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Should I buy a Canon 55-250mm lens or 70-300mm for my Rebel T3i? I have the basic 18-55mm lens that came with my camera but I need a next step up that's not too expensive.

What are the most common types of photos shot with either lenses? Or what is each lens best for?

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I was facing exactly the same choice last week. I do not see myself using 70-300mm often so I did not want to pay a lot for something I would only use infrequently. I ended up getting Tamron SP 70-300mm f/4-5.6 Di VC USD - only $330 with the rebate until June. I got it few days ago - pictures seem fine to me. –  Max C Mar 22 '13 at 2:11
It doesn't matter. –  dpollitt Mar 22 '13 at 2:35
possible duplicate of Should a telephoto zoom be my next lens after the kit lens? –  mattdm Mar 22 '13 at 3:01
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closed as not constructive by dpollitt, MikeW, mattdm, John Cavan, Paul Cezanne Mar 23 '13 at 12:49

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4 Answers

I've owned the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6. In my opinion, at half the price, it would be better value for you. There are several reasons why this is so:

  1. The difference between EF and EF-S lenses. AN EF lens must project an image circle large enough to cover a "full frame" sensor or film negative (roughly 36X24MM). An EF-S lens must only project an image circle large enough to cover the Canon APS-C sized sensors that are approximately 22.5X15mm. Since the APS-C image circle is only about 40% the area of an EF image circle, this allows the lens design to be smaller and lighter. Another benefit is that some of the lens elements themselves can be smaller, and thus use smaller amounts of the expensive materials used in modern lens design. In the case of these two lenses, the 55-250 can use smaller amounts of higher quality materials and still be manufactured for a very reasonable cost. The 55-250, while not outstanding, performs comparably to the more expensive EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM in terms of optics.

  2. The difference between "full frame" and APS-C sensors. Although the focal length of a lens is the same regardless of the sensor size, the Field of View (FoV) obtained will be different. A 70-300mm lens on an APS-C body like your T3i will give the equivalent FoV of a 112-480mm lens mounted on FF body. If you need the extra reach this works to your advantage. If you need wider FoV, this works against you. The 55-250 lens on your T3i has the FoV of an 88-400mm lens mounted on a FF body. Unless you are trying to shoot close-ups from long distances, the 55-250 will give you more of the FoV you would typically use. Having a lens with Macro capability can be nice, but neither of these two lenses really offer much more than the other in that department. Unless you're always going to be shooting from larger distances, at half the price the 55-250 is a better value as a telephoto zoom lens for your T3i.

  3. Image Stabilization (IS). Both the EF 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS and the Ef 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS have it. IS lets you shoot at a slower shutter speed before camera shake becomes an issue. IS will not help you if your subject is blurry because the subject is moving too fast. This may be the most significant difference between the two lenses for you. The IS on the 55-250 is good for about 3 stops of shutter speed (Tv). This means at 250mm instead of needing to use a Tv of 1/400 sec or faster, you can use 1/50 sec and expect to avoid blurring due to camera shake if you are practicing good camera stability techniques when shooting. The EF 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS has Stabilization at half the price of the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6.

  4. Your possible future upgrade path. In many cases it is wise to invest in lenses that you would still be able to use if you decide to go with a Full Frame body in the future. In the case of the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6, I doubt you would want to continue using that lens with a high resolution FF body, even though you could. It just isn't a great lens optically. If you eventually plan to buy a Full Frame camera, you should probably consider the EF 70-200mm f/4L (either IS or non-IS) instead.

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This is really a question of personal preference and budget. Missing the 55 - 70 range will hurt for certain shots, but it also is nice to have the longer focal length of 300mm rather than being limited to 250, though with an APS-C sensor the 300mm length is going to be very long (but still potentially useful.)

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I don't think anyone is going to miss a gap like that, where they have 18-55 and 70-300. If you really need 62mm you can use 55mm and take a half a step forward, or 70mm and take a step back? –  MikeW Mar 22 '13 at 2:44
Keep in mind on a crop sensor it is going to be a larger gap. I know when I had a gap from 40mm to 70mm it was a pain to miss and that was on a full frame. I suppose that the extra distance back (since it is crop sensor) may make it less necessary though. –  AJ Henderson Mar 22 '13 at 13:06
Yeah 40-70mm is pretty useful, and you can't always "zoom with your feet", but if you have 80mm and 100mm equivalent, but a gap between, I think you wouldn't miss that much. –  MikeW Mar 22 '13 at 18:26
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EDIT : The 70-300 is an IS only model... The lower cost lens in that range is the EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 . There is another EF 70-300 f/4-5.6 L USM, which more than twice the cost of the non L version. And the correcting element used for IS would make a difference in optics as well. Thanks @Michael Clark for correcting me!*

Depends on how you plan to use the camera... if you feel that you're going to use the lens mostly in ample light and possibly for most of the time mounted on a tripod... then the 70-300mm is a nice choice if you want the extra zoom.

The 55-250mm has Image Stabilization so is easier to use hand-held, and so is better when hand held at lower shutter speeds. I also believe it is a newer design, so you might get slightly better optics. It is an EF-S lens, so wont mount on a full frame camera. Keep that in mind if you ever consider upgrading to a full frame.

The 70-300 has another model that comes with Image Stabilization, but is significantly more expensive, without any change in the optics itself.

Having used both lenses, on a crop frame body, I find that I do prefer the 55-250, it just is a better all round lens. But you should evaluate by your own specific needs.

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Canon does not currently offer a non-IS version of the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS. Perhaps you are thinking of the much lower quality EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6. Adding IS changes the optics as well, as the correction element is added. For instance the EF 70-200mm f/4L IS has four more elements in two more groups than the EF 70-200 f/4L. –  Michael Clark Mar 22 '13 at 10:15
Fark! You're right...I was thinking of the EF 75-300. facepalm –  Archit Mar 22 '13 at 23:49
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This is a very good subjet to speak.To be very frank ,I am having a 18-200mm canon lense.this will cover a lot.But I prefer I had 18-300mm or more.This single lense will cover all.Pls correct me if i am wrong.As an example, during a school sportsmeet,you may need to get telephotoes and wideangle photoes.So you may not have time to change lences.What is your idea about this???better to keep seperate lences??? Thanks

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