Alley in Pisa, Italy

by Lars Kotthoff

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I'm thinking of buying a telephoto lens for my Canon 550D (3x zoom isn't very helpful), but I won't be able to do very good macro shots with it. Since I do a lot of both, I would be switching lenses quite often, which isn't too good for the camera.

My question is, what should I do if I want to take different kinds of pictures and keep my camera clean on the inside? I was hoping that there exists a lens with over 12x zoom which can also do fairly good macro shots, but I might just be wanting too much ;)

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Why do you say that it's not good for the camera? It's designed to be interchangeable! How often are you planning on doing this? –  John Cavan Jan 20 '11 at 16:56
    
Well, a bit too often. I randomly take macro, and randomly (try) to zoom. I don't want to have to fix my only camera, as I take pictures every day... –  Blender Jan 20 '11 at 17:17
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I hope I'm not insulting your photography knowledge, but I think it's worth asking: do you want true macro (i.e. closeup photos of objects smaller than the size of the sensor) or "macro" (i.e. close ups of small, but not that small objects, like whole flowers). There can be almost an order of magnitude difference between these two types of "macro" lenses, yet both use the same term. –  rm999 Jan 20 '11 at 18:19
    
Whoops, I was meaning that I take macro as in focusing to a point very close to the lens itself. By zooming, I was meaning that I take zoomed-in shots of things, like squirrels in a tree. Sorry for the ambiguity... –  Blender Jan 20 '11 at 20:41
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6 Answers 6

up vote 13 down vote accepted

Changing lenses is the single best thing about having a DSLR, if you want 12x zoom and macro ability without ever changing lenses you want a bridge camera.

Changing lenses often isn't bad for the camera per se, I go through days when I do 10 or 20 lens changes. The wear on the mount is totally negligible. Whilst you obviously want to keep the inside of your camera clean, never changing lenses isn't the best way to go about it....

I'm afraid there is already a load of dust debris, tiny bits of plastic etc. inside the camera from when it was manufactured. The body is also not airtight even when a lens is mounted, and moving parts wear over time shedding tiny particulates that all contribute to dust.

The best way to keep it clean is to wipe the sensor with a special alcohol wipe when necessary. It's surprisingly easy (its worth noting that you're not wiping the sensor itself, but a hardened piece of glass that's stuck on the front. The need for this depends on what you're shooting - dust becomes more visible the more you stop down. I can go for months without cleaning if I'm mostly shooting in low light with wide apertures.

It's very hard for dust to irreversably ruin a photo (unlike a poor lens). It tends to only be visible against a plain background, which means it's easy to clone out in software. It's obviously better not to have the dust there, but the ability to get rid of it after a photo has been taken helps prevent me staying awake at night worrying about dust!

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When you say "wet clean", I don't think you mean "shove a wet towel into the body", do you? I don't want to destroy my only camera :( –  Blender Jan 20 '11 at 17:12
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Thanks, I've edited my answer to be more specific just in case anyone decides to dunk their camera in the sink! –  Matt Grum Jan 20 '11 at 17:24
    
+1 The best way to deal with dust is to accept it as a part of life and learn to deal with it (i.e. clean it off, clone it out, etc.). –  Benjamin Cutler Jan 20 '11 at 18:00
    
Thanks. I'm not as paranoid about it as before, since I thought that it basically kills your sensor and you have to pay tons of money to fix it. I was hoping for a single lens because I don't want to carry multiple lenses around and swap them every time I shoot different subjects (also, I hold the risk of having a brother get hold of the lens). –  Blender Jan 20 '11 at 20:43
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You can have both telephoto and macro if you want: it's a wonderful combination. Have you looked at Canon's 180 mm f/3.5L macro lens? Photozone has a review.

As always, there are trade-offs: getting macro capabilities in a telephoto makes the lens longer and heavier, and it's pricier. (You could get the beautiful 200 mm f/2.8L lens for about half the price and it's 330 g lighter. Optically these lenses are quite similar, but there have been some complaints about the bokeh in the macro lens.) This is useful to know, because it lets you see what it might be worth to you not to have to change lenses.

Your kit lens (the "3X zoom") has a plastic mount and will be subject to wear and tear. The better lenses have metal mounts. They will last longer than the moving parts.

It is worthwhile to develop a lens-swapping technique that protects your equipment and minimizes the entry of dust and water. Here is a simple routine that works in almost all situations:

  1. Place the new lens face down (with cap still on) on a flat, horizontal, clean, dry surface (if at all possible). Loosen, but do not yet remove, its body cap.
  2. Loosen but do not fully release the lens on the camera after attaching its lens cap. (On the Canon this means pressing the release button but not untwisting the lens yet.) Keep your hand on the loose lens to make sure it doesn't fall off.
  3. Holding the camera close to your chest with the lens pointing outward, lean over the new lens: this protects everything from direct sunlight, precipitation, and some dust.
  4. Quickly but carefully remove the old lens from the camera, placing it cap down next to the new lens. The camera will be pointing down at both lenses.
  5. Shift the body cap from the new lens to the old lens. Don't bother to tighten it yet: at least the back of the lens is covered.
  6. Lift the new lens onto the front of the camera. Still leaning, attach the lens. Do this carefully and apply as little force as possible.
  7. Tighten the body cap on the old lens and replace it in its bag.

