Is That Fancy Lens (or Camera) Really Worth It? - Digital Photography School
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Is That Fancy Lens (or Camera) Really Worth It?

In this post Peter Carey looks at whether it’s worth paying extra for a lens. Have your say in comments!

I’ve always been a firm believer in the motto ‘You get what you pay for’. This has lead me to purchase some fairly expensive lenses, often costing more than I should be spending at the time. My belief was never put in check and I just rode on the assumption that more expensive is head and shoulders above middle of the road or truly cheap equipment.

Recently though I’ve been rethinking this path. Is an expensive lens REALLY that much better than a fairly good lens (I’m still not willing to purchase really cheap lenses)? I decided to run a completely non-scientific, yet controlled, experiment and present you with the result, letting you draw your own conclusions. My hope is to help you make a more sound decision the next time a lens purchase looms on the horizon.

The test is fairly simple. I used a Canon Rebel Xti DSLR with two lenses of approximately the same focal length;

  • Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Approximate retail price – $325

  • Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 L IS USM – Approximate retail price – $2100

I then used the Canon lens on a Canon 5D body (the 18-200 does not work on the 5D body) to see if a more expensive camera body is worth the expenditure. When the 1.6x cropping factor is figured in, the 28mm on the 5D is nearly the same as the 18mm on the Rebel Xti. ISO was kept the same and the cameras’ default metering was used. The subject material was set outside on a slightly overcast day with pretty even lighting. All pictures were taken while seated and bracing the cameras while still being handheld. No attempt has been made to adjust the images out of the camera except 100% crops as seen below.

First, this comparison is with both lenses on the Xti at the same zoom (28mm according to the EXIF information). Click on each image to view the full size image if you wish but be warned, each image is about 4MB.

Xti & 18-200 @ 28mm

Xti & 28-300 L @ 28mm

Next are two tests of each lens’ maximum zoom.

Xti & 18-200 @ 200mm

Xti & 28-300 L @ 300mm

Then I compared the Xti with 28-300 against the 5D and the 28-300.

5D & 28-300 L @ 28mm

Xti & 28-300 L @ 28mm

5D & 28-300 L @ 300mm

Xti & 28-300 L @ 300mm

While this test was not meant to be a scientific, controlled room test, it was meant to be closer to what a lot of people shoot in real life. I have my own conclusions after running this test, but I’m more interested in what your impressions are. Does the more expensive lens give enough quality for the price? Or would the less expensive lens suit your needs? What about the more expensive camera body and sensor? Please feel free to post a comment below to share with others.

Peter and his wife Kim are avid photographers who enjoy travel, portraiture and wildlife photography. They are getting the bulk of their images online, which can be viewed at Hidden Creek Photography. A travel related blog of their past and current shenanigans can be found at The Carey Adventures.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category.

Peter West Carey is a world traveling photographer who now is spending a large amount of time going back through 6 years of travel photo and processing them like he should have to start with. He is also helping others learn about photography with the free series 31+ Days Of Photography Experiments which builds off of the 31+ Days To Better Photography series on his blog.

  • bex

    you can see a difference, but not, in my opinion, one which justifies the huge difference in price.

  • waysiong

    I think you need to repeat the test. To give more credit to the Sigma, truly similar lens with a same body needs to be used for any comparison. Furthermore, it seems that the sigma picture has got some focusing problems, looks out of focus to me.

  • http://aledophoto.com psjunkie

    The Canon lens image looked better. I for one would never use a lens with such a wide range of zoom. I thought the 5D had a better color depth than the xti.

    I have been shooting a 1D MkIIn for several years and recently purchased a 5D MkII. The new 5D is way too slow for sports but captures the most beautiful images. Hands down, better image quality than a 1D MkII.

  • Lawrence

    Your ‘controlled’ experiment isn’t controlled at all.

    For a number of reasons; first you’re using two different bodies. How can you compare lenses, when you’re using different bodies. To get results that are comparable, the same body would have to be used.

    The second reason, is the fact that you’re shooting outdoors, when way too many light sources could be modifying the image results.

    Third, the subjects were not clearly in focus in every shot.

    Those are my thoughts on the subject.

    I do like the topic, I just feel that the setup for the test was skewed highly.

  • http://www.blue-cottage.co.uk Bob

    The more expensive lens gives a slightly sharper image (although the axe isn’t sharp in any shots…te he.). However, for me the extra cost would NOT be justified.
    I suppose if you were taking photographs professionally, then it would make a difference and the more expensive lens would possibly be a must.

  • Sam L

    Yes, interesting test and (in my opinion) a clear result.

    Pro lens comes out on top.

    These results alone would not lead me to buy the pro lens. As another comment mentioned, there are added benefits such as build quality, support etc etc. Also – and for me, most importantly, the pro lens allows you to shoot in many more conditions than the cheaper version.

    I find my photography is constantly limited by lens speed, and while the image quality is a massive factor in this decision, it is secondary to the photos I would capture that just could not be done with the cheaper lens.

