Unless you're doing nature photography, a strong zoom doesn't buy you much and carrying around only one lens when traveling saves a headache.

If you expect to take more interiors or portrait shots then the Speedlite (or flash of your choice)+50/1.4 would be good to have on hand with full expectation you won't use it on-the-go for wides. It's a very nice lens though.

So I guess I'm saying either Option 1 without the grip or Option 4 with a spare battery.

Also, be advised that certain DC museums are quite picky about photography -- you may be taking a lot fewer indoor shots than you think.

On preview, looks like my expectations are more middle-of-the-road than others'. I love my prime, but indoors there isn't always enough room where I can eschew a wide, so the compromise makes sense to me.
posted by abulafa at 10:32 AM on April 7, 2007

Best answer: It would put it outside of your price range a little bit, but my favorite new lens right now is my Canon 10-22 wide angle. Particularly, if you're going to be shooting buildings or if you EVER think you might do some landscapes, you want this lens, and it's worth seeing if you can dig up some extra money for it from somewhere.

The first lens I bought was the Canon 50 1.4. It's a great portrait lens, but I find that I only very rarely actually use it.

My walking around lens is a Canon 28-200. Obviously, there are better lenses out there, and if you're somebody who wants to change lenses a lot and stick to primes you might be able to do better than that, but I find that this lens is very serviceable in almost all shooting conditions. Particularly since you say you're going to be doing a combination of people and buildings outside this is a lens that is worth considering.

I bought the battery grip because all the reviews I read said that they didn't know their camera was missing it until they had it and that now it feels so much better to them. I for one hate it. I never use it. It makes the camera a lot bulkier. I know that a lot of people talk about how small the XTi is as a downside, but I like the smaller form factor myself, and the battery grip makes the camera feel uncomfortably bulky to me.
posted by willnot at 10:33 AM on April 7, 2007

The 17-85 lens is decent; it's sort of a more expensive, more featured kit lens. If you're shooting outside primarily, you can probably stop it down to f/8 or f/11 for better image quality and not have a problem with shutter speed. Plus, it has IS, so that could come in handy on those marginal days or before the sun is up enough.

A flash is handy to have, but if you're mostly shooting outside, in daylight, you probably only really need it for fill, so the on-camera flash would probably meet that need.

As Good Brain mentions, museums tend to have policies against flash photography, so I wouldn't sink too much into a flash at this point. I'd add a fast prime for indoor shooting. The 50mm f/1.8 is cheap, the 50mm f/1.4 feels much nicer, but I think that the 50mm focal length (effectively about 85mm on the 400D or other APS-C size sensor cameras1) might be too long. You might want to look at either the Canon 28mm f/2.8 (around $160/$170; 45mm equiv.) or the 35mm f/2.0 ($220/$230; 56mm equiv.)

As for the battery grip, there are arguments for and against it. In its favor, since the 400D is a small camera, the battery grip can make it a more comfortable fit for people with larger hands. It also helps to balance larger lenses, but it does add to the weight of the camera. If, on the other hand, the camera fits your hands well without the grip, you might want to just carry a spare battery or two, since that'll be much lighter than adding the grip.

1 Since the APS-C sensor is smaller than a frame of 35mm film, the image is effectively cropped; if you used both a film (or full-frame digital) SLR and a 400D to take a photo of the same thing, from the same distance, with the same lens, the 400D shot would look like it was taken with a longer lens. The rule for figuring out equivalent length is to multiply the 35mm-size focal length (the one you'll almost always see listed) by 1.6.
posted by Godbert at 10:38 AM on April 7, 2007

when I bought my Canon 350D dSLR over two years ago, I also eschewed the kit lens, and I bought the 50mm f/1.4 and the 70-200 f/4 instead.

For the last 18 months, I have been using a 16-35 f/2.8 as a walkabout, and I shoot mostly outdoors (wilderness scenes and urban settings).

My notes: I use the 16-35 about 90% to 95% of the time. It's wide enough and fast enough for most situations (inside churches, inside other types of buildings, and for outdoors scenes) It covers my photographic needs indoors and out. I hardly use my 50mm because - with the crop factor built into the sensor - it's a 80mm equivalent. I do take some portraits, but not that much. Given my camera and given the (ahem) focus of my photographic passion, it's actually a lens purchase that I regret.

My 70-200 is excellent for outdoors use, and I do shoot mountain or ocean detail with it. The f/4 is fine on that lens - I don't need anything faster than that for an outdoors lens.

Battery life: I can easily take 300 - 400 shots with one battery. The grip, imho, should be a considered purchase - use your 400 for a few months before you go for a grip.

Speedlite - most museums forbid the use of flash, so I hope you are not considering purchasing a flash for that purpose. If you wish to take portraits etc in candid situations (and not inside museums) then a flash may be a good idea, but again, consider this only after using your new camera for a few months: you can do a lot already by only using the built-in flash.

