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I just bought a Canon Rebel T2i (EOS550D/Kissx4) with 18-55mm kit-lens and I have an additional $300 USD to spend on a lens. I had decided to buy a Canon EF-S 75-300mm f/4-5.6 (without IS) and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 and these are just $150 and $110 respectively. However, my friend just got a new camera with an 18-135mm lens so he's selling his current Canon EFs 55-250mm IS for $250.

If I choose Canon EF-S 70-300mm f4-5.6 & 50mm I can get 2 lenses for the same price. If I choose the Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS, I will just get only one.

Advice on which one to choose, please?

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You mention it as 75-300 and 70-300. From the price I am assuming you really mean the older 75-300 (of which there are a few models). The newer 70-300 is a good mid range lens for about $500. Just for confusion there is also a 70-300 DO and a really new 70-300L for way more money. –  Rob McCready May 27 '11 at 9:19
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

If your purpose is for the outdoors then go with your first option of 2 lenses. Personally I have used both lenses and I feel the quality is more or less the same. Again it depends on your style of shooting, but the 50mm f1.8 is a low light lens which you could use in case of bad light.

The IS in the 55-250mm is nothing great and since you have the ISO advantage its worth taking the risk of the 70-300mm and you would have more range too. Don't worry about the lost 55-75 range. Trust me, it does not matter as you always have your feet to compensate for that. Just walk into your subject or away and you have more or less the same result.

My suggestion would be pick up the first option since you'll have the 50mm. Once you use that lens there is no turning back, especially for its bokeh and sharpness at that price.

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Agree. I like my 55-250, but the 50mm f/1.8 is nigh-mandatory. –  khedron Oct 16 '12 at 19:07
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Take some time to get to know your new camera and learn what sort of photos you enjoy shooting. At some point, you'll start to understand what you need to see in your next lens -- maybe you need more reach (zoom), or maybe you'll end up looking for better low-light performance. Until then, you're really just guessing.

[elaboration]

Given that you've got a camera and at least one lens, any additional lenses you might be contemplating should do one of two things for you, photographically-speaking:

  1. Let you take a picture you weren't previously able to take
  2. Improve the quality of a picture you could have taken with your current setup

Consider the first case. If you've got an 18-55 lens, there are wide-angle shots that you just can't get with your lens. Assembling a bunch of photos into a panorama doesn't count. The same goes for telephoto shots -- if you can't frame a far-away object (a bird, for instance) so that it takes up a meaningful amount of real-estate in your image, you don't really have enough reach for that shot.

In cases like these, expanding your focal range with a wide-angle or telephoto lens will allow you to take shots you just couldn't touch before. This case is relatively easy to understand and evaluate. There's a reason you see kit lenses covering ranges like 18-55, 17-85, 18-135, and so on -- these ranges cover the most common focal lengths for general photography. This is the same reason you usually see two-lens kits covering something like 18-250 or 18-300 with a pair of lenses -- that shows you where that next-most-popular range is.

In other words, if you don't have any idea what focal lengths you're likely to need , a two-lens solution covering 18-250 or so is a great place to start. I would expect you to use your kit lens more often than the telephoto lens with a setup like this.

As you become more advanced and learn more about the photos you want to take, you may find that you want to expand even more on the wide or telephoto ends. A wide-angle lens will take you out to 8-12mm or so, which can be useful for landscapes or indoor shots where you don't have room to back up to frame your shot. Longer telephoto lenses (400+ mm) are most often used for wildlife photography. Both of these types of lenses tend to be pricy, and you shouldn't buy one until you know how to evaluate your needs.

The second case takes over where the first one leaves off. There are a number of areas where a better lens would improve on the quality of your kit lens:

  • A wider aperture (f/2.8 or faster) allows you to take photos with less ambient light, or to blur backgrounds on photos with a narrow depth-of-field(DOF).
  • A prime lens, dollar-for-dollar, tends to be both more clear and wider than a comparable zoom lens. For those reasons, they're very popular for portraits and macro photography. The reason you see the 50mm f/1.8 lens recommended so often for new shooters is that it's a great "bang for the buck" lens that gives you a taste for what a prime lens can do.
  • Higher-quality lenses often have improved mechanical bits, including focus motors. Not only does this make them "feel" better, they will usually focus more quickly and more quietly, and they may let you focus manually without having to stop to flip an AF/MF switch.
  • Higher-quality lenses will have better optics with less distortion, more clarity, and more resistance to undesirable optical defects like chromatic aberration and lens flare.
  • Higher-quality lenses are generally built more solidly with better weather sealing.

