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I have a Canon 550D which I've been using for around a year now. I really love it and have learned a great deal with this and the 18 - 135mm kit lens. But now with experience I feel the need to get some better glass. I won't be buying a new body any time soon because I figure investing in some good glass is more important.

As I have looked around, I see quite a few good used L lenses I can get in ebay for good bargain prices. But I know that the EF lenses don't have the same focal length in the cropped sensors. Is it a wise decision to buy these EF lenses or buy the cropped sensor alternatives?

I have the following lenses in mind that I am looking to buy down the line from the canon range over the next several months.

16-35mm f/2.8L, 24-70mm f/2.8L, 70-200 f/4L.

Are these apt choices for cropped sensors? I know most pros with FFs use these but I am a bit skeptic that they will serve the same purpose for me. If so what are the alternatives for this that have almost as good image quality?

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Important note: the lenses do have the same focal length on crop sensors. See this question for more. What's different is the field of view (because, well, it's cropped — hence the term). –  mattdm Nov 8 '11 at 0:49
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The lens options that you pointed out would work wonderful on APS-C as they do on full frame. I would skip the 16-35 and get the 10-22 though. Also consider the EF-S only 17-55mm 2.8, which would be a lens you could resell if you upgrade to full frame. –  dpollitt Nov 8 '11 at 2:43
    
Similar question with a Nikon slant: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/17038/… –  mattdm Nov 8 '11 at 4:01

8 Answers 8

Short form:

In general it is wise then, and only then, when you seriously consider moving to a full frame body later.

If you don't then it is just a case-by-case decistion, as yours obviously is. You are thinking of a number of specific lens for now. Then, when the choice is just beween an EF lens and an EF-S consider the following:

  • There is noting wrong with using an EF lens on a crop body. Nor is there anything wrong with a lens park made of both kinds.
  • A crop body would use the best parts of the projected image only. Important when you take reviews into account. You can then ignore their less than optimal quality in the edges, that some of them may show.
  • EF-S lenses of the same optical quality when used on crop bodies can be significantly cheaper than the EF lense that you compare it with.
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If you never plan on moving to a full frame body, then sticking with crop lenses are liable to be a smart path to take, because the lenses will be as sharp, be less expensive, smaller, and lighter. Most EF-S lenses have much more modern designs than their full-frame counterparts and the smaller sensor size means that the correction requirements for full-frame, which is why L lenses get so big and heavy and expensive, are often loosened. You get a better, simpler lens for less money.

I.e., consider the EF-S 17-55/2.8 instead of the EF 16-35 f/2.8L II.

If you plan on imminently moving to a full frame body, then sticking with full-frame lenses is probably wisest with the single exception of the ultrawide lens. With ultrawide, you cannot find any lens that's going to fulfill that role on both crop and sensor, due to the nature of how the sensor format affects the field of view of any lens. In this case, go ahead and get a crop ultrawide. They typically hold value well for resale, and will cost roughly half what a full-frame ultrawide will (e.g., $600 vs. $1000-$1500).

I.e., consider the EF-S 10-22 (or Tokina 11-16/2.8), and then sell it when you move to full frame to help fund an EF 16-35/2.8L II or EF 17-40 f/4L.

Lenses like the EF 17-40/4L and 16-35/2.8L can be used as walkaround zooms on crop bodies, but keeping them for full frame use doesn't mean you'll have a walkaround zoom on both crop and full frame. It means you'll have a walkaround on crop and an ultrawide zoom on full frame, and you'll probably still have to supplement with 24-70 or 24-105L when you get that 6D you're lusting after. And the 24-x L lenses aren't quite wide enough on a crop body for walkaround usage.

When you format switch from crop to full frame, every EF lens you have will get 1.6x shorter. Do the crop math backwards to see if that lens is going to be a good fit for you on full frame as well. I happily used a 24-105 f/4L IS USM on my XT and 50D for years, but only understood what it was really designed to be when I got a 5DMkII. And now I want an EF-S 15-85 IS USM for my 50D, so I'll have "the same lens" on crop. And a 70-200 is going to look on a full frame the way a 44-125 would look on your crop body. Maybe you'd wish you spent on a 100-400L instead.

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I bought a Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L lens for my Canon 450D crop sensor body before I had purchased the full-frame Canon 5DMKII. By going this route, I had time to learn my lens on a crop body well before I could afford the full frame of the 5D. I even borrowed and used 70-200mm f/2.8 L lenses on the 450D body, which gave an additional crop factor for "perceived" zoom with little else to complain about.

Positives

  • Owning a great lens at a lower price-point to buying a full-frame body
  • Shooting great images without waiting around

Negatives

  • Only knowing that I wasn't getting the "best" out of my lens in terms of the crop factor preventing me from achieving a "true" 24mm.

Note

  • This topic does come up a lot, but the implication is that the intention exists to move to full frame. Plenty of photographers are happy with crop models, but these questions are usually handled in a "should I get the lens before the full frame body" sense. If so, go for it!

The difference between your kit lens and the 24-70 will astound you (with clarity). It will also delight you (when you realize how much sharper your shots are). And then it will depress you (when you remember how much these lens cost).

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As usual: it depends

  • In terms of image quality, it's definitely wise as only the best part of the lens will be used (the center) by your camera. Lenses are usually sharper near the center and you will notice less vignetting.
  • the downside is, EF lenses are usually more expensive than equivalent EF-S lenses.
  • on the other hand, the EF-S 10-22 is a great lens, but there simply is no equivalent EF lens made by Canon. The 16-35 is simply a different focal range and the difference is very noticeable.
  • your EF-S lenses will be useless when you upgrade to full frame
  • note that you should ignore the famous "crop factor" in this regard. The focal length and field of view is the same for EF and EF-S lenses on the same camera.
  • however, when reading a lens review that was made on a FF camera, note that the overall experience of that lens on a crop camera may be different (for example, I love the 70-200 on full frame, but rarely use it on my 7D as it gets "quite long" on that camera).