  • Jim Fitz

    I liked tis topic. I own the sigma lens used in its test. The canon lens are by far better but its not in the sharpens that you will see it. The sigma is a lot cheaper thats why I got it. I have the canon 18-55mm lens that came with my 400d, ever that is better than the sigma in low light.

    Its in low light that I belive any canon lens is miles in front. I have not been taken real photos for a year yet. But I belive the sigma is a very good lens if your not going to be in low light.

    In the next few weeks I’m going to buy the sigma 120-400mm lens, I am will to pay for the canon 100-400mm L series but with with the sigma been half the price I just can’t do that.

  • Wm. Reed Lovick

    I shoot with a 7D using L lenses capped off with B+W filters and I have used a few Sigmas and Tamrons as well. I feel there is a difference in the image quality with the more expensive glass. In fact, my images speak volumes for the more expensive glass. The 7D, though not as fancy and not a full frame, is all the camera anyone needs.

    A more expensive lens is further proven on the 27inch iMac where my post processing takes place. Granted, I use a tripod for 90% of my shots, but if I can’t count hairs, wood grains, feather sprouts, or pores I’m NOT a happy camper.

    I did compromise recently and bought the Sigma 10mm F2.8 EX DC Fisheye because it took so long for the 8-15 Canon L fisheye to hit the market. The Sigma has given me printable images about 70% of the time. I will also admit a bit a shame when I have the Sigma on my camera. That could be pride more than anything else. Not good to admit but I love the red ring and/or white body of an L almost as much as I love the final images they produce.

    Anybody else feel that way?

  • http://www.sprintertour.com Rob Wilson

    I was fortunate and was able to move up from kit lenses on my Olympus E-620 by getting sponsored by Olympus for a 7-month road trip to national parks. I was so “afraid” of my new lenses – the cheapest of which was $1200 – I did not use them for the first six parks we visited. When we got to Arches National Park, I slapped on one of those babies and it was like a new world. Great clarity, sharpness, detail; made my kit lenses look really bad. In fact, when I first opened up those Arches photos in Aperture, I could not believe I took the photos.

    Could I get similar results with a lens between the kit and the semi-pro lens? Likely. All I know is that having the more expensive lens changed my whole approach to photography…..

  • http://49reasons.com Mike Siesel

    You’re comparing Apples to Orangutans

    Sigma DC lenses fit a crop sensor, just as the “L” fits the full frame on the 5D. Then there’s the difference in focal lengths, and you really can’t compare the lenses when on is zoomed in and the other is wide open. Further there’s no information on the aperture.

    Compare the contrast of the lenses on the XTi and the Sigma appears to have more contrast.

    Compare the “L” on both cameras at 300mm and the 5D shows more contrast.

    I use Sigma DG EX lenses on a crop sensor Canon and they are tack sharp and contrasty because I’m capturing the image in the sweet spot of the lens, just as you are doing with the “L” on the XTi.

    As to the value question, read the review of the “L” on Luminous Landscape http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/lenses/canon-28-300.shtml

    My opinion (since you asked): you’ve got too many dollars and not enough sense. But then I’m frugal.

  • tron

    The difference is huge, but you’re using the wrong stuff to show it. Primes would show the differences better. For zooms though, I was recently comparing the 70-200 f2.8 mk1 to the mk2, both mounted to 5D mkII’s. Even with such strong similarities in build, the difference was insane.
    I’d say the problem is you’re using such (please don’t flame me) newbie lenses. No one would expect any sharpness out of anything like an 18-200. It could only deliver middling performance, no matter what focal length or f-stop it was set to.
    But the original question is whether this stuff is worth it, right? My lenses have paid me back over and over. They are very expensive and very fancy. I doubt Tamron or Sigma could achieve the image quality I need. My answer is “yes” as long as you’re not talking about superfluous L’s like the (eg. 18-200, 24-70, 24-105. That stuff is nonsense).

  • James Watt

    I would have to say the canon lens in the first comparison is the sharpest but the xti shot looks sharper in the comparision with the 5d. I would be interested in seeing a comparision of canon L lenses and canon “budget”lenses ie 70-300mm because there is a huge price difference there too.

  • Sam L

    Interested to know why you think the 24-70 l lens and others are superfluous Tron. Is it because you are talking about the L primes?

    I appreciate the prime won’t be matched in terms of IQ but depending on your requirements, the lenses you mention can be useful if not essential.

    Take any reportage style wedding photography for example, or travel. Or my situation where I want maximum quality over a decent range without the expense of multiple primes.

  • Luiz Eduardo Guida Valmont

    First, I’m sorry for the necro. But here it goes…

    1) When chosing which equipment to upgrade, I tend to go for lens first. First, when you upgrade your body, you can keep your lenses. They last longer. Plus, crappy lenses on pro cameras yield “crappy” photos, whereas good glass on a cheapo camera will yield a far better result.

