Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I started out with the 18-55mm IS kit lens on my Canon EOS 550D over a year ago, and added the 55-250mm IS a couple of months back to augment my telephoto reach (based on the recommendations in one of my earlier questions). After shooting almost 5000 photos with the former and 1000+ with the latter, the biggest limitation I find is their low light shooting ability and I've ended up shooting a lot of images at ISO 3200 and\or slow shutter speeds resulting in subject blur. AF performance has also been a bit iffy in these situations. On the subjective front, I've generally preferred to shoot portraits.

To this end I did some analysis on a selected subset of my photos using Exposureplot and exiftool+Excel to quantify my results (also below), and found that 55mm is the most shot focal length followed by 18mm, both of which correspond to the lens range limits (so likely to be skewed). The usual portrait ranges (80-110) also feature reasonably given that the range was added only recently.

Aperture vs ISO plot

I also checked out the Canon lens lineup and have settled on the following shortlist based on my above analysis (given my budget of around $500):

Lens(length+Av) Macro   USM     IS      L-series
50 mm   f/1.8   No      No      No      No
35 mm   f/2     No      No      No      No
50 mm   f/2.5   Yes     No      No      No
28 mm   f/2.8   No      No      No      No
24 mm   f/2.8   No      No      No      No
50 mm   f/1.4   No      Yes     No      No
100 mm  f/2.8   Yes     No      No      No
135 mm  f/2.8   No      No      No      No
60 mm   f/2.8   Yes     Yes     No      No
85 mm   f/1.8   No      Yes     No      No
100 mm  f/2     No      Yes     No      No
28 mm   f/1.8   No      Yes     No      No
100 mm  f/2.8   Yes     Yes     No      No

The EFS 17-55mm f2.8 would serve my requirements, but is beyond my budget at present. I do plan to get it eventually. I also doubt that I'll be upgrading to a full frame DSLR, so EF-S lenses are also good for me.

To summarize, I need the following from the next lens:

  1. Good low light performance
  2. Suitable for portrait (haven't tried playing around with depth of field much so far, as I end up shooting wide open most of the time anyway)
  3. Macro ability would be a plus (does it make sense to get a non-macro & a macro for similar focal length?)
  4. Better AF performance (should be a given for the lenses as they are f2.8 or wider, and many are USM)
  5. Canon lenses preferred as I'm not sure of the reliability & service\warranty options of 3rd party lenses in India

So, given this scenario, which would be the recommended lens to get?

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1  
1: Fix your table (use the "code" button) to help readers. 2: put all that in a spreadsheet and pick weights for yourself (e.g.: sum = low_light_column*2 + portrait_column*3 + macro_column*1) and see which lens has the highest score. 3: "80-110...feature reasonably": get the 100/2, which I've heard is a good lens. 4: instead of (3), get an ultra-wide (the Sigma 10-20 would be a good, similarly-priced option) to address what appears to be your biggest focal length weakness. (Really, I think it'll come down to which you want more: wide aperture or wide focal length.) –  drewbenn Nov 18 '11 at 8:47
    
@drewbenn Thanks for the suggestions. At present, I think the wider aperture is a bigger concern for me. Most of my wider focal length shots were in landscape and group photos, where I feel ok using the kit lens. As for the formatting, Imre fixed the table for me (I had pasted it off the Excel sheet I was using for analysis), and I'll keep in mind the <pre> tag for that. –  ab.aditya Nov 18 '11 at 9:25
    
"does it make sense to get a non-macro and a macro of similar focal length" sounds like a great question. There's photo.stackexchange.com/questions/12539/… and photo.stackexchange.com/questions/7081/…, but those both focus on specific lenses. –  mattdm Nov 18 '11 at 12:01

6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Suits (1) (2) ad (3) perfectly, and it is not expensive.

While it makes sense to get a non-macro and a macro lens for a similar focal length, I see that you are on a budget, so that wouldn't be your best choice.

I did not suggest the 50mm f/1.4 because 50mm is very slightly short for portrait, and you cannot do macro at all, even the kit lens offers a better magnifying ratio.

Lastly, allow me to point out that you can learn very little from shooting 6000 photos. You will, however, learn a lot if you try to delete 5900 photos from the 6000 you shot.

If you constantly find yourself shooting in low light condition, getting a flash may not be a bad idea at all, provided you know how to use it right.

I thought my photography would improve if I have bought a better lens. So I did, and I see less noise but no improvement. So I experiment with different ways of shooting, I shoot EVERYTHING in all kinds of situation. I no longer limit myself to shooting indoor. I try everything I can.

Then, my photography improved, and I am now able to create much much better photos, using the exact same lenses that I once said is limiting.

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7  
+1 for the "delete 5900" suggestion, and for the comments on improvement. –  mattdm Nov 18 '11 at 11:55
    
+1 Great answer, and the point about macro focus is an excellent one from a portraiture-on-APS-C standpoint! You mentioned the 50mm is a bit short for portrait, and on a FF I agree. I'm curious if the narrower FoV on the APS-C sensor of the 550D would make it more acceptable for portraiture? While you still wouldn't have the ability to focus as closely as with the 60mm macro, both behave approximately like an 85mm lens on a FF camera. –  jrista Nov 19 '11 at 8:51
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50mm x 1.6 = 80mm , 60mm x 1.6 = 96mm . I would say 96mm is better than 80mm for portraits, mainly due to less DOF and more distance between you and your model. Doing a "head shot" on 50mm APS-C and the distance between you and the model is a hand shake, not much room for lights there. 60mm gives you slightly more distance, and slightly less DOF. I have both 50mm f/1.4 and 60mm f/2.8 Macro. The magnification on the 50mm f/1.4 is SOOOO bad that I'd rather use the kit lens for closeup. So for the OP I honestly think there is no better choice than the 60mm f/2.8 macro. –  Gapton Nov 19 '11 at 14:56

I can really recommend the 60mm macro. It's a superb macro lens and also very good for portraits! A super sharp lens for the money spent. After that, just start saving for some macro flashes :)

cheers!

