A replacement lens for a Canon 20D
July 25, 2007 2:23 AM   Subscribe

What would be a good alternative all purpose lens for a "professional amateur" photographer who has a Canon 20D, currently equipped with only an EFS 18-55 ?

My girlfriend loves making pictures with her Canon 20D. For her birthday I'm considering a new lens. I know the EFS 18-55 doesn't perform that well when fully zoomed in. On our holiday we met someone who used a larger zoom range and an image stabilizer on her Sony Alpha 100 camera. What would be a good lens for my girlfriend to replace the EFS 18-55? Something all purpose, wider zoom range and maybe with an IS? Something up to $1000 I guess. Thanks for any insights!
posted by hz37 to Media & Arts (19 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like you want to take a look at the "Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM" - a very versatile walkaround lens, and produces pretty good results. There's quite a lot of useful helpful people on Flickr, along with a group dedicated to this lens...
posted by Chunder at 2:29 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'd look at either the EF 24-105 f/4L, or the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6. I've used both the 18-55 and the 17-85 a fair amount, and found the 18-55 an "average" lens, while the 17-85 is an exceptional lens (luminous-landscape.com had a review of the 17-85 about 1.5 years ago, but I can't find the link right now). Both are "EF-S," which means they only work with Canon's APS-size digital SLRs (e.g. Rebel, 20/30/40D) and not the professional 5D / 1Ds series.

Strictly speaking the 24-105 will give you a wider zoom range than the 17-85. However, that is mainly at the top end of the range (with the 1.6x magnification due to the 20D sensor, you get an effective 38-168mm). But, having the 17mm (effective 27mm) is often vary useful in shooting interiors, landscapes, etc. The IS is amazing, and together with 1600 and H speed settings, can make candle-lit pictures usably sharp.

Finally (actually, probably "firstly"), what kind of photography will she want to be doing? The 17-85 is right at the edge of what I want to carry around on vacation in terms of weight and size. The 24-105 is heavier and bigger. Some people don't mind, but if you left your camera in the hotel, you'll never get the picture...
posted by printdevil at 2:58 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

You'll be hard pressed to beat the 24-70mm f/2.8. That's my workhorse lens and its been worth every cent - I rely on it to earn my living! The 24-105 IS may be worth looking at too, but I've always felt its difficult to have that f/4 limit. Another choice, with significant image quality comprimises, is the 28-135mm IS.
Smaller, lighter but definitely not L glass.

I would steer clear of any EF-S lenses. Should she ever want to shoot that lens on a film body or upgrade to a full frame body, she'll be stuck with a useless lens.
posted by blaneyphoto at 3:39 AM on July 25, 2007 [2 favorites]

17-40f4L is aparently wonderous.

I've got the sigma 18-50 2.8 and it's pretty good too
posted by Lord_Pall at 4:39 AM on July 25, 2007

The 17-40, 24-105, and 17-85 are all slow. Just because it says "L" doesn't mean it's the right lens for you. I don't recommend a zoom at all.. I'd go with a very fast prime in the 20-30mm range. It all depends on what you shoot, of course, but slow lenses aren't worth anything once the sun goes down. IS doesn't help you get fast action, and EF-S is a limiting factor you don't need.
posted by kcm at 4:58 AM on July 25, 2007

I have a 20D and agree wholeheartedly with printdevil; both the 24-105L and 17-85 EF-S are good choices, depending on how she uses them. I have both and use the 24-105 on a 5D more than any other combo, but the 17-85 has seen a lot of use on my 20D as well. If she plans to move up to something like a 5D in the future, you will not want an EF-S lens, of course.

Although KCM makes a good point regarding fast primes being a unique advantage of DSLR's over most other digital cameras, I think the speed of a lens will become less of a factor as high ISO performance improves; once again any future camera purchases she might make may factor in to your thnking. Having said that, the 50 /1.4 is a nice performer with the 20D and is much cheaper than the 50 /1.2L lens. It you want to get her a really thrifty (but still highly thought of) fast prime to play with in low light situations you could throw in the "nifty fifty" (50 /1.8) along with another lens; it is about 75 dollars and widely considered a great deal. Finally, remember that part of the usefulness of SLRs is that you are not necessarily replacing the kit lens if it has served her well; she can always swap them out as needed.
posted by TedW at 5:38 AM on July 25, 2007

Speaking as an amateur with a Digital Rebel XT and a couple of lenses:

The 17-85 is great, we consistently take great outside pictures using it. The zoom is very useful, and the 17 widest setting is great for getting as much of a landscape or scene in as possible. Indoors we have to use our lovely external flash; with the flash it's fast enough for Ferret photography which needs to be as quick as possible.