With a little practice you can get very fast at this. Neither the body nor either lens is uncovered for more than a couple seconds. The camera, when open, is protected by your body and facing down to limit dust entry. Perhaps mastering this technique (or any similarly careful procedure you find suitable) will give you the freedom to change lenses as often as you wish and maximize the utility of your equipment.

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It's a Choice - As Ever, Money Helps

You're absolutely asking the right question. Changing lenses as rarely as possible is the best way to minimise dust in the camera.

Here are a few of my suggestions to keep you shooting with different focal lengths without changing lenses:

  1. Second body
    Have you got a few hundred $$ spare?

  2. Zoom with big range
    Some options:

  3. Screw-on adapter
    For macro shots, you can get great results by screwing an adapter like this on the front of your lens.

The more money you can throw at this problem, the less you will have to sacrifice convenience and quality.

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It's a bit like cutting your foot off to avoid getting a splinter, provided you don't live on a building site the problem with dust really isn't that bad! A cheap superzoom with a macro adaptor is going to take worse photos than a dedicated macro lens on a body with a little bit dust. At least I'd wait to see if you have a genuine dust problem before planning my whole lens strategy around it. –  Matt Grum Jan 20 '11 at 17:05
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@Matt, I wouldn't go that far, but like you say, I guess it depends on how much of a problem you have. So, given that the asker has a problem, I've tried to give him some workable options... (although, I can indeed forsee a soft quality in the images!) –  AJ Finch Jan 20 '11 at 17:09
    
it's a perfectly valid answer to the question, I just think the questioner's problem might be the anticipation of dust rather than a problem with dust itself. I used to worry about the same things but over time I found the impact of dust to be not so bad. –  Matt Grum Jan 20 '11 at 17:35
    
It's not that much of a dust problem as it is a convenience problem. I just wanted to know if there exists a lens that can do it all (well, most of them cost twice as much as my camera, and outweigh it). –  Blender Jan 20 '11 at 20:45
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My first digital camera was a Canon Powershot SD500. It's a small pocket camera; no interchangeable lens, so no dust problem right? Wrong. Somehow, over a period of several years, the thing got several specks of dust in it that got very annoying when taking pictures of anything where portions of the image had a uniform texture. Since the sensor was rather unaccessible it was next to impossible for me to clean it myself. Having it shipped in and professionally cleaned was really not worth it (I was getting interested in buying a better camera by that time).

The point is, dust is inevitable. You can do things to minimize the chances of dust but you probably will get dust on the sensor eventually. With that in mind, ask yourself what kind of compromises are you willing to take to minimize that chance? Are you willing to compromise your wallet and buy another camera body? Are you willing to compromise quality and get a screw on macro adapter? Or, are you willing to compromise a little convenience and just be extra careful when changing lenses and simply learn how to clean dust off when it gets to be a problem?

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Having the perfect lens 8-400mm F2.8 with no distortion, vignetting and as sharp as a razor doesn't exist and will not exist.
So if you want to take pictures of subjects so different that you would need a macro lens and a telephoto, then it seems that you will have to get used to change your lens.
Better get used to do it properly to minimize the dust problem (you will end up with dust anyway, whatever you do), rather than miss some shots or restrict yourself to a given type of photography because you don't want to change your lens.

However, an easy solution would have to have two bodies, each one with its own lens, but it's not really handy outside.

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I can't afford another 550D. $800 isn't that easy to come about... –  Blender Jan 20 '11 at 17:13
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@blender A lens that is good at multiple types of shooting will cost and arm and a leg and way more than the $800 for your 550D. To get a long focal length in a wide aperture will take you into the realm of the most pricey lenses available. –  kacalapy Jan 20 '11 at 17:40
    
@blender As kacalapy said, good quality long focal length lenses will be pricey (much more than a second body), but also really big and heavy. If you cannot afford a second body, you'll have to change lens (or give up DSLR for a bridge, or stick to one subject type). You could keep a reasonable budget with two lenses. One macro (focal depending on your macro shooting subjects and habits) and a decent telephoto zoom lens. As I suppose you don't switch from macro to telephoto back and forth after each shot, it should help to lower lens change. –  LudoMC Jan 20 '11 at 18:30
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Your 550D vibrates the sensor every time you turn the camera on or off to help minimize the dust issue. I have found it to be very effective on my 50D; my previous bodies didn't have the feature and I had to clean the sensors every so often but I haven't had to clean the 50D at all yet.

Follow proper procedures for changing your lenses and don't worry about it so much. This is not as big a problem as you are making it out to be.

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