BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Mike W. Stoker

Buying Lenses

I'm a newbe to photography and purchased a Rebel 2000 with a 28/80 kit. (First mistake - should have just got the body.) I'm looking to spend $300.00 on a new lens or less and not sure what to get? I like to take close up pics of flowers but also like to take landscape pics. Any ideas? Is there anything wrong with going to an aftermarket lens (Sigmas)? Any help with this would be great...

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9/18/2002 4:00:50 PM

Tom Darmody   The best lens for a new photographer is a 50mm f/1.8 prime. If you're serious about learning the craft this is the lens you want. You can get a brand new Canon one for about $70. It's sharp, fast, and will help you build your skills. It's great for close ups, landscapes, and low light. Save the remaining $230, and when you master the the 50mm get a 28mm wide angle or a 105mm portrait lens. Stay away from the "deals" on super-zooms (28-300 & 70-300). They are junk -- slow, poor image quality, and horrible AF at the long end of the zoom. If you absoloutly insist on a zoom save your money and get a fast 80-200.

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9/18/2002 5:19:25 PM

Mike W. Stoker   Thanks Tom!!! What are your thoughts on the 50mm 2.5 macro?

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9/18/2002 7:37:31 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   I see recommendations like Tom's all the time. I think using a prime lens like a 50mm is something every photographer should do. It forces you to see differently and compose differently than a zoom would. If money were not an object, however, I would suggest you look at the Canon 28-70 f2.8 L series lens. It's a great lens with some macro capabilities. But with a budget of $300 it's out of your range. That being the case, I second Tom's suggestion about the 50mm f1.8. Ironic huh? ;-)))

As for the 50mm f2.5 macro, I would say stick with the standard 50mm. A standard 50mm has very close focussing already and you can always use an extension tube if you want to get closer. Also, the standard is faster and you will find owning at least one fast lens (f1.8 or faster) to be very nice. Beyond that, my personal opinion is that a 50mm is just too short to make a comfortable macro lens. You end up having to work far too close to your subject. Whereas with a 105mm macro you have a much more comfortable working distance.

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9/19/2002 1:36:10 AM

Tom Darmody   [quote]What are your thoughts on the 50mm 2.5 macro??? [/quote]

It's a good lens, a 1:2 macro (there are no "bad" PRIME macro lenses). But--the 50mm 1.8 would still be a much better lens to learn with. Like Jeff wrote, you can still do macro with the 1.8 (close up filters, extension tubes, reverse adapter, or bellows).

The vast majority of macro photography is poorly composed, poorly lit, and lack any kind of originality or creativitiy.

Try to build a solid foundation, by mastering the basics of photography--it will be something you'll allways use.

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9/19/2002 11:57:38 AM

Tony Peckman   Mike,
I also see many responses like Tom's calling zooms "junk". As a self proclaimed newbie, you will hardly notice a lens like a Tamron 70-300 as being "junk". I have the Tamron 70-300 on my Pentax and just bought five of them for my daughter's high school yearbook staff. I love it and the kids are loving them too.
I did find that the equivalent size Sigma lens was a tad stiff in the zoom ring, but that was my experience.
BUT, I also learned for years with only a 50mm 1.4 lens on my first Minolta and it was great. I still have that lens on my stand-by manual XG-M.
Good luck.

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9/20/2002 3:10:00 AM

John P. Sandstedt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/8/2001
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  Mike's heretical response parallels my own experiences, except I have been using the original Tamron 28-200mm almost since it's introduction. Recent shots of the World Trade Center complex sans the Towers, taken to complete a short photo essay, were magnificent in terms of sharpness. My macro-shots of flowers are wonderful although not necessary 1:1. But, you can't have everything.

Many folks continue to extol the virtues of the camera mabufacturer's equipment. They're probably correct, but - in reality - the average guy may not have the money to pay for these lenses. Analysis of lens tests by Pop Photo and other magazines tend to show that aftermarket lenses perform well when images are enlarged to 8" X 10" and even 11" X 14." Since most of rarely, if even, enlarge beyond these sizes, what's the harm? And, now, with everyone flocking to scan 4" X 6" prints and/or slides in order to produce inkjet prints, the issues seems to be more dependent on scanner and printer capabilities.

So, buy that aftermarket lens so that you'll have the fun you want.