We also have a 50mm 1.4 lens. That's great for indoors and portraits, but I wish it were wider for indoor parties etc. I agree that the "Thrifty Fifty" is great, but this is the upgraded model that I found takes sharper pictures.

Last but not least is a 75-300 lens. That's great for bird photography and other wildlife such as at the zoo. You definitely need a monopod or tripod to use it though.
posted by Danaid at 6:00 AM on July 25, 2007

printdevil has good suggestions, but I must echo Danaid and strongly recommend the fixed 50mm 1.4. My 80-200mm is also a decent 'budget' long lens.

I recently got an old Tokina lens to replace my Canon kit shit 18-55 and it's utter crap. Avoid.
posted by chuckdarwin at 6:31 AM on July 25, 2007

If you come in under budget, consider buying a longer zoom such as the EF 75-300mm ($180). Having a wide range of focal lengths to play with is alot of fun while learning photography.
posted by cowbellemoo at 6:45 AM on July 25, 2007

Everyone who buys a DSLR asks this question. Try reading old discussions on this Flickr group for more input. You'll get a lot of answers.

My answer is the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8. Half the weight and a third the price of the Canon 24-70L f/2.8 with amazing picture quality.
posted by Nelson at 7:09 AM on July 25, 2007

Without knowing what she likes to focus on (portraits, landscapes, etc), it's hard to suggest the best option.

Another tentative vote for the Canon 24-70L. The only problem with the 24-105 is that is somewhat slower then the 24-70, which as others have alluded to makes it less usable when lighting isn't perfect. However the 24-105 does have IS, which helps in low light situations to a degree. Of course, going further down the zoom path is the lauded 70-200L 2.8 IS, which is considered the bees knees of Canon zooms.

The 24-70 has enough range to make it usable for a fairly wide range of situations, however it is heavy, and a review suggests it's not all that suitable for travel. As another little quirk, physically the lens reverse extends, so is longest at 24mm.

Clearly both the 24-70 and 24-105 are excellent lens, however as weather-sealed optical excellent L series lens they are going to be heavy (the 24-70 is almost a kilogram in weight, if I remember). Especially on a body that is also somewhat large itself (although again some suggest the 20D helps to balance the weight out), this would become tiring when traveling, and carrying around the camera for extended periods. There is also the increased need for insurance to the lens high value, as well as the increased target it presents towards thieves. It's a trade-off between quality, convenience, and price, among other factors.

I'd strongly recommend taking another road; buy a 50mm if you don't already have one (such as the 1.8, or following the law of diminishing returns, the 1.4). You'll be amazed at it's quality and utility, and I dare say you'll turn to it more then the other lens combined!

A few reading resources:

Roughly speaking:

Generally use: 24-70, 24-105, 50, 28-135 IS
Zoom: 70-200
Wide: 16-35

Also consider perhaps getting a slightly cheaper lens, and perhaps picking up a flash or a tripod--both tools that can be immensely helpful, and are often forgotten about.

I'd love to see her flickr! I'd be happy to clarify any points (I wrote this while packing, so excuse any points that make you go hmmm) if needed.
posted by oxford blue at 7:41 AM on July 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

I recommend the 28-135 IS. I'm a semi-pro student and I have used that lens for everything from headshots to environmental portraits to still lifes. It's relatively cheap, and definitely a big step up in quality from the kit lens.
posted by bradbane at 7:51 AM on July 25, 2007

How do you find it in less than perfect lighting situations? Does the IS help?
posted by oxford blue at 7:58 AM on July 25, 2007

I second the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 that Nelson linked to above. Not too expensive. Awesome bang for the buck. It's on my 20D about 80% of the time.
posted by Bradley at 9:08 AM on July 25, 2007

I third the 28-135 IS. It's big, heavy and not white, but for the price it's a really versatile lens. On a 0.6x sensor it has a surprising amount of reach, and becomes a ~45-200mm on the small-sensor Canons. The IS makes shooting from the hip/car much easier (figure it's worth at least 1 stop, maybe 2 depending on your ISO). If you get this one, get the lens hood AND a filter, the front optics are enormous and perilously easily scratched. Also, it's an extremely intimidating lens, so candids from less than telephoto range are right out.

