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Old 05-26-2012, 04:07 PM   #1 (permalink)
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a brief beginners look at canon EF-S 18-55 IS II vs 15-85 IS vs 50mm/1.8 II

Considering the what lens should I get posts (of which I am also guilty of), I thought I'd share a beginners perspective of three lens alternatives I have. These are my thoughts of why I went the route I did and some basic comparisons that might help someone else out, especially to understand the differences in focal length. I am not going to try to do all the tests and scientific review seen on the pro review sites to analyze picture quality. these shots are also scaled way down so you really won't be able to compare image quality very well.

Camera: Canon T1i
settings: Automatic
location: back yard, railing supported but no tripod, early afternoon, shooting from in shadow facing north. IS enabled on IS lenses.
PP: reduction in size and sharpening in DPP
Lenses looked at: Canon
18-55 IS II
15-85 IS
50mm/1.8 II

Rational behind lens selection:
When I purchased the T1i it came with the 18-55 IS II lens as the standard kit lens. Although the 18-55 offers some decent value, I was immediately unhappy with it prompting a look for a replacement. Price, focal range, over all quality were all concerns. My primary uses are outdoors at shows, wildlife and digital reproduction of old advertising and artifacts.

Canon 18-55 IS II: This is the supposedly much improved kit lens for entry level Canon DSLR's. Relatively light and compact its not a lens your really going to notice on your camera. For the price, not too bad.

Pros: size and weight, very cheap if purchased separately in the $100-$150 range or even less. Fast autofocus, The IS seems relatively decent and coupled with short length and low weight should allow for little issue with hand held use.

Cons: I was immediate unimpressed with the image quality on mine, especially as any crop or image magnification was applied. The second issue I noticed right off was that the focal range was just not enough on either end. I was really wanting more on both ends. This might not be an issue for some people, but depending on your preferred subject material it may be an irritation. Both of these cons are somewhat subjective. One big flaw I have with this lens is the manual focus ring is the end of the lens and is very narrow. This lens was never meant to be manual focused. Focal lengths poorly marked.

Canon 15-85 IS USM:
This lens comes highly regarded by a lot of people, many calling it an L equivalent for the APS-C in image quality since Canon so far has shown no indication to build an EF-S L lens. This lens is not an L lense though and lacks a few features of a true L lens including weather sealing. This lens is a counterpoint to the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM and to the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM.

Pros: Good image quality, excellent focal range, midrange price at about $700-$800. Not overly excessive in weight, good range of features. Construction feels solid, focal lengths well marked and IS works well.

Cons: for a beginner, pricetag may seem high, but once compared to other offerings it may be more reasonable. heavier and larger then some other zooms in this range and primes. Lacks a lock to keep the lens from extending on its own when held vertically.

Canon 50mm/1.8 II: The near legendary nifty fifty is considered a must have by many people. Cheap price at around $80-$100, fast 1.8 aperture and small size make it easy to keep around for its versatility.

Pros: size and weight are negligible, 1.8 aperture beats out the zooms making this an excellent lens for fast action and indoors. Image quality is good and the price is excellent.

cons: construction seems kind of flimsy. it is a prime which for someone used to zooms will take some getting used to.

Some comparison shots, sorry, I did not use a tripod so they didn't come out as exactly matched as I thought they did when i was shooting.

Minimum Focal Lengths
15-85 @ 15mm

18-55 @ 18mm

50mm (18-55 actually at 47mm due to no focal markings) comparison:

15-85 @ 50mm

18-55 @47mm


maximum focal length

15-85 @ 85mm

18-55 @55mm

Other lenses and rational for my choice:
I ended up with the
Canon 15-85 IS USM:
as my choice over the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM and to the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. Falling in the middle of the pack for price, it also has the larger focal range and a fair balance of aperture vs cost. As nice as the fixed 2.8 aperture of the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM is, the focal range was my primary factor in going with the much cheaper 15-85. The extra 2mm on the low end has also come in very handy. While its not much, it is a noticeable difference and the upper end is very signfigant. I do not do a lot of indoor poor lighting photography nor find i need the fast aperture in my mid range walk around lens. The 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM is slightly cheaper but is a slightly slower aperture. reviews consistently were unimpressive compared to the slightly more expensive and much newer 15-85.

Because of my interest in the low end of the focal range and the cost, I never considered the EF 24mm zoom variants in my thinking. If price is not a factor and paired with an ultrawide like the canon 10-22, then certainly this becomes a viable kit, but it is two lenses instead of one, the same issue as having multiple primes. At 24mm with the APS-C crop factor I think most users will find them selves very limited as an only lens choice. I also never gave serious consideration to multiple primes, both for cost and for practicality of carrying at shows and needing many ranges during a day. Considering the dust, I try to limit lens swapping as much as possible in the field.
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