Before the rush

Before the rush
by evan-pak

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In February 2010 I bought my first DSLR: EOS Rebel XSi EF-S 18-55IS Kit I also bought a zoom telephoto lens: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

The XSi is a simple camera which I thought would be good enough for learning photography and it has been fitting its purpose well.

At some moment in the future I plan to buy a full frame DSL, probably a 5D Mark II. Not sure about that yet.

Since I can keep the accessories and lenses while upgrading to new bodies, I decided to invest in the best accessories and lenses I could afford.

When I decided to buy a speedlite, I bought a Speedlite 580EX II.

Now I'm starting to look for a new lenses. A book I'm reading recommended a prime lenses for exercising composition and also for the generally better optics.

In different places I saw recommendations on buying 50mm primes lenses as they give proximately the field of view of our natural vision.

I've been thinking on investing in an L series lenses, more specifically a EF 50mm f / 1.2L USM

It is very expensive, but it is something that I'll be able to use for a long time even while I upgrade to more powerful EOS bodies.

So instead of buying cheaper accessories and eventually replacing them later with better quality ones, I am planning to buy better quality ones and only exchange/upgrade the body.

Do you guys think this is a good strategy? If not, what would be a better one?

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There are likely to be a variety of good answers to this question. It is a great question, but it may warrant being CW. I figure we can see what kind of answers are provided, and convert if necessary. – jrista Sep 24 '10 at 1:15
Don't plan on FF upgrade just because; have good reason. 1.5-crop sensors are great and getting better. See for more on this topic. – Reid Sep 24 '10 at 1:24
possible duplicate of After 2 years of amateur photo, buy a new body or a great lens? – mattdm Feb 28 '12 at 15:35
up vote 7 down vote accepted

Alfred, I would recommend doing some homework on a case by case basis. For the 50mm f/1.2L, Alan is right, the 50mm f/1.4 is a great value for the money and will work really just fine. I have a full frame Canon 5D Mark II and this is one of the first lens I bought. I use it to shoot concerts, live performances, etc. I just shot 350 frames tonight in a very dark venue and it performs as well as when I got it. The 5DMII is hungry, but this lens delivers. One of my friend just bought a 5D (the original), and even his cheap 50mm f/1.8 does the trick. Remember that at f/1.2 your focus plane is incredibly thin, so you really have to be able to focus precisely on what you want, and make the corresponding composition decisions.

There are L lenses that are notoriously good. The Canon 70-200 f/2.8L IS, for example, is absolutely hands down my best and favorite lens. I would recommend it anytime over the non L version. I have the Canon 24-105mm f/4.0L IS (the kit lens), and while not that fast, it's a good versatile lens that I would use when I wanted to travel light (nowadays I would probably trade it for the next 24-70mm f/2.8 when it's released). I have the 16-35mm f/2.8L II and again, very strong performer, but I've never tried another ultra-wide non L glass on that body. Obviously stay away from EF-S lenses, but there are not that many anyway.

For the flash, I think you made the right call, I really like the 580 EXII because my 5DMII can "talk" to it straight from its internal menus, and it's likely all the new Canon will too. It can behave as a master too (I have a 430EXII as a slave unit).

Lenses are a better investment than a camera, they resell for really good value so you can't really go that wrong, but don't go too crazy either; I still have to meet someone who would swear by that 50mm f/1.2.

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By focus plane you mean depth of field? The depth of field at f/1.2 is really something that concerns me since I am not sure on ways to handle that focusing without closing the aperture. If I have to close the aperture for every shot to get the field of depth I want, I must just end up buying a cheaper lens such as the f/1.4. – Alfred Myers Sep 24 '10 at 11:53
Yes, I meant depth of field. It's thin at f/1.4 too. To give you an idea, if you focus on the nose of your subject, the eyes will not be in focus (upon close inspection). The ears certainly won't at all. But sometimes you have no choice, there is just not enough light. – sebastien.b Sep 24 '10 at 15:02
precisely. i have an f1.8 lens, and as i usually shoot close up; the DoF at short focusing distances is already ridiculously thin. i end up stopping it down to be able to focus a nose and the corresponding face at the same time. i've shot with an f1.2 lens, and i really don't find that aperture very usable. it's hard work! the option of using it is great, but f1.4 or 1.8 is already thin enough for day to day photography. – JoséNunoFerreira Feb 21 '11 at 11:49

Based on what you described, I would describe that upgrade path as "foolish."

