Not Your Everyday Banana

by Bart Arondson

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I am just another guy who just taken up photography as a social hobby who enjoys taking pics of everyday life, social events / parties & some portraits. Need camera for short overseas trip (2-3 times a year), maybe some landscape pics.

I have done some research and have come up a list of main lenses that I am considering and hope you guys can offer some advice / comments to whether I should make those purchases.

Main reason why I chose "third party lenses" 'cos apparently they cost less, newer and are "award winning" - so I don't see the point of spending more for the original canon lens (which some maybe quite old - ie 3-5 yrs).

  1. Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM Lens (day to day lens)
  2. Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM (for portrait & bokeh effects)
  3. Wide angle lens (any suggestions)

Main questions / comments please...

  • Q1) What do you think of the lens choices that I have decided to build my kit?
  • Q2) Any wide angle lens that you will recommend? (third party or canon) or should I get wide angle zoom lens ?
  • Q3) What are your thoughts that I chose all my lens from Third Party instead of Official Canon ones... is that a "smart move"?
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I kind of think this question should be broken up into "what about 3rd-party lenses for Canon?" and the "what wide angle lens?".... –  mattdm Dec 12 '11 at 19:21
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9 Answers 9

'What do you think of the lens choices?' It looks like you're missing something longer in your lens selections... Say a zoom that'll get you to 200mm or 300mm... Just something to consider. Obviously I don't really know what you plan on shooting so you may be fine, but I didn't think I'd ever have a use for a 70-200mm lens ('cause I'm a portrait photographer... Why would I ever need to go above 100mm?!?) until I used a 70-200mm lens. Over the last 5 years the 70-200mm has been my primary 'money making' lens, and I'd estimate that it's on my camera for about 75% of my client work. Again, just something to consider...

Any wide angle lens you recommend? It looks like you've already got a wide angle you're thinking about in the 17-70mm Sigma, unless you're looking to go fisheye, or you really want a prime.

Is it a 'smart move' to consider 3rd party lenses? In general, as long as you stick with the 'major' third-party brands (e.g. not grabbing some no-name lens on a rock-bottom discount on eBay) you'll at least be able to find lots of in-depth reviews on most lenses and brands available so you can evaluate your options with lots (usually lots and lots) of detail so you can make informed and objective decisions.

Despite what some people will tell you not all 3rd party lenses suck (and of course the notion that all 3rd party lenses suck is generally perpetuated by the 'name brand' camera manufacturers, so you'll tend hear that 'fact' a lot). In fact 3rd party lenses have made major strides over the last decade and there are far more good 3rd party options than there used to be. There was a time not too long ago that all the 3rd party options were sub-par by comparison to their name-brand counterparts, but not any longer... The only reasons you might specifically want to stick with 'name-brand' are:

  • If the name brand lens is a 'class leader.' No point in buying a 3rd party lens that can't compete with the brand name purely because of the price. That's penny-wise and pound-foolish. In the long run it's far better to save into a lens, buy a well cared for used lens, or wait for its price to come down a bit, then to buy the cheaper but lower quality lens.
  • In general, name-brand lenses hold their resale values better than their 3rd party counterparts. I've had several brand name lenses over the last decade that I've sold at or close to what I paid for them, but the same can't be said for the 3rd party lenses I've sold over the years, all of which have gone down in value, most of them relatively sharply. Depending on what kind of shooter you are, you may never sell lenses you buy, in which case brand-name doesn't matter nearly as much.
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+1 for the resale value point, I forgot that one. –  fahad.hasan Feb 9 '11 at 8:57
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Actually older lens are reliable and you know they still works even after 3/4 years of usage. You always get what you pay for when it comes to photography gears. So, either you compromise image quality or build quality. Apart for some well reputed 3rd party lenses (f.e. Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f2.8, Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC from your list), its always good to use lenses from your camera manufacturer. Its because no one knows their camera better than who built them. 3rd party lenses generally have lower good copies so chances of getting a bad copy is high. If you really, again really in a tight budget, only then you should go for third party lenses.

