As you read this post I want you to imagine that I’m beckoning you closer so that I can whisper in your ear. Why? Because I have some personal photography secrets I’d like share with you and after chatting to some fellow bloggers recently I’ve realised that this information isn’t readily available on the internet. And seeing as what I’m about to talk about goes against the grain of most of what you read from other photgraphers, I’m feeling the need to whisper. Just like the secret world of magicians and the magic circle… break the code, reveal the secrets and you’re an outcast. I still want my photographer friends to talk to me!
So, come hither, make yourself comfortable and I shall begin….
Lets start at the beginning.
If you’re reading this post, the likelihood is that you have a Canon DSLR, maybe the 650D, the 7D or the 60D. Maybe even the 5D Mkiii. (Niiiiice, but ouch, expensive!) Most of these cameras come bundled with a kit lens which take pretty decent photos. But Kit Lenses usually have a variable aperture, so that whenever you zoom in you end up shooting at f5.6, which means its a lot slower, and you’re unlikely to get the dreamy blurred background or ‘bokeh’ effects you see on a lot of professional photographer’s images.
Great, hopefully the following information will come in handy.
When you start researching alternative Canon lenses you soon find that Canon make a luxury range of lenses that all of the professional photographers use. Professional lenses with a professional price tag. Quite often they’re worth more than what you paid for the camera! And as you research more you’ll find its pretty hard to find a bad review, because lets face it, they ARE great lenses with superb image quality.
So you end up having a lust list, you watch them on eBay, you weigh up whether its worth buying a black import from Hong Kong and you try to research SLR Hut to see if they’re a veritable retailer because their prices are the cheapest you can find. (Yep, I’ve been there, lots of times!)
But although these lenses can be used on both Full Frame cameras like the 5D MKii and MKii and APS-C (crop factor) cameras like the 550d and 60D, you might not always get the focal range and effect you’re expecting on crop factor cameras.
So here’s my two little secrets.
“I bought the Canon L series 28-70mm f2.8 lens and then sold it a few months later.
I own the Canon L series 24-105 f 4 lens. But its been sitting unused in my camera bag for nearly two years!”
Yet I’ve hardly been in photographic retirement. Lightroom tells me I’ve taken thousands of images over the last few years. So what’s been going on?
Canon 28-70mm f2.8
I’m not about to shake up the photography world and say its a bad lens. Because it is fantastic and you can take amazing photos with it.
But I was using it on my Canon 550d, and the crop factor sensor means that instead of 28-70mm, which would give you a great bit of wide angle and a bit of a zoom on a full frame camera, I got the equivalent of around 40-105mm. (there’s more details about the different focal lengths on crop factor cameras at the end of this post) I love shooting buildings and landscapes and it meant that it just wasn’t wide angle enough for me. Plus, with that level of investment I wanted a lens that I could use without having to frequently stop and change lens and without having to carry multiple lenses with me all of the time.
On top of that, it was also really heavy. And what that meant is that although its classed as a ‘super fast’ lens because to goes right down to f2.8, I actually got camera shake shooting at my usual shutter speeds because it was so heavy. Yes, you can learn to adjust to this, and it was a rookie error to not notice at the time, but it still meant that it wasn’t quite the dream lens that I was expecting it to be.
So I sold it and bought this instead:
The Tamron 17-55 f2.8 for around £250.
And what I found was pleasantly surprising. It was lighter, felt more balanced on my 550d, had the same f2.8 aperture and gave me a great quality of image. Yes, the autofocus sometimes hunts a little bit in very low light (we’re talking milliseconds), but despite that it still produces pin sharp images and has a decent zoom range to mean that its a great ‘walk around lens’. It rarely leaves the 550d!
Here’s some examples of cityscapes shot with long exposures using the Tamron lens:
And here’s some travel examples, showing how versatile it can be when you’re carrying it around all day
So that explains the reason I sold the 28-70mm lens… but why has the 24-105mm been gathering dust in my camera cupboard. (Other people have a shoe cupboard, I have a camera cupboard!)
- I bought a Canon 5d Mkii full frame body
- I had a baby.
Admittedly, two very random reasons for not using a lens, but bear with me, this should make sense eventually.
The 5d MKii has become a bit of a cult classic and I was lucky enough to get hold of one at a brilliant price just as the 5dmkiii was being introduced. (I will miss the Focus on Imaging shows at the NEC; they were my annual bargain basement photography adventures!) As I’d finally got hold of the camera of my dreams I felt that it deserved the best, and knowing how heavy the 28-70mm had been I was worried about adding it on to the weighty 5dmkii. I just didn’t think I’d be cut out for carrying it around all day. So I opted for another cult classic of a lens, the 24-105mm f4.