Certainly you are entitled to spend your money how you see fit, but it seems like buying a $1600 lens (can't imagine how much it costs in Brazil) is a piss-poor investment. Lenses certainly hold their value (until newer better models come along). But can you justify the nearly $1200 increase over the excellent 50 f1.4?

From what I know, pro's even have a hard time justifying the cost--only those with the need for the extra ~1/2 stop of light and the extra sharpness wide open consider it.

I guess I would look at it this way: if you can't out-shoot someone using the $400 50 f1.4 with your $1600 50 f1.2L, then it's a huge waste.

I know where you're coming from though. I lust after owning the best gear I can afford. I'll buy contractor grade power-tools even though I have no business owning them.

The question is, is the difference between the "best" and "good-enough" worth it? Do you want the 50 1.2L because of the prestige of owning one? Or is it because you need the extra bit of light it provides. It is a good lens, and if money was no object I'd have one for every day of the week.

Now, I could be way of the mark. The extra bit of light could be make it or break it. But you have to answer yourself honestly, as to why you want the lens. I upgraded my $500 17-40L for the $1400 16-35F2.8 because that extra stop of light was crucial (extra 1mm was too). But, my favorite photos were still taken with the 17-40L, so go figure.

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It has nothing to do with prestige since most people in my social circle don't even know the differences between lenses. One of the reasons I was thinking about going F1.2 instead F1.4 was the flexibility of being able to shoot in lower light conditions. I'm not sure, though, that ~1/2 stop for 1200 bucks is justifiable. – Alfred Myers Sep 24 '10 at 11:43
I wasn't trying to imply that you were after the prestige. However there are people who assume L = DIAMOND PLATINUM, which is far from the case. Again, for you $1600 might be chump change. For many ,it's not. And even if it were, buying a that lens isn't necessarily going to give you $1200 worth of better results. I respect wanting to buy the best you can afford. But realistically you will most likely be hard pressed to fully utilize that lens, justifying it's cost. – Alan Sep 25 '10 at 1:19

The only thing I can really suggest about a Canon upgrade path is avoid EF-S lenses. Most canon equipment is compatible with all of their bodies, except EF-S lenses. Those are designed specifically for APS-C sensors, which your 450D has.

When it comes to the quality of the equipment you plan to buy, it kind of depends on what you do. If you are a serious amateur on a budget, top of the line L series equipment may not be necessary in all cases. If you are intending to go semi-pro or pro, particularly for things like weddings, better gear would be more useful. Flash, filters, and other such gear are technologies that can change, possibly dramatically, over the years. Unless you need the top of the line, it may not be that important to get top of the line accessory gear.

When it comes to lenses, a lens is a very long-term investment. With the proper care and storage, a lens should last a lifetime (provided Canon doesn't pull another mount switch on us all), where as you may go through several camera bodies every decade (or less.) If you figure you'll use your photography gear for many years, I'd invest the money on very good lenses. You'll get the best quality you can, and higher-end lenses tend to be more durable and resistant to rough, long-term use than cheaper lenses.

I'm pretty much in the same boat you are in. I purchased a 450D (Rebel XSi) a bout a year and a half ago. It was pretty cheap, some $700, and I sunk my money into lenses. I now have several L-series lenses, and the 100mm USM Macro (not an L, one of their gold-band lenses). Most of my lenses are zooms, including the 100-400mm f/3.5-5.6 L IS USM, 16-35mm f/2.8 L II and pending 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM (still debating the 24-70 f/2.8 vs. the 24-105 f/4, given that the 24-105 has IS), with my two prims being the 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro and 50mm f/1.2L USM. Within a couple weeks of buying my 450D, I knew that an APS-C sensor wouldn't serve me for long, and I made sure that (outside of the 18-55mm EF-S kit lens) ALL of my lenses were EF mount lenses to maximize their longevity and potential use on any Canon bodies I may purchase over the years.