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9/24/2002 9:49:47 AM

Jeff S. Kennedy   Pop Photo hasn't met a lens yet they didn't like. Who do you think pays for all the advertising in their rag? ;-))) Whether you shoot slides or scan prints, if you enlarge you still need sharpness. But it is true, what is sharp and good for the average joe may not be acceptable for the working pro.

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9/24/2002 11:47:00 AM

John P. Sandstedt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/8/2001
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  You're correct - in that Pop Photo does report on equipment - and, that those reviews tend to be positive. However, after I bought my Tamron, there was an article in Outdoor Photographer extolling the use of only two (2) for essentially all work [e.g. Nature Photography.] Specifically, these were the Tamron 28-20mm and the 200-400 mm zooms. {Interestingly, I own them both!]

Several of own photos taken with the 280200 mm, recently assessed [critiqued] by an ASPA judge, were acknowledged for their sharpness. However, he also noted that, as a used equipment salesperson, he's has a number of second and third generation 28-200 mm lens that have been "returned." It's possible, as was the case with early Vivitar Series I zooms, that the originals were not duplicated in second and third generation units, some of which are massaged for cost, rather than performance reasons.

Again, it I had all kinds of money, I'd only buy Canon [to match my two EOS's]. But, I'd rather have the convenience and performance of these lenses in the zoom range at a cost I can afford. I can then use available dollars for film, processing, and travel costs. Since I'm not a working pro, this is O.K. for the moment, and I'll the same is true for 90% of amateur/advanced amateur shooters.

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9/24/2002 12:42:01 PM

Tom Darmody   Getting way off topic but:

Pop Photo and Outdoor Photog are owned and published by the same company. Neither have any credibility when it comes to equipment reviews. By their own admission they test only one sample of the equipment (that is usually supplied by the manufacture) and inconsistant testing processes. What would happen if a car magazine did this? They would be run out of business. So why do we let these photo mags get away with it?

Does anybody remember the infamous Pop Photo Sigma 170-500mm review? The authour actually claimed that images taken with Sigma 170-500 handheld from a canoe were "indistinguishable" from images taken with a Nikon 500mm f4 ED-IF AF-S on a tripod. Pretty bold statement, that to date NO ONE has been able to reproduce.

For the most part the people I see defending these reviews,(and these lenses) are the people who bought into them trying to justify the purchase.

I mean no disrespect by the above statment, but think about it. When you make any major purchase do you rely on only one source of information about the product? And, it's your money, by all means spend it the way you want.

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9/24/2002 4:56:24 PM

John P. Sandstedt
BetterPhoto Member Since: 8/8/2001
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  Tom, you're right - this discussion has strayed from the original question. And, for the record, while Pop Photo and American Photo are tied together, Outdoor Photographer is published by an entirely different firm.

Oh, and are you sure magazines that report on new cars buy more than one? Come on. . .

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9/24/2002 5:15:38 PM

Tony & Nicole    Mike

Just getting back on topic. I'm interested in why you think getting the 28-80 as part of the package was a mistake? Certain people who frequent this site delight in pointing out the flaws inherent in zoom lenses (some less eloquently than others) whilst missing one very important point. The quality of zoom lenses may well be unnacceptable to many 'professional' photographers, but the plain truth is that they can be just the ticket for people with less demanding needs.

With a little more cash to spare I'd be heading for a zoom in the 18-35 range. However close-up and low-light work may make the prime that Tom recommended a good choice. But not simply because zooms are junk!

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9/25/2002 2:50:25 PM

Mike W. Stoker   It's not so much that the 28-80 was a zoom lens but I should have purchased a more high quality lens, zoom or fixed. I'm not aginst getting a zoom lens just not sure what to get.... Sounds like the 50mm 1.8 is the way to get my feet wet and make me gain some much needed experience...

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9/25/2002 3:13:53 PM

Tony & Nicole    Are you disappointed with the quality of the results you are achieving? Is this definately down to the lens? Where do you see the problems occur?

Remembering that you have 50mm within the range of your current lens - do you find the maximum aperture or closest focus of your zoom restrictive? And try not to get your feet wet, especially on those lanscape shoots, as your boots will start to rub and you may catch a cold!

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9/25/2002 3:41:15 PM

Tom Darmody   Nicole-

[quote]But not simply because zooms are junk![/quote]

I never wrote or implied that. I gave specific examples of the type of junk zooms and why they are junk. I do understand the need for zoom lenses, in fact I own two zoom lenses myself.

