In About Zoom lenses – Pt1. of this series I stated that the size and weight of prime lenses and fixed aperture zoom lenses ( zoom primes ) were generally large and heavy. While this is true of a good many of these lenses there are a few that a considerably smaller than some. Take Fuji’s new XC 35 as well as the XF 27 and the XF 35 & XF 16mm as well as the XF 23mm & XF 50mm, are all examples of lightweight lenses for apsc cameras. Other makers also have similar offerings and lets not forget micro four thirds lenses.
For a prime shooter looking for a light and small lens set theres a good many to choose from. Step up to a fixed aperture or pro level zoom and all of a sudden weight and size become a serious issue, and then of course theres the corresponding elevation in prices.
That’s where kit and premium lenses come into play. Kit lenses are generally included with new cameras and come as a single or dual lens combination. These are the standard lenses you would expect with most entry level a mid tier camera kits. It should be noted that the entry level and mid tier camera combos are now beginning to blur the lines between these two levels.
With the advent of mirrorless and the slow reduction of models in the DSLR range the gap between entry level and mid tier is so minimal now that its hard to see why one is better than the other as mirrorless cameras slowly supplant DSLRs.
This makes buying zoom lenses problematic if you have an apsc DSLR and are considering buying into the mirrorless camera sector. Most manufacturers offer a adapter so that you lenses will work with the mirrorless cameras, however should you be considering going to fullframe cameras then what you currently have isn’t going to work.
This is one reason I now look to a all in one style of zoom for my DSLRs, less lenses to cart around, less weight to carry, greater shot to shot versatility and image quality that is easily acceptable, and able to print to large sizes. And of course reasonable to expensive price options.
So what are some options we could consider?
Take my current setup for example, all my cameras and lenses a pre owned. I currently have 2 x Canon 600D’s, one of which has an LCD that doesn’t work and is my parts backup camera. For lenses I have the standard 18-55 IS II , the 18-135 USM II & the 55-250 STM. Three telephoto lenses.
For close up work I can use either the 18-55 or the 18-135 depending upon what I’m doing. The 18-135 or the 55 – 250 are the two lenses that are almost always in the camera bag, I rarely use the 18-55 as the bigger 18-135 generally renders it obsolete. I do however use it for street work where the weight and size of the 18-135 is a little too stand-outish in a street or indoor area. For those longer shots where the 18-135 really hasn’t got the reach the 55-250 does the job for nearly every occasion. There are times when I could really do with the reach of my Fuji HS20 when a 500 or 600 mm lens would be helpful. I often find there are photos I cant take with the Canon gear and I certainly cant afford a 400 to 600 mm range telephoto lens, even second hand.
Lets Look at a few options.
As with most manufacturers there is the standard and premium range of lenses available for those who wish to spend a little to a lot more. Example the Fuji XC 50-230 telephoto lens is excellent, I have many crisp, well exposed images from using this lens with my XA2 and my son has found the same with the XC 50-230 on his XT10. At $598 NZD its reasonably priced. If you want to step up a little into the premium level there is the XF 55-200. The price difference is roughly double that of the XC 50-230.
In the Canon camp you have the EF-S 55 – 250 STM lens or the more premium EF 70-300 IS II USM lens, ( $985 NZD) which is two and a half times the price of the 55-250. ( $398 NZD). I have shot with this lens and its hands down night and day better than the standard 70-300 kit lens. Its every bit a good as the 55-250.
There are many choices for the telephoto buyer to choose from. Theres two primary factors in buying this type of lens and that is price and functionality. If you want a premium lens that has aperture rings, smoother focus rings, improved lens glass types, weather sealing etc then premium is most likely your option. In this case functionality is the more important consideration.
For those of us, myself included, with modest budgets then cost will be the primary driver with functionality secondary. This doesn’t necessarily mean that image quality is going to be reduced, but rather that higher image quality is usually a plus with more expensive lenses. Having said that I have seen images taken with the Fuji XC 50-230 and the Canon EF-S 55-250 that rival any but the most expensive lenses when they are shot well and to the lenses strengths.
Any Image I take , providing the light is adequate and they are well focused, with my lenses will print A3 or bigger with no real issues. I regularly print A4 images on my Epson printer at home and I’m always amazed at the level of detail and crispness these lenses provide, including my astrophotos.
Below are two images, one taken with the EF-S 18 135 USM lens and one with the EF-S 55-250 STM lens. Both are cropped to approx. 70%, were shot at ISO 800 and are processed from the RAW files with Photoscape V3.7. The third image was taken some time ago with the Canon 700D and a EF-S 55-250 lens ( bought new for the 700D ). All three images print as crisp and color correct images at A4 on my Epson printer.
Are these the perfect images? No but they arent terrible either when you consider the modest price for the equipment used. The images print well, could be further enhanced, but this was not my intent when processing these images, but rather to be able to take the RAW file, clean it up and have a useful printable image, without spending large amounts of time in the processing, (something that I do when processing astrophotos).
So dont be caught up in the marketing hype or the opinions from reviewers who by and large dont often spend long periods of time using these types of lenses. For the majority of us these lenses provide more than enough versatility without breaking the bank or budget and provide us with a platform that is flexible enough for us to improve our photography techniques and develop our own photographic styles. As you develop your skill set you may then find you have more use for premium or pro level lenses, we are all different but the humble budget friendly range of zoom lens are a great starting point.