Friday, April 2, 2010

Lens Purchasing Guide Part 2: Mid-Range Crop Sensor Lenses

    In the purchasing guide for kit lenses I covered the entry level lens options that are open to first  time DSLR buyers, but for those who are needing something more, or looking to step up from those kit lenses there are even more choices. This second part of the lens purchasing guide is for those people who want to buy lenses that are a step up from the entry level kit lenses, but don't want to spend over $1500 (Canadian), for crop sensor cameras. There is a lot to cover, so I'll get started.

    As a owner of a crop sensor camera, you have a lot of options for under $1500, and making the right choices for your style of photography can be default at best. Most manufactures have 5-10 different lens options in this price range, in terms of lenses made specifically for crop sensor cameras. Nikon, Pentax, Sony and Canon users can also choose from lenses designed for full frame (35mm/FX) cameras, while Olympus, Panasonic users cannot, without an adapter. In this guide I will be covering lenses designed for crop sensor cameras, as I will be covering full frame lenses in another part of the guide.

What lens(es) should I replace my kit lens(es) with, or do I even need to?
    Those two questions are important to think about when you are considering buying higher end SLR lenses. First, ask yourself, in what ways do(es) the kit lens(es) hamper my ability to take the photos I want to be able to take? If you don't have an answer to that question, stop right now and think about it. If you cannot think of any ways that your kit lens hampers your abilities, then maybe you should stick with them for now.

    If you can think of ways that the kit lens(es) hamper your photography, write them down in a list. If one of the reasons is that you want to shoot in low light conditions, then consider buying an external flash (Speed-light), unless you want to shoot with natural light. Is one of your reasons that the lens does not have enough reach, or does not go wide enough? Then you might be ready to step up to higher end lenses. Are you tired of switching lenses all the time, and just want one lens to cover what you photograph most often? There are solutions to that as well. None of these options are going to be inexpensive, so if you want to step up to higher end lenses you are going to have to either break the bank (inadvisable) or put money aside until you can afford to buy the lenses you need to get the photos you want, or need to take.

I Want One Single Lens To Cover Everything!
    If you are looking for one lens to cover everything from wide angel to a reasonable amount of telephoto range, then you have some good options available. All of the large manufactures have a lens that fulfills users needs in this area, Nikon, Canon and Pentax, for example all make 18-200mm lenses. Those lenses give you coverage from 28-300mm approximately (depends on the cameras crop factor), which should be more than enough for most people who want this type of lens. You can also buy similar lenses for most brands, from third party lens makers, such as Sigma and Tamron. The example images are of the Nikon and Canon models. Now, more reach is not the only area that these lenses are a step up from the standard kit lenses. These big zooms are also of a higher built quality than the kit lenses, which which means they are less like to be damaged if you bump them around a little bit. Don't expect them to survive a big fall though, at least not on a hard surface.

    In terms of the image quality you can get, these lenses are either the same, or slightly better than the kit lenses. Due to the large size of the zoom range, these lenses have a noticeable amount of distortion on the wide end, which means straight lines, wont look straight the closer they are to edge of the image. That being said, many cameras today, as long as you shoot jpgs, have in camera distortion correction.

I Want A Lens(es) Better Than the Kit Lens(es), but more coverage than the one lens solution!
    So you want lenses that cover a wider range than the 18-200mm lenses offer? Nikon and Canon both make solutions for people who want to step outside of the kit lenses, or a one lens fits all, situation. Nikon offers the 16-85mm VR lens (24-127mm coverage), and Canon has the 17-85mm IS (27-136mm coverage) . Both of these lenses better image quality, VR/IS and superior build quality than that of the kit lenses. If you find that one of those lenses does not give you either enough wide angel coverage or enough reach, then you can add to them with a telephoto lens, such as the Nikon 70-300mm VR or Canon's similar offering. Canon does have several 70ish-300mm lenses, so you can pick the lens that best fits your budget.
    If you are looking for wide angel coverage, then consider the Canon EFS 10-20mm or Nikon 10-24mm 3.5-4.5G DX, or 12-24mm DX F4G. Each of these give you a lot more wide angel coverage than your kit lens, and are are also have superior build quality. There may be an issue with distortion again at the widest angel of these lenses, but again jpg shooters may not have to worry about that.
    Like the one lens fits all solution there are third party lenses that you can consider, and they often have different features and lower prices than the first party lenses. There are downsides to using third party solutions, such as lower build quality (in some cases), and inferior image quality (again in some cases). I wont be covering third party lenses in my guide, simply because there are too many options to cover both the first party and third party lens offerings.

    Each of the lenses covered in this guide are a step up from the kit lens(es). From image quality improvements, to superior build quality, there is something about these lenses that make them better, and more expensive. If you are looking for lenses for other situations, such as if you want extremely narrow depth of field for creative art photography, low light shooting, or macro photography, I'll be posting a guide covering prime (fixed focal length) lenses as part of this series.