Need Advice on Buying a New Lens

Caleson

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Hell, everyone. I'm looking for a new lens within the $150-350 range that's good for portrait photography and, if possible, better than my other two lenses for HD video. I primarily want a strong lens for portraits, people, events, and macro. I'm considering the 55mm f/1.8 II but it seems too good to be true at such a low price and with its cheap parts, and I wonder if it's any better than the Canon 18-55mm kit lens I already have (I also have a Tamron 18-200mm telephoto lens). I'm also looking at the much pricier Canon 50mm f/1.4 as an option.

Aside from this, I'm also beginning a documentary project and want something that would be effective with recording video (not necessarily the same lens as my next purchase). Between the 18-200mm, 18-55mm, and my upcoming lens purchase, I'd appreciate if anyone can help me know what would be most effective for recording indoors with controlled lighting and recording video outdoors, such as a pow wow dance event. Currently the 18-200 telephoto with its dramatic zoom seems the best for the pow wow. But the event is coming up soon, so I need to make a decision. I'm mainly concerned with the portrait/events photography than video.

Thank you in advance.
 

Big Mike

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Welcome to the forum.

I'm considering the 55mm f/1.8 II
I assume you mean the EF 50mm F1.8 II. It's Canon's cheapest lens. It is capable of pretty good image quality, but it's cheap design and materials, don't make it a good investment. But it fits your budget....where as most better options won't.

I don't know about using it for video...it would work, but it's focusing isn't anything to write home about.

A better choice would be the EF 50mm F1.4. It's more expensive, but it's a much better lens overall. Maybe look for a used one to fit your budget.

Another option would be Canon's new 40mm F2.8 STM. It's only F2.8, but it has a very quiet focus motor, which is preferable for video. It's also very small, if that is something that interests you.

For portraits & events, you may want something like the 85mm F1.8. Again, it's just outside your budget, were you to buy it new...but you may find a deal on a used one.
 

KmH

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The Canon 50 mm f/1.8 II is not a strong lens, strength and image wise. The lens does deliver pretty sharp foicus.
It is easily broken into 2 large pieces if dropped, even when dropped onto surfaces like grass, and has about the lowest grade build quality of any camera maker lens sold today.

An additional problem that results from that low build quality is the jittery, nervous looking bokeh the lens produces becuase it only has 5 aperture blades. The blades are straight, rather than curved, and the blades have sharp edges.

​Canon EF 50mm F1.8 II review: Digital Photography Review
Conclusion - Pros


  • Excellent image quality when stopped down
  • Essentially no lateral chromatic aberration
  • Extremely cheap
Conclusion - Cons


  • Extremely cheaply built
  • Harsh and distracting bokeh due to pentagonal aperture
  • Vignetting at wide apertures on full frame (which only disappears at F3.5)
  • Inconsistent autofocus in low light (most problematic when using large apertures)
 
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Caleson

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Thank you for the responses. Right now I'm narrowing it down to these three:

EF 40mm f/2.8 STM ($145 new)
EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Telephoto ($400 new)
EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Medium Telephoto ($420 new)

I'm curious if the 40mm would be much better than my 18-200mm, which is pricier. Would there be a considerable jump in quality from the 40mm to the much pricier USM Telephoto lenses I'm considering? Is the quietness of the 40mm superior to the far more expensive lenses I'm considering? I should note that I plan on buying a Zoom H4 for audio recording since I assume DSLR audio recording wouldn't be the best.
 

iolair

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I wouldn't take the advice against the 50mm f/1.8 too strongly if you're on a budget. I've had mine for 5 years, and got some great images out of it and never handled it particularly gently but it's still going strong. (However, I would have to agree that it does hunt for focus rather too much in low light, and if the background is busy then bokeh from the 50mm f/1.8 is nasty and distracting). And while the occasional person may break one, bear in mind you can buy it three or four times for the price of the 50mm f/1.4. (I'm certainly not denying that the 50mm f/1.4 is an all around better lens, just clarifying that the 1.8 definitely has its place. In decent lighting and with a plain or smooth background, it performs equally to the 50mm f/1.4).

