I know nothing about any of this. From my research, Canon's 70D looks like a good camera body for a retired (31 years) professional photographer (my dad) to "pick the camera back up" in the digital world. This will be his first digital SLR.

For now, I'm seeing some reasonably priced (few hundred bucks) zoom lenses (to 200mm.) Then, there are some just under a grand and "a white one like you see the pros with" for $2300. I suspect for our purposes (mostly documenting family and sports) any of these will do and most discussions of quality are far past anything we would notice.

So, what should I look for and how do I decide? How can I decide it's worth spending a lot to get close to the ideal, and when do I know that a less-expensive compromise will "do just fine for now"?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Including your projected budget would increase the likelihood of receiving a usable answer. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 9:53
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark I don't think including a budget helps. The question here is really about figuring out what is reasonable to budget, and deciding why or why not to stretch for the "lens one really wants" vs. "do fine for now". \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 12:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm That's how you see the question. That's not how I see the question as originally asked (before you changed the meaning with an additional paragraph) when coupled with the same user's previous question. photo.stackexchange.com/q/47521/15871 \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 12:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MichaelClark That's true. The way you see the question is just off topic, though, and adding budgets to these requests doesn't make them any better. My edit may alter the focus of the question, but that's so that it can remain open and hopefully be helpful. (But that said, I didn't really add anything new.) \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 12:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @mattdm You added the possibility of spending more if the difference is worth it. If the budget doesn't allow that then the answers would do better to discuss which should be given higher priority on a fixed budget, a more advanced body or better lenses. Framed in that manner it is not off topic. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 13:00

4 Answers 4


The basic question here isn't, "Which lens?"
It is, "Who knows better than anyone else which lens will work for the intended usage?"
I think the retired professional photographer with 31 years experience can probably best answer this question. More than anyone else he will know what he needs to do what he wants with his new camera.

So then the next question is, "Which is more important to me? Potentially spending $500-1000 on the wrong lens so that I can get the satisfaction of 'surprising' my Dad with a gift or talking to him ahead of time and getting his thoughts on the matter?"
Only you can answer that question.

There may be some middle ground. Buy from a reputable source such as amazon.com, B&H, or Adorama that allows for full returns of unused items for up to 30 days after purchase. Then you can have a little of both: You get to surprise him but you also have the option of getting his input and swapping the lens out if necessary. Be aware that if you buy a "kit" or "bundle" you will need to return the camera as well as the lens to exchange them both, even if you want the same model body.

As far as which single lens is best for both family photos and sports: There isn't one. You need a good general purpose lens in the normal focal length range for family photos. You need the fastest (widest maximum aperture) telephoto lens you can afford for sports. Here's a good run-down of general purpose lenses for Canon APS-C cameras and telephoto lenses for Canon cameras.

If my budget were so limited that after purchasing a 70D I would only have room for one sub $1000 lens, I would strongly consider going with a less expensive body to open up the possibilities on the lens side. Something like the Canon Rebel T3i can be had for a lot less and the image quality closely approaches or even matches that of the 70D and 7D. (This assumes autofocus during video shooting is not a big concern. That is the biggest selling point, in my opinion, of the 70D over a current Txi Rebel.) The Rebels don't handle as fast as the 60D/70D/7D, but the sensors are very similar. The $600+ you would save vs. the 70D would go a long way towards opening up the possibilities for a couple of good lenses. Something like the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS + EF 70-200mm f/4.

For most advanced photographers, there's no substitute for fast glass. That means lenses with wide (low f-number) constant apertures. In the case of zoom lenses the starting point is f/2.8, which allows twice as much light into the camera as an f/4 lens, which in turn allows twice as much light as f/5.6. For each doubling of the aperture, the shutter speed needed for the same exposure can be halved. If you can take a shot at 1/500 second at f/2.8 and get proper exposure, you would need to change the shutter speed to 1/125 second to get the same exposure at f/5.6. The difference between 1/500 second and 1/125 second when shooting many youth sports is the difference between a sharp image and a blurry mess. The same can be said of family pictures taken in indoor lighting. An f/2.8 lens may allow a shutter speed of 1/125 second that is fast enough to capture posed family shots. An f/5.6 lens would require a 1/30 second shutter speed, which would probably introduce blur from subject movement and maybe even from camera movement depending on the focal length and your Dad's physical condition.

In terms of lenses, it is almost always more economical to get better optical quality by purchasing two lenses to cover a wide focal length range than it is to spend more on one lens that covers the entire range and delivers lower optical quality across that entire range. This is true in the low end consumer lens range, but it is also true in the higher end pro lens range. The best EF 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II lens easily out performs the similarly priced EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS in terms of optical quality at common focal lengths, and also has a maximum aperture two stops faster on the long end. In fact, the EF 70-200mm f/4, priced at about 1/3 the price of the other two, performs better optically than the 28-300. With the extra $1600 (70-200 f/4 vs. 28-300) you can buy a very good Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 or Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 and even squeeze in an EF 1.4X extender to take the 70-200's reach out to 280mm. (The pro lens comparisons assumes a full frame, rather than APS-C camera. But the principle is the same.)

One final note: Avoid the EF 75-300mm telephoto lens, it is not a good lens. For an APS-C body such as the 70D, the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 offers optical quality comparable to the more expensive EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 at half the price.


Find out what he loved about photography

If possible, find out what camera and lenses he had when he worked, and what his favourites were. Someone who's worked for a long time as a photographer probably has some strong opinions about cameras, so you may find he strongly prefers a specific focal length, or zoom range. Perhaps even a camera system (did he shoot Canon?) or body size.

If he still has some old gear, either rummage through it and let us know what he owns, or better yet talk to him about it, and find out what he loved about it.