Now, about the lenses you've chosen, each of them are well reputed for their good image quality. So you're in the safer side. Some of them are very soft on the tele end though (Sigma 17-70mm specially). Just ensure you get a good copy. If you can, buy them from a physical store where you can check focus accuracy, sharpness etc. Even the sharpest lens doesn't perform well when it cant focus accurately and a lot of third-party lenses have this problem. Sharpness also varies from product to product, so try 2/3 different copies and take the top performer.

You can use this website to compare sharpness of a variety of lenses to another: http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/ISO-12233-Sample-Crops.aspx

Hope this helps!

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Good things are not cheap and cheap things are not good. This is true of lenses, no matter the brand. There is a small premium for the brand name, yes, but it is small relative to optical quality. A poor Sigma lens costs little and an excellent one costs much more. Same goes for Canon.

So choosing the brand of your lens should be more about needs than cost. It is possible that depending on what you need, you may need 3 lenses in one brand while only 2 will do of another brand. This will save you money.

Remember to consider quality, the Sigma 17-70 F2.8-4 may go to 2.8 but you really do not want to use that wide open, the quality is not there. Once stopped down to F/4 is gets acceptable but you need to stop down more to get good quality out of it. I'd go with a Canon 17-55mm F/2.8 IS instead.

I heard good things about the Sigma 85mm F/1.4, which I have no tried. One the wide side, Canon has an 10-22mm F/3.5-4.5 which is quite good and gives you an overlap with another of your lenses and diminishes the number of times you changes lenses. I suggest you look at the Tokina 11-16mm F/2.8 too, it is truly excellent for an ultra-wide.

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+1 - I have a Sigma that is far cheaper than the namebrand counterpart and a Sigma lens that is more expensive than the namebrand counterpart...and the more pricey one is soooo much better. Lenses really are one of those things where you get what you pay for. I think its hard for many of us newbies to accept that there can be THAT much of a quality difference for the price, but wow, there is. –  rfusca Feb 9 '11 at 15:36
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First of all, there are good third party lenses and there are bad manufacturer lenses, so it's better to look at what type of lens you need, then research the specific options.

For wide angle, does your 60D have the kit lens? If so I would suggest sticking with that for a bit, then see how you get on, once you start to reach the limitations of the lens you will know what you need to look for in the replacement.

The Sigma EX lenses to tend to be good, but if you are looking at the 85mm f1.4 I would also suggest looking at the Canon 85mm f1.8, it's a cracking lens and a lot cheaper too.

As has already been mentioned you have a big gap above 85mm, maybe the Canon 55-250mm or a 75-300mm would be a good addition to your lens collection.

I haven't used the Sigma 17-70, so can't comment on it, but I do prefer fixed aperture lenses, but before recommending a wide angle I'd wait to see if you actually need one.

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i wouldn't choose lenses based on year to year novelty value. While you will have to swap cameras in the next 4-5 years, or less (for more megapixels, sensitivity, noise handling, etc), good lenses last a lot longer.
That is precisely why you don't see canon's 300d any longer for sale, but good lenses from that time are still good! (and expensive)

Actually, i read something on cheaper lens+camera combinations where the camera corrects automatically aberrations and lens defects (distortion, etc), so that the lenses can be lighter and cheaper. "Old" lenses, made for cameras without these features, will have less of these faults.

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thank u so much for your advice and comments, i have read them all and i appreciate your thoughts.

As Jay Lance Photography & LC1983 pointed out, yes, i think i am missing out a Zoom lens / more long range lens - i think i will get that later into the year...but in the immediate future. i think will just get the more normal day to day lens Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM Lens.

as some of you guys (shutterbug) pointed out there maybe some "auto focus" issues, and as a newie, i have no idea how to test that out...are there any clear signs/? worst case , i think i may have to bring along my frd who has more experience in finding out the "lemons lens"...