    2) The crop factor of crop sensor cameras is 1.5x, so when you shoot the Xti at 28mm, a photo with 5D should be shot at roughly 19mm (exatcly 18,666…).

    The results for Xti with maximum zoom pretty much confirm the theory of glass first. The amount of detail/sharpness is noticeable.

    Good job :)

  • http://www.LeslieDeanBrown.com/ Leslie Dean Brown

    I agree with the previous comment. I am investing in lenses. But like everything there is a point of diminishing returns. I am at the point where my photography is far better served by four or five decent prime lenses rather than one fancy zoom worth two grand. What I just don’t like about some of the priciest lenses is not so much the price but the weight. I get less fatigue with smaller lenses and therefore a better end result. One kilogram is just too much lens for me at the moment…

Some older comments

  • Sam L

    December 3, 2011 04:05 am

    Interested to know why you think the 24-70 l lens and others are superfluous Tron. Is it because you are talking about the L primes?

    I appreciate the prime won't be matched in terms of IQ but depending on your requirements, the lenses you mention can be useful if not essential.

    Take any reportage style wedding photography for example, or travel. Or my situation where I want maximum quality over a decent range without the expense of multiple primes.

  • James Watt

    December 3, 2011 12:00 am

    I would have to say the canon lens in the first comparison is the sharpest but the xti shot looks sharper in the comparision with the 5d. I would be interested in seeing a comparision of canon L lenses and canon "budget"lenses ie 70-300mm because there is a huge price difference there too.

  • tron

    December 2, 2011 09:49 am

    The difference is huge, but you're using the wrong stuff to show it. Primes would show the differences better. For zooms though, I was recently comparing the 70-200 f2.8 mk1 to the mk2, both mounted to 5D mkII's. Even with such strong similarities in build, the difference was insane.
    I'd say the problem is you're using such (please don't flame me) newbie lenses. No one would expect any sharpness out of anything like an 18-200. It could only deliver middling performance, no matter what focal length or f-stop it was set to.
    But the original question is whether this stuff is worth it, right? My lenses have paid me back over and over. They are very expensive and very fancy. I doubt Tamron or Sigma could achieve the image quality I need. My answer is "yes" as long as you're not talking about superfluous L's like the (eg. 18-200, 24-70, 24-105. That stuff is nonsense).

  • Mike Siesel

    December 2, 2011 07:34 am

    You're comparing Apples to Orangutans

    Sigma DC lenses fit a crop sensor, just as the "L" fits the full frame on the 5D. Then there's the difference in focal lengths, and you really can't compare the lenses when on is zoomed in and the other is wide open. Further there's no information on the aperture.

    Compare the contrast of the lenses on the XTi and the Sigma appears to have more contrast.

    Compare the "L" on both cameras at 300mm and the 5D shows more contrast.

    I use Sigma DG EX lenses on a crop sensor Canon and they are tack sharp and contrasty because I'm capturing the image in the sweet spot of the lens, just as you are doing with the "L" on the XTi.

    As to the value question, read the review of the "L" on Luminous Landscape http://www.luminous-landscape.com/reviews/lenses/canon-28-300.shtml

    My opinion (since you asked): you've got too many dollars and not enough sense. But then I'm frugal.

  • Rob Wilson

    December 2, 2011 03:39 am

    I was fortunate and was able to move up from kit lenses on my Olympus E-620 by getting sponsored by Olympus for a 7-month road trip to national parks. I was so "afraid" of my new lenses - the cheapest of which was $1200 - I did not use them for the first six parks we visited. When we got to Arches National Park, I slapped on one of those babies and it was like a new world. Great clarity, sharpness, detail; made my kit lenses look really bad. In fact, when I first opened up those Arches photos in Aperture, I could not believe I took the photos.

    Could I get similar results with a lens between the kit and the semi-pro lens? Likely. All I know is that having the more expensive lens changed my whole approach to photography.....

  • Wm. Reed Lovick

    November 30, 2011 02:08 pm

    I shoot with a 7D using L lenses capped off with B+W filters and I have used a few Sigmas and Tamrons as well. I feel there is a difference in the image quality with the more expensive glass. In fact, my images speak volumes for the more expensive glass. The 7D, though not as fancy and not a full frame, is all the camera anyone needs.

    A more expensive lens is further proven on the 27inch iMac where my post processing takes place. Granted, I use a tripod for 90% of my shots, but if I can't count hairs, wood grains, feather sprouts, or pores I'm NOT a happy camper.

    I did compromise recently and bought the Sigma 10mm F2.8 EX DC Fisheye because it took so long for the 8-15 Canon L fisheye to hit the market. The Sigma has given me printable images about 70% of the time. I will also admit a bit a shame when I have the Sigma on my camera. That could be pride more than anything else. Not good to admit but I love the red ring and/or white body of an L almost as much as I love the final images they produce.

    Anybody else feel that way?