Primes or zoom?

Some photographers favour one (or a few) prime lenses. After a while, you get to learn the lens to the point you can frame the image in your mind. You can see the shot and how you want to frame it, and walk to where you'll be able to capture it from without putting the camera to your eye. Typical favourites are 35mm, 50mm, 85mm primes (perhaps longer if he's into sports photography, like 135mm or 200mm). If that's him, then you won't want to waste your money on a zoom lens he won't appreciate.

Some photographers like the versatility of a zoom lens. A professional is also likely to appreciate a fixed-maximum-aperture across the zoom range (i.e. lenses like the 17-55mm f/2.8 or 24-70mm f/2.8) rather than one which varies (e.g. the 18-55mm f/3.5–5.6). Typical favourites are something centred around 50mm (standard-zoom, e.g. 24-70mm) or something centred around 150mm (telephoto zoom, e.g. 70-200mm).

Note that the numbers above are in 35mm equivalent focal lengths (full-frame DSLRs, and standard 35mm film SLRs) while the 70D is an APS-C camera, which has a crop-factor of 1.6. The crop factor of the 70D basically means that the focal length (sort of) appears 1.6x longer than the number on the lens.

Note that this is compared to 35mm film, as I'm just assuming he used 35mm film—if he was into medium/large format, then things get a bit more complicated (and perhaps expensive!).

For example, if you find out he loved his old 35mm film SLR and his 50mm lens, then you can either get the 70D and a 28mm, 30mm or 35mm prime (equivalent to 45mm, 48mm, 56mm respectively). Or if it was a 35mm film SLR and a 28-70mm then you'd be looking for something like the EF-S 17-55mm.

What about full-frame?

Another good option would be the Canon 6D (though a little more expensive) as this will match more closely with the old 35mm system (again, if that's what he's used to), without having to consider crop factors.

Any old gear still lying around?

If he's got any old gear still, then some cameras are either directly compatible with older lenses (Nikon's mounts been the same for a very long time, Canon changed in 1987), and there are adaptors for some old lenses to fit new cameras. If he's got lenses that are high quality (seems likely if he was a pro) and still in good condition (check for fungus) then you may want to find a camera that suits those. Even if you buy a new lens with the camera, it could be quite fun to use the old lenses on a new body.


Finally, if he's likely to get into making videos with the camera (e.g. if he's into new technology, gadgetry, etc) then you'll probably want to get an STM lens. There's only a few around, but these are good for autofocus during videos on the 70D.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Some good thoughts. Believe it or not, there are some fairly high level photojournalists that don't own any of their own gear. They use whatever their employer/contractor issues them. When the Chicago Sun-Times laid off their entire photography staff a while back several of their notable shooters were left with no camera after they turned in their company issued gear. \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 3, 2014 at 9:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the suggestion to check the potentially existing, old gear. Probably not the single deciding factor in the decision, but as written, if there's good glass it would be a shame to completely ignore it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Cornelius
    Commented Feb 4, 2014 at 16:16

As a professional photographer, your father will certainly notice the difference between the white lens and the next level down, but it still likely doesn't matter.

Unless you are independently wealthy or have a need to make professional images, lenses in the 500 to 1200 range do a great job. A cheap 200 lens will likely have a real world performance that a pro photographer might find limiting, but one step up from those are decently made and highly functional.

The bigger question is to decide on EF or EF-s lenses. EF-s will often give better quality for the same price, however if he ever decides to go full frame they won't be useful. If you expect he may get in to digital photography deeper then I'd suggest lower end EF lenses. If not, I'd probably recommend the top quality EF-s ones.


Since I do own a Canon 40D and started building my kit around 6 years back and have a good set of lenses, I can understand what it feels like when you are building up for the first time.

There are 3 kinds of lenses that are primarily used: 1. Wide-Angle Lenses 2. Normal Lenses 3. Telephone lenses

Wide angle lenses give you landscapes photographs and are good for taking quick photographs, family photographs etc. The focal lengths of these vary normally from (12mm - 50mm). I would definitely suggest you getting one of these, as this is the basic equipment that will get you up and running. - Normally Canon supplies with a 18 - 55 mm lense, which is a wide-angle & normal lense. It is a decent lense, but i personally don't like it much. I would suggest you getting the Canon 17 - 85mm IS lense which is EXCELLENT for the price that you get it for. Since I am posting from India, i am not that aware of the prices in USD.

Normal Lenses are used for Portraits and other photographs and their focal length is somewhere between 50 - 100 mm. One of the best lenses for portraits is considered to be the Canon 50mm F1.8

Telephoto Lenses - These lenses are meant for zoom images and like you rightly said, some of them with be in "white color" which is basically saying that it is the Canon's range of premium lenses.

So my suggestion: Get a Canon 17 - 85 lense - This will do most of the basic photography like group photographs, landscapes & portraits.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ The focal lengths you mention for each of the three categories only apply for full-frame sensors. On a crop sensor (like the 40D and 70D), 50mm is already approaching a short telephoto, and a normal lens would be somewhere in the 28-35mm range. \$\endgroup\$
    – Norman Lee
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 11:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Not to mention the EF 50mm f/1.8 is not one of the "best lenses for portraits." It is one of the best "bargain lenses for portraits". \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 11:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NormanLee - Agreed. I was just explaining to him the definitions of what lenses are and how he should choose lenses when it comes to what does what. MichaelClark - I completely agree. I should rephrase my answer then. Just trying to introduce the OP to the lenses, thats it. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 11:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ The newer and better EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is a significant improvement over the 17-85 in terms of image quality, and not that much more expensive. the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/… \$\endgroup\$
    – Michael C
    Commented Feb 2, 2014 at 18:34

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