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9/25/2002 4:54:29 PM

Piper Lehman
BetterPhoto Member Since: 7/20/2001
  Okay, since everyone else has, I have to stick my nose in this one, as well.

I say stick with your 28-80 until you can't do a thing with it anymore. Any lens is a good learning tool because the more you learn and the more you shoot with that one lens, the more you will understand, and therefore force yourself to THINK about what that specific piece of glass can do. Every lens has its bad points. There are no perfect lenses out there for every situation, every type of light, every subject, etc. Switching lenses every time you find a flaw will cost you money and cause confusion. Doesn't it make more sense to use the hell out of a lens until you just can't be creative anymore without a better one or one with different reach or speed?

Being a good photographer sometimes means working with what you have and making the best of it. THIS is where creativity is borne. This is where you'll find your niche.

Bryan Peterson suggests (in one of his wonderful books) this just-one-lens experiment for just the above reasons.

If, on the other hand, you just have to expand your horizons with another piece of glass, I predict that the 50mm is going to bore you to death. You've already got 50 on your zoom, so getting a better 50 isn't going to teach you diddly squat about how to make great images. I suggest another zoom with a new set of focal lengths or a prime job that isn't covered in what you already have going. You'll be much more excited, I predict, about the new perspective than in a "better" piece of glass. Not to insult your beginner's status, but I doubt you (or many other amateurs, including myself!) could tell the freaking difference in quality between an image taken with your very adequate 28-80 set on 50mm and an image taken with a prime that cost more than your camera. Only when photos are blown up to really big sizes can most flaws be detected.

As for the need to force yourself to learn on a 50mm, I say 50mm is old news. No one uses a 50mm anymore! Okay, so I'm sure 50 people are going to respond to this in about 5 minutes telling me I don't know what I'm talking about. Just ask them how many of them actually shoot with a 50 right now and how often....

Forget about having to have a better lens and get yourself a "different" lens. The options will excite your creativity. The 50mm prime will sit in your camera bag while the zooms get all the action.

But then, this is only my opinion.


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9/25/2002 7:47:18 PM

William Snyder   While it is good to learn with a prime lens like the 50mm mentioned above. I think you would be better off in long run to invest in the Canon 28-105mm or better yet the 28-135mm IS Lens. The comment that zooms are junk is totally wrong with today's optics.

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9/26/2002 4:11:48 PM

Jeff S. Kennedy   Well, there are some pretty junky zooms out there. But William makes a good point. I'm a pro and I only own one prime lens (85mm). With the exception of my medium format lenses the rest are zooms. They're all L series Canon zooms but zooms nonetheless. That being said, I probably use the 85mm lens more than any other. So does that muddy the water even more? ;-)))

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9/26/2002 5:22:13 PM

Tom Darmody  


[quote]My first 'real' camera was a Pentax K-1000 with the standard 50mm f/2 lens,[/quote]

Mike-- Get what you want, it's your money. Just remeber, you have to learn the rules before you break them.

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9/26/2002 5:35:41 PM

Emanuel Melo   I too am a newbie. I purchased a Rebel G with the standard 35mm-80mm lens back in March 2002. Being new to SLR cameras I loved it and was amazed at the great pictures it took. I was using cheap point & shoot cameras up until this point and had no idea what an "f stop" was. I just purchased a Tamron 70mm-300mm zoom with a macro switch on it and I love it. I have been going out every night taking all kinds of pictures with it. With all due respect to the "pro's" on this site, although I find their advice valuable I think that a lot of them forget that there are many people on this site just starting out and we are not looking to make stock pictures for resale. Most of us will not enlarge these photos bigger than the standard 4 x 6, we won't see our pictures on the cover of magazines (not yet anyway). I bought the Tamron because it was inexpensive ($300 Canadian, so that's what $20 US? lol) and it gave me both a nice zoom length and macro. If I had all the money in the world then I would be buying every lens and accessorie available but not many of us have that option.

My advice? Get something practical, versatile and affordable and as you get better as a photographer then you can start spending more on better equipment.

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10/3/2002 10:50:28 PM

Tony Peckman   Emanuel,
Amen brother, I tried to tell them that very thing.
Good luck Mike!

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10/3/2002 11:45:18 PM

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