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Lens lust

Guest plesbit

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Sadly I've fallen for this hook, line and sinker, as it were. But then I always was likely to.

All of us here have slightly varying amounts of experience and shoot and slightly different ways so I am interested in knowing what lenses people have in their armoury and which ones they find themselves using most often. Some idea of where these lenses sit in the manufacturer's portfolio would also be interesting.

The reason for asking is because I have fallen completely for the marketing and snobbery side of things! Despite the fact that my existing camera, which I only bought in April last year, has has delivered consistently accurate and pleasing results (even with me behind it) the constant reference to it as an "entry level" or "beginners" camera on various fora (and that goes equally for the Canon and Nikon equivalents) has left me hankering after the next level up. However the mid level camera in my system is approaching the end of its life cycle and a replacement is widely expected to be not far off - one which will almost certainly include things like LiveView, something I once couldn't care less about but now wouldn't consider buying a new camera without it.

Instead I decided to throw the money at lenses. Lenses, I figured, would make more of a difference to image quality than the camera body anyway, and would last perhaps 20 years instead of about 2 years for a body. So before I went to Austria (and had my accident) I ordered two new high end lenses. The plan was that my new Carl Zeiss 16-80 would replace my standard Minolta 24-105 and the new Sony G 70-300 would replace my old Minolta 100-300 APO both of which could then be sold on Ebay and would (typically) net around £300 back for me.

But what's this? Having tested the lenses the difference in results is the square root of bugger all! Yes the Zeiss is marginally sharper than the Minolta 24-105 but you need to pixel peep at 100% or blow your prints up to the size of a door before you can really tell. But then the clue is in the price, I guess. The 24-105 never was an entry level kit lens and has all the attributes you'd expect from a more advanced lens - stronger, heavier construction, non-rotating front elements and focus ring. The vast majority of shots I've recently posted to this forum have been taken with this lens as it is my normal lens of choice.

And then there's the 70-300 G, "G" denotes a "Gold" lens (top of the range). It certainly looks and feels like a professional bit of kit and Michael Reichmann appears to like it - this from Luminous Landscape:

The Sony and Zeiss lenses continue to please, and the Sony 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 G was my most used lens by far, for shooting not only from the ship but also from Zodiacs and onshore. This is my personal favourite focal range, and this lens is about as fine as I've used at these focal lengths.

But for the life of me, in my tests, I cannot see any difference in results between this and the Minolta 100-300 APO I bought off Ebay for £150 two years ago. Physically they could not be more different, the G lens having the look and feel of a fully professional lens and a range of onboard features I am not used to seeing on a lens, but the whole point of getting it in the first place was solely to shoot the birds on my garden feeders and since my accident I am not physically able to do this anymore and in tests I just can't make it outperform the cheapo plastic lens it is intended to replace. In fairness the old Minolta 100-300 APO was widely regarded as a gem, one of those lenses that all manufacturers come out with from time to time which, in optical quality terms, punch well above their price point but otherwise it has all the hall marks of a cheap lens - nasty plastic construction, rotating focus front element and focus ring but optically it's no slouch.

I'm not at all disappointed by the new lenses, they really are very good indeed, but I could have just stuck with my existing lenses and saved myself well over £800 and really seen little difference in terms of results. Not only that but the 16-80 Z doesn't actually quite replace the 24-105 which has benefits of its own, so I have decided not to sell it, and the 70-300 G doesn't quite replace the 100-300 APO which is far smaller and more portable so I have decided not to sell that either meaning I have achieved largely nothing other than part company with a heap of cash. So my pointlessly large lens collection now reads:

Sony 16-80 Z (probably my new walkabout lens)

Tamron 17-50 SP

Sigma 18-200

Minolta 24-105 (my previous walkabout lens)

Minolta 50 MACRO (my personal favourite but doesn't get much use)

Sony 70-300 G

Minolta 100-300 APO

and I can't bring myself to sell any of them (though I probably should) because whilst there is a lot of common ground covered each one brings something unique to the party which I can see a use for.

So anyone else going to confess? ;)

PS - It might interest Bruce to know that there are Hartblei Zeiss TS lenses available for the Alpha System (discussed in another thread) but each one costs as much as a decent second hand car!

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Simon, I may be wrong, but it looks to me as if you are just considering the sharpness of the lenses, and presumably looking mostly at the main subject? There are a lot of factors when judging lens quality, and centre sharpness is only one of them. In many respects that is the factor that a cheaper lens is most likely to be able to replicate.

The other main factors to look at are as follows - in no particular order and off the top of my head, and not all likely to be relevant to you. I'm sure you know a lot of the following, but if so it may benefit someone else!

