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May 5, 2008 6:31 AM   Subscribe

Getting a DSLR today. What lens options should make a good set to take the plunge?

having read all the threads or at least the most recent ones on DSLRs and having handled the various body cameras at a store, I have settled on the Sony A200. Before all the hatin' starts I say that the reasons I decided on this system were:
  • it felt good in my hands
  • worked when chasing a VERY active 14 month old around the store;
  • photo lag was minimal to me;
  • photos looked good of said active child;
  • price point was reasonable for quality and features. Mr. Jadepearl is a Nikon man but he was disappointed in the performance of the D40 while the camera clerk told me that the introductory Canon in this range was not a good competitor on price performance at this level
  • Older Minolta lenses work with it
So, what lens do I need to make a complete kit? The immediate plans are to take photos of kids, plants, landscapes and scenes from a moving vehicle. Did I mention that I travel with two hand puppets that I pose in ludicrous poses at famous locations or break some rules on museum displays and proximity?

So what lens should I go for to cover the widest possible conditions for this photo newbie? I plan to have this camera for years and figure that Sony is seemingly committed to their camera line.
posted by jadepearl to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Before i start:

*Any* SLR is going to have near-zero photo lag.
*Any* SLR is going to produce great-looking photos.
* Older minolta lenses working with it only matters if you have older minolta lenses; if you're looking for general "I can buy cheap old stuff," a Canon or Nikon option'd be better.
* Canon's cheapest option isn't quite as much a price-competitor - but if you're only talking about a hundred bucks or so here, especially if you look at the last-gen Canon XTi (only fair, since the A200 has been replaced by the A300). And you're not buying a camera as much as you're buying into a system - there are ease-of-getting-gear advantages to sticking with Nikon or Canon.

That said, "Felt good in my hands" is the kind of factor that I'm perfectly willing to say trumps all others.

The kit lens is an 18-70mm, which works out to about the same zoom range as a 27-105 on a full-frame system. That's a great range to work in, and while kit lenses get a lot of hate from folks, the fact of the matter is that for newbie purposes, they're just fine optically. The only real limitation you might face is in working indoors, in low-light - a very fast 30mm or so normal lens might be a good idea there. But as long as your lighting is good - which it tends to be outdoors, where your immediate plans seem to be - I'd just stick with the kit lens and have fun.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:52 AM on May 5, 2008

Older Minolta lenses work with it

That for me would be the reason to get it. If you have access to Minolta lenses that work with it, heck, you've just save yourself a lot of money down the road. I have the Nikon D50 and two lenses. Most of the lenses I want cost more than the camera body itself. Not that I regret my purchase, just a lesson learned.

If you've tried others and the Sony seems to be the one, go for it!
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 6:53 AM on May 5, 2008

I don't know any thing about Sony's line of lenses, but I would get a 50mm 1.8 prime lens. The main thing I love about a dslr over a point 'n shoot camera is the low light shots you can get with such a lens. Also the bokeh on such a lens can give your shots a more professional look.
posted by meta87 at 7:01 AM on May 5, 2008

Good advice so far; I would just like to add: don't try to find a lens that will do everything; they don't exist, and the whole point of an interchangeable lens system is to find the best lens for a given job. Indoor, low light: a fast f/1.2-1.4 or so prime; landscapes: wide and slow lens on a tripod; wildlife or sports: a long telephoto. So whatever you get, don't go overboard, just start learning your gear and as you get to where you hit the limitations of a given lens then consider upgrading. A decent tripod is also a good investment (expect to spend a couple hundred; avoid the flimsy ones you see in most chain stores).
posted by TedW at 7:11 AM on May 5, 2008

Response by poster: The sensor for A200 is the same as the A300. The only difference was a tilting live view and a slightly sturdier body. I would be willing to upgrade if the sensors were better. I have been tempted by getting the A100 but it has less frames per second.
posted by jadepearl at 7:19 AM on May 5, 2008

What Lenses do your friends have? You can borrow those.
posted by jeffamaphone at 7:26 AM on May 5, 2008

Response by poster: jeffamaphone: I am a sad sack with no DSLR friends in my local area. So no mooching lenses for me. I do have a neighbor who is a professional wedding photographer but do not know them well enough to have them hand over an expensive lens to try. Now that I am going Sony/Minolta that is moot as well.
posted by jadepearl at 7:31 AM on May 5, 2008

If you plan on doing any long-range zoom shots, make sure your camera or lens has an image stabilization feature. Once you get to a certain zoom range, camera shake makes your awesome photo into a blurry mess. Buying an IS lens is easier than carrying a tripod everywhere you go.