In summary, consider the 16-35, it's VERY good glass, and will cover most of your needs. It's a bit spendy but you won't regret it.
posted by seawallrunner at 10:41 AM on April 7, 2007

Just pitching in to recommend the current Tamron mid-range zooms. The 17-50mm and 28-75mm have both got rave reviews all over. I have the 28-75 and have been well impressed. As good optically as many more expensive lenses and 2.8 over the whole range is a bigger benefit than might be first realized. Even handles quite nicely in manual focus.
posted by normy at 11:28 AM on April 7, 2007

I have the 350D, and have used the 28-135 as my main lens for a while. I like it quite a bit, and the IS is a great feature to get a little bit extra use out of it. However, on the 1.6 crop sensor, even 28mm seemed a bit constraining (i.e., 45mm equivalent). 99% of the time I wanted wider, and I never found myself wanting longer. I recently picked up the 17-40 f.4L, and am really loving it. You might want to check out some of the reviews at www.fredmiranda.com.
I would skip the grip/flash and use the money on lenses or cards. Also, have you thought about checking craigslist for cheap used lenses to make your $1600 go further?
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:35 PM on April 7, 2007

As a trial, I spent one holiday using nothing but an 85mm f/1.2L. It was a fantastic lens, and I got some of my favourite pics with it. It's pricey as hell, though, and probably not a starter lens. Really though, the forced length helps make tight shots that can be much harder to do with a wide.

How about two primes? An 85 f/1.8 and the widest you can afford? Also, just get the 50 f/1.8 on principle. It's buttons on ebay, and when you're going out at night and don't want to take the whole kit it's compact and toteable.
posted by bonaldi at 1:41 PM on April 7, 2007

Response by poster: Thank you all for the fast responses! I suppose I was thinking ahead too much with the battery grip and flash. I plan to pick them up later once I've gotten a better feel for my needs.

Although the 85/1.8 is a good suggestion, I'm not interested in portraits so I'd feel like I wouldn't be putting the lens to good use. Some other very good lenses have been suggested, but completely blow away my budget, even used. I'd also like to stick to Canon lenses for simplicty's sake.

So I guess this boils down to a few good zooms vs. a good prime. For now, I'd like to stick with one primary lens as several of you have suggested (plus the very affordable 50/1.8). But which one? Here are my revised options:

Basics (400D body, bag, 2 CF cards, spare battery, 50/1.8) +

Option 1: EF-S 10-22mm [+] amazing wide angles [-] limited zoom, price
Amazon | Fred Miranda

Option 2: 17-40mm L [+] respectable zoom, quality lens [-] price
Amazon | Fred Miranda

Option 3: 28-135mm IS [+] good zoom range [-] soft, limited for wide angle
Amazon | Fred Miranda

Option 4: 28mm/1.8 [+] does one thing and does it fairly well [-] only does one thing
Amazon | Fred Miranda

So, which of these options would work well for lots of outdoor urban shooting (monuments, buildings, landscapes, street shots) and some limited indoor shootings (museums). To throw another wrinkle in things, I'm sure I'd like to take some night shots in the city as well....
posted by ahughey at 4:33 PM on April 7, 2007

What sort of "night shots" are you talking about? Simply shooting the same as you would during the day, but at night? Or taking advantage of the night?(self link) A tripod and long exposures (at iso100 and f/8 +) will help you take advantage of what the night offers in the city - with any of those lens choices. In the city you'll want to go wide though, probably. So maybe Option 2?
posted by blaneyphoto at 4:57 PM on April 7, 2007

This is NOT a Canon lens, it's a Nikon, but the review of this lens from a respected source might give you some insight into what you are looking for.
posted by The Deej at 5:50 PM on April 7, 2007

lthough the 85/1.8 is a good suggestion, I'm not interested in portraits so I'd feel like I wouldn't be putting the lens to good use.
This is what I'm saying, though: they're great for more than just portraits. The thing with wides is that unless you know what you're doing you can end up with really empty pictures. By forcing you to be really tight, a long lens can isolate details and give you pictures with impact.

You did say that you wanted "people on the street", and it's perfect for that -- you can get good detail on folks without leaving your comfort zone.
posted by bonaldi at 5:59 AM on April 8, 2007

For my EOS 350D, I have a Sigma 18-200/3.5-6.3 which does a very good job. I miss the IS and it is a bit noisy, but the pictures are very good. I also always carry my Canon 50/1.8 for low light situations, and I may go for the 1.4 when I find the money for it, even though it is a very sweet lens. If you don't need the grip for being a grip, then there probably is little need to get it. A flash can be nice, but is heavy to carry around, so I only carry mine, if I am sure that I will use it.
posted by KimG at 9:00 AM on April 8, 2007

Given the choices, I would say drop the 50 f/1.8 for now, and go for Option 1 AND Option 3.

You are then covering the 10 - 22 and 28 - 135mm spectrum. A nice range for indoors and outdoors, with a bit of a telephoto capability as well. |A great setup for your new camera, and for your entry into the dSLR world.

Any other option - by itself - is limiting you to either ultrawide (10-22) or middle-ground (28-135)

I know that - price wise - dropping the 50 does not equate to grabbing either the 10-22 or the 28-135.

But consider this, you might not be using that 50mm all that much if (for example) you have the 28-135 already mounted on your camera.

I recommend that, once you buy the camera body, you borrow the 50mm. See for yourself what this lens does, how it does it, and in what situation (that it's 1.8 and not a 1.4 is immaterial at this point). Then put it on your wish list - it's quick and easy to budget for, and if you know you like this lens, then you will buy it that much sooner.

I find it's a limiting lens, esp given the camera's crop factor of 1.6 If you buy a 50mm, it's like buying a 80mm lens on a full-frame camera (like a Canon 5D for example). Its applications are limited, esp when you already have the other lenses that you listed in your options.

And I urge you again to consider the much faster and sharper 16 - 35mm f/2.8 Given that I already advised putting things on a wish-list, won't you consider putting this lens on that list as well (ahead of the 50mm). Buy it used, even.

You won't be disappointed. Good luck with your purchases ahughey, the research into what to buy, why, and when is almost half the fun.
posted by seawallrunner at 5:27 PM on April 8, 2007

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