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Yeah... I learned about the EF-S limitations pretty early so have not bought any ofther EF-S lenses. – Alfred Myers Sep 24 '10 at 11:36

That's more or less exactly the same path I've taken, there are some key differences though in my situation:

  • I already had a film EOS body before going digital, so I was keen to share my lenses back to an existing full frame body
  • Full frame opens opportunities to specific picture styles, when working with of depth of field

The 50/1.2 is probably excessive for the moment -- it is worth bearing in mind that the 50/1.8 is the cheapest of all the Canon lenses (by list price) and only a stop different on the maximum aperture, but a twelfth of the price; yet very capable in itself. There is also the 50/1.4 at about a fifth of the price of the 1.2, and only half a stop different.

It is worth looking at often you're using your kit lens at around the 50mm focal range, with the aperture wide open. If you're always frustrated that you cannot get the aperture wide enough, then there is justification for a prime.

It would definitely be worth trying to the cheaper lenses first, as they may save you enough to get that dream camera sooner.

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The advantage of a 50mm lens is not that it gives a similar perspective to the human eye (when was the last time you saw a photo and thought "wow, that image has almost the same shortening effect as my eyes!") but that 50mm lenses can be made with a simple design which allows for very large maximum apertures.

This is part of the reason Canon make more 50mm lenses (4) than any other focal length. The 50L is a very niche product and I would want to be sure you needed it before spending that amount of money compared another 50mm.

Also I'm not sure of the reasons to upgrade everything else apart from the body. A 5D body and cheaper 50mm will cost a fraction of the price of a new 50L. It's no harder to use than the XSi so I don't see any reason to wait as you will see an immediate improvement in image quality. In some ways the 5D is a better camera to learn on as you can see the effects of aperture more easily.

When you do come to invest in glass I would go for something peerless in the range like the 24 f/1.4L rather than the 50 which has some almost as good but vastly cheaper cousins. But really you should have an idea of what each focal length gives you and not spend money for the sake of it.

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My advice would be to rent a 50/1.2L for a weekend, and try it out before you buy one. My guess is that'll be enough to help you realize how foolish it would be to buy one.

Just to give you fair warning of what to expect: I don't know a nice way to say this, so I'll put it bluntly: the real cost of the 50/1.2L isn't the money you pay for it. The real cost is to the pictures you take with it. Don't get me wrong: its speed is really impressive -- but in nearly every other respect, the nicest description you can give of it is "mediocre". By the standards you'd normally apply to most "normal" lenses, it's really a pretty lousy lens -- while it's reasonably sharp at the center, as soon as you get toward the edges of the picture at all, it basically turns to mush.

The 50/1.8 II (for example) is not only a lot less expensive, but it's also a lot smaller, lighter, and (most importantly) optically it's drastically superior in most respects. It's quite a bit sharper and has a lot less CA (to the point that with the 1.2, you nearly always need to correct the CA, but with the 1.8, it's almost entirely optional and doesn't make much difference when you do bother). In short, where the 1.2L is optically pretty poor in nearly all respects, the 1.8 is really good is nearly all respects (its only real shortcoming is fairly noticeable vignetting, at least on full-frame -- in that respect, the two are pretty similar).

I haven't personally used the 50/1.4 much, but from what I've seen, it's a lot closer to the 1.8 in terms of optical quality -- i.e., you don't seem to be giving up much (if any) picture quality to get the faster lens in this case. As such, if you want a 50mm lens, and are willing to pay to get one that's faster than 1.8, this is almost certainly the one you want. Just keep in mind that while it's nowhere close to the size, weight, or cost of the 1.2L, it's still quite a bit bigger, heavier, and more expensive than the 1.8...

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I heard a couple of times about renting here in SE, but I never heard anybody talking about renting here in Brazil. I'm going to take o look into that. – Alfred Myers Sep 30 '10 at 11:09
@Alfred - maybe that's a business opportunity for you ;) – Winston Smith Oct 22 '10 at 20:55

EF 50 f/1.2L is really a waste of money if you don't specifically need that big hole. 50 f/1.4 is much better value.

As for the upgrade path, I also started with a Rebel and a kit lens, but when I wanted to "try" an L lens I went for the cheapest of them all: EF 17-40 f/4 L. It worked very nicely as a standard zoom for my APS-C body, and when I got a full frame camera I instantly had a ultra-wide lens which was quite an amazing experience.

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