Fixed focal length vs. zoom lens?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by kelio13, Aug 24, 2008.

  1. kelio13 macrumors newbie

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    #1
    I'm getting a Canon Digital Rebel XTi and am researching lenses, and I'm not sure what the advantages are of fixed focal length lenses as opposed to zoom lenses. It seems like zoom lenses would be more practical because they can be used for a wider range of distances without having to change the lens (and also since I'm a college student and can't afford more than one semi-expensive lens at the moment). I've been reading some reviews of both types, but I don't really know which would be a better investment. Any advice?
     
  2. costabunny macrumors 68020

    costabunny

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    #2
    as a student and if you only want one lens to start off I strongly reccomend a zoom of the 18-70 range.

    Fixed focals are generally better quality (but only to someone looking closely at enlargements). For most of us Zooms are fine (try to get the mid price range of money permits).

    Kit lenses (included with many offers) are ok to start out with, bit if you are buying seperately then get a slightly better one (say one with an f stop range of 3.5-4.5).

    later perhaps a fixed focal or two would compliment, and later is better as you will know what focal lenghts you are best shooting at. (example myself I prefer to shoot around 120 - 200 range and never really have a use for anything less).

    hope this helps
     
  3. Westside guy macrumors 601

    Westside guy

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    #3
    You're not going to find any consensus on this. :)

    I personally think, in your case, a zoom is a better option - but there will be people that will argue for fixed focal length lenses and "zooming with your feet". It's all subjective, and there are pluses and minuses to either approach.
     
  4. CrackedButter macrumors 68040

    CrackedButter

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    #4
    Get a prime lens. Something for the 50mm focal length. Like Westside Guy said, zoom with your feet. You'll learn more and get more interesting shots using a prime.

    There was a time when prime lenses came with cameras, not zooms.
     
  5. cube macrumors G5

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    #5
    I only get a prime when there is no zoom covering that length that can reach the same wide aperture.
     
  6. Abstract macrumors Penryn

    Abstract

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    #6
    ^^^Agreed.

    I'd only get a prime if I already had a zoom, even if the zoom covers the same focal length as my prime. Like cube said, the reason for having the prime would be to have a wider aperture. I'd definitely have a lens that covers a decent range (e.g.: my Sigma 24-70 mm f/2.8), and beyond that, a prime like the Sigma 30 mm f/1.4 (which I own) is an option.

    If you must know, I have 2 primes: Sigma's 30 mm f/1.4, and a Nikon 105 mm f/2.8 VR macro lens. They both have their reasons for existing in my bag, but if I was starting out again, I would get the same Sigma 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens because it's a good lens for general use.
     
  7. jhamerphoto macrumors regular

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    #7
    Define semi-expensive?

    Sigma offers an 18-200mm lens at around $450 and it's pretty good for general purpose. If you start off with something like an 18-70 you'll find it fairly limiting in some situations, which is where the 200mm comes in handy.

    But why not get both? The canon 50mm f1.8 is only about $120 new, and you can probably pick one up used for $80-100. Then you can decide what you like shooting with best for future reference.
     
  8. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

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    #8
    I would get a 50 mm lens in any case: it's cheap and incredibly versatile. If you want something better than the kit lens, I'd have a look at Tamron's 17-50 f/2.8 zoom.

    Personally, I find zooms more much flexible than fixed focal length lenses (also called primes), especially if you are indoors and can't just take a step back. Artistically, primes encourage you to think about composure.
     
  9. Westside guy macrumors 601

    Westside guy

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    #9
    Last spring I was taking photos of some of our students (I work at a university), using my D70 with the Nikon 35mm f/2 lens. After we were done, a couple of the young ladies were talking to me. During the conversation one remarked "My friend has a camera just like yours, but his lens is a lot bigger". :D

    (She wasn't goofing around - she was just making conversation)

    So primes may not be the best option if you're not completely secure in your manhood. :p
     
  10. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

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    #10
    (Un)fortunately, the opposite is true as well. Every time I whip out my 80-200 Nikkor, people (= potential victims) are in shock and awe.
     
  11. Grimace macrumors 68040

    Grimace

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    #11
    Primes will almost always be noticeably sharper -- not just for pixel peepers and on big blowups. You can use them with much less light, which is a big plus. They are lighter and less visible.

    But, they are certainly not as versatile - you have to zoom using your feet.

    All said, if you want the sharpest pictures, go with a 50mm prime for portraits, a zoom for wider and much longer shots.
     
  12. ManWithhat macrumors regular

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    #12
    What do you plan on shooting? If you're shooting people,pets, architecture, or landscapes, get a shorter prime. If you're shooting wildlife, candids, or events -- get a medium to longer zoom lens. Unfortunately, the nice longer lenses are very expensive.

    My suggestion is to start with the kit lens. Over 300 or so photos, note the times when a different lens would have come in handy. Buy that lens.

    If you're on a budget, as I'm sure you are:
    70-200mm f/4L USM - It's around $600, but it's the cheapest 'L' (Canon's best glass) and is a GREAT zoom lens. There's an IS version, but you'd have to double the price. As long as you keep the shutter speed at or a click faster than the inverse of the focal length (i.e. a click faster than 1/200 at 200mm zoom), you should avoid camera shake.
     