If I had my wishes: Standard kit lens for most shots. IS-stabilized zoom lens (I have one, but not IS, sadly) for things that are far away. Decent macro lens for extreme close-up shots. Those three will get you a lot of mileage. You're getting one with the camera, so you only need to pick up two more. Because the kit lens is usually fairly versatile, you don't need to buy the others right away.
posted by caution live frogs at 7:42 AM on May 5, 2008

Know nothing about Sony camera and lenses, but for a Canon the 50mm f/1.8 is almost mandatory given how cheap it is and how its shallow depth of field gives you the instant gratification of producing 'professional' shots your old P&S never could.
posted by puffmoike at 8:06 AM on May 5, 2008

Response by poster: OK, spoke to the camera clerk and this is what is being thrown in as part of my package:

* A200 body (built in image stabilization);
* 18-70mm f/3.5-5.6
* 75-300mm f/4.5-5.6 Lenses

Cost is $599.
posted by jadepearl at 8:58 AM on May 5, 2008

I would not be in a rush to run out and buy or even borrow additional lenses for w while, especially since you've got a very extensive range of focal lengths covered.

Instead, make sure you have an extra battery or two and plenty of memory cards.

One big thing which separates really good photographers from everybody else is that they tend to know their hardware inside and out in terms of features and capabilities. I can't begin to guess the percentage of DSLR owners who literally never fully learn the potential of the camera in their hands; many are too busy adding bits and pieces to the kit.

Once you get a couple of thousand frames under your belt you'll have a better idea of what if any additional lenses might be of use to you.

One of the things you'll probably want to do at some point to increase your percentage of keeper photographs is to shoot in the camera's raw file format. There are several different raw processing applications out there, and each differs in workflow, output file quality, user interface, and speed of operation. Nearly all have free trial versions available and all have substantial learning curves to reap the best results from them.
posted by imjustsaying at 9:32 AM on May 5, 2008

Best answer: I am a Canon shooter, and unfamiliar with the Sony/K-M system. has an overview and delves pretty deeply into the system, listing lenses with reviews and hosting forums full of alpha-mount users. Here's a bang-for-buck discussion, which you may find useful.

I think you might want to spend some time with the included lenses to figure out what focal lengths you shoot at most often before spending more money on lenses that you may find yourself not using a whole lot.

One actual recommendation: get a fast normal prime lens; it'll allow you to get pictures in really low light, can throw the background out of focus for portraits and general artistic effect and has been for me the single best way to grow as a photographer.
posted by heeeraldo at 10:33 AM on May 5, 2008

Older Minolta lenses work with it
Does this imply that you already have older Minolta lenses? If so, list them out here and we can help you identify gaps in your focal length coverage and/or aperture speeds.
posted by junesix at 11:23 AM on May 5, 2008

I'm going to pile on with the eleventy-nine people above who're all recommending you get a cheap fast prime lens. Apart from letting you do groovy short-depth-of-field portraiture, such a lens really is very helpful for low-light photography, even in this crazy ultramodern day of low-noise ISO-1600 DSLRs.

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be possible, if you go with the A200. There seems to be no Sony/Minolta equivalent to the famous cheap plastic Canon 50mm f/1.8.

There's a Sigma 28mm f/1.8 that'll get you a nice "normal" field of view when used on a small-sensor consumer DSLR like the A200, but it's $US259 even from the cheap stores. Sony themselves offer a 50mm and a 35mm f/1.4, which are I'm sure very nice but which are also $US325 and $US1350, respectively.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, in contrast, is eighty-five bucks.

Old manual Minolta lenses are very cheap, but I think they won't work on the A200 - it's only compatible with Minolta A-mount autofocus lenses.

(You can get adapters that'll let you put various old manual lenses on modern DSLRs, but using any of them is probably a bit more of a photographic challenge than you're looking for right now.)
posted by dansdata at 11:26 AM on May 5, 2008 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately, this does not seem to be possible, if you go with the A200. There seems to be no Sony/Minolta equivalent to the famous cheap plastic Canon 50mm f/1.8.

