DSLR Advice (Beginner, Specifically lenses)

Hey All,

I’ve been looking at DSLRs recently, and I’ve pretty much settled on the Canon Digital Rebel XSi. I just haven’t quite decided on what lens or lenses I should get at this point. I have found the camera body + 18-55 kit lens for about 130-140 more than just the body. There’s basically three ways I can see going:

(1) Kit lens + $150-200 zoom lens in the 80-300 range.

(2) Buy the body only and get a $200-300 dollar 18-200ish lens

(3) (2) Plus a simple 50mm fixed lens

I am on an extended around the world type backpacking trip, so that’s how I’m going to be using it. Landscapes of buildings, terrain, and candids of the locals are the biggest three things I will use it for. A distant fourth would be wild life. Really, for the first two wider is basically all that matters. For the third, zoom is really nice for taking a picture without shoving a camera in their face (and getting out of giving Indian kids their 10p :slight_smile: ). I’m probably not going to be taking landscapes and pictures of people at the same time, so I don’t think I would change lenses too much.

However, the thing I come back to is that I just think carrying around more than one lens is going to be a pain in the ass. I’ve used a DSLR, and to be honest intellectually I understand that changing lenses takes 3 seconds and isn’t hard at all. But emotionally I just like the ability to go from shooting a landscape of a temple to a zoom in on a cute kid eating icecream without digging around my bag.

The hesitation I have is that by reading the reviews, people seem to imply that I am making vast sacrifices in image quality by going for an ultrazoom. I get the feeling that these people are picking ridiculous nits, and since I’m not trying to sell any pictures to a magazine, everything I take will be fine. That’s where option 3 has come from in my mind. If I just have to get a perfect shot of something, I can use the 50mm and do anything I am capable of. But then again, I don’t want a $130 dollar paperweight, and the changing lenses thing comes back.

Any opinions?

Nope, an 18-200 lens in that price range will be noticeably less sharp than even your kit lens. Plus, you probably will only be able to use it at 200mm when focused at infinity; at closer focus you might be limited to 140mm or something similar. It’s tempting to get a single lens like that, but it has some limitations.

If you’re going to get a DSLR, IMO, it makes sense to get multiple lenses. That’s the strength of the format. An 18-55 and a 70-300 would give you a great range of focal lengths. If you have the 18-55 then there’s not much sense getting the 50mm, especially for travel. Versatility is key on a trip like that and as nice as the 50mm is, you don’t really need it.

The 50mm is much, much faster. I just got one as a present, and it’s not mindblowing or anything (and I miss IS), but certainly is nice to have when you need relatively shorter exposures for whatever reason.

ETA: But I’ll agree, it’s not really a need —just nice to have, sometimes. Really, all you need is the basic kit lens and a basic telephoto.

I have a Canon 500D (not sure what it is in the US but it’s an entry level dSLR). I didn’t want to be changing lenses all the time and got the 18-200 on the advice of the salesman. It was OK but it didn’t take me long to decide I wanted better quality lenses. I still use it on occasion, ie if changing lenses would be a mega pain in the rear, but I find I use my 17-55 more than any other lens. Still, since you’re going to be backpacking around the world, you may have to make sacrifices somewhere.

For a novice, I actually suspect you’d be happiest with an 18-200mm zoom–Tamron and Sigma both have decent models for under $350. I don’t know these lenses that well, but I have recommended them in the past, and everybody who’s used them has loved them. The sharpness isn’t that of a $1000+ lens, but it’s more than acceptably sharp for anyone other than pro photographers who notice these things.

I, personally, in that price range, would pick the 50mm f/1.4, but that is going to severely limit you (and push your boundaries at the same time). I’d say go for the Tamron or Sigma 18-200, unless you want to challenge yourself and get a lens you’re likely to keep for a long time in the bargain.

You want the sharpest lens you can get. The ones with the kits are okay, but not truly high quality lenses, which start at about $1000. With Canon these are called “L” lenses and they are amazing.

That’s great, but I think my gear altogether (which took a couple years to assemble) is in the range of about $1000. For most beginners, the L lenses are clearly not on the table, and in the meantime, there plainly are very substantial differences between the quality of various consumer/entry level lenses. This discussion seems to be about the latter topic.

While we’re on this subject, and because I don’t want to start a whole new thread, I have a question. I’d like to buy this lens - a Nikkor 55-200 VR. I already own the non-VR, older version of this same lens, and the shitty plastic mount is broken. My question is, does this newer VR version have a good, solid metal mount? Or am I stuck with another shitty plastic one?

I would say 24-105 (fantastic always-on-my-camera lens), but it’s probably beyond what you want to invest. The ~$80 50mm is a pretty good, sharp lens, although a bit clunky. Check out the digital picture. IIRC there’s a something-300mm lens that got a decent review.

I was a bit flip about the 50mm lens. A f/1.4 50mm is a great lens; relatively inexpensive, sharp, fast, and small. But if you aren’t going to be inclined to change lenses while traveling then I wouldn’t recommend it, especially if one of your other zoom lenses covers that range. For having in your kit bag at home - yes, you absolutely want that lens or something similar.

I think you’ll find that something like a 18-135mm (with the 1.6x multiplier of this camera) would be the biggest walk around lens I’d recommend. Going out to 200 is really not going to deliver fantastic results and all your photos will be noticeably less sharp. That Canon version of that lens is around $450 but you can get it for less if you’re willing to go grey market or a similar lens may be available from Sigma or Tamron.

