Camera Lens Questions

I am planning to buy a telephoto lens for my camera. From time to time, I want to take pictures of the various critters Emmy chases in the back yard, and that would be a whole lot easier if I didn't need to get so close to them. And, of course, I strongly suspect there will be outdoor sports in SteelyKid's future, which will demand some zooming for action shots.

My camera is a Canon Rebel XSi, their entry-level DSLR model. Back when I bought it, I flagged this telephoto lens based on a recommendation in some "DSLR essentials" article or another. It still seems like a reasonable choice, but I thought I would throw it out here, because I'm sure I have readers who will have opinions on the subject.

Important caveats:

-- I am not interested in changing the camera body. The Rebel XSi works very well for my purposes, so I am not interested in upgrading to the next level of whatever.

-- As I am not interested in changing the entire camera, I'd like something that is fairly directly compatible with the Canon system. If there's some third-party lens that's amazingly cheap and easy to use, I'll consider it, but I don't want anything that's going to be a major hassle.

-- If there is some other type of lens that I really must have but I don't realize it yet, feel free to make a case for it in the comments (I can hardly stop you), subject to the prior constraints about not being interested in buying an entirely different camera.

I hope that's enough to head off comments starting out "The Canon is a piece of crap, and you really need to ditch it and get a Nikon..." or whatever. Probably not, the Internet being what it is, but I have to try...

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A good choice. However, don't underestimate two things ...

* The difficulty of getting sharp focused shots while handholding a long lens, even with IS. (That 250 lens is roughly equivalent to a 400 on a 35 mm camera, so we're talking a serious telephoto.) With practice, you can certainly get better at it, but it will remain problematic in anything less than bright sunlight.
* The time and patience needed for wildlife photography, which you may already have experienced with your current lenses.

By Scott Belyea (not verified) on 29 Aug 2010 #permalink


The 55-200 is a real bargain for what it delivers.

Some thoughts:

With critters you will rarely want for a shorter focal length. A 250mm lens (400mm equiv. on your Xsi), while likely longer than what you have now, isn't going to isolate a squirrel or small bird 100 feet away. Canon's EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM might be another to consider. A little bigger and more money though. (I'm referring to the about $500 version, and not the 75-300, or the "L" version that was just released last week.) For comparison, most of the critters on my web page were taken with 500 or 600mm lenses.

55-200 is a good focal range for kids sports. Just make sure you push SteelyKid into outdoor, daytime sports. At the long end this is an f/5.6 lens. In darker settings (school gym, stage) you'll really have to bump up the iso to get the faster shutter speeds needed for sports. Unfortunately the f/4 and f/2.8 versions of this focal length are markedly more expensive.

Good news, though. By the time any toddler today is in sports iso 50,000 will be standard, so that f/5.6 lens will do just fine. And by then you'll want the Xsi version 6 anyway.

Hope that is more helpful than not.


I'm not talking about doing really serious wildlife photography-- just taking some pictures of the birds and squirrels and bunnies in the back yard that Emmy likes to chase, and stuff like that. I've occasionally gotten close enough to get decent pictures with the kit lens, but it requires a lot of time creeping slowly forward, or a critter that is really intent on something, and then it's usually at maximum zoom.

You get what you pay for with lenses. You want your lenses to out-last your camera body.

One example of getting what you pay for is the minimum aperture: F4-5.6 in this case. A consequence of this is that if you change the focal length you will have to refocus. In something like the 70-200 F2.8 this is not true.

One hesitation that I have with the 55-250 is that it is an EF-S so you will not be able to use it with a 35mm ("full-frame") sensor (if you ever get to that point). This is a forward-compatibility issue. (Probably not a big deal for you but it is for me.)

I would avoid the super zooms like the 18-200. It is far too hard to maintain good quality on a focal range like that. Do the physics/math.

Both the 55-250 and 18-200 have a DC motor for the focus adjustment. This is much slower, noisier, and worse-all-around compared to USM lenses. If you're shooting a kid running around you need focusing performance and DC motor is not the way to do that. Just a caveat that you *may* not get the pictures you want because the autofocus cannot keep up.

[I have a 40D with 10-22, 24-70 L, and 70-200 L F2.8 if that matters.]

Practice does make a big difference with long teles. Learn to squeeze off the shot, not punch the shutter button. The design of the Rebel shutter button is good for that.

Also I find it helpful to use a monopod. When extended it cancels vertical tremor and when collapsed it makes a nice pistol grip. A few tests will confirm that it helps reduce tremor.

I put an inexpensive ball head on the top of the monopod.

That's going to be a good lens for what you're looking to do. The next step up is going to be either the 70-300 f4-5.6 IS for longer reach, or the 70-200 f4 IS for much better image quality. For me, I'd look hard at the 70-300; I've used the older version of it and it's a nice lens.

I'll also mention the just-announced 70-300 f4-5.6L IS. Despite similar stats, it will probably be a much higher quality than the other 70-300 lens. It looks to be a sweet lens, but now we're looking at $1500. Worth knowing about however.

Colin's point about the focus motor is a fair consideration; the USM motors are definitely much faster to focus. That will be relevant for little birds flitting around the trees too. It's not a huge thing, but if you start using a USM motor, you'll notice when you move away from it.

If you find you want something unusual for a specific situation (maybe the school play scenario), think about renting a lens. I've heard good things about LensRentals, and they're about 25% cheaper than my local camera shop, even accounting for shipping.

the 55-200 gets good reviews, especially for the price. It's definitely not a sports lens, though, for several reasons: slow aperature (f-number) and lacks canon's high-speed focus system (USM). For soccer, 200mm is a short lens. A better choice for you would be the 70-300 IS USM, which gets you some more focal length and USM, around 500-600 dollars. It's a better quality lens in many ways.