1. Sharpness in other parts of the frame, especially at the edges. This is where your 18-80mm should have a big advantage over the 24-105, particularly at the wide end. Wide angle zooms are notorious for producing soft corners when at their wider ends.

2. Contrast.

3. Colour rendition.

4. Distortion - barrel and pincushion. You will probably find that if you use your 18-80 for building shots, particularly where there is brickwork or other straight lines, you will notice the difference, and again especially nearer the edges. Cheaper lenses will inevitably exhibit more barrel distortion. A good way of testing a wide angle lens if to take shots of brick walls (tripod mounted of course, and preferably without an inquisitive audience who may phone for men in white coats) at a range of apertures.

5. Performance at different apertures. Better lenses will be usable for critical applications across a wider range. Some cheaper ones will start to look sad if you go beyond f8 and f11.

6. Bokeh - this is the quality of the out of focus area of the image when shooting using a longer lens at wider apertures. Good bokeh is when the out of focus background looks pleasing and smooth - bad bokeh is when it is blocky, fussy and generally not nice - it's hard to explain, but when you see it you'll know it! I'd guess your new 70-300 will have nicer bokeh than your 100-300.

7. Maximum aperture. Pro lenses tend to have a wider maximum aperture than cheaper ones, making them better for low light use (e.g interiors) and often producing better bokeh. Most social photographers (wedding and portrait), news and sports togs etc. use 2.8 lenses or wider.

8. Resistance to flare.

9. Tendency to chromatic aberration. This is where you get magenta or sometimes green fringing around edges, usually in backlit scenes. I've found that the Canon 24-105L is prone to it, and the 17-40L is also notorious for it. Being Canon L series these are not cheap lenses, but generally speaking cheaper lenses are more likely to suffer.

When judging sharpness don't forget your sharpening in Lightroom. All digital images need to be sharpened correctly according to their intended usage, and you may find that once both comparative images (on the old and new lenses) are sharpened properly, the images from your new lenses will stand out more.

I hope that helps. When I have more time I'll post a list of my lenses and some of my thoughts on them - including my Olympus 19mm (yes, on a Canon!)


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My cheapo 100-300 APO has been my birding lens until now so all the pictures of garden birds etc that I have ever posted have come off that lens. Many people, yourself included, have commented on the quality of the bokeh. In the late 1990's Minolta updated most of their range of lenses to "D" lenses where additional information about the subject was communicated back to the camera body (such as the distance from the camera to the point of the AF lock). When the 100-300 APO was revised into D format it was also given a fully circular aperture with a view to improving the bokeh. Mine, ironically, is the older version yet still attracts frequent praise for bokeh quality.

I was probably expecting too much from the 16-80 vs the 24-105 because their retail prices are around £420 and £360 respectively (now that the prices have risen) so they are not exactly worlds apart. But what I will say is that whilst the initial tests showed only a slight sharpness advantage for the 16-80 Zeiss in my one and only real world trip to Wells-Next-The-Sea the images it produces are more pleasing, though I cannot exactly put my finger on why. There is just something nicer about the look of the resulting picture.

I'll be attempting to put my birding tripod up again tomorrow as I see the goldfinches are back at the feeders. I guess then I'll get a better idea whether there is much of a difference from the old lens - it seems to be a very popular birding lens and no-one, including the professionals, has had anything but praise. I just hope I am not expecting too much from it!

I look forward to those lens lists :naughty:

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Hi Simon

I only have two lenses

Canon 17-85 IS USM (f4-5.6) EF-S

Canon 70-300 IS USM (f4-5.6) EF

Previously I had the 18-55 kit lens that came with the 350D camera, and that was awful. The accuracy of the autofocus, the distortion and aberration at the wide end, and colour were just horrible, andthe whole thing felt cheap and loose. I didn't realise this until I had been using the camera for a few months, as being a total beginner to DSLR this time last year, I had no benchmark to go by. The 17-85 that I bought as the direct replacement for the kit lens, whilst still being considered as a fairly low end lens, still cost around £350 and is lightyears ahead. The review sites still mention the vignetting and corner sharpness as being a problems, but that is compared to their bench mark of absolute perfection. For me, it's a fantastic lens, which will be even better mounted on the front of my new 50D (when I get it :naughty: ).

For zoom work and wildlife type shots, I had also purchased a secondhand 70-300 non-stablised lens when first getting my 350D. Again, this was not a particularly good lens, with sharpness always being a problem. The 70-300 IS lens I replaced it with was a similar cost to the 17-85, but again is streets ahead. I would prefer a larger and non-rotating front element, but I have not found myself needing to use filters for this lens so it's not much of a problem. Most of the time it's used for trying to photograph the damned Kingfishers that I can't seem to get a decent shot of!

