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I currently shoot with a Canon T5i and plan on upgrading to either a 6D or 7D Mark II (another topic). To go with my new body, I want a new lens. I currently have the following:

  • 10-18mm f4.5-5.6 IS STM
  • 24mm f/2.8 STM
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
  • 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
  • 50m f/1.8
  • 100mm MACRO f/2.8

I do a lot of family portraits and video work. Recently I have been getting an extreme number of requests for maternity pictures and weddings and I want to make sure I have at least sufficient equipment in my arsenal. I have done both with great results with what I had but I took a lot of photos and had a keeper rate far less than what I think better gear will give me. I love my 100mm for its sharpness but the focusing often misses which reviews say is a common problem.

So should I buy an L lens for better Image Quality? Are L lenses just more expensive because of build quality which if so, I do not care so much about as I do not shoot in extreme conditions and I baby my gear, are there other alternatives then L glass?

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Frankly, you don't need a new lens, although there's certainly better glass to be had than what's in your bag.

You need lighting gear.

Portraits are basically made by the lighting, not so much the camera and lens (see the Strobist and Tangents). And the idea that better gear gets you a better keeper rate doesn't always hold true. Better sharpness, lower chromatic aberration, faster autofocus, higher frame rate--these things might help you get a better keeper rate, or at least cut down on your post-processing time. But generally it's more about things like timing and composition, and learning to edit in your head before you snap the shot and that's not up to the gear so much as it's up to what's four inches behind the lens.

You may also need more experience or some training. Consider spending the cash on books, videos, a class, or seminar. Or possibly support gear, or post-processing software. Or a better backup scheme. Or backup gear (if you're really going pro).

I'd also say at present, you may have too many lenses. And that you're not prepared for the move to full frame. Here's why:

  • 10-18mm f4.5-5.6 IS STM
  • 24mm f/2.8 STM
  • 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM

You forgot a vital portion of these lens names: EF-S. These are EF-S lenses, designed for crop sensor use. The image circle they project is big enough to cover the sensor of a dRebel, but won't be big enough to cover the sensor of a 6D--for that you need EF lenses. EF-S lenses won't physically mount on a 6D. And the only EF-S lens you own where you're covered in full frame terms is the 18-55 (with your EF 28-135. Which, alas, will show more of its flaws when you can actually see the edge performance).

You have no EF 17-40L to replace the EF-S 10-18. Or an EF 35/2 IS USM or EF 40/2.8 STM to replace the EF-S 24/2.8 STM. Remember, when you move to full frame, you have to do the crop math in the other direction--all your lenses get 1.6x shorter/wider. So your 50/1.8 is gonna look more like 28mm currently does on your T5i. So, you might also want to swap it for an EF 85/1.8 USM.

If you really are contemplating the move to full frame, rather than a higher-end crop body, you must also factor in the expense of swapping out at least half your lenses, and any new lens you plan to purchase should probably be EF, not EF-S.

But in addition to all that, you have to be concrete in what it is you want from a lens--what specific features you're after your current glass doesn't give you--where your current lenses really frustrate you, before anyone can narrow down their recommendations to something meaningful.

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Addendum, for new edit.

L lenses may deliver what you want as a pro--especially if you can write them off on the taxes as a business expense, but most of the expense is for larger max. apertures, build quality, and exotic elements (flourite or extra-low dispersion glass). L lenses may or may not be sharper than their non-L counterparts--it depends on the individual lens. Ls do tend to have more contrast so can look sharper/more saturated. Kinda like Zeiss lenses (which you do not want, because they're all manual focus). :) However, for most hobbyists, an L is a very hard sell because the image quality gains can be marginal and the expense is very high. Buyer's remorse can hit harder with an L because it's still just a lens, not magic. OTOH, for a pro, where time is money not having to do as much post correction can make an L easily worth the expense.

For alternatives, again, it depends on the individual lens. But most folks will stick with OEM because of the CPS and generally higher quality. There are exceptions, but it's individual. Most pros with full frame simply go with a 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 setup, and work their way outwards from there.

If, however, you want to ease your way up via a crop body, then consider a EF-S 17-55/2.8 (crop version of the 24-70/2.8), and maybe a good mid-grade fast portrait prime, like the EF 85/1.8 USM or EF 100/2 USM which will still work on full-frame. Both autofocus very quickly, unlike a macro lens that has to search through the macro range as well as normal subject range to lock. If you want to go for overkill and your first L, you could also consider the EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro, which has a focus limit switch on it.

  • @dpollitt Yeah it occurred to me, but I took a guess, based on the gear level and the lens-centric question. Figured OP would comment and I could re-edit if necessary. You'll note I didn't elaborate on lighting very much. – inkista Jan 20 '16 at 17:01
  • Gotcha. Good answer either way! – dpollitt Jan 20 '16 at 17:31
  • Thanks for taking the time to answer. I'm considering taking classes at the New York institute of Photography. My gear level is low because it started as a hobby that started making me money and now it's time to invest. I just ordered some strobe lights after using some as a second photographer at a Quinceara recently, prior to I've used continuous lighting which for video is great but not as effective in portraits. To answer the last question its IQ and Sharpness that I look for. When my 100mm decides to focus correctly the images are beautiful more so then when I use any other lens. – Charles Threat Jan 21 '16 at 7:37
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    @CharlesThreat If this information had been in your original post, I'd have written a very different answer. :) Adding an L lens rider. – inkista Jan 21 '16 at 19:00
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Generally speaking for portrait and event photography I would recommend getting rid of everything but the 100mm macro. Pickup a 24-70mm f/2.8 and 70-200mm f/2.8.

Beyond a general recommendation I can't tell you much more. What I would recommend is bringing your images into software such as Adobe Lightroom that allows you to see the percentage of images taken using each focal length. Maybe right now you shoot 15% of your images at 135mm f/5.6. If that is the case, picking up a telephoto zoom is obviously a good idea. In addition, what limits your current photography from an artistic vision perspective? Do you find yourself wanting more light to freeze subject movement indoors for example? Only you know the answers to these questions and you should explore them and more before buying anything.

More information:

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Going to a full frame sensor, you're going to want more "reach" .. If you're doing a lot of portrait work, I'd definitely look into getting a 85mm ... it complements a full frame body nicely and gives a very natural look. I'm not sure what your budget is, but look at the f 1.8 or f 1.2 versions ... personally, I like the f 1.8 version better as I very rarely shoot below f 2.0 which the f 1.8 version is tack sharp at ... also the f 1.8 version is lighter and faster to focus... but the monster f 1.2 version gives creamier bokeh and will make you look like a "professional" to your clients :) The choice is yours, but that's all I see missing from your kit.

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