  • Jim Fitz

    January 1, 2011 12:08 am

    I liked tis topic. I own the sigma lens used in its test. The canon lens are by far better but its not in the sharpens that you will see it. The sigma is a lot cheaper thats why I got it. I have the canon 18-55mm lens that came with my 400d, ever that is better than the sigma in low light.

    Its in low light that I belive any canon lens is miles in front. I have not been taken real photos for a year yet. But I belive the sigma is a very good lens if your not going to be in low light.

    In the next few weeks I'm going to buy the sigma 120-400mm lens, I am will to pay for the canon 100-400mm L series but with with the sigma been half the price I just can't do that.

  • Sam L

    October 22, 2010 01:55 am

    Yes, interesting test and (in my opinion) a clear result.

    Pro lens comes out on top.

    These results alone would not lead me to buy the pro lens. As another comment mentioned, there are added benefits such as build quality, support etc etc. Also - and for me, most importantly, the pro lens allows you to shoot in many more conditions than the cheaper version.

    I find my photography is constantly limited by lens speed, and while the image quality is a massive factor in this decision, it is secondary to the photos I would capture that just could not be done with the cheaper lens.

  • Bob

    August 12, 2010 07:10 am

    The more expensive lens gives a slightly sharper image (although the axe isn't sharp in any shots...te he.). However, for me the extra cost would NOT be justified.
    I suppose if you were taking photographs professionally, then it would make a difference and the more expensive lens would possibly be a must.

  • Lawrence

    July 3, 2009 07:31 am

    Your 'controlled' experiment isn't controlled at all.

    For a number of reasons; first you're using two different bodies. How can you compare lenses, when you're using different bodies. To get results that are comparable, the same body would have to be used.

    The second reason, is the fact that you're shooting outdoors, when way too many light sources could be modifying the image results.

    Third, the subjects were not clearly in focus in every shot.

    Those are my thoughts on the subject.

    I do like the topic, I just feel that the setup for the test was skewed highly.

  • psjunkie

    July 1, 2009 11:43 pm

    The Canon lens image looked better. I for one would never use a lens with such a wide range of zoom. I thought the 5D had a better color depth than the xti.

    I have been shooting a 1D MkIIn for several years and recently purchased a 5D MkII. The new 5D is way too slow for sports but captures the most beautiful images. Hands down, better image quality than a 1D MkII.

  • waysiong

    June 29, 2009 10:34 pm

    I think you need to repeat the test. To give more credit to the Sigma, truly similar lens with a same body needs to be used for any comparison. Furthermore, it seems that the sigma picture has got some focusing problems, looks out of focus to me.

  • bex

    March 3, 2009 05:04 am

    you can see a difference, but not, in my opinion, one which justifies the huge difference in price.

  • Chris in Abingdon, VA

    December 16, 2008 07:59 am

    Canon lenses always better than Sigma. Not much difference in quality from the XTI and 5D.

    Good post!

  • axel g

    October 12, 2008 04:54 am

    You would need SOME memory if each image takes up 4MB...

    Great post!

  • chudez

    October 10, 2008 02:02 pm

    i would like to suggest a semi scientific test: create a double blind test.

    1. take 10 pictures with each lens
    2. put up the RAW images side by side (including 100% crops) without any post processing but DO NOT tell the audience which picture was taken with what lens.
    3. ask people to log-in, rate their proficiency as a photographer (newbie, competent, pro) ...
    4. ...then let them take a guess which pic was taken with a pro lens.

    i wonder what will happen?

  • Anonymous

    September 14, 2008 08:29 am

    The problem with this review is that you
    are only asking if the more expensive lens
    is worth it in terms of image quality.

    What you pay for in this lens is the great
    build quality (all metal), weather sealing
    and the full frame compatibility (more glass)
    which enables the photographer to make use
    of the large viewfinder of a FF camera.

  • aaron thomas

    August 11, 2008 06:53 pm

    In terms of lens, i felt the difference is minimal, to the extend of unnoticeable for the naked eyes. But a more expensive body definitely has its difference to a cheaper body!!!

  • Saucedo

    August 2, 2008 07:33 am

    alex majoli, magnum photographer, makes amazing images..

    http://www.magnumphotos.com/Archive/C.aspx?VP=XSpecific_MAG.PhotographerDetail_VPage&l1=0&pid=2K7O3R13S3S3&nm=Alex%20Majoli

    he uses point and shoot cameras.

    while you can see the difference, it really doesn't make a difference if you get the point of photography passion+hardwork= great photos

  • Holme

    June 30, 2008 01:12 am

    If the lenses (and not the cams) made this difference in quality it seems like the prices are similar to computer hardware: The last 10% quality cost 90% more.

    Does one want to pay that? I don't but I would if I was rich :)

  • Asianfan

    June 24, 2008 10:41 pm

    I have just bought this Sigma lens, I hope I made a good decision. :) About your questions:
    Everybody should buy what he/she can afford. We,the mortal photgraphers, dont need the most expensive canon or nikon lenses because we cant exploit it 100%. Its the same with the cars:a rally WRC car would displayed good in our garage but we could never exploit it in the city,not like a racer on the race tracks.

