Steadman's Tips: First Lens for New SLR Owner

Started Dec 1, 2002 | Discussions thread
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Steadman Uhlich Senior Member • Posts: 1,123
Steadman's Tips: First Lens for New SLR Owner

This is addressed to a new owner of their first SLR camera.

As photography as a hobby is easy to enter, and many folks enter the new Digital SLR user base by coming from a 'point and shoot' experience, so many people first struggle with some new issues that are often driven by lack of 'experience' with the "new" 'options' like Depth of Field and variable aperture.

Put another way...when you used a sophisticated Point and Shoot camera, it is likely that you used it on full auto with a zoom lens that responds to the touch of a button (wide/tele) and a built-in flash (on for almost all shots). When a new DSLR owner comes from this experience, their first inclination may be to purchase a budget super zoom lens that covers a very wide focal length range...despite its other shortcomings. This "experience" is common.

When you purchase your first Digital SLR...you are faced with many choices...one of the most pressing is which lens to purchase as your first.

My suggestion below is based on a desire to help you learn something about your camera (somethings you may not already know) and to learn to 'see' beyond the lens.

Put very simply and bluntly...it is often very good to learn with a more 'simple' beginning lens that will allow you to learn some of the important things without adding additional variables (variable max aperture, variable focal length) that are often found as features of a zoom lens.

I suggest that you first puchase a Canon 50mm f1.4 lens.

Here is why:

1. Buying the 50mm f1.4 will open up your eyes to the wonder of low light photography. Photos taken without a flash. Natural looking photos. Photos taken in lower light that makes some shots impossible with other lenses. I believe this can be the most "eye opening" experience for someone (the average snap shooter) coming from a Point and Shoot experience. What you will see through your fast f1.4 lens is lots of light. Scenes will look 'natural' and not 'dark' in the viewfinder (unless the scene is dark...wink). With good technique (hand holding steadily, using a tripod, or adjusting ISO speed) you will be surprised at the pics you can make without any flash...even in dimly lit rooms or scenes. If you don't have experience with low light 'fast lens' photography, you are in for a real treat.

Put another way...if your total experience with cameras so far has been with slower zoom lenses (max aperture f4.5 etc..), and then you put a f1.4 lens on the camera body...you will be so surprised at the amount of light you will now see...you will probably go "WOW" (Literally!) Seeing is believing in this case. If you don't know much about aperture now...don't worry. Put very simply, a fast f1.4 lens has the potential to let in about 8 times (!) as much light as a slower zoom lens...(this is just an example...it could be more!).

Aside: If someone who has experienced this "WOW" feeling when looking through their first fast lens will kindly post a reply below attesting to this I would appreciate your contribution to this thread topic. Just put "WOW" in your subject line of your reply.

2. The learning experience of learning how DOF (Depth of Field) works on the images. Learning aperture and DOF issues is a very important part of mastering photography. Having the more 'expanded' range of possible apertures (down to f1.4 for instance) will allow you to experiment, learn and quickly see the differences. This knowledge will help you more than any lens in the future as you assess shots and potential shots. With the ability to "open up" the aperture you will find that you are capable of 'blurring the background' and other such techniques that make some pics really stand out. You may see 'portraits' in a wholely different way.

3. The 50 f1.4 is relatively small and light compared to most zoom lenses an far sharper (some may say 'better') than most zoom lenses. It is easier to handle than most fast zoom lenses too. More likely to 'walk around' with you. And, some people prefer its small size as it does not 'intimidate' some people as much as some of the larger/longer lenses. This may be more important to you than you even realize, especially if you are photographing children.

4. The optical quality of the Canon 50mm f1.4 is of the highest ranking. It is very 'sharp' and considered one of their best lenses for optical quality and considered outstanding when compared to competitive lenses at that price point or focal length. This 'quality' may not seem like a big deal to you if you are just starting out. Let me just assure you that this lens, even if purchased as a 'starter' or 'first' lens, is one you will be able to use and keep with no fear of having purchased a poor quality lens. The average Canon 50mm f1.4 is so good that it will give you a good starting point to judge additional purchases of lenses too.

The 50mm is a great place to start.

A few more points are covered in my 'reply' to my own thread as this has gotten too long for a single post. Just read the reply below this to continue.

(Continued)

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