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A great combo of lenses for Canon Digital SLRs that won’t break the bank

This is a rather unusual post for this blog, which normally focuses on programming. However, amongst my readers there are plenty of photo hobbyists so this post may come in handy to a few of you. I’ve also added a ‘Photography’ category for possible future posts.

My original purchase

When I purchased my Canon EOS 30D Digital SLR camera less than a year ago, I only bought the camera body and skipped the cheap (in terms of cost and quality) kit lens. I opted instead for the vertical grip BG-E2 and a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens. The vertical grip is handy for portraits, accepts an extra battery for extended usage and makes, in my opinion, the camera more balanced and more comfortable to use. The 50mm f/1.8 lens on the other hand is an incredible bargain.

For $80 I got a very sharp optic, which is able to reproduce beautiful colors and contrasts, and it’s a very “fast” lens given the extremely large maximum aperture. Sure, it doesn’t focus that quickly, especially in low light situations (it not USM). It’s also made out of inexpensive plastic (unlike the previous version which was much more robust). But for what it costs, there is really no reason not to own it. The f/1.4 version of the 50mm solves all these problems, and it provides an even nicer background blur (bokeh). As well though it happens to cost more than three times as much.

Time to upgrade my lens arsenal

I’m quite happy with my initial purchase that I made back in 2006. The 30D is a very nice camera and that 50mm (aka “nifty fifty”) gets the job done (I’ve a few nice pictures up on my flickr account that were taken with it). Considering the 1.6 crop factor introduced by the APS sized Canon sensor on cameras like my 30D, the 50mm is equivalent to 80mm on a 35mm film camera or on a full frame digital camera. 80mm is typically a focal length well suited for portraits, and that’s an area of photography that interests me a lot.

Despite the darn good deal, this inexpensive lens is still a prime that doesn’t offer too much flexibility. Sure I can “zoom with my feet” but this is not always possible and there is a wide range of focal lengths that become challenging to emulate with this single lens alone, simply by getting closer or backing down a bit.

With my old equipment from the film days not being compatible with my digital camera, and a need to gain some flexibility for a range of photographic subjects, from landscapes to fashion and people photography, or why not, even some product shots, I decided to add a few lenses to my arsenal. The challenge of course was to find great lenses without breaking the bank.

I decided to split the useful (to me) range of focal lengths amongst three lenses:

  • 1 Super Wide-Angle
  • 1 Mid-range zoom
  • 1 Telephoto zoom

With each lens, I was looking for the following characteristics:

  • Excellent image quality
  • Fixed maximum aperture (at least f/4) across the zoom range
  • Well built
  • Stellar reviews
  • Less than $600

After careful consideration and having weighed all the possibilities, I came up with a combo that I believe is hard to beat for what I paid. As usual in fact, I put my money where my mouth is, and I’ve already ordered the three lenses and I should received them soon.

Super-wide angle

The choice here was not so easy. There are a few valid options for affordable wide angle lenses. Canon, Sigma, Tamron and Tokina all make very good super wide angles targeted towards crop digital bodies. Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM was tempting, but essentially beyond the reach of my budget. I decided to go with Tokina AF 12-24mm f/4 AT-X 124AF Pro DX. It’s built out of solid metal “like a tank”, the image quality is excellent, it costs less than $500 and at 12mm it’s surely wide enough for my needs. Tokina’s super wide angle is also the only one to have a fixed maximum aperture across the zoom range. FredMiranda’s reviewers gave it an exceptional 9.2 out of 10. It also comes with a 3 year international warranty.

Mid-range zoom

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM is an incredible lens, but it’s more than $1,100. Luckily, Sigma and Tamron produce excellent optics with the same range and the same maximum aperture for about a third of the price. These are used successfully by many people photographers, and the Tamron in particular seems to meet and exceed every expectation. I purchased the Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical (IF) because of its excellent image quality, a cost of less than $400 and a positive 8.7 on FredMiranda. From what I’ve seen and read, the Tamron has an edge over the more expensive Sigma (Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro Aspherical).

Telephoto zoom

In the telphoto zoom arena, Canon produces the finest lenses available on the market. Most of them are way out of my prefixed budget, but the Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM, while considered a professional lens, costs just under $600. As with every other L lens (L stands for luxury), it has the utmost build and image quality. FredMiranda’s reviewers gave it an astonishing 9.5. 200mm on a 30D is equivalent to 320mm on a 35mm film camera, which is just long enough for about everything except for wildlife and the like (which I don’t plan to really get into too much for the time being).


To recap, in matter of days my lens collection will be composed of:

So there you have it, three top notch lenses (and a bargain one) that won’t break the bank and that will give you lots of versatility as well. I really look forward to receiving them and I hope that I made your own decision process a little bit easier.

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12 Responses to “A great combo of lenses for Canon Digital SLRs that won’t break the bank”

  1. Mike Woodhouse says:

    I have the Nifty Fifty (hard to think of a reason why any Canon SLR owner shouldn’t).

    Prices here in the UK are somewhat higher than those you quote (although we seem to have lost the $1 = £1 equation for the moment). So the Tokina 12-24 is close to $800. Ugh.

    At the long end, I felt I needed something longer than the 70-200 (about $840 here), so I gave up on the red band (sigh) and went for the 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS. The difference in price got me a tripod.

