Incense

by Bart Arondson

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I do a fair amount of travel photography, but must travel quite light since I leave for months at a time to remote destinations (and carry all my equipment on my back). I'm a semi-pro but really enjoy taking photos for personal enjoyment most. The problem: The few lenses I carry with me just aren't cutting it in terms of sharpness and ability to fit the whole scene in my shot.

My travel kit includes a:

-Canon 7D

-50mm 1.4

-17-50 2.8

-70-200 or (usually) 70-300

I mostly shoot travel portraits, but I'd like to do more in-the-moment, full-body portraits with more props/scenery (farmers with animals/equipment, fishermen in their boats, cooks with their food). Instead of just getting a shot from the chest up, I'd really like to focus on the bigger picture, too. For most photos I take, I have just a few seconds or minutes to get the right shot, so fast focusing is pretty important as well as clarity.

What I'm looking for:

-A wide-angle, preferably prime lens that is SHARP (this is the most important factor)

-Something not too far out of my $1,500 limit

-A lens that isn't too bulky or heavy to carry--the smaller the better

-Any brand (though I haven't had good experiences with Sigma)

-A lens with apertures around 1.4-2.0 are ideal; I definitely won't go above 2.8

What are your recommendations? Equally helpful: What would you not recommend? I need a lens that is known for sharpness and clarity--a real professional look and fast focusing are important to me. I of course have some in mind, but wanted your opinions before my final tests. Links to your example photos with recommended lenses are welcomed. Thanks, all!

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what experience have you had with sigma? thats my preferred 3rd party brand (HSM models only). I've not been impressed with tamron. Clarity? thats something you add in Lightroom ;p –  Michael Nielsen Sep 6 '13 at 23:00
    
How much wider than your 17 do you want to go? –  David Goldwasser Sep 7 '13 at 1:14
1  
Are you asking for something wider than 17mm? There are a limited number of choices that wide, and few of them are f/2.8 or faster. –  Patrick Hurley Sep 7 '13 at 1:32
    
I don't really need something wider than 17mm, because then I'll get distortion on my subjects. I've used the 35mm 1.4 and haven't found it to suit my needs too well (I travel with a cropped sensor camera), so I'm thinking something in between the 16-35mm zone--perhaps a 24mm? The Canon 16-35 is a contender, but I do like the clarity and fast speed of the primes. Still up in the air over what to consider! –  c3peat Sep 7 '13 at 3:12
1  
I'd seriously consider the Sigma 18-35 f/1.8, if I were you... –  Chinmay Kanchi Sep 7 '13 at 12:53

3 Answers 3

If you want to go with a Canon lens, the EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM is within a couple hundred of your price point. The EF 35mm f/1.4L USM is actually within your price point and is very well reviewed, but is getting a little bit closer to standard than wide angle, particularly when on your 7D due to the crop sensor.

On the slower and zoom side, there is the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM which is also just a little bit outside your price range and highly reviewed, but it's only a 2.8 so if you don't mind a prime, one of the other options may be better.

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I'd go with the Sigma 35 f/1.4 ART over the Canon. Seems to be reviewed better, and is less expensive. –  kenny Sep 7 '13 at 0:18

With your criteria I think this one fits your bill, if you can stretch the $1500 to $1800:

Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 ZE Lens for Canon EF Mount EOS DSLR Cameras

You wont look more professional with anything else than this. it is a pretty wide prime, and maximum aperture F2.8 is common for fast wide angle lenses (seem the physical constraints makes it hard to go faster than that for wide angle lenses).

Apparently, it should be possible to get one for around $1500:

Review

It will focus as fast as your focus skill allows. I recommend the efs focus screen, with your standard zoom being the fixed aperture 2.8.

They also make a 15mm F2.8 Distagon. But it is twice your budget.

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The Zeiss 18mm is well within the $1500 budget though: bhphotovideo.com/c/product/655185-REG/… –  jp89 Sep 7 '13 at 5:59
1  
With the anti-aliasing filter on the 7D, using that lens with it might be like throwing pearls to swine. –  Michael Clark Sep 7 '13 at 8:40
    
no. resolution is not a min(r1,r2) function but a r1*r2 function. so a better lens on a bad camera is still better than a bad lens on a bad camera. (I am not saying 7D is a bad camera). The OP asked for "A wide-angle, preferably prime lens that is SHARP (this is the most important factor)" and "a profesional look". only the fast focus criteria, that dindt seem to have a lot of weight can be an issue here. –  Michael Nielsen Sep 7 '13 at 9:59
    
What you say is true, but the 7D has one of the strongest AA filters on any of the Canon EOS digital bodies, and it tends to blur images a little from even the sharpest of lenses. I think that is the source of most of his dissatisfaction, especially if he isn't aggressively sharpening the default camera settings. Will a better lens on a camera with a weaker AA filter not out resolve the same lens on a camera of comparable resolution with a stronger AA filter? –  Michael Clark Sep 7 '13 at 10:42

As someone who owns and uses both the Canon 5D mark II and the Canon 7D I think the biggest problem with your lenses is the anti-aliasing filter on your 7D. If increasing the sharpness setting in-camera or using the unsharpen mask in post doesn't get the results you need it is time for you to go full frame.

For around $1500 you can find a deal on a new 6D if you are willing to wait a few weeks (monitor The-Digital-Picture) or a used 5D II. Going to the higher resolution and larger pixel sizes will improve every lens in your bag except the 17-50, which you can probably sell along with the 70-300 to replace it with the EF 17-40mm f/4 L or the EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS (which has recently dropped in price to around $750-800 USD). A 24mm lens on a full frame will give the same Angle of View as a 15mm lens on a Canon APS-C body. The move from the APS-C to a full frame 6D or 5DII will gain you more in usable ISO than the stop you lose in the lenses. If you sell the 7D and the 17-50 you should have enough for the Tamron AF 24-70mm f/2.8 VC if you would rather go that way.

share|improve this answer
    
Michael, I thank you for your thought-out suggestions, but I don't think I'm going to be buying, re-selling, and exchanging all my lenses at this time. I'd like a more practical solution, though if you believe I'll never get a truly professional "look" with any lens options out there on my 7D, then that's an interesting thought... –  c3peat Sep 7 '13 at 22:29
    
The focus consistency of the 7D has also been disappointing to me. Some shots can be fairly well focused, but the shot to shot variation is about 3X that of the 1D X or the 5DIII. lensrentals.com/blog/2012/08/… –  Michael Clark Sep 7 '13 at 22:36
    
Unfortunately the 5DII also suffers from the focus variation issue. The 6D appears to be somewhere in between. Probably a little better than the T4i but not as good as the 1D IV. –  Michael Clark Sep 7 '13 at 22:39

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