  • ditch_azeroth

    June 22, 2008 02:45 pm

    to a poor schmuck like me, i think the $2000 gap is too much. long have i yearned to go full swing canonite, but no more. equipment help, but i firmly believe now that it's the person behind the equipment that makes the "day and night" difference; some people think they are very good at this just because they have white lenses.

    i am officially swept off my feet. i am moving over to the dark side. hereon, i will go nikon. come to think of it, i only need the 18-200 and a 1.4 prime and i'm all set with a d300. i don't think i'll ever be buying another camera in at least five years. now, if only i could get a d300 to begin with....

  • Paul Stewart

    May 22, 2008 06:05 am

    I’m a Nikon (D200/D300) shooter but I’d bet the farm the results would be the same. I think the quality difference in lenses is very noticeable, more so than what the difference between the Rebel and the 5D camera bodies showed.

    I know the 5D would deliver better detail with larger prints due to sensor size, sensor design and mega pixels but for average size photographs up to 8x10 or even 11x14 there is less advantage to an expensive camera body than there is to an expensive lens.

    I have not read every post on this thread but I’d be surprised if someone hasn’t already said: if you’re on a budget, put your money in the glass first. Good lens on an average body delivers better photographs than cheap glass on the best body. "No camera is any better than the glass in front of it."

    So…..yes the better glass delivers better photographs. Is the cost difference between a “good” and “best” lens worth it? This is a personal choice. I think there is a noticeable difference, whether or not it’s worth 2x or 3x the cost depends on what the shooter is able or willing to spend.

  • Michael

    April 9, 2008 12:26 am

    I could easily see the difference between the 2 lenses. The canon was sharper and the colors better. It was hard to tell on the cameras because of the difference in the sencor size. I could tell some difference in the clarity of the print on the bottle. The question is still whether the cost difference is worth it.

  • Larry

    April 6, 2008 01:01 pm

    Just food for thought about the cost of L lenses. I use the 24-70 2.8L and the 70-200 IS 2.8 on my 5D body. As an amateur these were impossible to justify until I consider that a new 4 wheeler or the engine for a new bass boat would probably be as much or more. Like playing a musical instrument a certain level of quality is needed in the instrument, actually a professional can usually do more with less while an amateur needs every advantage. By the way, the high end Canon or Nikon lenses probably hold more value than my friends 4 wheelers and my family gets to share the photos.

  • jrolson

    April 5, 2008 09:24 pm

    As a Nikon user, I own a D100 digital SLR, but I am able to use older Nikon lenses that I can pick up for well under $100 and are far superior in optical quality than many of the third-party lens manufacturers.

    Yes, I lose metering (I use a Gossen Luna Pro anyway...) on the camera, but the quality is much, much better.

    Also, don't forget that the 200 mm f/4 on most digital SLRs effectively becomes a 300 mm f/4. Go out and see how much a 300 mm f/4 lens is price-wise. ;-)

  • ruisc_pt

    April 5, 2008 02:29 am

    There's here 2 questions:
    1 - One is the comparison between image quality (lens/sensor) with all the items you can choose. sharpness colour etc.

    2 - The other one is much more subtile.
    How much effort worth a currency unit for me.., i.e.,

    - Sigma 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 coul be a very hard effort to me to own it and...or...
    - Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 L IS USM can be nothing compared with the "effort" I'll need to do to earn it...
    All the best

  • Danny T

    April 5, 2008 12:48 am

    Thank you for the great article. It makes my decision to buy the XSI much easier as I see the rather limited difference that changes in camera body make. I too, like the other comments noticed a significant difference in lenses though.

  • Ricardo Baez-Duarte

    April 4, 2008 10:41 pm

    Interesting experience and challenge.

    I see the Cannon's image sharper than the other one.

    It's a matter of goals: if you are after good quality and big prints with professional aim, then you need the quality of an expensive lens.

    There is also the question of chromatic aberration which usually shows more on inexpensive lens.

  • Justin

    April 4, 2008 10:41 pm

    I spent some time really looking at the pictures, and I believe that there is a difference between the Canon lens and the Sigma lens. The Canon lens is significantly more crisp and clear. It definitely pays to have the Canon lens. I didn't see much of a difference between the camera body's themselves. Even knowing that the Canon lens is the better lens, I don't know if I could ever justify spending that much money on a lens. I think the Sigma lens just a good enough job for me, but I am just an amateur.

  • Stanycjw, Peter

    April 4, 2008 08:22 pm

    My opinion is the camera body is not the consent,it most of the time is the skill of the photographer.
    Of course, if can afford, I wish to have the best lens (L canon). looking at above photos, to me is that the XTi seems sharper then 5D and 5D cost a bomb compare to 400D.

    But there is no doubt about Canon lenses whether L or Non L. It always sharper.

