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A friend of mine is buying his first DSLR. He's chosen an entry-level Canon model, and wants to know which lens he should go for.

My advice is to go for a good 70mm prime and an 18-200mm. The former because it's quite good in low light and handy for portraits and the latter as it will give him enormous flexibility and help him figure out what lenses to buy in the future.

He doesn't really know what kind of photography he wants to do yet.

So what do you guys think, good advice or bad — if you could pick two lenses with a buget of 500 quid what would you go for?

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4  
You want both good and bad advice? I'd settle for just good advice :) –  Matt Grum Oct 29 '10 at 8:18
    
Just to clarify, does "500 quid" mean £500? –  chills42 Oct 29 '10 at 11:49
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No. 500 quid means a monkey :-) en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monkey_%28disambiguation%29 –  Roddy Oct 29 '10 at 13:41
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@chills42 - yes, quid = Pounds Stirling @Roddy - LOL :) –  Paul Dixon Oct 29 '10 at 13:47
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This question could use some rephrasing. The current "Here's what I think; what do you think?" survey approach doesn't work well for the site. See blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective –  mattdm May 27 '11 at 13:23

13 Answers 13

  • Canon EF 50/1,8 II (cheap, but sharp and great for low light situations and portraits)
  • Canon EF-S 18-135/3,5-5,6 IS (good enough coverage for most types of photography, sharper than Canon EF-S 18-200/3.5-5.6 IS)
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+1 for 50mm/1,8 II –  Rafal Ziolkowski Oct 29 '10 at 7:19
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I'd go for the Canon 28-135mm f3.5-f/5.6 IS USM over the 18-135, as that lens has served me proud (I've not used the 18-135 to compare though) –  Rowland Shaw Oct 29 '10 at 7:32
    
The Canon 28-135mm f3.5-f/5.6 IS USM is a good lens, but on a 550D it is not wide enough to be used as an all-round in my opinion. –  Mattias Kihlström Oct 29 '10 at 8:04
    
I recently bought the 28-135 and it is an excellent lens. I have to switch to my 18-55 kit lens to get a wider angle though. –  Carles Oct 29 '10 at 15:52
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28mm is not very wide on APS-C; for a new photographer, it seems like it would be important to have those focal lengths available for experimentation. Similarly, the flexibility to go out to 200mm rather than 135mm is probably or more value to a newbie than sharpness (the 18-200 is certainly sharp enough). –  Reid Nov 28 '10 at 20:04

50 f/1.8 is a given. Great lens, great for learning the principals of photography, also v.good emergency go to lens in low light. You might as well edit the question to be "50 f/1.8 plus what other lens for £430"

  • I'm going to bend the rules a little and say you should get the 50/1.8, kit zoom, Canon 430EX flash. That should come in under £500.

This should cover a wide range of shooting options. The reason for including the flash is that most people I know who have bought a DSLR for the first time tend to be used to shooting indoors. Learning to use a flash properly in this situation can be the biggest thing you do to improve your photography. The other sort of shooting people do initially is nature/landscape which is handled by the kit lens, which performs ok stopped down.

Failing that forgetting the flash replacing the kit with a superzoom as you suggest is an option, though personally I think people will get too comfortable with it and never change lenses, which is missing out on of the major advantages of having a DSLR.

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1  
Rarely changing lenses is a perfectly valid use of a DSLR - and perhaps for a newbie there is value in not needing to think of that aspect to start. One can certainly grow into changing lenses. –  Reid Nov 28 '10 at 20:05
    
Keep in mind that most entry level DSLRs are crop sensors, meaning the 50mm is going to be a moderate telephoto rather than "normal". Consider a 35mm lens for "normal" results. –  Billy ONeal Jul 14 '11 at 4:04

Just a few pointers, rather than a specific "two lenses" answer:

  • Don't forget that the 550D is not a full-frame sensor, so you need to multiply by 1.6 to get 35mm 'equivalent' focal lengths.
  • Cropping in post can increase focal length, but you can never decrease it...
  • 50mm prime lenses are great value, light and compact.
  • Big cumbersome lenses tend to get left at home.
  • A long telephoto without a tripod is unlikely to give good results.
  • You can easily miss the shot while changing lenses

Personally, I'd go for a single decent quality zoom with good wide angle end, maybe the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f3.5-5.6 - and a 50mm prime if you can afford it.

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Canon's 50/1.8 is so cheap most pick it up, even though I hate that lens for its disposable build and inconsistent focus. The kit 18-55 IS is a good starter lens, though a little boring. Newer lenses like the 15-85 or 18-135 are great for those who have not decided where their interests lie; I prefer the former.

The 18-200, while convenient, is optically poorer than the 15-85, and more expensive. For a beginner, I always recommend

  • 18-55 IS
  • 55-250 IS
  • 35/2

Cheap and decent quality to start out with.

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If you're limiting yourself to two lenses, why waste one of those two "slots" with a cheap zoom? For Canon crop-sensor, I'd go with:

  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM (or f/1.8 if money is really tight or portability a must)

And then one of

  • Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 (wide normal)
  • Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM (almost perfect normal)
  • Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM (ditto)
  • Canon EF 35mm f/2 (may feel a bit narrow)

as your basic all-around normal lens. Depending on which you choose and how you work, you might want the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM instead of the 50mm f/1.4.

(My own two-lens kit is Pentax's 40mm and 70mm primes.)

