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What lens to buy next?

I've had my DSLR for about a year and I'm hooked. I take it everywhere with me. I'm looking to replace the kit lenses I have with something that's going to keep me happy for a long time. I've been eyeing off an EF 70-300mm f4.5-5.6 L IS USM. Or possibly also the cheaper non L version. I've since had a friend recommend that instead, I buy the EF 70-200 f2.8 L USM. Cause its so fast. Which I'm now kind of leaning towards. But then I think that for that price, I could get the non L series 70-300 along with a couple of wider primes. I'm thinking that if I get the 70-200 f2.8 L, then that's that range sorted for some time to come, whereas if I buy the cheaper one with other primes, then I'm thinking I might always be wanting a more serious telezoom. I want to do all sorts of photography in the future, all the way from wildlife, to family occasions, to macro insects, galleries, street art, hdr spherical captures for lighting in 3d projects, long exposure star shots, moon shots. Can anyone share any experiences that might make this a little less overwhelming?

Canon 6D,Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, Sigma 1.4 x EX DG Teleconverter, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake, Sigma AF 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM, Pentax 400mm f/5.6

"Does anyone have experience with this lens?"   Yes! Smiley Very Happy

It is a fantastic lens and a very good choice. Of the lenes you have mentioned it is probably the second best, to the Canon 70-200mm f2.8 II, which, BTW, is the best lens I have ever owned. Smiley Wink

EOS 1DX and 1D Mk IV and less lenses then before!

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What is your budget, and which one or two types of photography are most important to you?

You list almost every kind of photography as being of interest to you, but it might be hard to afford good quality lenses for all of those. You would probably do better getting one good quality lens than 3 or 4 lower quality ones.

Canon 5d mk 4, Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS mk2; EF 16-35 f/2.8 L mk. III; Sigma 35mm f/1.4 "Art" EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro; EF 85mm f/1.8; EF 1.4x extender mk. 3; EF 24-105 f/4 L; EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS; 3x Phottix Mitros+ speedlites

Why do so many people say "FER-tographer"? Do they take "fertographs"?

@scottyP, Thanks for your reply, my budget at this stage will allow me to buy one of the L series that I listed. Or 2 -3 of the non L.

I guess that macro photography will be the last on the list for now, so I'm not looking for a macro lens for a while. My plan was to replace my kit telezoom to start with and then buy some primes on the wider range later on. I really like my little 40mm pancake for everyday usage. It's small, light and fast. And it seems that you can get some really nice fast fixed lenses at a lot less cost than a fast telezoom so that's why I thought I'd concentrate on the longer end of the range now while I have the money available. But I'm unsure if the L lenses are overkill for me or not. If it is, I can then get the non L series 70-300 and maybe a nice prime and an ND filter with some step down rings. But the more I think about it, the fast 70-200 is feeling like the way I probably want to go.

Canon 6D,Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, Sigma 1.4 x EX DG Teleconverter, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake, Sigma AF 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM, Pentax 400mm f/5.6


Lenses with low focal ratios -- such as the f/2.8 zooms -- are great for a couple of things:  (1) they collect a lot more light so you can shoot in cirumstances where there's less light available without having to push up the ISO.  (2) the lower focal ratio will let you decrease the depth of field and use selective focus with a beautiful background blur.


An f/2.8 focal ratio is collecting four times more light than an f/5.6 focal ratio.  That's a noticeable difference in shutter speed if you're shooting action subjects.


The downside of f/2.8 zooms is that they are always expensive.  Since the aperture has to be larger to collect more light, each lens element has to be larger.  When the elements get larger they increase dispersion issues and create "chromatic aberration" (aka "color fringing" -- a bad thing).  To compat that, they have to introduce extra elements and/or use low-dispersion glass such as florite crystal (which has to be "grown' very slowly in a kiln over many months -- although not every low-dispersion glass element is made out of florite crystal.)  Anyway... it definitely drives up the cost of the lens as well as results in a larger and heavier lens.  But the image character is usually fantastic.




Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da

@TCampbell. Thanks for replying. So you're saying that the only downside is cost?
Canon 6D,Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, Sigma 1.4 x EX DG Teleconverter, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake, Sigma AF 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM, Pentax 400mm f/5.6

Cost is one factor with large aperture lenses.


There is also size and weight.


The 70-200/4L IS is about 3/4 lb. lighter and maybe 20-25% smaller than the 70-200/2.8L IS, for example. It might not seem a lot on paper, but when you are carrying a lens around and shooting with it all day, size and weight can make a big difference... such as whether you happily take the lens with you all the time or are tempted to leave it at home because it's a bit of a hassle to lug around. A top of the line lens that you leave at home isn't going to do a lot for you.


