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Old Jun 26, 2006, 7:36 PM   #1
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I'm a beginner amateur photographer who has been shooting a fair bit for the last seven months with my Maxxum 5D digital SLR and doing a lot of research and reading regarding equipment and technique. One elusive thing that seems to bother a lot of newcomers to the SLR world, and has troubled me, is choosing lenses. What are the most useful focal lengths, what do I like, and how does the 1.5x crop factor affect this decision? I've been using the kit lens as my wide angle, with a couple of other telephoto lenses. After buying and selling a few, reviewing the exif data in my archives and galleries, and reading many articles and forums I've come to some conclusions.

A good lens kit should generally cover Wide, Normal, and Telephoto ranges. Super wide and Super telephoto are rather specialized ranges and will not be covered by this beginner.
Wide 16-24mm (35mm: 24-36)
Normal 28-35mm (35mm: 43-54)
Telephoto 46-135mm (35mm: 70-206)
A decent prime lens collection would allow you the freedom to choose a zoom that leans more toward convenience rather than trying to get everything right. High quality zooms are of limited range and end up not being much, if any, more convenient than primes were to begin with because the ones on the market currently do not cover the wide range. A lens like the newly announced (June '06) Tokina 16-50mm f/2.8 will change that, but they are not very prevalent yet. The highest quality pro zooms have excellent quality, but rarely match the speed, bokeh, close focusing distance, and sharpness of prime lenses. Primes are also lighter and more compact, and can help you compose more thoughtfully. I have decided to build a collection of prime lenses with one super-zoom lens for convenience. Here are my notes.

WIDE ANGLE 16-24mm. These need not be very fast as they will usually be used closed down for a deep DOF in landscape shooting. Close focus is important, sharpness and resolution are important, but auto focus is of questionable utility. My choices here are the Tokina 17mm ATX Pro f/3.5 (Newer Ø77mm version) and the Minolta 24mm f/2.8

NORMAL 28-35mm. This lens should be very fast. This will be a general-purpose lens and will be used in low light so f/1.4 thru f/2 is desirable. This large aperture will be useful for creating images with strong bokeh. My choice: Either Minolta 28mm f/2 or Sigma EX 30mm f/1.4

The TELEPHOTO category is very sub-divided, but one lens here can do it all. A 90 or 100mm macro lens with a large aperture will double well as a portrait lens, and be of excellent quality so as to be useful in other roles as well. The downside is that it will be too short and the auto focus too slow for most sports and wildlife. The thrifty fifty makes a great portrait lens and is very affordable. My choices are the Minolta 50mm f/1.7 and Tamron 90mm f/2.8 Macro

That's five prime lenses that can be had used for about $1200. With these primes you're free to choose a zoom that is light, small, and covers a big range which will lend itself well to traveling and photo excursions where your not sure what you'll run into or what you want to shoot. Leave the low light and other specialized situations to the lenses that are far better at it. I've chosen the Tamron 28-300 XR as my general-purpose zoom due to good reviews and a closeout price. The 18-200 range would be even more suitable for DSLR's. I considered a standard zoom lens instead of several of the primes. It would have to be professional quality with f/2.8 max aperture. It would have to range from 16 or 18mm through 50mm. Several such lenses are just becoming available, but ultimately I think the fixed focal length lenses are better suited to my needs. Fast moving pro's have a more real need for zooms, a better understanding of the focal lengths they are choosing and why they are choosing them. Using primes is a good way to learn, and a good way to draw your attention to composition rather than zooming to take up the slack, using whatever focal length you end up with.

I'm curious to see what others experience may be, especially with 28mm and wider since this range is not very well addressed by existing 35mm format lenses. What focal lengths do you guys use most, and why? What did you use with film?

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Old Jun 27, 2006, 10:37 AM   #2
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You've pretty much hit the nail on the head in my opinion with your post above. In the film days the 28/2.8 was the widest I had. I use the 18-70 Kit lens right now for the widest angle when I need to, but use the 50/3.5 Macro and 80-200/2.8 most for what I do.

What I did use most in the film days was the 35-70/3.5 - 5.6 because that was all I had, and was all the range I ever needed. This was back when I used the X-700 then. Great learning tool! Still take it to use it occasionally, though I can't use any of my maxxum lens with it. I did get the maxxum 70 Date with the 28-100/3.5 - 5.6 D kit lens, a year before I got my Maxxum 7D. Just my $0.02.

