Hello Photo Pandas!
By incredible popular request, we are going to help you find the perfect lenses to take traveling with you and the ones that will be your main stay as well. This guide will be very detailed and comprehensive as lenses are an essential tool to capture those gorgeous images. Not to mention they can get pricey so we want you to invest your hard earned dollars properly.
This first part will be more lengthy than the others as we will also go through the basics of lenses. It is more important for you to understand how to read a lens and then to understand it’s capabilities so that you can be educated when you go out and purchase one.
I will split this series into 3 parts. Part 1 dedicated to Canon lenses, Part 2 to Nikon and Part 3 for everyone else.
Lens basics – How to read a Canon lens
Here is a perfect example of what you will see when you look at the front of a lens. There are a lot of numbers and it can be very confusing, but it’s actually very easy to read. Let me teach you how.
This is what the lens shows – Canon Zoom Lens EF-S 18-135mm 1:3.5-5.6 IS STM 67mm
I’ve colour coded each of the important pieces to this lens. Let’s break it down and see what each of those means.
EF-S is the TYPE of mount
EF-S – This stands for Electronic Focus – Small. Canon makes 2 types of lenses, they make EF-S and EF. EF-S means that this lens can ONLY be mounted on a crop sensor camera such as the T Series (T6i shown here) or 7D series.
EF – Means that this type of lens can be mounted on BOTH a crop sensor camera like the T6i or 7D AND it can be mounted on a full frame such as the 5D MarkII/III/IV, 5DS, 5DSr, 1Dx/MarkI/MarkII.
EF labelled lenses are of better quality and when you see the letter L in the front, it means, it’s top of the line glass meaning the best of the best. Easy way to spot a L series lens is by it’s RED ring.
18-135mm is what we call FOCAL LENGTH
This is simply the focal length that the lens is capable of doing. As implied with the “zoom” that you see there, this is a zoom lens as it is capable of going from 18mm to 135mm. Now do you guys remember the rule about crop sensors and focal length? If not, don’t worry. Because this lens is attached to a crop sensor, we must multiply the 18-135mm by 1.6x. So this lens is actually a 29-216mm. Which is great for zooming into a subject that is far away but not so great for the landscape shots that require a wider angle.
This lens is considered to be a all around performer as it can do a wide variety of tasks. It can easily cater to your travel photography needs as it offers such a wide range however, if you wanted to do landscape shots, then all you’d have to do is maybe take a step back to get more of the scenery. But we will go thru that later in the post.
If you see a SINGLE number such as 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, 85mm, 135mm, those are what we call PRIME lenses. They look like this and do not have zoom capacity. They are incredibly sharp and typically have a fantastic maximum aperture as well.
1:3.5-5.6 is the lens’s Aperture limitations
Rather than reading it with a “1:” Just read it as 3.5-5.6 and that will make more sense. Those two numbers are the range of how “wide” the aperture of this lens can go. So at 18mm, this lens can have a max of f/3.5, but once you zoom to 135mm, the max aperture will be f/5.6. Now some lenses as shown here
You will notice that there is ONLY 2.8 and nothing else. That’s because this lens is capable at sustaining that maximum aperture whether it’s at 70mm all the way up to 200mm. So throughout it’s entire range of zoom, this lens has the incredible capacity to sustain a max aperture of f/2.8. Lenses that can sustain a “constant” aperture regardless of their focal range, are usually more expensive but they are of much better quality.
IS – Simply stands for Image Stabilizer (see pic above for reference). This indicates that the lens has an Image Stabilizer built in which helps prevent blur when you are taking the picture. IS helps to stabilize your hands shaking, you breathing and you being on the move. I recommend to ONLY buy lenses that have IS. It makes a world of a difference when you are on the go.
STM – Stands for Stepper Motor. In every lens, there is a motor that is inside that moves the many little lens to help you focus properly. STM is a motor that is designed by Canon, it is becoming more and more common and it’s a wonderful thing. STMs are very quiet when they focus and they are incredibly quick as well. The beauty about STM however, is in it’s ability for you to use your Canon DSLR during video mode and when you record movies, the focusing is so quiet that you can’t hear it on the video. In previous generation lenses, which some of you may have, the motor was so loud and slow during it’s operation that you could physically hear it working during use.
USM – Ultrasonic Motor – Just like STM, USM is very very quiet and it’s even better even though it’s an older technology. Most EF lenses are now USM and they are the cream of the crop.
Lastly what is that 67mm that you see there?
This number is the size of the filter that you put on that lens. For example, if you buy a UV Filter, Circular Polarizer filter or ND filter, this 67mm designates the SIZE of the filter that you can purchase and attach onto the lens. It’s that simple. I won’t get into filter right now, but there are 2 schools of thoughts when it comes to filters. Some don’t believe in using one and some like me, would prefer to use a UV filter at all times. I personally recommend a decent UV filter to ANY lens that you have.