There's a Sigma 28mm f/1.8 that'll get you a nice "normal" field of view when used on a small-sensor consumer DSLR like the A200, but it's $US259 even from the cheap stores. Sony themselves offer a 50mm and a 35mm f/1.4, which are I'm sure very nice but which are also $US325 and $US1350, respectively.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, in contrast, is eighty-five bucks.

there's the discontinued but readily available Minolta 50mm f/1.7 (quick ebay search) which is pretty much the equivalent of Canon's "plastic fantastic".

For reference, the Canon 50/1.4 and 35/1.4 are pretty much the same price as their Sony counterparts but are easier to find used for about a 20% savings over new prices (granted, the photographer communities I spend time in are largely Canon/Nikon users).

Anyway: look at the whole system and not just the camera; in the long run it's where you'll spend the least money.
posted by heeeraldo at 12:48 PM on May 5, 2008

damnit I should preread better:

1) Canon's 50mm f/1.8 is the "plastic fantastic" or "nifty fifty" - it's the cheapest lens but has great image quality.

2) The camera body is where you'll spend the least money. My phrasing made that ambiguous.
posted by heeeraldo at 12:50 PM on May 5, 2008

Response by poster: Thank you all for the great advice. I want to best answer everyone.

In answer to Junesix: I do not own any lenses. The fact that Sony could use legacy Minolta lenses made it a viable option against the Canon and Nikon which has a good market of lenses from various manufacturers and previous owners. I understood that once you go with a camera it is a system of lenses that you retain with changes to the camera body. Since most of the money goes to lenses I wanted to choose wisely and not be penny wise pound foolish about it.

Any further information would be great and experiences so that other people can have this lovely resource.
posted by jadepearl at 7:03 AM on May 6, 2008

It's actually not hugely difficult to change right over from one SLR system to another, even if you've got a lens collection, because the second-hand market for all sorts of lenses is vibrant. Which is to say, if you want to BUY second-hand recent-model non-awful lenses, you can pretty much forget about ever paying less than half of the new price. Two-thirds or more is more like it.

(It has been observed that this is more than slightly driven by Boys With Toys and their Long-Suffering Wives. When the Significant Other must be appeased, you sell your big white stabilised zoom, on the understanding that another similar gentleman will be buying it and may actually sell it back to you before the year is out...)

The lenses that're in least demand in the used market, though, are the lower-end ones that are commonly bundled, one way or another, with a camera. This category includes the much-maligned "kit lenses" that aren't sold separately new - as Tomorrowful says, these days those lenses really aren't actually that bad - though only ten years ago Canon would still sell you a kit zoom that could only manage f/5.6 wide open, and therefore was almost useless for indoor photography without flash with any normal film. But this category also includes stuff like Canon's assorted 75-300mm and 100-300mm zooms, the non-stabilised versions of which can be had for excellent prices second hand.

If you're selling these sorts of entry-level lenses for any camera system then you won't get much for them, but you can get similar lenses for another system for about same amount of money and will thus work out even, provided of course that you value your time at $0 per hour. If you enjoy eBay dickering and bartering, you may of course value your time doing it at a NEGATIVE amount per hour!

What I'm saying is, if you go with the A200, but decide 18 months from now that the photos you're taking would benefit from lens types that'd cost you substantially less if you bought them for Nikon or Canon or whatever, you will be able to unload your A200 kit for a decent price. People on eBay often, even, pay large chunks of the new price for DSLR backs, despite the fact that this is perfectly crazy.
posted by dansdata at 3:44 PM on May 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

The two lenses you are being offered are both going to work poorly in low-light, and are probably crap kit lens. I think your best bet is to get a 28mm or 35mm lens. On a crop body camera you end up with what will look like a 50mm lens on a film camera. People are always going on about getting a "nifty-fifty" for their Canon XTs, but really they end up being medium telephoto lenses that aren't that versatile if you are indoors.

Also, if your husband has a Nikon SLR already, it might be worth saving up to get a D80? As it stands, Nikon and Canon are by far the two most popular SLR brands right now. It is very easy to find used lenses, and it is very easy to sell used lenses. I'm really not sure you'll have the same luck with a Sony camera.
posted by chunking express at 7:07 PM on May 6, 2008

Response by poster: Well, Mr. Jadepearl is a point-and-shoot Nikon man so I am the one taking the DSLR plunge. It would have been a nice transition from a POS to a DSLR but the demo proved otherwise. So far taking everyone's advice and the kid photos have never looked better. Thanks to everyone.
posted by jadepearl at 6:28 AM on July 2, 2008

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