I don't do DSLR video, so won't comment on video performance.

You said you're photographing "portraits, people, events, and macro". Your best choice depends on where you're doing these things, and what importance you give to each of them. Also, in portraits and people are you focusing on scenes and whole-body shots, or details and head-shots?

The 85mm f/1.8 - a lovely lens - on a crop body camera needs a certain amount of working space. It would be close to useless for indoor portraits. If you'd be shooting mostly outdoors though it would be a strong contender and its fast autofocus is good for action (sports/performances), plus the slightly longer working distance tends to give more flattering portraits compared to shorter focal lengths. That 1.8 aperture is great in poor light (night-time concerts, or anything inside).

The 50mm f/1.4 - the most practical 50mm, and a good portrait lens on a crop body, particularly if working space may be tight - there shouldn't be much difficulty getting 3/4 length portraits in a small-ish room where the 85mm may restrict you to head and shoulders.

The 40mm f/2.8 has an exceptionally quite focusing motor so it won't create buzz on video recordings, and a bit of a wider view for working in tighter spaces. However, as a portrait lens you'll be quite close and therefore the results may not be quite so flattering due to parts of the body closer to the lens appearing larger (especially noses). At maximum aperture it only lets in a quarter as much light as the 50mm f/1.8 so in poor light conditions it's definitely a weaker option.

None of the options fulfil the macro requirement you mention. The 60mm f/2.8 macro is within your budget (amazon.com show it as $355 right now), is a nice focal length for portraits and gives amazing image quality for the price. However, it also has a relatively small maximum aperture for a prime lens like the 40mm so is weaker in poor light, and the working distance for the best macro magnification is very close which isn't ideal if you want to shoot anything moving - you'll disturb those photogenic bugs. (The 100mm f/2.8 macro is a better length, and a great length for outdoors portraits, but a little more expensive).

There are budget options for macro which can yield results as good or better than a dedicated macro lens, although they are a less convenient to work with - for example you could mount a 50mm backwards onto your 18-200mm (zoomed in to greater than 50mm) using a $5 reverse filter ring, buy extension tubes, macro filters, or a reversing mount that lets you put the lens backwards onto the camera.

For portrait work, I often use a pair of old Jupiter lenses (85mm f/2 and 135mm f/3.5) which are completely manual, no autofocus, manual aperture but absolutely amazing image quality (when I hit the focus - manual focus without a split focusing screen requires practise, patience and persistence), and the two of them AND the 50mm f/1.8 cost me the same as Canon's 50mm f/1.4 would have done. However, the manual aspect probably makes them best as lenses for a photography enthusiast over a professional use (when I had to shoot wedding portraits, I left the manual lenses at home and hired a 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II, which is definitely out of your budget).

Talking of which - don't forget the option to hire lenses. I found the cost very reasonable, you could hire the two or three lenses you're considering for a weekend (if you can't borrow them from a friend) and try them all out side by side to see which you prefer - or alternatively just hire the lenses for particular shoots/jobs as you need them until you decide which you want to buy. Don't forget that a good local camera shop will be happy for you to take in your body and try out the lenses in store to see which you're happiest with.
 

Danmunro_nz

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Another vote for 50mm 1.8, I've dropped mine and it still works fine, I have taken some of my best shots with it. The only thing is the focusing is quite noisy.

I hadn't used it in a while since I got some new USM Canon lenses, which are super quiet. Then I used the 50 and had forgotten how Loud it was.

Sigma 50mm 1.4 is another option, cheaper than the Canon and a superb lens.
 

KenC

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I have to put in another word for the 50/1.8. Without minimizing the bokeh and low-light focus issues (which are real, although not issues for me), the mechanical problem I think has been unduly exaggerated. I've had mine for over five years and had it on my camera in my backpack (non-photo backpack, i.e., no padding) many, many times. I never dropped it, but it has been knocked against things quite a bit, and still works perfectly well. As someone said on here once, if I ever drop it and it breaks, I will buy another and still be ahead.
 

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