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by Aditya

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I have a Canon 500D/T1i with the kit 18-55mm IS lens. I need to replace the kit lens with a prime as a work around lens. I usually take photos of streets, people etc., and use the 20-35mm range of the kit lens.

I am planning to buy the Canon 28mm f/2.8, as it's very cheap, but could not find any resources comparing it to the kit lens.

I want to know if the 28mm f/2.8 is very sharp and good compared to the 18-55mm. Remember I am going to use the 28 as a work-around lens and get rid of the 18-55, so hopefully I'll zoom with my feet.

Or, should I instead save a bit more for the 35mm f/2 ? My budget is less than $300.

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7 Answers 7

up vote 2 down vote accepted

Yes, if you're absolute sure about the preference of your focal length, Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 would be ideal for you. If you compare ISO Chart crops of the 28mm lens @f/2.8 and 18-55mm lens @28mm and @f/4.0, the 28mm is a lot sharper in the center, almost same in the mid-frame and slightly worse in the corner. As you'll be using the lens (which is an EF lens) on a crop sensor camera, you wont be suffering much around the corners. Please note that the 28mm f/2.8 does not have USM and its very noisy in AF. This might place you in an awkward situation while shooting in a quite environment.

Now about the 35mm f/2.0, it has slightly upper hand in low light conditions, but might be just a little too tight to be used as an all purpose lens. I'd recommend the 28mm f/1.8 USM lens (which is 200$ over your budget but have USM and better build quality) over 35mm f/2.0 for you if you had budget.

And don't just get rid of the 18-55mm lens as in throw it away/sell it off. I saw a lot of people who did and later regretted :)

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Thanks for the iso comparison, it's really great I'll keep the kit lens too :) –  Amila Sep 15 '11 at 13:20
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I have the 28mm f/1.8 and it is a lovely lens, really sharp. I recommend it if you can afford it. –  Hamish Downer Sep 17 '11 at 16:30
    
Erm, the 28mm 1.8 "would be ideal" for him is thats the f he likes... –  Michael Nielsen Jun 5 '13 at 6:13

Some thoughts on this question for others thinking along the same lines. First, no lens can be all things to all people so what are you primarily photographing and what will you ultimately do with your photos? Primes are generally more clear and 28mm on a crop camera would take you nearer to the much prized 50mm focal length. Zooms also have more compromises and the 18-55 IS kit lens is also slower (f3.5 to 5.6 if I remember correctly). Overall this zoom has fairly good optical quality. Also do these primes have image stabilization like your kit lens? Not an issue for me as I shoot on a tripod most of the time and often use an off camera shutter release, but do you? Are you used to walking around without a tripod and just taking shots? In this situation the IS may provide that little bit more you need to get a clear shot.

What will you be photographing most? The 18mm focal length means you'll be able to get wider angle shots than with 28mm. What if you want to shoot a landscape or a large group of people, will 28mm be adequate? Yes, you have to zoom with your feet which isn't always possible depending on the situation. I found myself pinned in by a large crowd and couldn't move to get to another intended location to get my shots with my prime. What if you're in a location where you can only move a short distance such as some overlooks or scenic view spots? Will a 28/35mm be adequate?

Regarding low light conditions. Definitely having a faster prime lens will produce clearer, nicer shots. But, for example, if I'm photographing a city night scene and catching some light streaks from the passing cars using a long exposure I'm usually set around f11 - 14 so I don't need to go down to f2.8 to get a nice shot. Fairly inexpensive off camera flash/lighting can be used to light your subject or freeze motion. I guess it depends on your style of shooting, what's acceptable to you, what your budget is, if you will be making enlargements and what you want to photograph. Will you be showing these mostly as small images to be shared via social media or websites? Then perhaps you don't need as much clarity. And these days with phone and iPad cameras and such people don't seem to mind blur, grain, etc. You may even want some blur such as when getting that dreamy look to water in low light. Or more grain if that suits your style.

Remember too software is more sophisticated and some corrections can be made even with relatively low end software for grain, etc. Though it's not as good as getting it right in camera if you are on a budget this can be useful. If you're concerned about your wallet you can get older versions of good software at reasonable costs if you search/wait for the right price. I purchased Lightroom 3 not in box, unused and unregistered for around $35 some time ago and it works just fine for my purposes. They are coming out with Lightroom 5 so the price on older versions will probably drop if you just wait. I think there is software you can use at some of the photo websites like Flickr. Just consider your options and I totally agree with not getting rid of this particular kit lens. It may come in handy to use along with your prime and if you're used to shooting with it you're that much ahead.

