Lenses

I’m interested in hearing others thoughts on the kind of lenses you use to shoot. For the past year I’ve shot with the Canon 24-70 2.8 L lens on the 5DM2 and the 5D. Before that I split time between the Canon 24-105 4.0L IS and the Tamron 17-50 2.8 on a 30D. I think all have been great, although the Tamron is a touch slower focusing…although both 5Ds are pitifully slow in low light. (I also have a Tamron 70-200 2.8 which is the slowest focusing of all my lenses, and a Canon 50mm 1.4.) That slowness on the 5Ds is a big part of what led me to replacing my old 5D with the 7D (and all the focusing issues and trips to the repair center it entailed, although I think it’s finally fixed; even after a month I’m still leery of giving it a final thumbs up even though it probably is fine now).

One thing’s for sure, the 24-70 and the 7D don’t seem to like each other. While it focuses well at 50mm to 70mm, at 24mm it tends to be out of focus (it works great on the 5DM2 at all lengths). I brought my Tamron 17-50 out of retirement for a test run and it seemed to do pretty good. But one thing that’s really been in the back of my mind is Image Stabilization; none of my current lens lineup has it (I sold the 24-105 4.0 IS to finance getting the 24-70). I’ve considered switching back to the 24-105 but now that I’ve got a 7D I’m considering instead either the 17-50 2.8 IS or the 15-85 IS…although I wouldn’t be able to use either on the 5DM2.

So I’ve rented the 15-85 IS. After a few preliminary test shots at home it seems great; will find out more in the field this weekend on a couple of shoots. The main downsides are that it’s not a vaunted L lens nor a fixed aperture (as you zoom from 15 to 85 the aperture narrows from 3.5 to 5.6, or more than twice as less light reaches the sensor with the corresponding increase in the depth of field), although it is a more expensive lens than two of Canon’s own L lenses (the 70-200 f4 and the 17-40 f4).

But I got to thinking about how I shoot. The majority of pro photogs rely (I imagine) on prime lenses. They deliver superb quality and open WAY wide open to up to f1.2 (or up to 8 times more light than a lens at 5.6). But I’ve never been much of a fixed length shooter and have always felt constrained by not being able to zoom in and out as I like, which is why I always get ansty to remove the 50mm whenever I’m using it (“Okay, did I get the shot I want? Good, let’s switch back to the 24-70 and relax and have fun now”). Same feeling I had when I owned a 10-22 ultra wide lens, or rented the 17-40 or 16-35 and tried using either as an ultrawide lens on my 5DM2.

But the 15-85 IS. Same feeling I had as when I rented the 24-105 again for my 5DM2. LOVED the flexibility and convenience of being able to zoom in and out at such a great range. Almost enough to overlook not being able to open up the aperture to 2.8. Damn close. Sometimes I still think about it. I think I can live with a zoom lens not going to 2.8. If I like the 15-85 after this weekend I might follow through and sell my Tamron 17-50 to help pay for one and use my 7D more often (remember I got the 7D for it’s better autofocusing system, and if I can finally accept that Canon’s repair center really did fix my copy this time it may become my lead camera, at least for party pics).

When I shoot party pics I like to drag the shutter…as low as 1/8 to 1/15 if I can get away with it. Image Stabilization will enable me to do that with greater confidence as opposed to not having it and hoping the flash freezes the main subject enough that any camera shake is negligible with the 24-70. Another thing I realized is that in shooting group pics, usually from five to seven feet away, it’s just not viable to shoot at 2.8 (let alone anything faster) because inevitably somebody in the shot, usually someone at one of the ends, is going to be out of focus, so I’ve found myself setting my aperture to 4.0 or 5.6 or even 8.0…so the main point of having a 2.8 is kind of moot (and even a cheaper consumer lens produces good quality stopped down). And having to drag the shutter to compensate is alleviated by IS, to say nothing of cranking up the ISO to 1600 or even more (which I’ve lived off of since the Rebel XT) to help out. (Although I’ve recently settled on staying at 1600 if I can help it, even though the 5DM2 in particular is really good at 3200 and even 6400.)

So I’m going to find out for sure this weekend just how well the 15-85 IS works out on the 7D. Should be interesting.

UPDATE: Well, as it turns out I just can’t live without a fixed 2.8 on my zoom lens. While the range on the 15-85 was fine, it drove me up the wall to be stopped down at 5.6 zoomed in. While my reasoning above in support of the 15-85 bore out somewhat (shooting groups at smaller apertures), being able to open up to 2.8 for ambient shots without switching lenses is critical for me. So after I sent the 15-85 back I subsequently rented the Canon 17-55 2.8 IS and so far it’s awesome. And I realized that if it’s just an indivual or even a couple, I can shoot them at 2.8 and if I mind my depth of field they can both still be in focus (ie, keep them on the same focal plane). And the bokeh on the 17-55 is gorgeous. Chances are I will also rent the Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC (Tamron’s version of image stabilization) to compare. I’d prefer the Canon, but it’s nearly twice as much ($1100+) as the Tamron (about $620).

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