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Old Jun 27, 2006, 12:53 PM   #3
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So far, I've got the following lenses in Minolta AF Mount (most bought before the 5D was even shipping). I got almost all of them used at bargain prices.

28mm f/2 (my favorite for low light use, and wide enough for most indoor use). It will behave like a 42mm lens when used on a KM DSLR (lenses appear to be longer on a DSLR).

50mm f/1.7 - a bit long for close quarters since it will appear to be 1.5 times longer from an angle of view perspective on a DSLR (it will behave like a 75mm lens). But, very useful if you're not in close quarters and want a sharp and bright lens.

100mm f/2 (very sweet lens). It works like a 150mm lens from an angle of view perpective when used on a KM DSLR. This lens tests better at all apertures compared to the Minolta 85mm f/1.4G according to the MTF tests at http://www.photodo.com

135mm f/2.8 (for when I need something a bit longer). Very Good lens... not quite as sharp as the 100mm f/2 at wide open apertures, but still better than most lenses. This one will have approximately the same angle of view (apparent magnification) as you'd have using a 200mm lens on a 35mm camera.

24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 (rapidly becoming my favorite "walk around" lens). After the 1.5x multiplier for angle of view differences, this lens works like a 36-128mm lens would on a 35mm camera.

35-70mm f/4 Macro (sharp and dirt cheap on the used market). I only paid $52 for a working Minolta Maxxum 7000 including this lens at keh.com. But, I haven't used it much.

18-70mm f/3.5-5.6 (kit lens with Maxxum 5D) -- Small and light for it's focal range (designed to work only on DSLR models so they can make it smaller). Since you have a narrower angle of view with a DSLR, a wider lens like this is a good idea (works out to a 35mm equivalent focal range of around 27-105mm after the 1.5x multiplier).

I've also got some Tamron lenses that work with it (SP 20-40mm f/2.7-3.5, SP 35-105mm f/2.8 ).

My initial plan for zooms was to use the Tamron SP 20-40mm f/2.7-3.5 on the wide end, and the Tamron SP 35-105mm f/2.8 when I need something a bit longer (I'm not much of long lens shooter).

I went with the Tamron 35-105mm f/2.8 instead of the newer Tamron 28-105mm f/2.8, since the older 35-105mm tests *much* better on MTF charts (the 35-105mm grades a 3.6 at http://photodo.com , which isn't bad for a zoom).

The Tamron 20-40mm zoom tests sharper at f/2.8 compared to both the Minolta 20mm and 24mm f/2.8 primes according to MTF charts at photodo.com, which is one reason I skipped a wider prime (started out at 28mm instead). But, I rarely use this Tamron anymore. My Tamron 35-105mm f/2.8 probably gets more use. But, it's a bit "finnicky" on focus in low light and is heavier than I like in a walk around. Pros and Cons.

The Minolta 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 is probably my most used lens anymore. Very useful focal range (works about like a 36-127mm would on a 35mm camera), small and light for it's focal range, good AF, sharp enough for my limited needs.

On a 35mm camera, my most used lens was a 35-70mm, probably followed by a 50mm and an 85mm (and I don't have an 85mm in MInolta mount). Not counting a couple of Minolta 7000 bodies bought for the lenses that came with them, my film gear is mostly Nikon.

If I had to do it over again for KM Models without budget restrictions, I'd probably get the Minolta 35mm f/1.4 over the 28mm f/2. The 35mm f/2 would also be appealing (I tried to find one at a bargain price before giving up and going with a 28mm f/2).

Right now, I'd probably get the new Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC instead of the Minolta 28mm f/2. I have nothing against the 28mm f/2 (good lens). My only reason for changing would be that my 28mm f/2 gets used mostly in low light, and sometimes another stop would come in handy.

I'd probably get the 50mm f/1.4 instead of the 50mm f/1.7, too. Sure, it's probably a bit soft wide open at f/1.4 -- but, at least you've got it if needed, and it should sharpen up a bit stopped down some, too.

I'd also opt for the 85mm f/1.4 instead of the 100mm f/2 (I think the shorter focal length would be more useful to me), even though I really like the 100mm f/2 (great lens). It all depends on what (and where) you shoot what would work best. The 85mm is probaby a tad soft wide open at f/1.4. But, at least you'd have f/1.4 when needed ;-)

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Old Jun 27, 2006, 3:12 PM   #4
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Well my experience won't be as relavent to your topic, but here goes...