Simply said: When comparing an EF and an EF-S lens of the same focal length, the EF version will most probably have better image quality and cost more, but produce the same framing. Besides that, you need to evaluate other factors - for your lens choice - not related to the EF/EFS mount type, like focal length range, aperture, IS, build quality, size, weight, price and so on...

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There are a few factors to consider here. Firstly the EF L range lenses are considerably better build quality than typical EF-S lenses and the optical quality tends to be much higher too. On a crop sensor the 70-200 f4 L is outstanding. You do however have to remember when choosing EF lenses to apply the crop factor to get the effective focal length. That said lenses tend to last a lifetime if you look after them so getting EF will not limit you to crop sensors in the future. I started off with a crop body but now use full frame as well so my early descision to only buy EF lenses has paid off.

The two major drawbacks of EF lenses are cost and weight. EF lenses have to project a larger image at the sensor so tend to contain bigger heavier elements. The 24-70 f2.8 L forinstance is quite heavy and has the tendency to feel unbalanced on lighter entry level bodies. They also tend to be quite a bit more expensive roughly 40-50% more than EF-S of the same focal range and maximum aperture.

If you look at lenses as an investment then cost is less of a factor and in my opinion the better image quality makes up for the extra weight. However this is a personal opinion and you may come to different conclusions after trying out some lenses. This is the most important thing to do, go to a shop and try some of these lenses for weight and quality then also factor this into your descision.

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I am going to keep it simple.

  1. Many people do it. In fact, I have seen most people using APS-C camera with a mix of EF-S and EF lenses, and less people use only EF-S lenses.

  2. Expensive lenses offers excellent image quality with the trade-off of being expensive, inflexible (usually a narrow zoom range, may cause more frequent lens changes) and heavy.

Do you want to spend more money, carry more weight, narrow your zoom range, just to get better pixels? This is entirely up to you, but honestly and generally, such lens is not a must by people not getting paid doing photography.

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The lineup of Canon crop (EF-S) lenses is not nearly as broad as the full-frame (EF) lenses.

  • In the focal length of interest, some EF options give better image quality than the respective EF-S options.

  • Additionally, some EF lenses offer features that are not available for EF-S lenses, such as weather sealing and stronger construction.

  • (Not specific to the lenses you listed but) specialty lenses are only available in EF format, like fisheye and tilt-shift.

so yes, there are reasons to get full-frame lenses for a crop camera. For the specific lenses in question, @Jhon Cavan's reasoning makes sense but today I personally think it is less important than it seemed to be in the past, as you have greater chances of upgrading your rebel to a higher crop body (7D class) than to a FF class. By the time you finally upgrade to FF class, you can sell your crop lenses for a good value.

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All good points from you. But one of the main points of my question is that the EF lenses will not work the same way as on a FF. For instance, the 16-35mm is sufficiently wide enough on a FF. So, if I buy it for use in my cropped body it won't be as wide and doesn't that defeat the purpose of getting a wide lens in the first place? –  sfactor Nov 8 '11 at 9:37
    
First, the will work the same. It is the field of view that will change (as noted by mattdm). Thismay look like picky semantics, but it is important to understand that. Then, in my answer I referred to the "respective" lenses. What I meant is EF-S lenses with similar FoV as the EF-lenses-on-FF-bodies you consider. The equivalent to the EF16-35 would then be EF-S 10-22mm (a fantastic lens, BTW). [cont...] –  ysap Nov 8 '11 at 12:27
    
[cont...] Obviously, you are the only one to determine if 16mm are wide enough for you or not. If the answer is yes, then you can consider the 16-35. If not, you have no choice but going with the 10-22 (at least it costs a fraction...). My point was that if you need weather resistant lens, then you really have no choice. –  ysap Nov 8 '11 at 12:27
    
@sfactor: Don't worry about the wideness of the 16-35 fov on a cropped sensor. I have the 450D, and I own the 16-35mm L II. Its a superb lens, and still provides ideal framing for wide landscape shots. Its important to understand how truly, ULTRA WIDE 16mm is on FF...its REALLY WIDE! There are certain types of shots where such extreme wide angle is useful, but they are much less common than the types of shots where a 24-28mm focal length is much better, and 16mm on APS-C is right in that sweet spot. If you get the 10-22mm, you will probably find yourself using the 14-18mm range most anyway. –  jrista Nov 17 '11 at 7:19
    
It should also be noted that at the extreme wide end on the 10-22mm, there is a fair bit of distortion that occurs. Things tend to get pinched towards the upper center of the lens in most shots at 10mm. The 16-35 L II lens has some similar distortion, however its a bit harder to see on a full-frame camera, as the optics of an L-series lens are about as good as it gets, and distortion correction is top of the line. –  jrista Nov 17 '11 at 7:23

If you have the money, go with the full frame option. The basic reasoning that I would have for that is simple: lenses will stay with you longer than the camera body. That's the nutshell answer.

Longer answer is that today you have a 550D and you're learning. Stay with that camera while you're doing that, until you feel that the photography you want to do is being impeded. Then you're going to look for something else. You might stay cropped sensor, you might not, but if you've shelled out thousands for lenses that are crop, then that may make the decision for you and that isn't ideal. Or you'll need to sell your lenses and you'll lose money in replacing. Also not ideal.

Net effect, if there is ever a real possibility that you'll buy a full frame Canon, new or used, then stick with the full-sized lenses. If this isn't a real possibility, then go crop. Just seriously consider all that first.

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