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I'm off to South Africa in a couple of weeks. It's a family holiday but we'll be on safari for a few days. I have a Canon 550D with an 18-135 lens. I am tempted by both the 55-250 and the 70-300. I understand that the latter is a slightly better quality lens but it's almost twice as expensive. Is it worth it for the extra 50mm, USM and build quality? I'm primarily thinking about this for wildlife shooting.

Help!

Nik

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I understand that the latter is a slightly better quality lens but it's almost twice as expensive. Is it worth it for the extra 50mm, USM and build quality?

The focusing is faster, true. Only you can answer whether it's worth the extra price. As for the build quality, it is not weather sealed so I wouldn't call the build quality that much higher.

The extra 50mm might not matter, as the image quality of full frame lenses when used on crop bodies is typically slightly worse than on full frame. So, a picture taken at 250mm with the 55-250 might be practically as good as a picture taken at 300mm with the 70-300, even with extra cropping.

If you are planning to use the lens only during this safari, and live in an area where renting a lens is an option, consider renting some of the better lenses such as Canon 100-400 or Canon 400 prime. I don't know how large animals you are planning to shoot and how far away. I would pick the Canon 400 prime for small animals like birds and Canon 100-400 for large animals.

Now, of course if you are planning to start shooting wildlife more often, and are not willing to purchase an expensive lens, the 55-250 and 70-300 could be good options. I would add among these also a third-party 100-400 lens such as the Tamron 100-400 lens. Third-party lenses sometimes have compatibility problems (example: my Tamron 100-400 had issues with Canon EOS RP), but often times newer firmware fixes them (example: my Tamron 100-400 with the latest firmware works fine with Canon EOS RP).

My experience with 55-250mm at shooting birds is that I used it all the time at 250 mm. Thus, at least for birds, a 100-400 lens could be a better choice.

A good middle ground could be renting some lens you can afford to purchase should you like it. For example, lens rentals offers Tamron 100-400. The Tamron 100-400, unlike Canon 55-250 or Canon 70-300, is weather sealed. Also, the Tamron 100-400 has a focus limiter unlike Canon 55-250 or Canon 70-300.

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  • Thanks so much for the response. Unfortunately I'm not in a part of the world where renting is easy or value for money. I would love to afford one of the better Canon lenses but it's hard to justify at this time. I am veering towards the 55-250 but I can't get over the nagging worry that it might not be enough... – Nik Dec 7 '19 at 12:27
  • @Nik I also don't have a functioning lens rental service where I live. So, purchasing is your main option. If you're worried about the 250mm not being enough, consider the Tamron 100-400! I mean, 300mm is not that much more than 250mm. – juhist Dec 7 '19 at 12:31
  • @Nik You'll probably come back from your trip feeling either lens was not enough. – Michael C Dec 7 '19 at 22:43
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It's pretty easy to compare both an EF and an EF-S lens when both are mounted on the same model APS-C camera(s).

Unfortunately, DxO Mark only tested the older EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS on FF and APS-H cameras and have not tested the newer EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II at all.

The-Digital-Picture tested both lenses on the Canon EOS 7D Mark II, which has a 20.4 MP sensor compared to the Rebel T2i/550D's 18 MP sensor.

At each lens' longest focal length the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM is slightly better in the center and the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II is slightly better on the edges, but neither difference is significant. Copy-to-copy variation for two copies of either lens could be more significant than the difference shown at T-D-P.

So it really comes down to whether you think the extra 50mm and USM AF (though it is "nano-USM" rather than ring USM), both which can be significant, are worth the extra money. That's an intensely personal decision to which there is no real right or wrong answer.

For more looks at comparing various versions of the EF-S 55-250mm and EF 70-300mm families of lenses, please see:

Should I buy a Canon 55-250mm lens or 70-300mm for my Rebel T3i?
What improvements I could expect upgrading from Canon EF 55-250mm IS to a Canon 70 - 300mm?
What equipment should two very amateur photographers bring on a very short safari?

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