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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