All the Canon EF 70-200s are excellent lenses.... real workhorses built for many years use, with top image quality and fast focus. I do recommend the IS versions, it's very helpful to have stabilization on these, especially when using them on a crop sensor camera such as yours. But, of course, IS adds some cost.


Another consideration is using teleconverters. You can't use one on your 55-250mm. You could use a 1.4X teleconverter on a 70-200/4 and still have autofocus with your camera (probably the center AF point only).  With a 70-200/2.8 you could use either a 1.4X or a 2X. The reason is that teleconverters reduce the amount of light passing through to the camera. A 1.4X "costs" one stop and a 2X reduces by two stops. Your camera can autofocus up to f5.6 lenses. An f4 lens with a 1.4X on it becomes an effective f5.6, so will still be able to AF. The same f4 lens, if you added a 2X would become an effective f8, so wouldn't autofocus (there are tricks to try to make it try to work, but it will be slower, more likely to hunt and your viewfinder will be dimmer to try to manual focus). Meanwhile, the f2.8 lens with 2X on it is an effective f5.6, so is able to focus. Note that there is always some loss of image quality to teleconverters too...more to the stronger ones. You'd have to be the judge if the image quality of an f2.8 lens with a 2X on it gives acceptible quality or not (teleconverters generally work best on prime lenses, rather than zooms).


In some cases, too, a lens that's got a large aperture has to compromise a bit on image quality. An f2.8 lens is more difficult to keep from flare than an f4, may not be as sharp wide open, may be more prone to chromatic aberrations, etc.


So, it's not just cost differences. If you are interested in a 70-200, I'd suggest going to a store and checking them out in person, to decide if you feel comfortable using the larger/heavier f2.8 or prefer the f4. If you opt for the larger lens, one think that might help is using a batter grip on your camera. That can help the camera balance better, with the larger/heavier lens on it.


You have a very wide range of interests and might need to do some prioritizing, to best decide what lens(es) you need now vs. what might wait until later. For example, for wildlife you are likely to want a longer telephoto such as a 100-400 zoom or a 300mm + 1.4X or 400mm prime. If you want to shoot a lot of macro, an EF-S 60mm or EF 100/2.8 macro lens might be a priority.  


Alan Myers

 San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7D(x2), 50D(x3), some other cameras, various lenses & accessories



Thank you amfoto1, that's given me a lot more to think about.
You say that IS is important. What is more important between IS and speed? Say comparing an f2.8 without IS to an f4 with IS. From my limited experience I would have thought that the faster lens would be preferable. My reasoning is that its no good having a stabilised image if there wasn't enough light to avoid noise in the first place. And a faster lens also allows faster shutter speeds to reduce both camera shake and motion blur. Or am I not understanding?
Canon 6D,Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM, Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM, Sigma 1.4 x EX DG Teleconverter, Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro USM, Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake, Sigma AF 8-16mm f/4.5-5.6 DC HSM, Pentax 400mm f/5.6

You are correct... having a larger aperture lens can allow for faster shutter speeds, which makes for steadier shots and to help stop moving subjects (IS can't do anything to stop subject motion).




You can't always use f2.8... sometimes it's just too shallow depth of field. Those times it can be  helpful to be able to use slower shutter speeds, thanks to IS.


And, IS can give the equivalent of two or three or even four stops of handholdability (vs the one stop difference between f4 and f2.8 in the 70-200mm lens examples).


And, using a telephoto on a crop sensor cameras such as our APS-C amplifies any camera shake, making IS even more useful (for example, if you can handhold a 50mm lens at 1/50 on a so-called full frame camera, that's reduced to 1/80 on a crop sensor Canon... or with 200mm, you'll need 1/320 on a crop, where you could use 1/200 on full frame).


Of course, the ideal would be to have both at your disposal... f2.8 and IS. But, of course, that makes for a more expensive lens.


I've been using various IS lenses for over ten years now. In fact, IS was a key reason I switched to the Canon system in 2001. Canon was the only manufacturer offering stabilization SLRs or their lenses, at the time. 


I can safely say I've been able to get a lot of shots with them, that very likely would not have been possible without IS. I also use both the Canon 70-200/2.8 IS (first version) and the 70-200/4 IS (as a backup, or when I want a lighter lens). It's one of my most used lenses, hence the backup. Eventually I will upgrade to the 70-200/2.8 IS Mark II, but I haven't done so yet. I've used the non-IS f2.8 lens... not sure if I've ever used the non-IS f4.


There are some differences, probably mainly due to age and Canon's continuing development of the line.


The non-IS 70-200/2..8 is the oldest of the bunch (1995) and by a small margin the weakest optically, most of the difference when wide open at f2.8. Now, the differences aren't a lot, but they are there.