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We're looking for long answers that provide some explanation and context. Don't just give a one-line answer; explain why your answer is right, ideally with citations. Answers that don't include explanations may be removed.

After the kit lens(es), one is better off getting a "Nifty Fifty". A fast 50mm is great lens as it is small, light weight and tends to be one of the cheapest. You will also learn a lot and have more fun then you could have with previous kit len(es).

However, I won't recommend a 50mm f1.8 tho as you are on a EF-S camera with x1.6 cropped factor sensor. This means a 50mm will be 80mm equivalent to general speaking (, which is small format aka/ Full Frame, 135 or 35mm film/sensor). To see 50mm focal length through EF-S sensor, you are seeking a lens with 31.25mm which the near by offered lenses are:

  • EF 28mm f/2.8
  • EF 28mm f/1.8 USM
  • EF 35mm f/1.4L USM
  • EF 35mm f/2.0

I will recommends Canon EF 35mm f/2.0 and you will find it fits in nicely to your collection if you ever reach to Holy Trinity for EF-S.

share|improve this answer
    
What do you mean by "holy trinity"? –  Imre Nov 24 '11 at 22:24
1  
@Imre, when talk about lenses, it generally refers to 3 essential lenses to cover all/most of your photo shootings. Usually it consist of Ultra-wide zoom, wide zoom and telephoto zoom however, everyone can have different setup for their preference and usage. For example, my preferred trinity setup for Nikon DX is 10-24mm, 35mm f1.8 and 70-200mm f2.8. –  rockacola Nov 25 '11 at 4:05

As others have already mentioned, the "Nifty Fifty" 50mm f/1.8 is a great lens for the price. One of the major motivations for using a 50mm lens is that that focal length tends to approximate the same FOV of human sight on a full frame camera. The thing is, on your cropped sensor 550D, a 50mm lens is going to be the equivalent of the FOV of an 80mm lens on a full frame camera. If you're like me, most of your low light portraiture for which you'd want a fast lens happens indoors, and 80mm is probably a bit too zoomed in for that purpose. Therefore, to approximate a 50mm FOV, you'll have to go with a 28mm or 35mm prime. Your budget allows for the 28mm f/1.8 USM (it's just below $500 right now), which is what I'd recommend.

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Canon f1.8 50mm. You'll start shooting a whole different range of things. No zoom, means you zoom with your feet. f1.8 means razor shallow depth of field. And the price just can't be beat. Save up for L glass, my 17-40mm is my walkabout.

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The Nifty-Fifty is a must-have for it's low price, small size and great image quality –  t3mujin Nov 23 '11 at 17:38
1  
except Nifty-Fifty in EF-S world means 35mm, which is what I will recommended ;) –  rockacola Nov 23 '11 at 23:56

Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 will fit easily in your budget and is an amazing piece of glass. Also, there is no excuse to not get 50mm f/1.8, which produces some stunning portraits and takes good low light pics too.

Since you are leaning towards Canon 17-55 f/2.8, I'd highly recommend the tamron lens I mentioned earlier. (along with the nifty fifty.. sell your kit lens to buy this if you have to)

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I'm not so sure about the reliability of 3rd party lenses, and particularly their warranty & service in India. As for the 50mm F1.8, I know it is really cheap. However, wouldn't it be better to get the f1.4 USM or the EFS 60mm macro instead, as I don't see myself upgrading later on in a similar focal length range? –  ab.aditya Nov 18 '11 at 9:48
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In principle the 50/1.4 would be a better option; better build, better af, faster, somewhat better optically; but in practice the Canon 50/1.4 is a rather fragile beast due to the construction of its AF mechanism. One unlucky bump on the front part of the lens and the AF can be destroyed. Which makes me personally think that the 50/1.8 is at least as solid in practice; it is quite obviously so shoddily built that one is not tempted to be cavalier with it. The 1.4 looks sturdier than it is. And the 1.8 is so cheap that it is not such a big deal if it is broken. I have one myself in fact. –  Staale S Nov 18 '11 at 13:12
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I've been using the Tamron for over 3 years now, initially with a Rebel XT and now with 7D. It has been my walkabout lens and have shot many events with it. It is reliable. International warranty is not applicable in India, but if you purchase the lens in India, you do get a warranty (There are 3 distributors in India: tamron.com/en/distributors/#anc01 ) –  Sridhar Iyer Nov 18 '11 at 18:58
    
The Tamron 17-50mm is a zoom, not a prime lens –  t3mujin Nov 23 '11 at 17:37
    
t3mujin: I mentioned it because he mentioned that 17-50 f/2.8 was his ideal lens. –  Sridhar Iyer Nov 23 '11 at 20:58

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