Which lens next?


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Jun 19, 2013
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I just bought a Canon 20d off of craigslist and it came with a 35-70mm lens. My main focus is taking pictures of my kids and I thought I wanted a 50mm next, but as I see my oldest play at the park and about to start his first gymnastics class next week, I'm thinking I should get a telephoto lens instead. What do you think?
Cheap options, since you bought your camera off craigslist etc. and I assume you don't want to throw a lot of money after it:

1) The best brand name prime for you on a budget is probably the 135 f/2.8 softfocus. Can be had for $200-400 used if you look a bit, and is optically great. The softfocus can be turned on or off, and you may even like it for portraits of kids, but even if you never use that feature, it is a good deal. Get this if your kids are moving a lot and/or you are photographing them in low light buildings or dusk/indoors, etc. (since it has AF to get them sharp while moving + wide aperture for low light)

2) Get an old manual 135mm prime lens and an adapter. They made probably millions of 135mm f/2.8 prime lenses back in the day, and for instance, a pentax can adapt to your camera with a $5 adapter ring. If you get a clean, lightly used copy, it will probably be optically just as good as a modern 135mm prime, but instead of $300, you pay $45 for an ebay lens and an adapter. Do have to use manual then, though. Get this if you are really strapped for cash and are willing to train manual focus skills in exchange for saving $$.

3) Get a used 18-135 IS STM lens and just completely replace your kit + extra range. Most expensive option probably at $400 minimum, from amongst these. But it is a great lens that can meet all your kid photographing needs. It is not as fast as the above options, though, being f/5.6 at 135mm (2 stops slower). But it has the fastest AF of them and the most convenience with zooming. Get this if you usually photograph your kids staying relatively still and/or in daylight or really want the convenience of a zoom.

OR If you are in fact swimming in cash and I judged incorrectly, then get a 70-200mm f/2.8 lens for the best of the convenient somewhat long range portrait and action lenses. Canon's are all great. Or save a lot going with Sigma and get a 70-200 f/2.8 with image stabilization for $1000 used. A 135 f/2 at also around $900 is an alternative luxurious option for extremely fast moving kids and/or low light.
Hmmm. Funny you mention my kids sitting still. I have a 3 year old boy (next week!) and a 7 month old girl whom you can tell has an older brother. haha

Not swimming in cash, no, but I do have a little of my own play money. I do childcare for a couple of families and after taxing and tithe, it's all mine. We have a great little photography shop an hour from me and they have the two lenses I want new and used in my budget of a couple hundred. I can choose one this week, possibly going out there on Monday. I'm JUST starting this dslr adventure so I'm starting with what I need piece by piece. With my son's birthday coming up and all the festivities that go with it, I want to make sure I have what I need to get great shots. I'm also a scrapbooker (ha, when I have time!) so I like to take LOTS of photos to group together for layouts and what not.

I am also hanging onto my MIL's Nikon D50 and that has a telephoto lens, so while I may want one for my Canon, I'm not running out to get it RIGHT now. I can use hers (or hand it off to my husband who has a more artistic eye and likes to tinker in photography. He's better at it than I am.) for his class, party, and our family camping trip coming up. So I guess that kind of answers my own question? I just don't want to lug 2 cameras around. I'll need to get a bigger bag!
The nifty fifty (50 1.8) is a popular, low-cost choice. You can get one for about $100.
You already have a 50mm lens. Set your 35-70 zoom to 50mm and put a piece of tape around the zoom ring so it won't change.
I find 135mm a bit to "close" for portraits on a crop body. I think its designed more for a full frame camera.

Starting out I got the 50mm and 85mm for portraits and they served me well. But I hated switching lenses all the time. When I bought the 24-70mm F2.8L mI that become my primary lens and has stayed on my camera 99% of the time! Its something like $1100 used for the mI and the mII is a bit more pricey, but its a great fast lens! When workign with kids I found the primes hard to work with, the kids were either to close or to far for the lens I had on at the time. But as a pro you should have 2 cameras so you could in theory just switch back and forth between two cameras. :D
You already have a 50mm lens. Set your 35-70 zoom to 50mm and put a piece of tape around the zoom ring so it won't change.

2.8 - 50 prime is faster. That may or may not matter, depending on how OP will use the lens.
2.8 - 50 prime is faster. That may or may not matter, depending on how OP will use the lens.

No question of that, and possibly a bit sharper, however since the OP stated:
... I'm thinking I should get a telephoto lens instead.
I assumed that focal length was the main issue.
I'm assuming these are indoor gymnastics.

The challenge with indoor action photography is that the lighting is generally poor. To freeze action generally requires a shutter speed of about 1/500th or faster. That means you need a lens and camera that can collect ENOUGH light in just 1/500th of a second.

The 20D allows ISO up to 1600 and in "expanded" mode you can go to 3200. However you wont like the level of noise at ISO 3200. It'll be poor at 1600 (you will notice the noise) and even 800 will probably show some visible noise and whether or not you're ok with it is up to you. You'll probably be fine at ISO 400 or lower.

You can use computer software to handle the noise and there are several apps that do this well (btw, there are several apps that do a terrible job of this so let us know if you need recommendations.)

Another way to get more light into the camera (so you don't have to crank up the ISO) is to use a lens that can collect more light.

Most consumer zooms are going to be limited to f/5.6 as their lowest (meaning widest opening) focal ratio when zoomed in. High quality and VERY high quality lenses will allow for f/4 (twice as much light) or f/2.8 (four times as much light) -- but in a "zoom" these will be quite expensive (e.g. Canon's EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom is over $2k -- probably not the budget you had in mind, but this is what sports photographers have to spend.)

An alternate way to get a low focal ratio lens without breaking the bank is to buy a lens that does not zoom.

Canon makes an 85mm f/1.8 lens which retails around $370. They also make a 100mm f/2 which retails around $450. As long as you're not too far away, these might be decent working focal lengths in a gymnasium (if you're at the top of the bleachers then your subjects are still going to be too small and you'll be squinting to see them in your photos).

An f/2 lens is collect EIGHT TIMES more light as compared to an f/5.6 lens. An f/1.8 lens is collecting about 10 times more light (although I'm not sure I'd want to go below f/2 for quality and depth-of-field reasons.) You can quickly see how that'd make a HUGE difference in the shutter speeds and ISO settings you use when shooting indoors.

If you want to experiment before laying out your cash, try renting a lens and testing it at a gymnastics event before you decide to buy it. At LensRentals, the cost to rent the 85mm f/1.8 is $28 for 6 days... the 100mm f/2 is $29 to rent. That's a cheap "insurance" policy if you're afraid of buying the wrong lens and regretting it later.
Basically there's a lot of damn lenses you can buy.

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