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For a newbie, there's a lot of value in the flexibility of a zoom. Absolute optical quality is less important. –  Reid Nov 28 '10 at 20:09
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Maybe. Not all "newbies" are the same. A prime lens gives you a different kind of flexibility -- it's not just about optical quality. –  mattdm Nov 28 '10 at 20:14

I recently bought myself the Canon 50mm f1.8 and I'm incredibly pleased with the results - I previously had the Canon 18-55mm and the Canon 55-250mm kit lenses, my original thinking being that this would give me a nice range of focal lengths, but at the moment I'm not sure if I'm ever going to use the 18-55mm again!

I was impatient and paid £100 in Jessops, but its listed above for £85 and you can reliably get it new off eBay for £70. At that price for me the question becomes "What other 2 lenses would I get for £400?" - the only reason I can see for someone not getting this as at least one of their first lenses is because they want to get the Canon f1.4 version instead, but half of what makes me so impressed with mine is the fact that it was so cheap.

The thing that drew me to the 50mm was the aperture size - our house is relatively dimly lit and taking photos of the family in the evening with the kit lens was very difficult in the low light. The 50mm has no such problems however, and also provides the pleasing out-of-focus background that I always struggled to achieve with the kit lens.

The 50mm lens does also have better image quality - I've did some comparison shots (on a tripod, same aperture size etc...) and I can fairly easily see the difference in sharpness, but generally only notice it if I'm looking for it - as an amateur photographer the aperture size and the low light performance is the thing that has made the real difference for me.

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I would recommend
1. 17-70 mm F2.8
2. 70-200 mm F2.8

This covers a useful range from wide angle to moderate telephoto while at the same time preserving high quality.

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1  
Great combo, but unlikely to be able to get those for £500 ($750) –  Matt Grum Oct 29 '10 at 7:46
    
Yes, quite true. –  labnut Oct 29 '10 at 12:45
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Not sure there even is a 17-70 2.8. The sigma is 2.8-3.5. To get 2.8 you'd have to go 17-50 (Tamron/Sigma) or 17-55 (Canon) –  Daniel O Oct 29 '10 at 13:16

I started with the Canon 50mm 1.8 and 55-250 zoom, as budget is a factor. These would come in slightly under-budget, I think. Obviously, I miss the wide-angle coverage I'd get with the 18-55 IS (kit on many Canons), but I opted for the 50 because I felt it I wouldn't grow out of it as quickly.

The 17-85 might be worth considering for a general-purpose zoom, too. I think you could do the 17-85 and the 55-250 for close to your budget amount. This would give you a full zoom range and upper-entry-level quality, but I'd still come back and get that 50 as soon as you can scrape up the money, because it's the best bargain in Canon's line.

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Allow me to disagree. In any brand the 50mm is a reference because it matches the human eyes perspective, but that's only true when mounted in a full frame body, something the 550D isn't. A 50mm mounted in a camera with a crop factor of 1.6 (like the 550D) becomes a 80mm which is great for portraits but loses some of the appeal.

So my pick for two lenses would be:

  1. a real "nifty fifty": the Canon 35mm f2.0 (which becomes a real 50mm with the crop factor)
  2. an all round street zoom: the Canon 17-85mm would be a good choice, depending on how much zoom you'd need
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The 50mm-perspective-matching thing is a myth; that focal length came to be standard because it's cheap and easy to make a good lens in that focal length for a 35mm mirror box. It's a perfectly reasonable FL on APS-C (as are 30 and 35mm as well). –  Reid Nov 28 '10 at 20:07
    
Reid: True. Either way I still feel the narrower perspective of the 50mm on a crop camera makes it less interesting than on a full frame. At least for me: I use my 35mm much more often than my 50mm –  t3mujin Nov 29 '10 at 0:53

For me the 50mm 1.8 is a given.

On top of that I have a range of zoom's and dont really use them very much- maybe the 18-135 is a good starting point

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I'd go with:

  • EF-S 18-55 f/3.5-5.6
  • EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS

My rationale is that these two are both good enough for the start, cover all focal lengths, and are cheap enough, so you don't spend too much money without knowing what do you want to use your kit for.

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Agreed. Not knowing what your friend wants to shoot means you'll want a wide range of focal lengths. And if its still under budget, add the 50 f/1.8. –  drfrogsplat Nov 28 '10 at 22:44

Let me suggest considering something other than canon lenses. Since price is a consideration and this is a first camera, you can get really good lenses at a better price than if you buy Canon lenses. Get more with less, and the quality difference between a good independent lens and a Canon isn't that big.

I really like the Sigma 18-200 DC OS F3.5-6.3 as a good first lens. It covers the primary range you'll want and it's a solid lens. If he's just getting started, he'll probably find he can do almost everything with this lens, unless he has special photography interests like Birds or Macro work. He may not need a 2nd lens to get going, and he'll spend a lot less money than if he bought a similar Canon lens.

As a second lens, depends on his interest. If he's not sure, just buy one and take pictures until he figures out what his second lens ought to be, but if he's interested in landscapes, I'd nudge him at the superwide Sigma 10-20. If his interest is shooting small things on the move far away, the Canon 100-400 (pricy, but you'll need something like it for birds or wildlife); or something like the Sigma 180 Macro if that's his interest.

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But will the Sigma autofocus? On Nikon bodies, f/5.6 is the limit for reliable focusing; not sure about Canon. –  Reid Nov 28 '10 at 20:11

Canon 50mm 1.8 - you need to get a lens with a large aperature to really appreciate the 'look' of DSLR photography. AU$150

Tamron 18-270 VC - Decent quality and hugely versatile. $AU600

This would be under 500 GBP.

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