Friday, September 28, 2012

5 Best Canon Lenses Under $500

Continuing on my "Digital Photography on a Budget" series with lenses.  You can read my list of 5 Best Canon Cameras Under $1,000 to get caught up, if you'd like.

Today we will look at the 5 best Canon lenses (in my opinion) available right now for $500 or less.  Some will be $500 if bought used (similar to my camera list), but most of the lenses listed here are actually available for under $500 new.  Yay!

What you won't see on this list: The Nifty Fifty (50mm f/1.8).  I'm sorry.  Yes, it's a decent enough lens, but if for just a couple hundred more you can get a much better 50mm lens.  I've had a Nifty in the past and it's so slow and so inaccurate (at least mine was, even after calibration) that I just can't recommend it.  But read on to see some great lenses that will make it so you never miss the Nifty Fifty!

The Reason Why: Both price and quality help to land this lens in my number 5 spot.  Brand new you can get one for about $475.  Used you can easily find it for under $250.  The Canon 28-135mm is a kit lens for the xxD series cameras so there is an abundance of them out there.  I bought one actually just this year as a personal-use lens to avoid wear and tear on my professional lenses.

The range of 28-135 is great, IS on a lens this cheap is great, and while it's a variable aperture lens, which I general don't like, the range of f/3.5-5.6 actually isn't that bad.  This is also the only Canon zoom lens on this list, btw!

Warning: If you are used to L series lenses at all you will never cease to be amazed at how light and fragile this lens feels.  I bought it for personal use, sort of an "I don't care what happens to you" attitude (same reason I picked up a Canon 40D last year) but do find myself being more conscious of it just because I'm afraid I'm going to break it due to it's weak build.  Other than that, it's a great walk-around, personal use, maybe some portraiture lens.

The Reason Why: If you are going to go the prime route, you will want a variety of lenses to cover the various ranges you will need.    The 28mm lens (or the 35mm lens if you prefer that focal length instead) is a great option for your widest angle.  For just around $450 new or $300 used this camera has great bang for its buck.  Not the best quality, but for the price I think it does what it should and does it well.

When I first started  getting into wedding photography I picked up the 28mm to pair with my 50mm and 100mm lenses for a solid prime line-up, and also for use in low light situations, such as a reception.  I thought this lens worked great in low light situations with fast and accurate focusing.  The range itself is a little awkward and if you are just trying to get a portrait shot, this is not the range you want to do it in.  I did find it very useful for group and wide shots which makes it a great companion for the 50mm.

Warnings: Similar to other lenses in this price range, it can feel cheap build-wise.  You do get what you pay for as far as quality of build is concerned.  I also should let you know that after two years of use I did sell my 28mm f/1.8 simply because it wasn't getting used as much since my primary lens is the 24-105mm f/4L IS for pretty much everything.  It was purchased by a fellow photographer why still uses and enjoys it to this day.  I just happened to find something better.

The Reason Why: This lens eeks its way into my top 5 thanks to the it's lower than $500 used price.  Although if you search long enough you can usually find it brand new for under as well.  Right now, though, it's about $550 on Amazon.  Still, not a bad price to pay for a nice prime MACRO lens.

I own this lens.  I love this lens.  I use this lens at every single wedding I shoot.  Unfortunately, I really only use it for detail images (rings, flowers, dress, etc.) and then only as back-up the rest of the day.  100mm isn't the best range for portraits and this lens is not fast enough to be used for fast-paced situations like sports or child photography.  You also wouldn't want to pick up the 100mm if you are looking for a single walk-around lens to use for personal reasons.  But if you are a pro and you want the best of the best for MACRO photography for under $500, this is it.  I've heard some arguments that the 60mm MACRO is comparable and cheaper, but having compared them once at a trade show I can tell you that I would rather hold onto my 100mm than trade it in and go for the 60mm + cash in my pocket.  It's a small difference anyway.

Warning: Slow in focusing so it's really not that great for anything but MACRO photography.  I have used it to take some great images at weddings when I needed a back-up but otherwise it gets limited use.  If detail images weren't such a key feature in how I market my wedding photography I would have sold this lens long ago.

The Reason Why: This lens is the reason why I'm not including the Nifty Fifty on this list.  For about $375 new or $325 used, the 1.4 is about $250 more than the 1.8 and a million times nicer.  Although, still a million times (or more) behind the Canon 50mm f/1.2L lens, it's still a great little portrait and walk-around lens for under $500 brand spankin' new.

I do own one of these, although it's usually relegated to back-up status for weddings and portraits and spends most of it's time in my camera bag.  It is my husband's go to lens for receptions as it's pretty good in low light.  Me, personally, I'm not a huge fan of prime lenses in general.  I'm a zoom girl through and through and will happily admit that.  But if you are a fan of primes, for their quality and affordability, as you should be, than this is a great lens for if you only want one lens to start out with.

Warning: Can be slow to focus.  This is my biggest reason for not using the 50mm f/1.4 on a more regular basis.  Although it's not nearly as slow in focusing as the Nifty Fifty, it's still quite obnoxiously slow.  I know many great child and newborn photographers who love it, but I just don't see why.  For me, the inability to get accurate focus in a split second is a deal breaker for me using this lens when I am capturing a child or newborn portrait.

The Reason Why: If you are looking for a good quality lens with a decent build for under $500 look no further.  You've found it with the 85mm f/1.8.  Some may argue that 50mm is the ideal focal length for portraits, but I'd like to disagree with that.  I much prefer the look of a portrait captured at 85mm over 50mm.  This lens is also fast and accurate, a great choice for the professional and amateur alike.  It is prices right alongside the 50mm f/1.4 at about $375 new and $325 used making it, in my opinion, the absolute best bang for your buck if your budget is under $500.

Of course, if the 85mm f/1.4 is the only lens in your lens bag you will quickly find it too limiting.  85mm is great for a close up portrait but not great for full body portraits or chasing a two year old around your yard.  Although I know a lot of friends who use it for those very purposes.  The amount of distance you have to stand to get a full body shot makes it great for distance photography, I guess, but if you like to be up close to your subjects and converse/direct them, you will be limited.

Warning: Again, the 85mm range is great but limiting.  If you are a one-lens sort of person, this is probably not the lens for you unless you really love primes.  Paired with a 28mm or a 35mm, though, and you have a great combo!

If You want To Splurge!: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS 
 The Reason Why: Although it's new price tag of over $900 definitely breaks the $500 budget bank, since this lens is also a kit lens for the xD series cameras there are an abundance of them out there and you can find them used for around $700 (or less if you really search).  Also, the 24-105mm is the best range, in my opinion, that any lens can offer.  I would love for it to go a little longer, but for the most part I can put this lens on my 5D Mark II and use it to capture weddings and portraits a like.

It's an L series lens, so it's build is strong and sturdy, unlike some of the other lenses on this list.  I've banged mine and dropped mine numerous times and it still holds strong without a ding or scratch on it.   It is my go-to lens for literally everything for pretty much that reason.  Also because it's L series you will find it to be very sharpest lens on this list (that's arguable but what I believe).

Warning: Some argue that the f/4 is too limiting.  Trust me, I of all people would love to have a 24-105mm f/2.8.  But if that did exist it would definitely break the budget and probably be a few pounds heavier.  As it is now, it does have it's limitations in low light setting, but when paired with a camera that can rock a high ISO setting, it does well.  I use my 24-105mm f/4L IS for everything from daytime weddings to nighttime receptions, so don't let the f/4 scare you off!  Just know that it exists and learn to use light.

That completes this list.  In my next post I'm thinking of doing a lighting guide for the strobist on a budget.  Check back soon for that!

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