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any prime will be superior to any kitlens. That's a law of nature :)
So even without having ever used either, I can say decisively that yes, the 28mm f/2.8 will be superior to the kitlens.

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2  
The 28mm f/2.8 was released in 1987. Its as old as the entire EOS system. Your assumption that every prime is better then every kit lens is flawed. This lens does not compare to many of the higher end kit lenses out today. –  dpollitt Sep 16 '11 at 0:23
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unless kit lenses now are better than the L lens counter parts, which I have compared to basic primes (cheapest versions, even old designs) and concluded the L lens zoom is about as good as the cheap primes, then any prime should be better than a cheap zoom (kit) lens. –  Michael Nielsen Jun 5 '13 at 12:00
    
@MichaelNielsen that was my conclusion as well testing their Nikon and Sigma equivalents. –  jwenting Jun 5 '13 at 12:09

Photozone.de has tests of the following lenses on a Canon 350D:

Granted, it's not the camera you're using, nor exactly the same version of the 18-55mm, but may have some pointers towards a comparison.

Personally I enjoy shooting a 28mm on my APS-C Nikon D200, it's a nice normal field-of-view and is a compact package.

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First, I wouldn't suggest getting rid of the kit zoom, it's very versatile and optically decent, and nobody would give you more than 50$ for it.

I also wouldn't suggest 28mm as an all-purpose lens, it's a nice wide angle on full frame cameras but its focal length is not very useful on crop sensor cameras; not wide enough for landscape, not long enough for detail/portrait.

The canon 35mm f/2 is a good lens giving you what classic 50mm gives on full frame, it's in your budget (actually a tad more). The 50mm f/1.8 is good and cheaper (about 120$) but a bit limiting.

EDIT: in the end comments here made me re-think my answer; I still recommend 35mm, but if you like the framing and build quality, get the 28mm and I'm sure you'll have lots of fun (don't get it if the only reason is saving a little money). It is the photographer that matters in the end; we're making a big fuss over nothing, a common problem here on photo.SE. That's why lately I loved this question: it's about photography.

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If he's already determined that he spends most of his time in the 20-35mm - I'm not sure why the 28mm length wouldn't be appropriate? –  rfusca Sep 14 '11 at 18:38
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Actually on the 1.6x crop of Canon, 28mm is closer to "classic 50mm" than 35mm. photo.stackexchange.com/questions/1104 –  drewbenn Sep 14 '11 at 18:39
    
@rfusca - What I said in my answer; I think it's a bit too wide for some things, but not really wide enough for others (dramatic perspectives, some landscape). Maybe it's only me :-) –  MattiaG Sep 14 '11 at 19:07
    
@drewbenn - you are right, it didn't occur to me; I think, however, one gets closer to the feeling of the "normal" focal length with some millimeters more than with some less. I experienced this with both the sigma 30mm and the nikon 35mm on my aps-c nikon DSLR (1.5x crop factor, yes, but we're talking 28mm here so it's quite the same); it's actually easy to see 30mm is a bit wide, different from a 50mm on full frame cameras, while 35mm is very similar in rendition of distances. –  MattiaG Sep 14 '11 at 19:22
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The Sigma 30 f1.4 EX is excellent, check it out. May have to find it used to stay in your budget –  cmason Sep 14 '11 at 20:05

Generally speaking, prime (fixed) lenses such as the 28mm will always be sharper (particularly towards the edge of the image) than your zoom lens.

That said, I'd save up for your 35mm f/2, which will approximate a 50mm focal length on your crop (APS-C) sensor.

There is no question your 18-55mm is more versatile, but it is also a "slower" lens, in that the maximum aperture is smaller. In short, the 18-55mm will not perform as well as the 28mm or the 35mm in low-light.

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28mm x 1.6 = 45mm, while 35mm x 1.6 = 56mm. But 50mm is technically a bit long for "normal" on full frame — 43mm is the diagonal, so arguably shorter is more "correct". –  mattdm Sep 15 '11 at 2:15

I would not get rid of that lens, even if getting something that replaces it. It's optical quality is quite OK, and while build quality and speed are low, it's small, inexpensive and light. Considering you won't get much money out of selling a kit lens, these properties can come handy in future.

If travelling by foot in questionable weather conditions, for example, a lens that's light to carry and not a big financial loss if weather takes some toll might be just what you need.

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I totally agree, but strictly speaking this is not an answer. –  MattiaG Sep 15 '11 at 9:47

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