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Focal-lengths are a personal matter. I know very successful photographer who made an entire 40 year career only shooting with a 50mm one. Chose you focal according to how you see the world. Some people tend to like it wide others long, it's OK. I once did a trade with another photographer, she was only using long lenses, I only wide ones. Neither of us faired well when using the lenses that did not match our personal vision. –  Itai Feb 9 '11 at 15:13
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This is not a direct answer to your question. However, I hope I can still help you.

[...] so I don't see the point of spending more for the original canon lens (which some maybe quite old - ie 3-5 yrs)

3 to 5 years is not old for a lens. Unlike typical electronics, lenses do loose very little value over time and you can sell them used for a reasonable price even after decades have passed. Newer lenses will, by trend, have better image quality than older ones. However, this trend won't be noticable when looking at the last 5 or 10 years. I would rely much more on reviews and tests instead of the lens' age.

You'll be able to find discussions like "Which wide-angle lens for a Canon APS-C camera should I buy?" and reviews to the according lenses all over the internet, so I won't go into detail about the advantages or disadvantages of the single lenses here. Instead, I want to give you a far more general advice:

You seem to be not too sure about which lenses you actually need. Thus, I'd suggest you start with the kit lens and see what you need. This will give you a lot more personal and precise informations about your needs than anyone else can give you. Also, if you're a beginner, having too many lenses might confuse you. When finding out your needs by hitting the kit lens' limits you'll be able to explore the "world of lenses" much better.

Just one tip for your first lens: If you're really serious about learning photography, you might want to choose a normal (~30mm on APS-C) prime lens instead of the zoom lens that is usually included as a kit lens. Besides the better image quality a prime lens usually has, it will also help you to learn how to compose. Regarding the topic which prime lens to buy, you can have a look at this question I posted recently.

I hope I could help you with my not too straightforward answer!

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Q1) What do you think of the lens choices that I have decided to build my kit?

I think you're making it more complicated than it needs to be. If you are indeed looking at photography as a "social hobby" that you're doing for fun, why make lens selection a major worry? Since you asked, here are my thoughts on your current kit:

  • 17-70mm - A decent walk-around lens, but more limited than it needs to be. I would replace this with an 18-200mm, giving you a very large zoom range and an obvious choice for travel/situations where you "can only have one lens".

  • 85mm - Indeed, a good length for tight portraits (~135mm on 35mm). You may find that a 50mm f/1.8 is a bit easier to walk around with and can still offer a very nice portrait perspective on your camera body.

Q2) Any wide angle lens that you will recommend? (third party or canon) or should I get wide angle zoom lens ?

I've had both the Canon 10-20mm and the Sigma 10-22(?). The Canon was a bit more solid, but both produced acceptable images. The Sigma is significantly cheaper so I'd recommend it based on that alone. I suspect the Canon has subjectively higher image quality, but nothing that makes a material difference at the hobbyist level.

This type of lens is worth having as it opens up a new, almost surreal world of compositions to you. A zoom is your best bet since it will give you a chance to learn about how 10mm differs from 15mm, etc.

Q3) What are your thoughts that I chose all my lens from Third Party instead of Official Canon ones... is that a "smart move"? - Any official canon lens that you will recommend?

At this stage there's no reason to worry about the name on the case. In skilled hands the 3rd-party lenses can be used to make some great photographs - holding an "official" Canon lens doesn't do anything to increase your skill.

That said, Canon's 50mm f/1.8 is a great, affordable lens. They also make an 18-200mm that'd fit the bill for my suggestion above.

Per my initial comment, don't over think this or pay too much attention to the wild claims on the internet. As a hobbyist photographer you should have fun taking pictures and learning - which can be done on any camera/lens combo.

If you decide to take your hobby to the next level then you can start to pick up some superior glass. Until that time spend your time taking pictures and your money on books about photography technique.

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Alternatively, what are your thoughts if i just have two lenses -

which combination would be better ? (can use for the widest range of photography - daily basis)

1) EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM (wide angle zoom) & Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM

compared to

2) Sigma Sigma 17-70mm F2.8-4 DC MACRO OS HSM Lens & Sigma 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM

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This is a different question. –  mattdm Feb 9 '11 at 22:46
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