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Old Oct 13, 2010, 10:51 PM   #1
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Default Professional grade lenses vs. Kit lenses

I ran across an article that may have been posted here in the past, but since there are always quite a few threads on wanting to bypass the kit lens and get a better lens, this I found quite interesting.....

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Old Oct 14, 2010, 12:19 AM   #2
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Interesting article. I have a buddy that works for the National Park Service. He owns a Canon XTI, and shoots with a 70-210L F/4 quite often. I shoot with a Sony A300 and shoot with a 70-210 F/4 quite often. There is no difference in IQ between these two lenses, regardless of focal length or aperture. The difference might be build quality, but since I am not scaling cliffs or skydiving with my camera, it won't matter. I really think it boils down to owning the best toys. Resale is easier on pro grade lenses. My opinion is, buy the most quality you can afford, then learn to make it work for you.
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Old Oct 14, 2010, 9:30 AM   #3
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Interesting article. But, the problem is the entire premise is based on this quote of the author's:
In most photography, the two key qualities needed from a lens are sharpness, and, sufficient depth of field to keep the entire landscape in sharp focus.
It seems to be assuming everyone is doing landscape photography. Without doubt, when you are shooting lenses at f8-16 you're absolutely not going to see a big difference in sharpness. In reality though, most people are so much more than landscape photographers. Other aspects of lens quality: distortion, chromatic aboration, softness at widest apertures, constant wide aperture, etc. all come into play. For certain types of photography (sport, action wildlife) the focus speed of the lens comes into play - and that is determined in large part by the focus motor employed. Like to take portraits - # of aperture blades and their affect on bokeh comes into play. We could go on and on. Just like there are certain instances where a digicam can do just as well as a DSLR, there are instances where a kit lens can do just as well as a pro grade. BUT, there are also plenty of situations where it can't. It's a case by case thing. The real key is understanding what the requirements of YOUR specific shooting needs are. Then, getting knowledgeable input on what features (in camera or in lens) are important. In some cases there's a big difference between a pro grade lens and kit lens for the attributes the individual is concerned with. In other cases, not so much.

So the article is true, from a VERY narrow perspective. I just don't think the majority of DSLR shooters fall into those narrow guidelines fro 100% of their shooting.
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Old Oct 14, 2010, 10:22 AM   #4
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John, the majority of DSLR shooters have no more clue about those aspects of lens quality than they do about quantum mechanics. They buy them for the same reason they buy designer label clothes and shoes. For them, the most important characteristic of the lens is the name on it. Most DSLR users will never approach the limits of the kit lens, and there is nothing wrong with that. They are kit lenses because they are very versatile. Camera makers don't want people to have bad impressions of their cameras because they are packaged with bad lenses, so the kit lenses are often very good optically.

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Old Oct 14, 2010, 10:37 AM   #5
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Brian - I agree many people don't know what they're missing. Doesn't mean they aren't missing something. But the notion that you can't recognize the difference in an 11x14 print starts to fall apart in certain circumstances. For example, someone likes to take portrait style shots of their kids - not professionally, they just like close-ups. The difference between f5.6 and f2.0 is very evident. Now they like that kind of thing, when you show someone the difference in the bokeh of the canon 50mm 1.8 vs. the 1.2 it's noticable. It doesn't mean they couldn't decide they don't want to pay that money. But, unlike the 11x14 landscape shot, there are plenty of instances where the difference is readily apparent.

They want to do available light shooting? What, you mean the IS-enabled f5.6 kit len isn't fast enough? Ok, I'll buy an inexpensive 50mm 1.8 - hey, that's better. Wait, I want to use that for my son's basketball but man the focus can't keep up (and yes there are a LOT of people buying DSLRs that want to shoot their kids' sports) - wow, having the focus speed and range of that 85mm 1.8 sure makes a big difference. And build quality plays a part - I had 2 versions of canon's 28-135 - a fine lens, but man the lens creep on that thing was annoying. My 24-105 doesn't creep a bit. It's also punchy at f5.6-6.3 in a way neither 28-135 rarely was. VERY noticable. Then when you point out distortion on WA shots - that's certainly noticable. But wait I can fix that with software - true, but when you do that you are forced to crop off part of the image - which often defeats the purpose of using that wide angle in the first place. It's better but not as good. Again, not everyone wants to pay for better. And that's OK. And I agree that some people buy just to have the name or whatever. But, when you consider other styles of photography beyond traditional landscape, the quality differences of better made lenses start to show through.

