help me pick EF lenses
October 18, 2007 9:30 AM   Subscribe

I'm heading to the States in a month, and would like to pick up some Canon EF lenses for my film body (now) and DSLR (later). Interests and budget are after the jump.

I'd like to pick up some EF lenses for the EOS film SLR I have at the moment, and the DSLR I plan on moving to next year (probably a 40D as a self-birthday/grad gift; conceivably a 5D if the 5DMKII drops and I can jump on a cheap one.)

Budget is $1200-1500 Canadian, which is about the same in American at the moment, and which I don't expect to increase in any meaningful way between now and November. I'll be down for the long weekend for my uncle's surprise 70th birthday party (I can't help but think that's not the greatest of ideas)

I took photography in high school, know my way around a darkroom and how rules of composition work, am currently reading through Ansel Adams' The Negative and will move to a DSLR when I get through the stockpile of film or my SLR dies. Anything on my flickr account (see profile) was shot with a Powershot S200, which I am most definitely constrained by.

My photography at the moment is either:
- concerts (amateur stuff ATM, although I do occasionally get photos into local music mags)
- family events (I end up behind the camera for birthdays, weddings, etc)
- not much landscape or architecture
- adventurey photos (I took the ol' K1000 out to the Sasquatch music fest, more to take pictures of the gang I was with versus the musicians)

I'm not interested in wildlife or macro work (hate bugs, allergic to lots of plants) but I like the idea of photojournalism and the elusive notion of capturing an image that is worth a thousand words.

Poking around, I like the 50mm f1.4 ($330) and the 85mm f1.8 ($340), and I should probably get a zoom, too. I like the idea of the 24-105mm f4L IS ($1100) or the 24-70mm F2.8L ($1200) but I don't know if I do need them, and then which one to go with. There's also the 28-105 f3.5-4.5($240) but the reviews make it seem very uneven in terms of QA.
posted by heeeraldo to Shopping (14 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 is an excellent inexpensive alternative to the Canon 24-70 f/2.8. For concerts and family stuff you won't have much light and so need a fast lens. The 50 f/1.4 is a good choice there; or get the 50 f/1.8 if you're on a budget. Great glass, crappy construction.

Don't forget that if your next camera is a 40D, all your lenses will be 1.6x longer thanks to the crop factor. 5D is full frame so crop isn't a factor. But on a 40D, your normal 50mm lens is magically a 80mm telephoto.

I live in the US and buy all my camera stuff from Amazon. Great prices and service. B+H Photo/Video is your best alternative if you want an actual camera store, it's in New York.
posted by Nelson at 9:47 AM on October 18, 2007

I have the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, the image quality is quite good but it's slow to focus compared to my canon lenses. Either 50mm lens is a great choice, as Nelson rightly points out - the 1.8 is poorly built but works very very well, the 1.4 is better all around but 3x the cost.

With your budget you might just want to buy the DSLR body along with a 50mm and 85mm lens on this trip. You can add a zoom as a birthday gift later.
posted by foodgeek at 10:06 AM on October 18, 2007

For concerts I'd think that a longer zoom might do you well. The EF 70-200 f4L is a sweet lens. I think it's about $500US
posted by Good Brain at 10:07 AM on October 18, 2007

EF 70-200 f4L is a sweet lens. I think it's about $500US

This will be too slow of a lens for concert photography. I shoot concerts and use the 50mm f/1.4 (mentioned earlier; the 50mm f/1.8 is a good, less expensive alternative) about 75% of the time. I've also used the 24-70mm f/2.8 (great lens) but it is often too slow for the dark clubs.

Personally, I wouldn't want to buy a bunch of lenses at once because I like to make sure that I'm getting the most out of each lens I'm using already!

Building your collection a little more slowly means that you don't have a brand new lens collecting dust, either, because you like another one better.
posted by kathryn at 11:29 AM on October 18, 2007

Response by poster: kathryn: normally I'd agree with you, but I'm planning on a binge because it saves me stupid money, both because the Canadian dollar is doing well (1.02! w00t!) and lenses are just plain cheaper south of the border.

I went to Broadway Camera's website, and here are CAD prices (and US conversions via for the lenses I mentioned:

50mm f1.4 - $429 CAD ($440 USD)
85mm f1.8 - $459 CAD ($470 USD)
24-105mm f4L IS - $1199 CAD ($1230 USD)
24-70mm F2.8L - $1279 CAD ($1314 USD)
28-105 f3.5-4.5 - $269 CAD ($280 USD)

on top of that, all of them are on sale up here.
posted by heeeraldo at 11:51 AM on October 18, 2007

Response by poster: one more thing: Broadway Camera is at, is a local camera shop, and both reputable and reasonably priced (around here, anyway)
posted by heeeraldo at 11:54 AM on October 18, 2007

I mail order a lot from B&H and can vouch for them. The 24-105 is my most-used lens on my 5D by far, but you may want to go with something faster for indoor stuff. I also have the 50 /1.4 and the 85 /1.2 and they are great for low light stuff.

I haven't been in the market for any new stuff lately so I don't know, but Canon usually offers rebates around this time of year which may help as well.
posted by TedW at 12:04 PM on October 18, 2007

Best answer: It sounds like you're looking for an "investment" lens(es) that you can use to improve your film photos now, and will remain useful when you make the jump into digital later.