    I am using a 400Dcame with kit lens 18-55mm (NOn IS), I brought a Canon 70-300mm USM IS. I travel on vacation and found myself keep changing lens and it troublesome specially dusty area. So when I came home, I sold my Canon 70-300mm and brought a Sigma 18-200mm DC OS (Optical Stabilizer) equal to Canon IS.

    But I regretted selling it alway as the Sigma does not gave me the SHARPNESS compare to my Canon 70-300mm at full zoom.

    Well, I have only this Sigma 18-200mm OS DC as my walking lens and I am going to China on vacation with it next month BUT luckly I still own a Canon 10-22mm USM wide angle lens.

    I am not a pro, just hobbies... I will not spent $2100 for that lens. Sigma somehow still worth the money if you are not too ...........

  • Carol Gentile

    April 4, 2008 10:33 am

    I have had several digital cameras including the Rebel, the 20D & the Mark III...as well as a number of high end lenses. It is true that you can get good shots with lower end lenses and less expensive cameras, but when using the higher end products a big difference can be seen in the quality of the shots. I think it is really up to the individual photographer & how much time & money they are willing to invest. For me, I have never been disappointed in Canon's quality. My advice...is to get the best quality that you can afford no matter what that may be if you are really wanted the best shots you can get. That way you will never be disappointed, and you will always have room to grow over time is you choose to do so.

  • EVA

    April 4, 2008 08:53 am

    I am an amateur who is hooked and tinking of buying a new camera and lenses so this article is of interest to me. have looked carefully at the results and read all the feedback. As an amateur I believe the difference is negligable this is what I see. I like another reader would have liked to see them side by side.

  • Rob

    April 4, 2008 08:49 am

    People see what they want to see in alot of cases. LOLO syndrome.."lock on, lock out". The Canon lense is sharper by an "Ant's willie" at that crop and to a vaste number of photographers it is not 7 times better compared to the price. Most of us restricted by our wallet and find the cheaper lense more than adequate and it's interesting to see this comparison. I do get this feeling amongst DSLR owners that loyalty is blind. If it has their brand on it, it must be the great. However, cats amongst pigeons...I like that notion..cheers..Rob (NZ)

  • George Fragos

    April 4, 2008 08:06 am

    The Canon is sharper. The value of that extra sharpness may depend some on what kinds of pictures you take. In my opinion the mechanical quality of a lense is very important. It's easier to judge with manual focusing and zooming where you can feel how smooth the mechanicals are. In the final analysis the photographers skill always trumps equipment.

  • HK

    April 4, 2008 06:38 am

    I found the comparison to be helpful as I am shopping around right now looking to upgrade to a DSLR. I can see the difference between the lenses but its nice to know that the midgrade lenses are not too "bad" and still take nice shots.

  • Mike M

    April 4, 2008 05:48 am

    The Canon lens appears much more crisp, sharp and with better detail. This will be particularly evident in larger prints. There seems to be little difference in the Camera bodies, although there is better detail in the 5D image. I would spend the money on the Canon for my landscape photography, but more than likely be content with the Sigma for snapshot type pictures.

  • Tony Brown

    April 4, 2008 05:10 am

    From what I can see, the better glass is the more expensive one. But the question is whether it is worth it to you to pay out the wazoo for one. I'd have to say 'No' in my case. I'm not a pro, and most likely never will be. As a matter of fact, I haven't picked up my camera in quite some time. In the end, I just can't justify it. Now if I were a sports photographer, I could see spending the money if I had it to spend. Especially since most good shots are from a distance in the sports arena.

  • michaelborg

    April 4, 2008 04:39 am

    It seems that using the more expensive lens worked wonders when zooming in a lot. I'm mainly an aviation photographer so detail is essential when cropping far away shots. also I'm soon changing to a DSLR so this article has been very helpful when buying additional lenses.
    Thanks!

  • Cisco

    April 4, 2008 04:21 am

    From what I can tell the strengths of the more expensive lens shines when you begin to push their limits. In other words at full zoom. However, when you had them down to 28mm it was the quality of the camera that was more of a factor.

  • John K

    April 4, 2008 03:47 am

    Interesting test shots and I understand and appreciate the methodology of your testing. However, in determining sharpness alone a tripod and consistent setup is essential. With handholding there is just too much variations to truly test the equipment itself. Focus variations could be caused not by the glass, but by just a host of other factors. I also agree with the comments about buying glass for other reasons than sharpness. As for me, I go with the most value for my money. The highest price for me is not necessarily the best.

  • Joe Sinkwitz

    April 4, 2008 03:31 am

    The Canon lens did present a better picture, but not that much greater that it would justify the big price difference.

  • Rebecca

    April 4, 2008 03:24 am

    I may be a tad biased here since I own an "L" series lens but it appears that it pays to puchase the 'glass' :-)

  • Harry

    April 4, 2008 03:05 am

    The difference is clear to see but everything depends upon what the photographer want to do with the photos. For snapshots and nothing larger than 8 x 10. The cheaper lens does fine and the extra $1800 is wasted. A pro making his living in photography and needs perfect color accuracy and large blowups needs to spend the money.
    The largest flaw in the testing for sharpness etc., is that you did not use a tripod. No one can hand-hold as well as a tripod can.

