So we’ve got the camera – you can read that story here – we went for a fairly run-down but mostly functional Canon 5D MkII – and now we need A LENS.
There are a few things you need to consider when deciding on a lens:
- Manufacturer – the first thing you’ll see in a lens description, followed by focal length, max aperture etc. (see below). Always worth taking into account, as not all lenses are created equal… some manufacturers are considered better than others.
- Zoom vs Prime – photography 101, but we’ll explain briefly… a zoom lens is one that can zoom in on stuff. A prime lens is one that does not zoom. The length of a prime lens is fixed, you can’t change it. As a general rule you’re going to get a little bit more for your money with primes. Fewer moving parts and fewer optical elements means slightly lower price and higher quality for the price. Sometimes.
- Focal length – the zoomy-ness (or non-zoomy-ness if you get a prime) of the lens, for want of a better way of describing it! For beginners, here are the basics… the length of the lens is measured in millimetres, small number = wider, big number = telephoto. Rule of thumb – 0-35mm = wide angle, 40-100mm = portrait / mid-range, 100mm+ = long lens, wildlife etc. Clearly not concrete rules, but a good guide.
- Max aperture – the widest that the lens iris will open. This is measured in f-stops (small f), and is generally the third thing listed to describe a lens after manufacturer and focal length. The actual meaning of the f-stop number is a more complicated than you need to understand – it is basically the length of the lens (see above) divided by the maximum diameter of the iris. It affects the amount of light the lens will let in (and therefore how much light you need there to be around to get a clear photo), and the ability of the lens to shorten the depth of field. Again, very crude rule of thumb – f/1.2-f/2.8 = fast lens, ie good low light and short DOF, f/4.0 and above = not very fast, more difficult to shorten DOF, worse in low light.
- Other features of the lens – these tend to be described in the lens name by an assortment of unfathomable initials after the three words and numbers above. Acronyms you might see are STM (Stepper Technology Motor), USM (Ultra Sonic Motor), DG (Sigma full frame), DC (Sigma APS-C), HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor)… each manufacturer has its own set of acronyms… I’m not going to list them all now! But basically they refer to features of the lens, often the autofocus system. So worth checking out what they mean before you purchase.
These are the main points to keep in mind when buying a lens. I want a bit of an all-around lens for this camera, not super-wide, not telephoto. But the absolute priority is low-cost – this has to be super budget friendly. Almost no-cost, if I can manage it!
Because of that I already know roughly what I am likely to end up with – probably a prime lens, probably 50mm. The reason for this is that for many years Canon have made what they call their “Nifty Fifty” lens. A super cheap, affordable 50mm prime lens, with a fast f/1.8 max aperture. I had one many years ago and I think it set me back £99 ($129) brand new.
50mm is a little long for what I have in mind, I would prefer a 35mm, it’s a little more vereatile, but beggars can’t be choosers. There is no real budget 35mm option, or not super-budget anyway. I need to stay realistic with this. I am mostly going to be focusing on portraits, or portrait type stuff, with this lens, I expect, so 50mm is fine.
Here is a list of full-frame 50mm EF mount NEW lenses on the market at the moment (click the links to see them on Amazon, click the US$ prices for links to US Amazon):
- Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM (UK – £109 / US – $129)
- Canon EF 50mm f1.2L USM (UK – £1,239 / US – $1,349)
- cCanon EF 50mm f1.4 USM (UK – £339 / US – $349)
- Sigma 50mm f1.4 DG HSM Art (UK – £549 / US – $949)
- Sony Zeiss 50mm f1.4 Milvus ZE (UK – £1,016.99 / US – $1,199)
- Zeiss 50mm f1.4 T* Planar ZE Lens (UK – £559 / US – $725)
- Zeiss 50mm f2 Makro Planar Milvus ZE (UK – £1,007 / US – $1225)
- Samyang 50mm f1.4 AS UMC (UK – £329 / US – $329)
- Samyang 50mm T1.5 AS UMC VDSLR (UK – £455 / US – $499)
- Tokina 50mm f1.4 Opera FF – (UK – £745 / US – $959)
[the eagle-eyed amongst you will spot an omission here, but hold on, I’m getting to that!]
If we’re talking budget… there’s only one lens here that really hits that super low-cost market, and that’s the Canon “Nifty Fifty” EF 50mm f1.8 STM.
The STM version of this lens is an update on the two previous versions, which were the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 versions I and II. They used to sell for about $100, but then when they added the “STM” (silent autofocus motor) the price jumped up to $139.99.
Buying budget lenses on Ebay
Now here’s the crazy thing. That Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II that was $100 five years ago is STILL selling for $50+ on ebay. The original Canon 50mm f1.8 version I is selling on ebay for even more! CRAZY.
But it does show that the demand for a super low-cost lens is at an all time high. People are trying to get in to photography and full frame DSLR world, and they can’t because they can’t afford the lenses.
And guess who has jumped in to fill that void and offer a super budget lens option? Yep, that budget photo hero manufacturer, Yongnuo.
Yongnuo 50mm f1.8 lens
What’s even more insane is that a used Yongnuo 50mm f1.8 on ebay is selling for £40!! WHY? Why would I ever do that? Who buys a second-hand lens for £4 less that the price for getting it brand new? And you’ll have to pay shipping on Ebay, but it’s free on Amazon. So you’re getting a second hand lens for the SAME PRICE as one brand new.
Yongnuo 50mm f1.8
So, after much deliberation, I decided I would go with the Yongnuo 50mm brand new from Amazon. It’s just such good value, and the online reviews seem good. It was ordered, it was posted. And now it’s here.
As it happens I also already have a Canon 50mm f1.8 II at home, so one of the first things I’ll be doing is testing the two side by side to see which one is genuinely better. Stay tuned for that! (I’ll put a link here when that’s been posted).
I now have a camera and a lens. I’m ready to start taking photos!
Amount spent so far in the BudgetProPhoto £500 ($650) Pro Kit Challenge:
Total spent: £323
Money remaining: £177
Now to get shooting!
I’m going to get out and try out this combination, see how I get on with it in some natural light situations. Then I want to start thinking about lighting!
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Thanks for reading – from the BudgetProPhoto team.