First off if you don't have a fast lens yet, you'll definitely want the 50/1.4 or something similar. It's a very versatile lens with film and full frame digital, and a useful portrait lens with a crop body digital.

And here's the rub: without knowing whether you're going crop body or full frame in the future, you should hold off on sinking money into a "normal" zoom. They're very different beasts on crop vs full-frame bodies: the 24-105 is great on full frame but too long on a crop body, where something like the 17-85 makes much more sense. You'll need to match that lens to your DSLR.

For a lens recommendation, I would try out the 135/2 to get a taste of what a real high-end lens can deliver in terms of sharpness, AF speed/accuracy, contrast, color, bokeh, everything. It will improve your concert photos immensely and works well as a portrait lens. If you're just starting out with journalistic photos, it's good to practice with something longish like the 135/2 until you've overcome your fear of shooting strangers. I am absolutely certain that you'll be completely stunned by what you can produce with this lens wide open. And it's equally useful on film, crop, and full frame bodies -- and lies well within your budget.

If you can stretch your budget though, I'd jump into digital NOW and start shooting with a 40D (and either the Canon 17-85 IS or a third party f/2.8 crop-body normal zoom like the Tamron 17-50/2.8). Life is short -- don't wait. Jumping into digital at once allows you to start shooting like crazy and practice everything you've been reading about, now. The extensive manual controls and instant feedback of a DSLR helps you climb that learning curve so much faster. And in the end, time is far more valuable than money.
posted by DaShiv at 12:04 PM on October 18, 2007 [3 favorites]

I don't like zooms -- too slow, too many compromises. My favourite Canon lens is the 100/2. It's the perfect portrait lens, and excellent quality for the price (around $300). I use it primarily for available-light shooting in bars, clubs, and concerts. Shooting Ektachrome 400 pushed 2 stops (so it becomes 1600), f/2 is fast enough to hand-hold much of the time.

My second favourite is the 50/1.4. Fantastic "normal" lens. Every EOS owner should have one.

I don't have any L lenses. If I ever run into any windfall money I plan to get the 24-70 f/2.8L and maybe the 70-200 f/4 L.
posted by phliar at 4:18 PM on October 18, 2007

I don't find the 24-105/4L to be too long on a 1.6 body, but I don't shoot a lot of landscapes. It is an absolutely gorgeous lens, but your body needs to be able to shoot at sufficient ISO to make use of it if you're shooting in low light. It was fine for outdoor use, but I found that using that lens with the Rebel XTi meant that I was often pushing to ISO 800 or 1600, which on that body often resulted in shots that were too noisy to be usable for anything. I thought about selling it, but reconsidered when I moved up to the 40D, as the high ISO noise performance is significantly better. I considered getting the 24-70/2.8 instead, but was swayed by the smaller size. The 24-70 is a monster.

The 50/1.4 is a no-brainer. It is better in every way (sans price) than the 50/1.8. Many of my best shots were taken with this lens.

That 135/2L looks like a real treat, too. I may have to look into one of those.
posted by Caviar at 8:21 PM on October 18, 2007

In addition to the very good previous suggestions, I'd also highly recommend looking at the 28/1.8. It's a highly underrated piece of glass. A good wide lens on a film camera, and just a bit on the wide side of normal on a crop camera (approx 45mm.) The focus is fast is anything. It's at its best from 2.2 upwards, but that's pretty usual.

I've had some beautiful upperbody/fullbody portraits from it... the relationship between the subject and the background can just look amazing.

Mind you, I'm a big fan of primes. The only zooms I get on with are the very high-end ones, which are far beyond my financial reach.

On a bit of a tangent, I tried the 35mm 1.4L a couple of weeks ago. That lens is stunning. Probably the best thing my camera has ever touched. Pity about the price tag.
posted by Magnakai at 5:17 AM on October 19, 2007

Seconding, thirding, fourthing the 50/1.4 as the first lens to get. It's a razor-sharp lens, works beautifully in low light, and the price is right. In a perfect world, it would be the default kit lens with the cheaper Canon bodies.

I have the 24-105 f/4L, and it's my favourite walkaround lens for the outdoors. But if you're doing lots of indoor shooting (sounds like you are), it'll be much too slow.

The problem is, there's really no way to get a fast lens, with zoom, in a reasonable size. The 24-70 f/2.8 might be the best compromise, but it's an enormous chunk of glass. If you can live without a zoom, maybe the 135 f/2 is the way to go?

Might be worth having a look at the FredMiranda reviews, and seeing if anything strikes you. As a last thought... if you've got a friendly camera store nearby, they might be able to rent some lenses to you?
posted by The Shiny Thing at 6:57 AM on October 21, 2007

Response by poster: followup: I ended up buying a lightly used 30D off craigslist for $750 Canadian and I'm going to get the 50 1.4 and the 85 1.8 delivered to my uncle's house before I head down there.

Stay tuned for spring, when I have a better idea of my shooting patterns and go for a zoom!
posted by heeeraldo at 9:45 AM on October 25, 2007

Response by poster: followup followup: I'm liking the primes so far, you can take a look at what I've been up to with the lenses via the flickr link in my profile.
posted by heeeraldo at 5:31 PM on December 1, 2007

« Older Oops I ate 4 hours before blood test for...   |   how may i serve them? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.