Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I have a Canon 600D and I am looking to get a second lens to expand upon the 18-55mm lens that came with my camera. I very much like what I've got at the moment, but I always find myself wanting to be able to zoom further.

I am really interested in nature and animal photography, like these.

I don't have a huge budget (think of £500 as of August 2012 as the absolute max, but hopefully less). I believe it wouldn't be worth getting a lens without Image Stabilisation as I would be looking for best results at far distances.

I've been looking and in the range accessible to me have found the Canon EF 70-300mm F/4-5.6 IS USM Lens (for around £400) or the Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS Lens (possibly for around £200). The price difference is quite large and I was wondering what the difference in terms of optical performance/build quality/price vs quality ratio is, if much at all.

To be honest I'm pretty open about what to get, my only concern is that I've read that sometimes a lens with a larger ranger (such as 18-200mm for example) can suffer image quality loss due to the technical tradeoffs involved in the design.

What lenses do you recommend for a amateur photographer looking to get into nature/animal photography with my budget and current equipment?

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See photo.stackexchange.com/questions/12157/… . Off hand I would look at any of the 70-200 Canon "L" lenses. The f/4 non image stabilized should fit your budget I believe. –  dpollitt Aug 30 '12 at 18:34
    
I'm also open to 3rd party lenses if that's something people consider better in this case. I'm not sure if Sigma may have any decent offerings, or even if it would work with my camera. –  Toby Seers Aug 30 '12 at 20:00
    
Maybe you could have a look at what Sigma (or Tamron) has to offer then, for with your budget, the choice is quite limited: sigmaphoto.com/shop/telephoto-zoom-lenses –  Berzemus Aug 31 '12 at 8:57
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2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You have conflicting needs: good tele lenses are expensive but, since you mention image quality as a requisite, cheaper lenses are obviously inferior when it comes to it.

Besides that, "saving" today by spending for a lens which will not maybe give you the right quality could be a false saving.

That said, I would consider the 70-200 f/4 L not IS. Keep in mind that if the subject moves IS is relatively useless, since it can only compensate (obviously) for camera shake. Depending on the kind of subject that you are interested, 200 could also be not enough: but going to longer focal lenghts while keeping a good quality is very much outside of your budget.

If you feel that the L lens is too much, among your options the 70-300 (which is also USM) would be arguably better given the greater flexibility in the range of focal lengths available.

PS you can find a review of this lens which mentions the same doubt that you have:

I reckon most shoppers in this range are torn between the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 USM IS and the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS - technically they're darn closed. So rest assured that you're not alone in your quest grin.

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Thanks for the response Francesco, is this the 70-200mm lens you were referring to (the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/…)? I'm not quite sure what an L lens is or its advantages. My main concern with what you've said is that I believe I would like more than 200mm, and that being said would you say that the 70-300mm is not a good lens that you would recommend? –  Toby Seers Aug 30 '12 at 19:53
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L ("Luxury") is the designation Canon give to their professional quality lenses - they generally have excellent optical performance (even wide open), blindingly fast "ring USM" autofocus and very high build quality (weather sealing, etc). –  Philip Kendall Aug 30 '12 at 20:23
    
Yes that is the lens, and it is, I'd say not only in my opinion, an excellent lens with a very attractive price. The 70-300 is longer but at 300 has a maximum aperture of f/5.6 (compare with the 70-200L whose maximum aperture is f/4 at all the focal lenghts). This could make a difference, IS or not IS, with respect to the image quality. I have not tried it (the 70-300) but from the review it appears to be usable. You have to know its limitations and to be realistic in the use cases that you will want to experiment. –  Francesco Aug 30 '12 at 20:38
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Having used both lenses, I'd say that if you have a sharp (as sharp as either lens can take) picture from either lens, you could probably get away with cropping/enlarging the 70-200 image to get the same FOV. The 70-200 L is just that much better. –  Chinmay Kanchi Dec 10 '13 at 10:41
    
i highly recommend this lens, it's considered to be the cheapest L lens and it's very high quality –  akram Dec 13 '13 at 21:43
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You need to work out what focal length you need to get the kind of shots you're interested in, and only then you can start thinking about what lens to get. If 200mm will do you, then the EF 70-200 f/4 is the right choice given your budget; if you need 300mm, get the EF 70-300 f/4-5.6. If you need more than 300mm, you're going to have to increase your budget.

The EF-S 55-250 is the budget option: while it's not going to be as good as the two lenses mentioned above, it's a lot cheaper. Stopped down to f/8 or so, it's pretty sharp but don't expect brillant performance wide-open.

I know you haven't mentioned it above, but the general recommendation would be to avoid the EF 75-300 - you're almost certain to be better off getting the EF-S 55-250 instead.

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Thanks Philipp. I am looking probably more for 300mm range because I want maximum zoom, and I believe at my level I won't need more. Would you agree that IS is necessary for wildlife shooting or not? –  Toby Seers Aug 30 '12 at 19:52
    
Depends entirely on the light conditions you'll be shooting in, and what ISO you're prepared to shoot at - at 300mm on a crop, you'll ideally want to be shooting at around 1/(1.6*300) seconds or around 1/500s of a second to avoid blur. –  Philip Kendall Aug 30 '12 at 20:33
    
TBH I have not had a whole great deal of use with ISO. I tend to use manual setting for aperture etc, but leave ISO on Auto (is that bad?). I will be mostly working in England outdoors with this so lighting depends... I believe, after looking more into it, that the 70-300 f 4-5.6 IS USM is probably the lens for me. I hope –  Toby Seers Aug 30 '12 at 20:41
    
@TobySeers I have a 600D and when the ISO is left to auto, the camera will happily increase the ISO to 3200 to compensate for my manual shutter and aperture settings. I prefer to control all three settings and strike a balance without letting the ISO get too high, if possible. –  Kalessin Aug 30 '12 at 21:26
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The idea that ISO can be too high is really a misconception. Native ISO will always be better than digital amplification, excluding "expanded" ISO settings (which are really just digital amplification anyway). Its better to use ISO 3200, than say to use ISO 1600 and amplify in post, on newer camera bodies. You want to maximize the signal coming out of the sensor before it gets converted by the ADC, as that will minimize, not maximize, noise. –  jrista Aug 31 '12 at 1:44
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