Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I'm going to be traveling the world for the next few years, and I'd like to buy a new lens for my (ancient) Canon Digital Rebel XT. I'm currently using the Canon "nifty fifty" prime lens, but the smaller sensor on my camera (APS-C, I think? 22.2 mm × 14.8mm) means that my photos are cropped a lot closer than I'd normally like. I take a lot of wide angle shots, so my ideal FOV would probably be the iPhone's FOV, which according to this answer is ~60° horizontal. This means that I'll need a 20mm lens or lower, according to this calculator, though 28mm might do in a pinch.

I'm only going to be traveling with one bag, so I need to pick a single lens that will be good to me in most situations. Budget is ~$350 or less. Are there any zoom lenses that are good enough quality for my FOV and price requirements, or are primes still the way to go? Could you recommend some lenses?

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do you need good low light ability? the canon 18-55 kit lens is a good cheap option, if you need something faster the tamron 17-50 f2.8 is superb but slightly above your price range. I love the old canon 28-105 usm II but it might not be wide enough for you, can be had for around $100. Cheapest wide option with good low light will probably be a prime, this is might help you find some stuff kenrockwell.com/canon/lenses –  DavyCrockett Jul 25 '13 at 4:32
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I'm not familiar with that kit lens, but I'd imagine the 28-105 is better glass, it's superb glass quality, you can see a lot of example pics and an in-depth review here kenrockwell.com/canon/lenses/28-105mm.htm The best all around lens is the tamron but that's largely to do with the constant 2.8 aperture, the glass on the 28-105 is high quality stuff as long as you find one in good condition –  DavyCrockett Jul 25 '13 at 4:46
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@Archagon I once had a 28-80 or 28-90 kit lens that came with an early film Rebel. Even the EF-F 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS or IS II versions are a good improvement over your 28-90. Avoid the non-IS 18-55 kit lenses, they are optically inferior to the newer IS versions. –  Michael Clark Jul 25 '13 at 5:18
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If you are still looking for a better lens around the same price as the Canon 18-55, the Sigma 18-50 might be a better option (I don't know if the lens fits your camera) - f/2.8 @ 18mm vs Canon's f/3.5, has HSM, OS (Sigma's version of IS) and new lens costs $180 (comes with petal-shaped hood) on Adorama. I recently upgraded from kit to this lens for my T2i, and I am loving it! –  Chaithanya M Jul 25 '13 at 13:16

4 Answers 4

up vote 3 down vote accepted

There aren't many options within your budget, but there are several APC-C only wide angle zooms just above it at around $350-500. These would include the Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 Di II ($500 on amazon, $350-400 on eBay), the Tokina AT-X 12-24mm f/4 AF ($400 amazon), and the Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM ($430 amazon). All of these should give better image quality than an EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens that you can pick up used for about $100 used or $130-200 new from a broken up kit (Avoid the earlier non-IS versions of the 18-55 kit lens, they are optically inferior to the newer IS and IS II versions).

The available primes in this price range are few and far between. The Sigma 20mm f/1.8 runs over $600, the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 runs about $500 on amazon (the older version runs $450 on amazon and can be picked up for between $300-400 on eBay). The Canon 20mm f/2.8 ($450 at amazon), and Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS ($650 amazon, $420-500 eBay) are other options.

I own the Tamron AF 17-50mm f/2.8 DI II and it was a significant upgrade to my non-IS 18-55mm kit lens that came with my Rebel XTi several years ago. It is as sharp as my EF 17-40mm f/4 L and one stop faster, but although the Tamron will mount and function on my full frame body, the image circle doesn't cover the entire sensor. That won't be a concern for your APS-C Rebel XT.

See also upgrading from kit lens

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For those that will cry and moan about my assertion that the Tamron 17-50 is sharper than the Canon 17-40, here's a link to the question where I post several review links and a DxO comparison chart: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/38629/upgrading-from-kit-lens/… –  Michael Clark Jul 25 '13 at 5:13
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Frankly the EF-S 18-55 is a pretty junk lens (well, in my experience, perhaps I own a bad example but this agrees with me: dpreview.com/lensreviews/canon_18-55_3p5-5p6_is_c16/3). You will notice a lag in quality even from you 50mm 1.8, trust me. The Tamron is a much better lens, worth every penny. Also, you might consider this Sigma 17-70, it's also a beaut for the same price as the Tamron: google.com/… –  Jay Carr Jul 25 '13 at 12:34
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@Archagon As stated in the answer above, the Tamron 17-50 is a significant upgrade to the 18-55 kit lenses in terms of both constant f/2.8 aperture and sharpness. Everyone raves about the 50mm f/1.8 because they've never used a truely good prime lens. As prime lenses goes, its resolution is well below average. But it will still out resolve any of the zooms anywhere near this price range, or even in much higher price ranges. It is almost the exact equal at 50mm and f/2.8 as the $2,300 24-70 f/2.8 L II... –  Michael Clark Jul 25 '13 at 14:29
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Click the Measurements tab, sharpness, then the profiles tab below and set up the lenses for 50mm and f/2.8. dxomark.com/index.php/Lenses/Compare-Camera-Lenses/… –  Michael Clark Jul 25 '13 at 14:31
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The biggest concern I would have for the 18-55 kit lens for your stated purpose is durability. The plastic mount and build quality might not hold up as well as a better built lens with a metal mount. Of course your nifty-fifty is about the same build quality and has the plastic mount like the 18-55 does, so if you've managed to keep it undamaged under the same conditions for very long you might be OK. –  Michael Clark Jul 25 '13 at 14:54