  • Hilde

    April 3, 2008 06:14 pm

    I just spent a few days walking around Barcelona with my Rebel XTi around my neck - most of the time with my Sigma 18-200mm attached. And while I would have liked to achieve the sharpnes of the Canon 28-300mm in my shots, my neck is very relieved that it didn't have to hold up all that extra weight!

  • David

    April 3, 2008 09:02 am

    I would like to see reader reaction to a test that does not identify which camera/lens too each picture. I think that many people are influenced by the camera/lens name.

    You could tell people that you were testing a 5D and an Xti together with a Canon and a Sigma lens, but you would just identify the pictures as Camera A, Lens 2, etc.

  • Ivan Hicks

    April 3, 2008 01:30 am

    I would have really preferred you had shown the difference between say an Canon IS lens.. and a Canon L.. we can't tell if the difference is between the manufacturer or the actual lens quality... truth is... regardless to the quality of the lens we wish we had... the L series are out of price range for most photogs.. and an IS lens .. versus say the Sigma... would have been an more comparable comparison...

  • Horia

    April 2, 2008 04:15 pm

    My opinion is that the Canon lens took a better picture than the Sigma. The difference between the bodies isn't that big so it shows that lens are more important than the body. Another thing to take into consideration is the finish of the lens. The canon will live for years and it will be a great lens in 10 years from now. I'm not sure if the Sigma will be the same.
    I do not have the money to buy L lenses but if I had I would buy them.

  • Tigervyh

    April 2, 2008 10:43 am

    Yep, definite quality different between lenses, although at the price different, it all depends on whether you can afford it. For the different body, slight difference only, I think for my self, if only the quality is of concern, then the much cheaper Xti would suffice. The matter of different bodies, though, I should think we would need to consider the functions also... but on a totally basis of price, the XTi would be a good enough body for anybody not trying to impress the camera gods!

  • Peter Carey

    April 2, 2008 05:55 am

    WOW! Thanks everyone for sharing your opinions. If anything, that was one of the main purposes of this post, to generate discussion that might further helps people make a decision.

    To address some of the points brought up;
    - No, this was not meant to be an all inclusive, scientific test. It was meant to be a bit of real world use (which is why I didn't use a tripod, as I don't half the time).
    - There are a lot of items not addressed in this test, including weight which is a HUGE factor in this case. The XTi with 18-200 is about 4lbs lighter than the 5D, battery grip and 28-300. I used the 5D, flash and 28-300 lens at an awards ceremony last Monday for about 4 hours and man was that a workout. I had the Xti along as well as backup and I barely noticed it there. However, it was having problems with the low light and not focusing as fast.
    - Build quality is very important. Holding these two lenses first notes the huge difference in weight. Second is quality, we've only had the 18-200 for a year now but it's stood up to a two week safari in Africa and a month long trek in Nepal. It's doing well.
    - Image stabilization is a key factor. We plan to purchase the IS version of the 18-200 soon and that should help at the longer zooms as my wife did experience some blur on her last trek in Nepal. But she was much happier with the lighter setup.
    - With this test I wasn't attempting to prove anything, only presenting what some images look like with similar equipment.

    Lastly, I purposely withheld my opinions as I wanted to make this an open invitation to draw your own conclusions, which you have done quite well! It seems like there is enough interest that another test would be a good idea. Something of a walk around with both lenses while still keeping settings the same in both cameras.

  • Arun

    April 2, 2008 05:28 am

    Hey Peter, You are really right. We photographers are becoming too religious. A lot of times, it may not really be worth shelling out 3 to 5 grand on a simple lens like a 28-300 that too 4f or something. Others have almost reached the mark set by market leaders. Two things are cheating us. Firstly, The complete combination of lens and camera (like canon and canon) always work a little better. Secondly, our mind and senses are playing favorites not so deliberately. They always want to believe a particular kind is better. I can almost hear the Booooo-ing. Ha! Ha! But, believe me. If we give an expert a set of pictures to pick from, with no knowledge of the equipment to the chooser, the choice will be mixed. like olympus, Sigma, nikon, tamron, canon and so on.... I am not saying in that order or something...

    But it is the Love of it. Most people seem to be in love at least.
    :-)

  • Robin Ryan

    April 2, 2008 03:51 am

    This article is one of the sillier ones I've seen here on DPS.

    The article doesn't even go into what actually makes the difference in a 'fancy' lens compared to the cheaper counterpart, which is versatility, speed, bokeh, etc. etc. etc.

    I first bought the Tamron 17-35mm because of the good reviews. I quickly got annoyed with its poor IQ and bummer AF speed, resold it, and bought the Canon 10-22mm (2-3x the cost), which is a FAR superior lens.

  • Kim S.