My next lens is going to be one of the 50mm Canon parts, depending on my budget.
posted by Skorgu at 10:36 AM on July 25, 2007

I'd recommend the 17-50 f/2.8 Tamron - it's equiv. to a 28-80 lens on fullframe and is cheap as hell. I use a tamron 28-75 on a 5D and it's absolutely great.
posted by jedrek at 12:18 PM on July 25, 2007

Think about this, in a "regular" old 35mm film camera, 50mm gives you a natural perspective. In a digital camera 28mm will give you a natural perspective. I would certainly want the ability to shoot without telescopic or macro lense distortions. A 50mm lense will be great for portraits, because the slight telescopic perspective will flatten out features like noses, etc. It makes people look better. However, for an all around lense, I would go for a 28mm. That's just me, because I like prime lenses, which tend to be sharper. Search for "natural perspective" in wikipedia to get a better idea of what I am talking about.
posted by xammerboy at 12:21 PM on July 25, 2007

What would be a good lens for my girlfriend to replace the EFS 18-55?

What does she prefer -- long reach or wide view? Extended zoom range or extended aperture range? (i.e. larger aperture lenses with the ability to shoot under less light.)

The longer lenses suggested here (Tamron 28-75, Canon 28-135 IS, etc) are really too long on the wide end to be an effective "all purpose" lens on a 1.6x crop body like the 20D. On the other hand, many amateurs tend to stand way too far back when shooting photos -- if this is your girlfriend's shooting style, then trading the wide end for more on the tele side could work for her. However, if she uses the wide end of her 18-55 at all, missing that 18-28mm range (29mm-45mm in 35mm equivalent FOV, or the entire heart of the wide-normal range) on a "replacement" lens is going to make the new lens a pretty poor replacement. It does depend a lot upon her shooting style and subject matter though.

IMO the only true all-in-one "replacement" solution for an EF-S 18-55 on the 20D is Canon's EF-S 17-55/2.8 IS. You can crop (and lose resolution) to help compensate if you need more reach (or just GET CLOSER if possible), but there's nothing that you can do to make up for losing the extra field of view when going wide, or regain the light lost by a slow, small-aperture lens. This isn't a knock on the excellent Canon 24-105/4 IS, by the way -- it's my walkaround lens on the 5D on the rare occasions I actually shoot with a walkaround zoom, such as for outdoor weddings -- but wide, fast zooms tend to be more versatile to me than long and slow zooms. That said, some peoples' shooting styles lead them to use 70-200 zooms as their walkabouts, so again it really depends on her shooting style.

Alternately, I'd go with cheaper/lighter (but still surprisingly good) "digital only" fast normal zooms, such as the Sigma 18-50/2.8 or Tamron 17-50/2.8. Couple that with a fast prime like the Sigma 30/1.4 (I don't like linking to Rockwell, but his article on this lens is detailed and mostly unbiased) and she's all set for any lighting condition. But that's my shooting style -- getting close to the subject and going wide and fast -- and it may not be hers at all. Most amateurs shoot in a more leisurely way.

I'd recommend against the 24-70/2.8 on a 20D, by the way. People who swear by them on a crop body are masochists for lugging around that much bulk and weight for the same zoom range as the cheapest point-and-shoots (38mm-112mm equivalent FOV). It makes a bit more sense on a full-frame, but the 24-70 is still neither here nor there to me -- when I need more range/reach I'd use the 24-105/4 IS, and when I need more speed I'd use a prime. It would be hard for me to justify the 24-70/2.8 unless I were a photojournalist who needed that particular combination of specs, especially considering how ungainly the lens handles. That lens made some great pictures, but in the end I still sold mine.

I would steer clear of any EF-S lenses. Should she ever want to shoot that lens on a film body or upgrade to a full frame body, she'll be stuck with a useless lens.

Or she could, you know, just sell it when she upgrades. Lenses hold their value pretty well, even "digital only" lenses. I've used EF-S lenses, then sold them when I upgraded to the 5D, and still kept the "digital only" Sigma 30/1.4 for my DReb XT. It's not a big deal.
posted by DaShiv at 1:36 AM on July 26, 2007 [2 favorites]

I never had anything against Rockwell, nor did I understand why people seemed to dislike him so. But after reading that, I think I can see why people might have problems with him.</small?
posted by oxford blue at 2:29 AM on July 26, 2007

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