Both lenses are image stabilised, and to me that makes such a big difference. The only other lens that I can see myself purchasing in the future is a fish-eye, as I love the effects these can give. The two I have though, seem to fit what I need very well at the moment. :wave

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Some good points made already.

It would be interesting to try to put your finger closer to what the issue is Simon. As Bruce has outlined all digital images need some level of sharpening. Are the images not sharp after sharpening or could it be they are they very slightly out of focus? I found better sharpness and detail throughout the range when I upgraded my lenses as opposed to a 'sweet spot' at a certain focal length and aperture on my old lenses.

Not wanting to get into pixel peeping I have had an issue with my new baby which was back focusing more that the micro adjustment scale would allow. It went back to Canon just weeks before the current recall has had the fix and a firmware update and is now perfect. What it did show me however was the very small difference between an in focus image and an out of focus image with the auto focus system.

If you have the time have a look http://focustestchart.com/focus21.pdf the information relates to a D70 but the principals are the same.

My Lenses are:

EF 17-40mm f/4.0L USM

EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

EF 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

Extender EF 1.4x II

For my 10D as a walk around lens I use: Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS

My next lens in the future will be EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM

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All of my cameras have come with crappy kit lenses, including the two dSLR bodies. But I purchased a Sigma 18-200 hyperzoom for foreign travel at the same time and, whilst the kit lens arguably gave slightly nicer colour and contrast over common focal lengths the sharpness was comparable if not better on the Sigma and the vast reach meant there was no competition for a place on the camera. The kit lens(es) were relegated to the inside of a box until I sold them (for about £25 each) on Ebay last December. Until late 2007 the pair were never parted but then I started to do the product marketing photography at work so I started to get a feel for studio based macro work which I enjoyed a lot. The Canon mount macro lens from work wasn't much use to me though so I sourced an equivalent A mount lens, eventually picking up an absolutely ancient 50mm MACRO on Ebay (it still cost three figures!). It must be one of the oldest AF lenses I've ever set eyes on but it is probably my favourite lens, even if it doesn't see much use. At the same I had set up some bird feeders and the Sigma was not long enough to get really close so the 100-300 APO followed. All I needed now was a genuine upgrade from the kit lens to fill the wider end and that would be my collection complete. The sensible option would have been the 16-105 but at £350 I was baulking at the cost so in the end got an older 24-105 off Ebay for a third of the cost - and what a good lens it was.

Trouble was, whilst wandering around the countryside taking pics it was fine as walkaround lens. Things started to go wrong when I ventured into towns and cities or indoors as it just was not wide enough on APS-C. So the Tamron 17-50 entered the collection. It opened up the wide end and, at a constant f2.8, made for a good indoor lens. Anyone who thinks third party lens manufacturers don't know what they're doing, you're needlessly ruling out some excellent kit.

The whole point of the 16-80 Z and the 70-300 G was to replace the existing zooms and remain within the original four lens plan. However, in practice, all three of the other zooms still have a USP which is making me reluctant to get rid of them for now. My gut feeling is that ultimately, however, I will end up getting rid of two of them because I really don't need this many lenses and there is still at least one gap I'd like to fill but there's no space left in my kit bag!

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  • 2 weeks later...
You need a bigger bag ;)

Not anymore.

Common sense prevailed and the 24-105 and 100-300 went on Ebay on Sunday night. No bids yet but they seldom start until the final 24 hrs or so and there are 15 people watching, which must be a good sign. I think the Sigma 18-200 will be next to go and then that damn Sigma 18-50/3.5 that I bought by accident (and actually sold once before but the buyer was a plonker and wouldn't take it when he found it wouldn't fit on his Nikon). Selling lenses is nearly as addictive as buying them! At this rate I'll have only four left!


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Well well well. Both lenses sold. The 24-105, for which I paid £105 last March went for £160 and the 100-300 APO for which I paid £140 in Oct 07 went for £168.

I would have been happy to make a minor loss on both as it would effectively just mean I paid a little rent on them, but to make a reasonable profit was quite unexpected. After all, that 24-105 has been the mainstay of my photography for the past year and was seldom off the camera. It was a very, very good lens, though I have to say I am far from disappointed with the Carl Zeiss 16-80 which replaced it, now that I have had the chance to use it "in the field". My only doubt is that I replaced a FF lens with a DT lens but I can't see me shifting to a FF body any time soon, if ever. Indeed, there is a school of thought going about now that APS-C is very much here to stay and may fill the part of the market once occupied by 90% of 35mm users whilst FF will split off the top end of the 35mm market and the bottom end of the MF market and combine them into a new in-between system.

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