The non-IS f4 is the bargain of the bunch, tends to be a bit sharper throughout than the older f2.8 lenses, and is a little newer (1999).


The 70-200/2.8 IS is the next version, dating from around 2001, and saw some optical improvements, along with the addition of two or three stops worth of IS.  My copy of this lens has been a real workhorse. I usually stop it down to f4 or f5.6 when possible, for a little extra depth-of-field, pershaps some extra fudge against any slight focus error... and for max sharpness edge to edge. f2.8 is perfectly usable, just ever so slightly less sharp than when stopped down a bit. This 70-200mm version has now been discontinued, while all the others remain in production.


The 70-200/4 IS is the next to the newest version (2006), with an improved IS that can provide three or four stops of assistance, as well as some optical tweaks that until recently made it the sharpest of the bunch at all apertures and focal lengths. Of course, the f2.8 lens can give a little more background blur that might offer more subject separation from the background.


But now the latest and greatest 70-200/2.8 IS Mark II (2010) has taken over as the sharpest, best stabilized (also approx. 3 or 4 stops worth), nicest background blur, and - of course - the most expensive.


Another difference... the f2.8 lenses come with the matching tripod ring. With the f4 versions it's an optional accessory - sold separately. Of course, you might not need the tripod ring, might be more inclined to only use the f4 lenses handheld... Or, to look at it another way, you might be more inclined to put the larger/heavier f2.8 versions of the lens on a monopod or a tripod.


All the Canon 70-200s are L-series, with top quality build and durability. The lenses themselves and the controls on the barrels are pretty well sealed... relatively resistant to dust and moisture intrusion. The latest three models also have a rubber sealing o-ring on the bayonet mounting ring, to further help seal the lens-to-camera connection against dust and moisture. They all also come with a matched lens hood (the f2.8 hoods are "tulip" shaped, the f4 lenses' are not).


Really, if you want/need a 70-200, any of these lenses are top quality and capable of doing you proud. Just pick the size, weight and features you want, along with the price your budget can handle.


For me, the extra cost of IS on a telephoto lens (anything over, say, 70 or 100mm) is nearly always worth it. You'll have to decide for yourself if it's worth it to you. IMO, it's one of the best things since sliced bread. I am less enthralled with IS on shorter focal lengths... Sure. It's nice to have... especially if it adds little or no cost... or if there is no choice with a particular lens that best meets all my other needs. But I wouldn't go out of my way to get IS on, say, a lens that's 50 or 70mm or shorter focal length.

I definitely minded the weight of my f/2.8 lenses when I used the factory neck-strap and carried the camera all day.  I eventually bought a sling-type strap (mine is a Black-Rapid strap, but the Carry Speed strap is also pretty nice) and it makes it MUCH more enjoyable to have a camera all day long.


As for the difference between low focal ratio for "speed" vs. image stabilization... these both fix completely different challenges.


IS keeps the camera stable to avoid blur when YOU are moving.

Faster shutter speeds help you freeze images to avoid blur when YOUR SUBJECT is moving but also help when YOU are moving.


Image stabilization doesn't do anything to help stabilize a moving subject.  Faster shutter speeds can help stabilize both.  Just keep in mind that while the low focal ratio increases light collection through the lens -- thus giving you a faster shutter speed -- it ALSO narrows your depth of field.  If you need a broad depth of field, then the low focal ratio wont be helpful.


Even though I have mostly f/2.8 lenses, I often use f/4 or higher for the depth of field and to control how much blur I get in the background.  At f/2 or f/2.8 the background might be so heavily blurred that there's a lot of color but no definition so the view has no idea what's in the background.  At f/4 it's still a pleasant blur, but it starts to get enough definition that the viewer gets a suggestion of what's back there (even though it's very soft)... and sometimes I want that.


Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da

I found the 70-200 2.8 IS mk2 to be an incredible lens but a little awkward on a 1.6x crop body. The 70 was just a little too long in most general purpose shooting situations. Very sharp, beautiful bokeh. A desire to use the lens more was a factor in deciding to go full frame. It seems to fit the shooting environment more often on the full frame.

I understand the f/4 is extremely sharp, not very expensive. But again you would not get the 2.8 aperture. If I was going to make a budget compromise I think I might seriously consider it though.

You might consider the 17-55 f/2.8. It is the ultimate general purpose zoom for a crop.

Canon 5d mk 4, Canon 6D, EF 70-200mm L f/2.8 IS mk2; EF 16-35 f/2.8 L mk. III; Sigma 35mm f/1.4 "Art" EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro; EF 85mm f/1.8; EF 1.4x extender mk. 3; EF 24-105 f/4 L; EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS; 3x Phottix Mitros+ speedlites

Why do so many people say "FER-tographer"? Do they take "fertographs"?