Bottom line, I don’t think you’ll really use the 200mm end of the lens that often and you can only use it at infinity focus anyway. Rather than compromise the entire lens, go for a smaller but still versatile zoom lens and keep the quality high.

If you’re backpacking and don’t want to carry a bunch of lenses, I would go with the 18-200 and a 50 1.4 or 1.8.

My go-to lens for the last 15 years has been a Vivitar 28-210mm. Gives you reasonable wide angle and zoom, is small enough to fit into a backpack, and won’t break the bank when you buy it, break it, or have it stolen.

I have a T1i, which is very similar to the XSi, and the lens that I use most is the Canon EF-S 10-22mm lens. It’s particularly good for taking pictures of buildings where it’s hard to step back far enough to get the whole thing in. On a trip, I could probably get by with that plus the 18-55mm kit lens, since I don’t often need to use a telephoto lens. However, if you do want to add telephoto, then Canon has the EF-S 55-250mm_lens, which neatly complements the kit lens.

I can’t speak for Canon, but I keep my Nikon 18-200mm VR on my D90 almost all the time. I guess it’s possible that I am giving up some sharpness, but I don’t see it, and I’d rather have a very-slightly-soft image than none at all, which is what often happens when switching lenses. If I was just doing portraiture or architectural photography I would keep a prime lens on the camera, but I shoot all kinds of subjects, and the ability to zoom over an 11x range is a huge plus. My other favorite lens is a Sigma 10-20mm, which is also impressively sharp for a “consumer” lens. It’s very useful for interior shots.

I think this might be the winner. The reviews I have read peg it at essentially the same performance as the kit lens in wide angles, and it seems to be acceptable in the zoom range as well. I can get it refurbished (claimed as unused from a kit) on Amazon for $305 which is easily affordable. It might not be as great as other lenses in terms of performance, but I don’t see another combination of price, performance, and flexibility that beats it.

I reallly want a wide angle lens in this vein, but I can’t justify the price and carrying around the extra lens.

Assuming I go with the Canon 18-135, does anyone want to argue for getting a 50 mm f1.8 as well?

Well, I was the one who pointed out its uses earlier, and I would say no, you don’t really need one when you’re backpacking. It’s just one more thing to carry, especially when you don’t like changing lenses.

I bought a Nikkor 50mm years ago and have never used it since.

An f/1.8 lens is terribly helpful if you are taking shots in dim lighting, specifically indoors. It also will allow you to take pictures with a narrow depth of focus.

If you are shooting mostly during the day outdoors, and you are not interested in bokeh (blurred backgrounds) then the zoom will be fine.

I’ve praised fast 50s in numerous photo threads, so I might as well do it here.

An f/1.8 or 1.4 lens will let you take indoor shots without flash. To me that’s a game changer. That’s half my shooting or more. That’s the difference between authentic indoor ambiance, and cookie cutter flash lighting.

In the days of film I never used my 50mm “normal” lenses because the angle was boring, and shooting film at ISO 1600 is an ugly proposition. But with a DSLR, 1600 is eminently usable, and a 50mm is the same angle as a 75mm. That gives a loosely framed portrait-- perfect for indoor candids.

Also in the film era, I didn’t like using a 70mm or 80mm as a portrait lens because the image would usually need to be cropped tighter. Now that’s not an issue. You load the shots on your computer, pick your 5 favorites and do your framing in 10 minutes.

Pulykamell recommends the 1.4 upthread, but I like the 1.8 just fine. Most reviews have them both getting sharp around 2.2 (depends on the individual lens) so the functional difference is rarely as large as the 2/3s stop mechanical difference.

But if you’ve got the extra $250 and nothing else that needs buying, then the 1.4 is better. A touch heavier, but lighter than a zoom. It’s a lot more solidly constructed, but you can replace the 1.8 several times for less overall cost.

The 1.8 is fine to pair with the zoom. I picked the 1.4 because if I had to choose exactly one lens with that amount of money, that’d be the lens I’d choose. But if we’re going for the zoom, it’d be nice to have the 50mm f/1.8 to pair with it for low light and low depth of field (portrait) situations.

I shoot full frame, so I actually don’t use the 50mm a lot myself, but I do use the 85mm f/1.4 a good bit–and on a 1.6 crop sensor, the 50mm is the equivalent of 80mm. That is, by far, my favorite focal length. The first lens I bought for my first Nikon (N90) was the 85mm f/1.8; the first lens I bought for my first Canon (5D) was the 85mm f/1.8. When I first traveled Europe 15 years ago, I brought two lenses with me: 85mm f/1.8 and a 24mm f/2.8. I rarely felt I didn’t have the lens I needed for the job.

For example, here’s one picture from that trip. (Wish I had focused on the near eye, but I was still relatively new to photography.) I made that photo with an 85 f/1.8. You can do that with a 50mm f/1.4 on a crop sensor. You can’t do it with a kit lens with a max aperture of 3.5-5.6. First, you won’t get background blurring as good as that and, second, you probably won’t be able to hand-hold it (or, if you do have IS/VR on your lens, your subject will move slightly, even though the image itself is stabilized, thus introducing motion blur anyway). If I remember the specs, that photo was shot on 3200ISO film (God, did I love T-Max P3200), f/1.8, 1/60-1/125 sec.

Yes, you do have to know what you’re doing, but I think it would be nice to keep the 50mm f/1.8 around to play around with and to have for those portraits and low light shots.