My main subject most of the time is a race car, so telephoto is my primary need

Started out with kitlens obvious, after 1 weekend of use immediately realized at 70mm x 1.5 it is still not long enough, so started looking for a decent telephoto zoom..

Ends up getting the famous 70-210 f4 beercar in excellent condition, paid a bit much for it but since I needed it in a hurry a the time I didn't have much of a choice(bought it locally). Much better than the kit lens in sharpness and color, and AF speed ain't bad.

Fall arrives and went to see the fall color, the kitlen's lack of sharpness shown itself again, started looking for alternative, ended up buying a 28-135 f4-4.5. Solid lens good sharpness and color and good reach for what it is, heavy though and not very useful indoor due to the long minimum focusing distance. Macro mode is usable.

The family functions in the winter time prompted me to get a bright prime, bought the 50 1.7 like everyone else. Excellent lens, very very good value. A bit long for indoor but perfect for portrait on digital.

At this point I started hunting for a longer telephoto lens, ended up buying 500 f8 and 100-300 APO, then later when a really good deal come up on eBay for a 300 f4 G came around, and overlooked by many(local seller too), I jumped on that. After more use in the spring/early summer with the 300 f4G, realized I don't need the reach of the 500 and can't quite give up on the sharpness/bokeh/color of the G with the 100-300, I sold them both along with the kit lens.

Before the autoshow season starts I also went shopping for a bright-ish wider-than-28mm prime. Ended up getting the 24 f2.8 as it is decently wide and a lot cheaper than the 20mm. Perfect lens for autoshow. Later I also decided to get a 28 2.0 for a even brighter prime and with more wide angle than the 50. These 2 alternates as my primary indoor lens.

With the money from selling the 3 lenses as I mentioned before I decided to get a faster telephoto zoom, ended up getting the Sigma 70-200 EX DG f2.8. Much cheaper than even the usedMinolta 80-200 APO and gets good review. Had its first workout at the F1 race in Montreal last weekend. Passed with flying color(see Sport & Action forum).

At somepoint along the way too I bought a new 50 2.8 Macro D, excellent macro, pretty much bought it because I wanted to have a Macro....

I am quite satisfied with whats in my kit now and can't see me upgrading anytime soon. When funds are available in the future maybe I'll get a SSM, but that'll be 3-4 years at least....

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Old Jun 27, 2006, 6:20 PM   #5
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maxxum 28mm f2.8 !

maxxum 50mm f1.7 !!

maxxum 35-70mm f4 macro !!!!

maxxum 28-100mm f3.5-5.6 ?!

maxxum 75-300mm f3.5-5.6 ?

maxxum HS AF 80-200mm f2.8 APO !!!!!

maxxum AF reflex 500mm f8 !!!!
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Old Jun 27, 2006, 7:53 PM   #6
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Ahh; the arsenal.

I would have to say this ties into a lot of the other post such as, which lens to get next? Best walk around lens, and so on.

For starters you have to have an Idea of what you'll be shooting and the enviroment you'll be shooting in, like these guys.

RacingManiac- My main subject most of the time is a race car, so telephoto is my primary need.

JimC- 28mm f/2 (my favorite for low light use, and wide enough for most indoor use).

tmoreau- One elusive thing that seems to bother a lot of newcomers to the SLR world, and has troubled me, is choosing lenses.

Well join the club.

I do believe (only my opinion) that the rules for

Wide 16-24mm (35mm: 24-36)
Normal 28-35mm (35mm: 43-54)
Telephoto 46-135mm (35mm: 70-206)are not as definable as when we where all using 35mm.

With the evolution of the DSLR with theAPC-S sensor and the constant introduction of new lenses with new focal length combo's. What you want today, you may/will want something different (and better) next month.

My first lens after my "kit" lens was a Maxxum 70-210 f/4. I don't regret that one I use and like that lens a lot. Thats because like you I did a lot of research at different web sights.

Next was a Maxxum 50 f/1.7 for $30 at a local pawn shop. Don't use it as much as I should.

Thencame the Maxxum 28 f2.8I don't know if I'll keep that one I don't use it.And I've got another lens that covers that.