If I were in your situation, I would SELL the Canon Rebel XT body, rather than buy an inexpensive lens for it in your budget. With your original budget and the money from selling that body, buy yourself a brand new all-in-one zoom camera. I recently added a Canon SX50 to my mix of gear, and it's a nice camera for this kind of situation (and costs about $400 new).

The Rebel XT is a 2006-era camera and sensor. Sensor capabilities have improved massively since then, and to put it bluntly, I'll bet the SX50 sensor is better than the Rebel sensor in overall image quality. Taking an old body and putting an expensive lens on it isn't going to get you great images compared to what you can do with these good but inexpensive cameras being produced today.

Plus, the SX50 (and similar) cameras are going to be smaller and lighter with better autofocus and exposure management, better battery life and use the smaller SD cards. Plus, since the lens isn't removable, you don't have to worry about dirty sensors, and a small all-in-one will attract less unpleasant attention than a DLSR would.

Other cameras that you might consider would be something like a Canon G12 (or its older sibling the G11, well within your budget). you might even end up being able to afford something like an Olympus Pen Micro 4/3 system.

There are lots of options if you are willing to consider not carrying a DLSR with you, and given the age of the body you have, in all honesty you're due for an upgrade. A $350 lens on top of that body isn't really an upgrade given some of the options now available for about the cost of that lens...

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I'm considering this option as well, but honestly, I'm skeptical that an all-in-one will produce substantially better images than my Rebel XT with a better lens (except in low light conditions). Plus, when I upgrade my camera body in a few years, I'll still be able to use my new lens. –  Archagon Jul 25 '13 at 22:38
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Hmm. Well, according to Snapsort, the Rebel XT is smaller and lighter than the SX50, and also sports better image quality (per DXOMark), color depth, and lower noise. Plus, surely the built-in lens on the SX50 is comparable to a kit lens? –  Archagon Jul 26 '13 at 0:08
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The SZ50 is a 12megapixel camera that's 4x3x4 and ways 550 grams. The Rebel XT is 4x4x2 and 485 grams for 8 megapixels. That size and weight is body only (all data from the Canon site). Once you put a lens on it (at least, anything other than the 40mm pancake) it'll be noticably bigger and heavier again.You'll have to make your own decision on the quality of the lens, but my evaluation is that the image quality is quite good, way beyond what I'd expect for a $400 lens. Or I wouldn't use it. –  chuqui Jul 26 '13 at 1:30
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hey, to help your research, I pulled some 100% crops of similar images from both my Rebel XT and my SX50. You can take a look and get a sense of the relative quality of the two units. chuqui.com/2013/07/… –  chuqui Jul 26 '13 at 6:01
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@chuqui That was one confusing comparison! I applaud the effort but for comparisons try the same subject next time. It also appears as though the Rebel XT was using a focal length over 55mm which is outside of the kit zooms ability that the Rebel XT came with from Canon. I'm not sure that comparison shows much. Archagon is also planning to upgrade beyond the kit lens so all this really proves is that the SX50 is pretty good compared to a terrible lens :-P –  dpollitt Jul 26 '13 at 13:10

The Canon EF-S 10-22 is a great lens. But even used may be close to $500. But if you can stretch your budget it is a great choice.

I bought this when it first came out. For ultra wide shots I used to use a Sigma 15mm and correcting distortion. The 10-22 does have some distortion but it is minimal, and in general I use them as is out of the camera unless I am making panoramic photos and need them perfect. What I found when traveling is that the long end of this was fine for typical travel shots, so I never threw my kit lens (18-55) on. This lens lived on my camera, unless I was shooting wildlife and wanted a telephoto. The only thing it . On the wide end you can stand in a corner and capture an entire room. The lens seems sharp in the corners and seems to handle direct sun better than other lenses I have seen. It does come with a flower petal hood.

When this first came out there was a lot of talk that it was built up to L lens specification but that Canon didn't want to make an EF-S L lens. I dont' really know about that, but the build quality has been great, and optically this is better than any lens I own.

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I find my 28-135 IS to be a good walkaround lens for the cost (~350). I originally bought it for my XT and it has served me well for many years. It is not a great lens, but pretty good for the cost and frankly, the XT will not really do much to expose it's flaws.

Possibly, it may not be wide enough for you, but I find the range to pretty good for a wide variety of shots. It is also fairly light, which makes it easier to lug around for extended periods of time.

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