Again, I’m not about to write a terrible review of that lens either. In fact, it accompanied me to Venice on one of our last pre-baby holidays and I had a jolly old time! On the full frame 5dMkii the lens was versatile enough for me to get some great architecture shots at 24mm and then to zoom into detail when I wanted it.
But what I realised is that although the 24-105 L Series lens is lovely, it just didn’t quite hit the spot for me when I came to do portrait work. Being able to stop down to f4 just wasn’t enough. I love having a sharp foreground and a lovely blurry background, and although you get a fair amount of that at f4, it was still a long way off from the effects you would get at f2.8. And here’s where having a baby becomes relevant! I found that I wasn’t really going out and about shooting travel and landscapes, setting up my tripod at dusk and dawn to capture light trails and cityscapes. Nope. I wanted to capture beautiful portraits, with a shallow depth of field, and even needed a bit of macro so I could get really, really close and capture the eyelashes!
So I found myself in a bit of a dilemma. I knew that that the Canon L series 28-70mm f 2.8 would resolve some of the challenges, but I knew it was too heavy for me so I started to look at the alternatives.
Having had such a great experience with the Tamron lens on my 550D, I had a look at the rest of their range and I found this:
Tamron 28-75mm, f2.8 macro lens for around £350.
So on my next annual adventure at the Focus on Imaging show at the NEC I ummed and ahhhed and took the plunge.
And I’ve never looked back.
I feel like its given my 5dMKii a whole new lease of life. I rarely take the lens off the camera and its become a firm favourite for all of my professional photo shoots too.
Here’s just a few of the reasons I love the Tamron lens:
- Its super sharp.
- It has macro so I can get in REALLY close. (the Canon 28-70mm L doesn’t do macro)
- It does great blurry backgrounds at f2.8, and when you shoot at macro too… Lovely, smooth compressed backgrounds.
- Its really versatile. My family shoots last for around two hours, and on the heat of the moment there just isn’t always time to stop and change lenses. Toddlers move too fast and I don’t ever want to miss a moment or interrupt the fun. This lens means that I can be zoomed in close for a tight crop portrait one minute and then zoom out for a wide angle shot of them running away from me in the garden.
Here are some of the (thousands) of photos I’ve taken with the lens.
I appreciate that by now you might be starting to suspect that I’m secretly blogging on behalf of Tamron… But I promise you I’m not, I just wanted you to see that there are alternative options out there! (Although if anyone from Tamron is reading this then I’m very much open to receiving any gifts of lenses to review, especially the 70-200mm f2.8 which I have my eye on!!)
So, before you go out flashing the cash around on new lenses, I’ve put together some questions based on my own experiences that should help you buy the right lens:
- What are you going to use it for? Wide Angle? Everyday? Portraits? Make sure you pick a lens that does what you want on your crop factor body.
- Does it matter how heavy it is? (If it will be on a tripod then you’ll be fine with a heavier lens)
- Do you need it to do Macro? Not all zoom lenses do so check the spec.
- Do you want to get a strong blurry background on your photos? If so then I would recommend choosing something that goes down to 2.8 or even 1.8.
Plus, seeing as I’m in a helpful mood, I’ve also worked out the different focal lengths for the most popular lenses on full frame/ crop factor bodies. All you need to do is remember that the APS-C cameras have a 1.6 crop factor, so a 100m lens would give you the equivalent of 160mm on a crop factor camera. To keep things simple in my head I add on about 50% so I have a rough idea of what it will give me, but I’ve worked out the popular focal lengths below for you:
17mm-28mm is classed as Wide Angle. (17mm is super wide, almost fish eye on a full frame camera) To get the same effect on an APS-C camera you would need something like the 10-22mm Lens that both Canon and Sigma make)
Full Frame Crop Sensor Equivalent
35mm is classed as being close to what the human eye sees and the iPhone 6 has an equivalent focal range of approx 30mm.
Full Frame Crop Sensor Equivalent
Once you get to the 70’s you’re starting to have a zoom lens that allows you to get closer to the action without having to move your feet. 70mm and 90mm are popular focal lengths for portraits
Full Frame Crop Sensor Equivalent
So there you go… maybe I’ll be cast out of the photographic circle for sharing my insights, but personally I don’t think you ‘need’ the L series lens to take great photos!
I’d love to hear from you if you’ve found this post useful, feel free to leave me a comment or even a question if you’re stuck trying to decide which lens to go for.