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I am currently looking to buy a new lens to replace with kit lens, having an extra reach, faster, better image quality and also better video quality.

Without buying all the lenses I have shortlisted, how can I really compare which one has the best optical performance in terms of image and more importantly video performance/quality?

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Consider renting your frontrunner candidates.

It's really the only way to get a lens in your hands for the extended period of time you'd need to evaluate whether the lens fulfills your needs and is "worth" the pricetag (given that being "worth it" is a completely individual balance of factors, this is not something you can really rely on free internet advice to determine for you).

  • Not the only way: there's also borrowing, which Canon will let you do if you're a member of CPS. And if you're lucky enough to have a good local camera store and a good relationship with them, you may be able to test drive a lens for a bit. – Caleb Jul 21 '15 at 18:24
  • @Cabel Good points, but possibly less useful for casual hobbyists who can't qualify for CPS membership or those who don't have a local shop to become "a regular" at. – inkista Jul 21 '15 at 18:30
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This is a BIG QUESTION with a hundred missing details. If you're just looking for a resource to compare lenses, the best two suggestions I'd have are 1) go to the manufacturer and look at their lens roadmap to see what fits your particular needs, or 2) narrow down your list from the entire universe of lenses that are better than a kit lens to a specific few lenses or some specific features and diving into the forums.

While you may think you've narrowed the scope of the question, "extra reach, better, faster, and better video quality" still leaves a tremendous number of lenses to be contemplated. I can list a dozen lenses that fit all of those needs but may not fit your camera, your budget, or your specific use case.

You may want to say something like: "I've got the __ (brand, aperture, focal length) lens and I'd like something with a longer zoom. My budget is $__. Ideally, I'd love a faster lens too, but zoom is more important to me. I'm mostly interested in __ (portraiture/family photos/sports/nature). Any recommendations?"

Given those details, we could give you 2-3 lenses to consider, in which case you could go and see what the head to head comparisons say.

  • Except that would probably turn this into an off-topic shopping question. Better to answer how one might go about comparing lenses (which specs are important and where to get the information) rather than have us suggest specific lenses. – MikeW Jun 2 '15 at 20:26
  • +1 MikeW, and I thing Photo SE has already all the material to answer to those general questions, as you and mattdm pointed out. – Olivier Aug 15 '15 at 22:53
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There are lots of lens review sites but also lots of factors for regarding lenses as "good". For example for serious video minimal focus breathing, constant aperture (if a zoom) and being parfocal are big plusses, less so for casual shooting. For hand-held video stabilisation is a big plus. For stills there is sharpness but there is also colour fringing (Chromatic Aberration), how nice the out-of-focus stuff looks (bokeh) and many other things (Speed of AF, distortion, many more.) Oh and the other two biggies - cost and weight. The following can help: slrgear, photozone, (for Canon) the-digital-picture, lenstip and ephotozine.

I'd think hard about what is important to you in a lens and how much you want to pay before proceeding. For example what do you currently shoot and aren't happy with the results of? Also what you'd you like to shoot and can't? An answer to those (plus what camera you have) might be handy.

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As a partial answer, I'd like to point out that it could be short-sighted to only look for the image quality.

  • As a still photographer, I can work with a gripped old DSLR that looks like a brick, is about as heavy and was mistaken for a bag in the past. That's because it hangs of my shoulder and my arms rarely have to carry it. But can you hold that heavy video jig for long with that heavy lens? A better optical quality often means a heavier lens. But weight is important, because a tired camera operator will decrease the image quality or might not be fully motivated to do this take of a scene the 143rd time again. There are for example 4 different 70-200mm lenses available from canon (with/without stabilisation and with 2.8/4.0 max aperture) There's doubt that the f/2.8 IS II is the best optical performer, but it is also twice as heavy as the f/4.0 IS. (and twice the price) An apples to oranges comparison due to the different apertures, but an example for differences in weight nonetheless.

  • While video is off-topic here, focusing is not. I think we all agree that focusing is important part of photography (and videography as well). If one lens is better suited to focus precisely, is easier adopted to a focusing rig or even comes prepared with a geared focusing ring, chances are this improves the focusing of the result and thus the overall quality.

  • Video is basically a whole different beast all together. (see this question on cine lenses)

    • You really want image stabilisation, more than better image quality.
    • the lens should be parafocal if it is a zoom and you want to zoom while filming
    • you don't want focus breathing if you want to change the focus while filming

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