The sad fact is that there's no one lens that does it all. If your kid goes in for indoor sports (swimming, ...) then an f2.8 lens is in your future, and those are big dollar investments. Like Colin, above, I have a 70-200 f2.8L. If you want to shoot birds, you'll want a much longer lens, like a 100-400 or the Sigma 150-500. Those are also expensive. Welcome to photography.

Your rebel is a capable camera and will do the job for you until you push the limits. It'll be fine for baseball, basketball, soccer, and so on. It's limited for ice hockey, bike racing, and the higher-speed sports.

A monopod will help, and so will practice, as george says.

I happen to have a canon, but that's historical accident. Both canons and nikons are good cameras, and it's silly to get into a flame war.

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Lens is a bargain on eBay and has for years be considered one of the highest quality optics available. I have one and love it.

Beware of the superzooms (18-200mm). I second the recommendation for the 70-300. Also, consider the 100mm MACRO. It's loads of fun, sharp as hell, and is faster than the 70-300.

I have the EF-S 55-250 with an XSi and I think it's great, especially for being around $200. It works well for taking pictures of critters in the wild, and with the image stabilizer I never have any trouble holding the camera steady at 250 in daylight. At night I really only use the 55-250 to take photos of the moon, and it's bright enough not to need a tripod. The manual focusing ring is also better than the kit lens (meaning you can actually use it). If you feel like spending more for the 70-300 or another one then go for it, but the 55-250 is a fine lens. I certainly enjoy mine.

By Anonymous (not verified) on 29 Aug 2010 #permalink

Once you've made up your mind, I suggest you check out Adorama for price shopping. They have some of the best prices around and also sell refurbished lens at a hefty discount.

I second Cisko's recommendation of the 70-200 f4 IS lens. I've had it for years and it hasn't failed me yet. I picked mine up on Amazon, but you might be able to find them cheaper elsewhere. Cheers!

I want to warn you that this is a slippery slope, because some day soon you will want a lens that costs more than your car (one of those used by sports photographers) and then you will want a higher frame rate body (like 10 per second) to go with it. And since the rule is that a decent, large aperture telephoto with zoom capability costs as much or more than your camera body, you will be a Canon person for life.

A 70-250 (which is like a 400 for 35 mm) is great. You will also want a monopod and a tripod unless you have really bright sun. Then you will want more.

The weakness of the super-zoom lens is that the optics has to deal with more compromises as the zoom range increases. You may or may not notice this, at least at first.

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 30 Aug 2010 #permalink

There was no price in the "important caveats" so I'm going to suggest my very very favorite lens, the canon f/2.8 L 70-200 IS. It costs close to 2 grand, but here's why it's worth it:

It takes absolutely gorgeous shots. Impossible to overstate this. You'll find yourself using it for portraits very very frequently. A lot of pro portrait photographers use it for studio work even.

At f/2.8, you won't have to worry about motion blur, ever. It will even open up a world of low-light indoor photography.

It's nigh indestructible.

It holds its value better than any other canon lens. So if you try it and decide it's overkill, easy to sell.

I would suggest that you check out the performance test results here. The 55-250 looks like a perfectly cromulent lens in all regards, though the above commenters are correct about its use in low light. Of course, coming from the kit lens, you're used to similar apertures and performance in bad light already.

I cannot second the suggestions for the 70-200 f/2.8; aside from the very high cost, it is also so large and heavy that several serious photographers I know find themselves not using it much because they don't want to lug it around. A more moderate choice might be the very well-regarded 70-200 f/4 IS; it's much lighter and "only" four times as expensive as the 55-250.

I can't comment on the lens directly, as I'm a Nikon owner, but I have a 55-200 for my camera, and at full zoom, it tends to be a bit front heavy. Get a small table top tripod, you will be glad you have it, and they're cheap (like, twenty bucks if you want to splurge on an expensive one). I don't know about your Canon, but my Nikon's full 200mm is equivalent to 300mm on a 35mm a film body, so even with VR (IS on the Canon), unless you're taking a shot with maximum aperture and high shutter speed, pictures are going to be slightly fuzzy at full zoom unless you're using a remote to operate the shutter (just pushing the button sometimes introduces enough vibration to fuzz your shot with slower shutter speeds on those really long zooms, even on a tripod).

I actually just bought this lens to take pictures of the Chicago Air and Water show that happened a few weeks ago. I also have almost the exact same camera as you (Rebel XS).

So far, this lens seems to work pretty well. With the rapid movement at the air show, I had some trouble keeping focus locked because the lens's motor is so slow. However, if you're just taking pictures of relatively stationary animals in your backyard, I don't think you'll have a problem.

If I had money, I'd like to upgrade to something faster (wider aperture) and faster focusing (a lens with a USM mechanism). However, I don't have the money, and this lens fills the long-range niche adequately. If you can afford it though, you might want to get something nicer, it would just be more pleasant to use.

I forgot to comment on the IS feature. It's very nice and has an enormous effect on image quality.

That's all. Happy hunting.

I forgot to comment on the IS feature. It's very nice and has an enormous effect on image quality.

That's all. Happy hunting.


I have some old lenses that I would love to use but don't know if they're compatible with any modern camera:

Asahi Pentax Takumar 1:25 135 mm


I am planning to buy canon 60d or nikon 5100 body. Is it possible for me to use my old lens from 35mm film camera N70. I have a Tameron 28-105 AF lens. Also can I use my old flash Starblitz 2800DFNi.