The lens that covers that is the KM 28-75 f/2.8 I like that one. It's a very good useful lens. This is also the most expensive lens I've bought $300.

I don't know why (must have been the price $40) but I bought a Maxxum 35-70 f/4. I think I read so much about how "sharp" this lens was I could'nt turn it down.

I like using a flash and always have it with me. I seem to shoot people outdoors the most and I like to use a nice landscape for my backdrop.

Of all my zoom lenses I like the focal range ofthe kit lens the best.But there's just somthing special about quality of photo'sI get from those old Maxxum lenses.

I only need two more lenses to be satifiedfor now, a good wide zoom like the Sigma 10-20, or the KM/Sony 11-18, anda good wide primefor those times when using a flash is not possibleeither the Minolta 28 f/2, or the new Sigma 30 f/1.4.

Talk to me next month and I'll probably tell you something completely different.

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Old Jun 27, 2006, 7:56 PM   #7
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Minolta 50 1.4, 18-70 f3.5-5.6, 24-85 f3.5-4.528-105 f3.5-4.5, 70-210 f3.5-4.5
Sigma 50 2.8 1:1 macro and 28-70 f3.5-4.5
Tamron 28-80 f3.5-4.5, 28-300 f3.5-6.3 and 70

I share these with my 5D. 800Si and 600Si.
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Old Jun 27, 2006, 10:48 PM   #8
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Sigma 10-20mm and the Sigma 50-500mm with these two lenses you can do almost anything.

And if you don't think the 10-20mm is worth the $500 go to a store try it out on your camera and you'll be leaving with it. now the 50-500mm (or 170-500mm) is useful for sports and nature shooting andsimilarly is totally worth the $1000 it'll set you back. this may not seem apparent at first but after you have one you'll wonder how you did without such a amazing zoom range, especially if you like to photograph animals and especially birds(i work with bird and wildlife for a living =]).
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Old Jun 27, 2006, 11:38 PM   #9
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OK... here my harem.

Tamron 20-40mm SP F2.7-3.5 (My widest option till I muster up the cash for the Sig 10-20 or Tamron or Minolta 11-18. Haven't had time to really test it, but like what I see so far. You wouldn't believe what I paid new for this)

maxxum 50mm F1.7 (Had to have it but no time to test it)

maxxum 35-70mm F4 macro (Another must have but yet to put it through a trial)

maxxum 28-75mm 2.8 D (God I love this lens and it came as my kit)

Maxxum 28-105mm 3.5-4.5 (didn't need this range, but got a good price on it new)

Maxxum 70-210F4 Beercan (Had to have it but no time to test it)

Tamron 28-300MMXR F3.5-6.3 LD (Great walk around for when you are in Ultrazoom mode. I fight over walking around with this or the Maxxum 28-75 2.8. The Tamron wins when I need range)

Tamron 200-400MMF5.6 (What a Canon! Gives me bragging rights! Can't wait to go on safari with this one!)

I really have stopped my buying frenzy because I pretty much have my range covered except for a superwide lens. Love to go with the Sigma, but I hesitate because of all the bad Sigma experiences I read. Probably overblown, but tell me why I shouldn't get the 11-18mm Tamron or Maxxum instead.

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Old Jun 28, 2006, 3:28 PM   #10
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 APS 135  6X6  4X5  
WIDE 17 28 40 90
GENERAL 24 35 55 120
NORMAL 30 45 80 150
PORTRAIT 50 75 120 250
I think that this table sums up my research pretty thoughougly, its interesting to compare similarities with other film formats especially large format. The general focal length seems to be the one I hear most people refer to as what they'd use if only using one lens. Wide angle is fun, but has its limits. Normal lenses are good but I think perhaps difficult to apply well because they dont bring any intrest in the way of distorted perspective. The trouble I've seen revolves around everybody suddenly trying to use 35mm lenses on a new (aps-c) format... I guess I'm posting this because its the general overview that I wish I'd found up front, there are so many wishy-washy variables and opinions that not many people are willing to just say it.

Its been an interesting study, I liked these links:

Bottom line, I think I (an others) am lost in all that choice a zoom provides... and lost in trying to find a zoom that covers the right range (10-20, too wide. 28-70, too long). Now I have a better feel for "why".

"using a zoom lens does necessarily mean that one no longer has to change their position"
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