Now that you have a clear understanding on HOW to read a lens, the next question is “What lens should I buy if I do ………?”
This is the fun part. I will divide this into another 2 part as I will cover Crop Frame cameras and Full Frame Cameras.
Crop Frame Cameras – T4i, T5i, T6i, 7D or 7D MarkII
Even though you may have purchase a Canon T4i, T5i, T6i or 7D/7D MarkII, it does not mean you should just stick to EF-S lenses. As a matter of fact, I believe that glass aka lenses play a much more important role to obtain amazing images than the camera bodies themselves.
Let’s visit that thought for a second. Camera bodies evolves almost on a yearly basis, while lenses hardly ever evolve unless revolutionary is being released. Which means, you will be more likely to upgrade your camera body before upgrading your lens. Now imagine that you are like me, you started it out with a Crop Frame camera, but I decided to invest in my first EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM. It cost me a ton of money but what happened was that my old 7D couldn’t keep up with my needs anymore so I had to upgrade to the Canon 5D MarkIII. Once I upgraded to the 5D MarkIII, I was simply able to keep my current 24-70mm f/2.8L USM and continue my shooting without a hitch.
Let’s say that I didn’t go to the EF type lens, and I bought a somewhat comparable EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. Once I decided to move on to the 5D MarkIII which is a full frame camera, I would have had to sell that 17-85mm and repurchase another lens that would fit the new body. By doing so, I’m effectively losing money and time trying to sell it instead of buying the “right” lens the first time.
Some of you may say “well, the price difference is HUGE” Sure it is! I am effectively however upgrading to a lens that will serve my purpose for easily a decade if not more. Not only that, I would have amazing image quality to boot because of the 24-70mm f/2.8L USM incredible glass they use plus the constant f-stop of 2.8 at any range. To each their own however, that is justification that YOU will have to make and that I can’t decide for you in the long run. I can only recommend and preach what I’ve seen in my years of shooting
After reading all of that, you have decided to stay in the EF-S lens range as it is better suited to your budget. NO problem, you can still get amazing glass for decent prices. Here’s a quick reminder: The lower the (mm), the wider the angle (field of view) and the bigger the (mm), the more narrow the field of view (think of zoom).
Here are my recommendations (prices are all in Canadian and as of Nov 14th 2016):
Landscape photography – Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM – Price $429
Awesome all in ONE travel lens (if you choose ONLY ONE lens) – Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM which is the lens that can be kitted with the T6i – Price $739
Another all in ONE lens that I love because of it’s value – Canon EF 24-70 f/4L IS USM – Price $1150
Portrait photography and prime lens – Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM – $450
Zoom Lens – Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM – $650
Full Frame Cameras – 5D MarkII/MarkIII/MarkIV/1Dx
In this second part, I will recommend what I think is the best lens for each of the needs period. It will be a mixture of value and quality but at this point in the game, if you have a $3000-$6500 body, then you know that glass is everything. At this level, price ain’t for the faint of heart.
Best travel lens if you had to pick just ONE – Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L IS II USM – $2349 (YIKES)…. ok you might go WTF at this but I actually don’t recommend it even though I’ve owned one for years. If I were you, I would buy at the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 IF EX DG HSM for $1100 instead. The Sigma cost less than half of the Canon, performs 99% of the Canon but here’s the best part…. it weighs a lot less! Did I mention how much cheaper it was? Now that we have that out of the way, you will see MANY Sigmas on this list.
This lens also a MUST have for wedding photographers and street photographers alike.
Best Telephoto Zoom lens – Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 II EX DG OS HSM – Price $1500 – This lens right here is a cool $1000 cheaper than the Canon counterpart and is as good as the Canon. This lens is another must have in your bag if you do any type of sports photography, weddings, safari or even for wildlife photography.
Best Landscape lens – Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM – $1950 or the Canon 17-40mm f/4L USM – $950 – This one is tricky, if you are purely just a landscape photographer, personally I would go the 17-40mm f/4L USM route as you would only shoot at f/8 to f/22 for the most part anyways and it’s $1000 cheaper. If you are however a wedding photographer AND you enjoy landscape photography, then I would go for the 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM as it will give you a better aperture.
Best Prime Portrait lenses (yes there are two) – Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art – $1050 then you have your Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art – $1500
Best Safari lens (although you should take more than one lens on a safari) – Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM – $4700 – Yup… This beast is not only good for Safaris but wildlife in general. Do you guys remember what we said about putting a lens like this on a Crop Frame camera? So say we put this on the mighty Canon 7D MarkII, you would effectively get a 192-480mm f/2.8 lens at your disposal! That’s insane!!
Best Macro Lens – Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS – $700 – For those that like to get close up, this lens is a great deal. The Canon variant cost $1100 and honestly, yes the Canon is superior, but you would have to blow up that image mighty big to see a big difference. Being that it’s $400 cheaper, that’s not chump change either.