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I have a Canon 1000D with a 50mm f/1.8. I also have the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens, but I am not very satisfied with its performance. I'm looking for a better zoom lens.

I have a budget of around $1000, and some of the lenses I'm looking at are listed below. I've already ruled out a superzoom.

  1. Sigma 24-70 f/2.8 macro + Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro
  2. Canon 75-300 f/4-5.6 III USM + Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro
  3. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L

My interests are:

  • Flowers / Insects / Macro photography
  • Weddings
  • Portraits (particularly of children)
  • Travel

What should I look for, and how should I decide?

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Note that this is a followup to photo.stackexchange.com/questions/10836 –  mattdm Apr 15 '11 at 10:57
1  
Please take a look at blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping. Rather than asking a similar question about each of a series of options, a better way to frame the question might be "how do I choose a second lens?", or, in this case, "how do I choose my first zoom lens?". –  mattdm Apr 15 '11 at 11:30
    
Yes mattdm.Will keep this in mind. Actually I am very confused as there are so many lens to choose from. –  PRK Apr 15 '11 at 15:59

3 Answers 3

Honestly, unless you have a line on these lenses used (or know somebody who found a case of them that "fell off a truck"), your $1000 budget isn't going to be nearly enough except for the 75-300 and an off-brand macro (several of which are very good) or the Sigma 24-70.

Given your subject matter, I wouldn't go for the 75-300. I'm not saying that it's a horrible lens, but if 50mm is your widest lens and your next choice is at 75mm at the wide end, you're missing a lot of territory. The 300mm end of the scale is equivalent to 480mm on a full-frame (or 35mm) camera, and that's too long for shooting people to their best advantage. (There are ways to make an extremely long "people" image work, but it usually involves making the person/people a subtext to another subject. Or celebrity peep shots, which have little to do with flattering your subject.) You would be much better off giving up what seems like a lot at the long end in order to get something considerably shorter at the wide end of the zoom range. If you want to go long, the Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 and the Tokina/Pentax 50-135mm f/2.8 (if you can find one -- Tokina makes them for the Canon mount, but the supply chain seems to be broken at the moment) are the APS-C equivalent of the 70-200mm pro standbys. (Why Nikon and Canon don't offer a fast 50-135 baffles me.)

Of the choices you've offered, the Sigma 24-70mm comes closest to fitting most of your requirements. It falls within (or just ever so slightly beyond) your budget, and it offers an excellent range of focal lengths for shooting people and general travel photography. It isn't a true macro lens, but it does focus to 40cm and comes close to a 1:4 reproduction ratio at 70mm, which is sufficiently "macro" for florals on APS-C. 70mm, though, might be a little short for some types of wedding shots that are in vogue lately (don't worry -- we did just fine without supertelephotos at weddings in the caveman days, and I'm sure you can, too). The Canon 24-70 is similar, but it'll be tough to haul in that catch for under $1000.

To a point, getting physically closer beats getting optically closer every time, and a 70mm lens on a crop-sensor DSLR is a lot longer than the 110mm "long" lens I used to use on a 6x7cm medium-format camera for weddings. You might want to go longer later, but don't try to do it all with one lens unless you're willing to give up a lot in the bargain.

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If you can afford it buy the Canon 24-70 2.8L, you will not be disappointed by its performance.

But this is the path I took when I started out. Over a couple of month I bought a 10D then the Tamron 75-300mm f/4.0-5.6, Tamron 17-35 f/2.8-4, and Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 macro which were all very budget minded lenses, AKA cheap. I hated the 75-300 and tried the Sigma and Canon versions and hated both of them too, but I continued using the Tamron and furiously saved money until I could afford better.

So I upgraded the 75-300 to the Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS because when I looked at the photos I had been taking that was the range I took the most photos in.

Next I bought the Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS because I needed the reach for youth sports.

Just recently I bought the Canon 16-35 2.8L and am in love all over again like I was when I first got the 70-200 2.8, it is just fantastic.

It has taken me over 10 years to build this kit, I am still using the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 but hope to replace it with L glass in the next two or three years. No rush.

P.S. I also replace the camera body I use as soon as the new one is released and sell the old one. I began this journey with a Canon 10D then in succession the 20D, 30D, 40D, 50D, and now shoot a 7D. The body is important but glass is forever, almost.

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Thanks that was quite helpful. Knowing how others began their journey helps beginners like us a lot..:) –  PRK Apr 15 '11 at 15:57
    
I recently purchased a Canon 24-70 2.8L for my 7D and I can't agree more. This is my first L-series glass. The difference is night and day compared to the EF-S 18-135 kit lens (inherited from my T2i). It is built like a tank and I'm sure it will last decades. –  MDaubs Apr 16 '11 at 12:56

"How do I choose a zoom lens to replace the kit lens?"

You've gotten a good start, list your interests, come up with a budget, find lenses that might match.

Next, what about the performance of the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 left you dissatisfied?

Was it low light? Build Quality? Color cast?

Identifying what you didn't like about that lens, should help you understand what you should look for in your replacement lens.

Next, for each area of interest, understand what are the desirable characteristics of a lens that match that area (you'll find that it difficult to find a single lens to meet every area of your interests--which is why many of us have more than a few lenses)

  • Macro, bugs and flowers

For macro, you need at least 1:1 magnification. Unless you buy a dedicated macro lens, which is a specialty lens, you don't get 1:1 magnification. Many lenses claim "macro" mode, but they're really just close focusing. Do you want real macro photographs, or do you just want to take close photos? Also having a large aperture allows a shallow depth of field allowing the subject to stand out.

  • Weddings

Weddings are difficult to shoot. If you just want to take photographs while attending a wedding, any decent zoom lens should work, though low-light performance will help. If you want to be a wedding photographer, I personally think that shooting with a single, general purpose lens will actually be a disservice to your clients.

  • Portraits

Typical portrait lenses have focal lengths between 85-135mm, though you can step out of those limits for creative images. Really any lens can be a portrait lens. Are you thinking studio portraits?

  • Travel

This is my biggest area of interest. For travel, you want a light lens. Fatigue is no fun. You also want a lens that is wide enough to capture indoor and outdoor shots. Having IS is important when in museams, churches, and other buildings that don't allow flash. I also like having some reach for times where I can't get close enough to what I want to photograph. A fast lens also gives you more options with lighting.


So of the lenses you've listed, which should you buy? None.

Given what you've said were your interests are, I would recommend the EF-S 17-55. It's optical quality is superb, it has IS and a max aperture of f2.8 so for available light, it's freaking amazing. It's a little above your budget, at $1150

Because of it's available light performance, it works really well for travel, weddings.

It's f2.8 aperture makes it a great lens for flowers and portraits.

It's 17mm (27.2mm on the 1000D) means' its wide enough for travel and some indoor shots. It's 55mm (88mm on the 1000D) is not super long, but good enough for travel (my main travel lense is 105mm)

The biggest downside (besides it's price) is that it's not a close focusing lens, so it's not ideal for taking close up photos. However, since no general purpose zoom is also a macro lens, you pretty much need a dedicated macro to do real macro photography.

I recommend the 17-55 over the 24-70 mostly because of the IS, and because it gives you a good working zoom range from wide-angle to near-telephoto.

The optical quality is amazing, and unless you plan on moving to a 5D2 or 1Ds series body, the EF-S lens will be a long time performer.

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