Whether or not an individual actually shoots those types of photography is another matter. But it's also why generic statements about lenses is pretty much useless. You have to get down to specifics: specifics about the individual shooting needs and specifics about the lenses in question. But shockingly enough, some people really don't always need/want to shoot in the middle of a zoom's focal range, stopped down by 2 stops
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Old Oct 14, 2010, 3:07 PM   #6
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I have to throw myself in the mix with John here. Personally I invest in gear to be able to cover everything I can. One wont know the limitations until compared to other glass. Some will never venture past a kit lens or out of program mode for that matter. Others who are well developed photographers want to get the most out of their gear and want it to be versatile. The first DSLR I bought was an XTi with the kit lens, the kit lens was sold the next day and replaced with a 24-105L and a 16-35L
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Old Oct 14, 2010, 3:40 PM   #7
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The author's point is very interesting, though I read it slightly differently than most will. He points out "that you can get pro quality results from consumer grade lenses used within their limitations." Excellent photographers can take awesome pictures with very limited equipment by knowing how best to use it. And there are any number of poor photographers who take lousy pictures with pro equipment because they don't know how to use it properly.

I agree with the author about fact that kit lenses are quite capable for many things. I also agree with JohnG that they are almost useless for some things that are beyond their capabilities (something the author does mention briefly in his article).

I'm also very aware that not everyone has the same standards. Some parents shooting their kids softball games will be satisfied with the quality of photo they get with their p&s or basic dSLR equipment. It's not that they can't get better quality from other equipment (they can), it's that their standards aren't very high and they don't feel deprived enough to spend the extra money needed to improve. Others will grit their teeth when they see the same results from the same equipment and can't wait to upgrade their system. It's personal preference and everyone is different when it comes to that.
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Old Oct 14, 2010, 4:09 PM   #8
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My take, if you need or want them. Then it is the right lens. Everyone has their own needs for their photography. But we all have to start somewhere. And without footing out the big dollars for the "L" and DA * and Limited, or CZ. The kit lens is a good starting point for most. And does a good job within their performance envelope. Just do not try to push that envelope, as results very rapidly degrade. Like mtngal said, great photographers do get great results with average equipment as they know how to best use what they have.

But like John said, if you do go to specialize photography. Like sports and action indoors, the added expense in the pro glass will pay huge dividends with faster AF speed, big aperture and sharpness wide open. If that is what you like to shoot, then it is worth the money.
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Old Oct 14, 2010, 4:57 PM   #9
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Kit'n'konsumer lenses can do wondrous things, but not everything. I like to say that a fast AF zoom is great for snapping shots quickly, but a manual prime teaches you to see.

Trying to shoot action sports with a lens that isn't superfast AF? I'll use a manual 135/2.5 or 200/3.5 with Focus-Trap aka Catch-In-Focus (CIF), and I'll boost the ISO as needed. Want to shoot close, intimate portraits with a slow lens? Add a cheap #1 CloseUp filter-lens and stay within 1m, and/or keep the background far away. (My favorite for portraiture is 75-80mm @ f/2.8-4, whether shooting 9x12, 6x6, 135/FF, or APS-C-size frames.) Want to shoot in lower light? Manual 50-58mm lenses with f/1.4-2 apertures are still amazingly cheap. Or you can just boost ISO.

Pro-quality lenses are amazing tools. They can also be bling, braggables, underused. A wise observation: the best lens is the lens you use, the worst is the one you don't use. By this measure, my cheapest Chinon 55/1.7 (US$3) is a much better lens than my Lil'Bigma 170-500 (US$1k) because I use it much more. If I still made my living with a camera I'd probably buy pro glass. I don't so I won't, not having the budget. It depends on how much you're willing to spend to be how happy?
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Old Oct 14, 2010, 5:01 PM   #10
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Buy the best you can afford. Leaves you no excuses.

But a muppet with a bag full of L lenses is still a muppet, and a genius with a Holga will take your breath away.
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