  13. youngestchild macrumors regular

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    sydney
    #13
    hey. i'm in the same boat. Looking to buy the 450D but I don't think the kit lenses will suit my needs. I'm planning on getting the canon 50mm f/1.8 (for live music/portrait shots) but would like a more general use lense, something that will give me flexibility... was thinking of the Sigma 55-200 f/4-5.6 DC ... but have had no experience with it... what do you think? is it a good lense?
     
  14. taylorwilsdon macrumors 68000

    taylorwilsdon

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    #14
    No, the Sigma is a crappy lens. If you want that range, check out Canon's 55-250mm IS lens. Very sharp for being a consumer lens.
     
  15. youngestchild macrumors regular

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    #15
    okay thanks. I did see that and that it's about $100 more but I guess there's a reason for that.

    one other question. any recommendations on a budget macro lense? ...or at least a lense that take nice close shots... thanks.
     
  16. ChrisBrightwell macrumors 68020

    ChrisBrightwell

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    #16
    Get the XTi w/ the kit lens. Add a cheap prime (50mm f/1.8 II comes to mind). Learn lots and make an informed decision on where to go from there.
     
  17. gnd macrumors 6502a

    gnd

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    #17
    My Sigma 24mm f1.7 is definitely my heaviest lens, it is also longer than my zoom lens in its closed position (fully erected it's a monster) ;)
    But then again, when I put the Pentax 50mm 30 years old lens on my camera it looks ridiculous ... :eek:
     
  18. kelio13 thread starter macrumors newbie

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    #18
    I thought about doing that, but I've heard the kit lens isn't worth the money spent, and that it's better to get just the camera body and be able to choose a better lens. The advantage I could see would be having 2 lenses right off the bat, one zoom and one prime.

    Thanks for the advice everyone, it's been really helpful. Feel free to keep it coming.
     
  19. vga4life macrumors 6502

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    #19
    I would disagree that a 50mm prime is an "incredibly versatile" lens on a crop body. It's a nice, fast portrait lens on an APS-sized sensor, but is not a great walk-around prime focal length like it is on a full-frame body. Still worth picking up if you're used to slow (high minimum f/stop) lenses just for the purpose of shooting in low available light.

    Assuming you're getting the kit (18-55mm) lens with the XTI, I'd pick up the 70-200mm f/4L for ~$600 and the 50mm f/1.8 for ~$100. Both will expand on the capabilities of your kit lens in different ways (long focal length, speed) and won't break the budget.

    If you can afford another $200 beyond this, consider picking up a 'Zenitar' 16mm fisheye from one of the reputable sellers on eBay - not so much for the ultra-wide perspective (though it is fun) but to teach you how to use a fully manual lens and meter a scene with your eyeballs.
     
  20. OreoCookie macrumors 68030

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    #20
    I like shooting portraits and for that, it's a very good lens. I agree that it's about time, Nikon and Canon get their act together and offer similarly cheap 30 or 35 mm lenses with large aperture, but I still find that this lens is a pretty good deal.
     
  21. gnd macrumors 6502a

    gnd

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    #21
    You can get any kind of prime, wide and telephoto, for Pentax. And with in-body stabilization they're all stabilized ...
     
  22. ChrisBrightwell macrumors 68020

    ChrisBrightwell

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    #22
    The 18-55 kit lens is really a great "My First Lens" type of lens. It's not a *great* lens, but it costs what? $100? For that price, it's hard to beat.

    You can get the kit lens and the 50/1.8 for a fraction of what most other lenses will cost. Having those two will not only give you a decent amount of versatility, but also help you understand what you do and don't need or want out of a lens or a collection of lenses.

    If you know that you're shooting lots of sports or wildlife, having a 200+ mm lens makes sense. If this is your first SLR and you don't really know what you want or need out of it, dropping another $1k on couple of lenses doesn't really make sense.
     
  23. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    #23
    You have found the one advantage of a zoom lens. But the fixed focal length lenses (primes) have their own advantages:

    • Almost always they are much faster. The best zooms open up to only f/2.8 but you can buy an f/1.4 prime
    • That f/1.4, f/1.4 or f/2.0 prime lens will cost a lot less than an f/2.8 zoom
    • Although it is getting less true over time, primes in general are opticall better with less distortion and better contrast
    • Primes are smaller and lighter.

    The lens' length does not control "distance". You choose a shooting distance based on the perspective you want. That means the ratio on the subject size to the size of objects in the background. Distance controls this effect. Then you choose a lens (or rotate the zoom ring) to properly frame the image, leaving in or removing objects as desired. In other words length controls the field of view.

    People think they need to cover the entire range. No you don't. If you were to shoot all day with a 24mm fixed lens you'd get just as many good shots as if you shoot all day with a zoom. But you'd get a different set of shots.

    If you are just starting out get the "kit" 18-55 lens. Use that for a while. Shoot about 1,000 frames with it. Then look at your work and see if you missed some shots and buy the lens that would have gotten those shots.
     
  24. ManWithhat macrumors regular

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    Jun 24, 2008
    #24
    You can always get the body only and buy the XSi / XS kit lens, which is the same lens with image stabilization (and reviews say it's much sharper than it's predecessor). It gets some pretty good reviews, and I love mine.
     
  25. kelio13 thread starter macrumors newbie

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    #25
    That's not a bad idea. The XSi is basically the "next step up" from the XTi, right? I'm guessing the same lens would be compatible with both cameras. How much does that lens typically cost?
     

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