When you're just starting out, this is a lot to soak in, and the best way to learn about these things is to go shoot pictures. As you shoot, you'll start to recognize where a larger aperture would be helpful, or why it might be nice to have Full-Time-Manual focusing on your lens. At the point where you recognize why you're want something like that, you've become an informed buyer, and you'll be way better-equipped to evaluate whether you're getting what you need.

In your case specifically, you mentioned both a 75-300mm lens and a 70-300mm lens (in addition to the 50 and the 55-250). When I read your question, it looks like this may be a typo, and that you're really talking about the 75-300 lens exclusively. This is an important clarification, because the 75-300 lens is very inexpensive (matching the price you indicated in your question) and not very well-regarded in terms of image quality, whereas the 70-300 is newer, pricier ($500 new, and easily $350-400 used), and has IS and USM. If you can really get the 70-300 for $150, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. If you're talking about the 75-300, however, which I think you are, I'd be much more cautious. Most of the reviews I've seen really pan the 75-300, and the resale market for this lens is soft. This is important because you're very likely to want to resell that lens -- maybe not long after you acquire it.

The 55-250 is a solid beginner telephoto lens (I owned this lens for a while), but $250 is too much to pay for it. I bought mine refurbished from Adorama for $200, and it's still available there at that price. You should never pay more for a used lens than a refurbished one unless you have very specific and reliable information about the use of that lens. If you believe you'll use a telephoto lens, offer your friend $160-175 for the 55-250 - I think you'll be much happier with that lens than the 75-300.

The 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens, and there's a good chance you'll end up owning it at some point -- most Canon shooters do. At $110, that's a good deal, but not a steal. If you know you want to try out a prime lens, then this is a great place to start. If not, you might consider saving the $110 to apply toward a good tripod or flash - both of which would help the performance of whatever lens is hanging off your camera.

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No matter what, pick up a 50mm f/1.8. It opens up a whole new world of Dof creativity, low-light possibilities, and forces you to work with one (and only one) field of view. For around $100, they are practically disposable.

Besides that, though, it really depends on what you like to shoot the most. Do you like to shoot portraits? Landscapes? Macros (extreme closeups)? Wildlife? Sports? What conditions are you shooting in? What is your subject doing? (Moving quickly, posed, etc.?) All of that will depend to some extent what your lens choice should be.

If I had to pick between the two lenses you mentioned, I would suggest the EF-S 55-250mm. The 70-300mm model that I'm guessing you are referring to is not that great optically, and you aren't gaining much usable reach. On the other hand, I've seen the 55-250 do some pretty great images and the IS helps out tremendously as well. Furthermore, it matches your kit lens' ending focal length -- the 70-300 leaves a gap, and unfortunately, (in my opinion), it's a pretty noticeable gap.

So even though you've said if you get the 55-250, that's the only one you can get, I suggest trying somehow, someway to get the 50 on top. Maybe your friend will budge a little? Because that 50mm f/1.8 is a beauty, even if it is practically disposable (and feels like it, too. But the glass is nice.)

The best solution, IMNSHO, however, would be to pick the 50 up now, and then start saving for the really good glass. One, you'll have had time to figure out what you like to shoot, and two, the really good glass is really good! Once I went to my 70-200mm f/4 L and my 24-70mm f/2.8 L, the kit lens and my older 55-250mm lens never saw the light-of-day again.

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Do you ever miss the extra range on the 55-250 when using the 70-200 f/4? –  khedron Sep 12 '12 at 16:37
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@khedron, no not really. I find that when I "miss" extra range, that the subject I'm shooting is already too far away for even the 250, so the extra 50mm would do me no good. It would be oh-so-nice to have a nice 600mm or higher. sigh –  Kerri Shotts Sep 13 '12 at 5:45
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You will quickly learn to love the 50mm f1.8.

I just picked up a used 75-300 from craigslist for $90. It seems like a very fair amount for the lens. Its not a bad lens for the price. Its really F5.6 nearly all the time, and that is really dark. Shooting in the shade an hour before dusk requires ISO 1600 and really long shutter speeds (like 1/60) that result in noticeable lens shake when its out at 300.

When using it in bright sunlight, its fine, and modern post-processing can fix its CA and pin-cushion distortions. Most importantly, it was $90 and the lens I really lust for is over $2,000

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