  2. Luis Villa says:

    Very nice, thanks. I anticipate getting a new tele and wide angle lens set when the cathedral I live across the street from finishes their ongoing restoration, and I’ll definitely start by looking at these.

  3. Vitor says:

    Antonio, what about customs fees? I bought both a used and a new lens last year from US and paid customs tax and fees on both of them. Are you going to buy them in person in US or will ship it to Canada?
    Anyway, great price on the 70-200. I’m considering a move from Sony to Canon mostly because of lens prices… Sony/Minolta lenses are just too expensive.

  4. @Vitor: Photographic goods imported from the US are duty free in Canada. You won’t pay sale taxes in the US but Canadian customs will charge you local taxes, which is 14% in Ontario, through your courier.

    For new merchandise, at this stage, buying online from the States or buying in person from Canada causes you to incur the same extra cost (besides shipping). Considering that lenses are much cheaper in the US, you’ve the potential to save a lot.

    Used equipment from the States is no longer a huge saving though, because the taxes still apply (while buying a second-hand item from another person in Canada would be free from any taxes).

    Just be careful not to select any ground shipping methods because couriers will apply a substantial brokerage fee (which can be significantly high).

    Amazon is my favorite shop for many reasons, amongst those their “no questions asked” return policy, but they won’t ship electronics and photo-video goods to Canada. If I were in the US I’d probably buy from them. However BHPhotoVideo ships to Canada and they have a wider range of items. I selected UPS Worldwide Saver, which doesn’t cost much at all. I placed my order yesterday at around 2 PM. The package is out for delivery this morning.

  5. […] EF 70-200mm f/4L USM…1&a=B000053HH5 You can click here to read the full article. I hope this will help other people who are in a similar situation. […]

  6. Nice article, and I agree with your choices. I have the 50mm f1.8, and the Tokina 12-24mm f4. I chose the Tamron 17-50 f2.8 instead of their 28-75 for my midrange…..the 70-200 f4 IS is hopefully on my horizon. Another strong contender should be the 85mm f1.8 – a great lens at a great price. At one point I thought I would only buy Canon – but then I realized that there are a lot of good quality lenses made by other manufacturers, at more reasonable prices.

  7. Jammy says:

    I second the comment that the lack of a 17-55 or 17-85mm zoom is an omission. I tried using a 28-70 on a 1.6x crop and it was pretty much no fun for walk around use.

    I’d make an addendum that includes either the kit 18-55, the $380 17-85 IS lens, or one of the third party 17-50mm f/2.8 lenses.

    The 70-300 Canon IS lens might be nice alternative for some to the 70-200mm zoom. I know someone who’s entire kit is a 17-85mm, a 50mm f/1.8, and the 70-300mm IS lens.

    Looks good! Should help people out.

  8. Gudmund says:

    These would be my exact choices too. I’ve actually used the Tamron 28-75mm as the standard lense on my 1.6x crop camera for years and relatively rarely need a wider lens, so it depends on your style of photography I guess.

    I recently bought the Sigma 12-24mm instead of the Tokina and that’s a very nice lens too. It’s a fair bit larger than the Tokina because it is full-frame, with similar build quality and the extra bonus of HSM focussing.

    I settled for the Sigma firstly because I got my hands on a near-new second hand lens at a very nice price, secondly because, like the Tamron, I could still use it with a full-frame camera if I ever buy one and thirdly because my girlfriend can also use it on her 35mm film SLR for mind-bogglingly wide 12mm shots :)

  9. Mariano Kamp says:

    Good choices Antonio. I have the Tokina 12-24 (use it with my D200) and are very happy with it. I have to say though that I don’t use it that much, because my default zoom goes down to 18mm and the extra 6mm are not always worth the effort to bring along the Tokina and to change lenses…

    Are you learning Lua now?

  10. Hi Mariano,

    I agree with you, if you already have a walkaround lens that reaches 18mm on the wider end, you won’t be using the Tokina too much. That’s the reason why I bought the Tamron 28-75 rather than the newer 17-50 model.

    Regarding Lua, I’ve asked as a sort of general survey to see if we should consider it, but I’ve simply no time to learn it between work and private life. I’m currently trying to learn Objective-C (but I have so little time) and I feel that if I had to learn a new language, I’d opt for something different from Ruby/Python.

  11. Mariano Kamp says:

    Hi Antonio,

    that makes sense to me. I learn Lua, because I want to write a Flickr-Plugin for Adobe Lightroom and LR is scripted in Lua. In Version 2 they will provide a Lua API, so that is the reason I picked up Lua.

    Anyway, Lua is nice and has some interesting concepts, but as I am Ruby programmer too it is hard to find another language that really blows your brain. So I see your reasoning behind chosing Objective-C. Or to me more specific it is a means to an end that is called Cocoa, right?

  12. Lauren Corporal says:

    AF-S DX VR 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6G lens|

  13. LaBomba says:

    I would acquire the EF 70-200mm f/4L if i could use it with my current Tamron 1.4X TC even if I lost AF. Is that a viable solution? I don’t want to pay above $150 for a TC. I also find 200m too short for small and bigger birds like hawks and eagles. Would it make it a f/8 lens f/5.6???

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