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Old Apr 7, 2008, 2:08 PM   #1
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Whenever someone asks for lens recommendations, they get well reasoned, well documented, short lists of very good glass. Which almost always costs about as much as the down payment on a new car.


For first-time buyers of long lenses, I am going to suggest inferior glass. Because it is cheap.


The major advantages of good (expensive) glass are that they are fast and are usable at the widest aperture. Often good glass is more durable as well. And focus faster. All desirable features. All drive up the price.


With cheap glass, you will have to stop down that already slow lens to reduce the problems (barrel/pincushion/chromatic distortions. Any or all) of cheap glass. That means shooting at something like f/8 or f/11 at the fastest.


So the first thing to give up with cheap glass is the idea that you are going to shoot indoor sports action or in any other low light, high motion, situations. Unless you are really attracted to motion blur in your pictures.


The next thing that you give up is the ability to shoot without a tripod or some other way to hold your camera very steady. With anti-shake built into your camera (no cheap lens will have anti-shake that still works – sorry Canicon users) you might get away with leaning against a fencepost, but you should figure on using a tripod. It still won't match the quality of good glass, but it will often be good enough.


So with cheap glass you get a long lens that should be used on a tripod in good light. Ideally with manual focus or focus lock. Perhaps with ISO higher than you otherwise would use. Serious limitations, but perhaps not as serious as the hit on your bank account if you get good glass. Cheap glass also lets try out a long lens without getting the approval of your wife or bank manager.


This photo was taken with a $75 Sigma 100-300.


Not something that would show up in the National Geographic, or be made into a 16x20" print, but good enough for the web.


Just yet another of the many trade-offs in photography.




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Old Apr 8, 2008, 1:40 PM   #2
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Another advantage to cheap glass is that you can try it out, and find out if you want a lens that long. If it works out, then you can spend the money on a faster version of the same focal length.
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Old Apr 8, 2008, 3:18 PM   #3
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While I agree with your general premise, BillDrew, I believe that you are underestimating the versatility, quality and usefulness "cheap zooms", and by that I mean 2 of the more popular lenses:the $130 Tamron 70-300 f/4-5.6 Di and the $190 Sigma 70-300mm f/4-5.6 APO. The reputation of the Tamron is that it is fairly sharp but suffers from pronounced PF (which I can attest to, since I have it) and the Sigma has much less PF but is a bit softer, especially as you approach 300mm. Of course, samples and opinions vary.

Here's a photo I took a couple of days ago with the Tamron, 300mm, ISO 400, 1/125s, F 6.7. This lady was grabbing somebrunch on a dark, rainy morning. The photo has been PP'd, but I feel that the lens performed well - especially for being shot thru a window. No tripod.



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Old Apr 8, 2008, 3:27 PM   #4
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Here's one taken at max. aperture, F/5.6. 300mm, ISO 400, 1/250s. I'm hardly what you would call "skilled"...
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Old Apr 8, 2008, 3:39 PM   #5
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This one was an "accident" - he suddenly came rather close to me, so I "unzoomed" - as I had been at 300mm - and fired. Wish I hadn't clipped his wings...

133mm, F/13, 1/750s, ISO 400
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Old Apr 8, 2008, 3:51 PM   #6
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I'm not trying to say that my cheap Tamron is competitive with a f/2.8 300mm prime or the like, but simply that the disadvantages in performance is not all that crippling if one lis committed to learning the camera and the lens - as I am trying to do.


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Old Apr 9, 2008, 9:31 AM   #7
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Thanks for emphasizing my point Broken. To often when someone asks about the quality of a lens, the reaction is "that is trash" or something like that. While a pro trying to produce very large, very high quality images that could be true, it should be taken with a grain of salt for every one else.

With a cheap lens, it seems to be a matter of luck just how bad the lens is, though even at the best a cheap lens is unlikely to match really good glass.

I should point out that cheap glass is useable with a flash as well as in good light.
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Old Apr 12, 2008, 3:39 PM   #8
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Let me say that there's cheap glass and then there's really cheap glass.

For instance, Sigma and Tamron both have telephoto zoom lenses in the range of ~70-300mm, which are available individually or bundled with a standard zoom lens in the range of ~28-80mm.

These telephoto zooms are atractive for their low price (~$130 for the Tamron, ~$140 for the Sigma.) But for jsut a few dollars more, the Tamron Di-II and the Sigma APO are much better lenses.

So, even if you don't want to spend a lot on a lens, you should still shop carefully. In fact, if you don't want to spend a lot of money, you should definately shop carefully.
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Old Apr 12, 2008, 9:26 PM   #9
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For going cheap, anyone should thing about used lenses. If a source isn't available locally (best), there are KEH, B&H, Adorama, and, for the adventurous: ebay. There are a lot of them available for well under US$100.

When I say cheap, I mean cheap. Something to try out without spending a bunch. Cheap enough to count the entire cost as tuition as you toss it into the trash. Not looking at something better for a little bit more - there are an almost infinite number of little bits getting something better.
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Old Apr 12, 2008, 9:30 PM   #10
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I've posted these before. They were taken with a Vivitar 70-210mm f/2.8-4 APO Macro Autofocus Lens, bought for a "buy it now" price of $79.95 from CametaAuctions on Ebay, brand new in the box with warranty.

This one was published by Georgia Music Magazine in an article about Mother's Finest (the band). It wasn't my favorite snapshot from the concert. But, they liked it.

Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D, Vivitar 70-210mm f/2.8-4, ISO 1600, 75mm, f/4, 1/100 second:




Here's one from the concert taken with the aperture wide open at f/4 on the long end of the zoom at 210mm. For a $79.95 lens, center sharpness isn't too bad with the aperture wide open.

Konica Minolta Maxxum 5D, Vivitar 70-210mm f/2.8-4, ISO 800, 210mm, f/4, 1/160 second:

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