    April 2, 2008 03:03 am

    I'm with you Paul.

    i dont shoot for a living, but i do own a D300. i own a 80-200 2.8D (the 2 ring version) it cost me $800.00. Its about 8 years old, but for a tele zoom, its crisp, will last for another 5+ years, and is very sturdy. Its worth every penny.

    the new Nikkor 70-200 2.8 VR is twice as much with new features like vibration reduction. if you were to invest in it, you'd get 15+ years, no doubt.

    i guess my point in all this is spending the money for good glass means its going to last and give better IQ.

    ahhh, if i could only get a sharp 18-80 2.8 with VR!

  • Thomas Omectin

    April 2, 2008 02:58 am

    I do a lot of reading and I always appreciate these comparisons. I, myself, would never buy two overlapping lenses to see which one performs best for my needs, so thank you for doing for me something that I would never do. Criticizing these comparisons is of no real value. There is no perfect comparison and fault could be found with any of them. For myself, I purchased an Xti and used the kit lens and I almost immediately wanted better. Somebody wanted to give me $100 for that lens, so I got rid of it and purchased an EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM. What a difference! But I still wanted better, so I decided to start purchasing lenses that I would ultimately keep and just plan to change my camera body at some point. With that, I traded out my EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM for an EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM. This one is a keeper no matter what Canon camera body I ultimately upgrade to. I have just purchased the EF 135mm f/2L USM. Another pretty expensive lens however, at f/2, I can now purchase the two extenders relatively inexpensively, where I only lose a stop or two and compromise almost no quality and that still leaves me with a pretty fast lens at two additional zoom levels. That gives me a pretty full range of coverage minus a macro (which I really don't care much about and if I change my mind, then there's always extension tubes or another lens purchase.) All with the build quality of the L series. Lenses that can handle being banged around are of no real issue to me because after spending $1000+ on a lens, I handle my lenses like pieces of fine porcelain. But it’s still nice to know that my lenses are of this quality should something unforeseeable happen. I would probably not be as careful with a $300 lens. I have taken some shots with that kit lens that I could mix in with the shots I've taken with the L lens and there is no detectable difference. But I have more needs than just that little window provided by that kit lens. So I would have to say that versatility is the end all reason to purchase the more expensive lenses. Without comparisons like these, I would be clueless in the area of the lens purchases that I make. I am an intermediate amateur/hobbyist.

  • montag

    April 2, 2008 02:39 am

    At the end of the day, the only difference between the images aren't ones that the non-photographer is going to spot.

    If the public can't tell the difference between the $325 lens and the $2,100 lens, there's no point in going with the $2,100 lens.

    There's obviously a point of diminishing returns, and once you get above 'crap lenses', it hits pretty quick. Unless you have money to blow, there's no point in getting a lens beyond the one that's 'good enough'.

    As photographers, I think that we get drawn into nit-picking comparisons that don't have any effect on real-world situations far too often. There's no point in it.

  • Sean

    April 2, 2008 01:59 am

    I see a big difference in the first two pictures, BUT I see a big difference between your first 100% crop of the sigma @ 300 on the Xti and the 2nd shot with the same camera and lense.

    So NO, the difference is not that large and the first two images are INACCURATE comparisons. It's as easy as being slightly out of focus.

    If you are at the end of the zoom then the L glass is incredible, but I don't think the price hike constitutes a buy.

    I would be much more comfortable spending my money on the full frame 5d -- also the color and contrast differences are very nice on the 5d!!!

    -sean

  • gshroti

    April 2, 2008 01:57 am

    thank u for the generalisation of the lenses. i wud rather bifurcate (seeing your results) to 28-80, 28-135, 70-200 and 100-300 for the best utility of the optics and value of money. 28-300 are extreme ends and hardly tolerable. thanks.

  • Paul LeGrand

    April 2, 2008 01:25 am

    Thanks for the study. I shoot for a living, currently with a Nikon D300. I looked at the D3, but it's hard to amortize the cost over a few years. I'm sure that a year or two from now, chip technology in the "prosumer" D400 or whatever's in the pipeline, will surpass the D3's amazing capabilities.

    Lenses, however, are a different story. An old, non-IS version, Nikkor 300mm f2.8 with the silent wave autofocus motor is an awesome lens today, and could easily have a 15 year service life. Get the best lens you can afford, especially in the telephoto ranges where image quality really differs.

    By the time my D300 has gone from primary camera to backup camera, and then to hand me down camera for my son, my Nikkor 300mm f2.8 will still be in my field kit.

  • Nicole Truly

    April 2, 2008 12:05 am

    The more expensive lens was much much better in my opinion. However...it looks like the less expensive lens isn't focusing at all. I have to wonder if there is any user error involved in the test. I would never buy a lens that has the inability to focus at all, and can't imagine why sigma would sell one.
    More then likely there are some cheaper alternatives to the more expensive lens, even if they are not in the exact range, that are just as good. It's a pretty limited test, and doesn't go into the other alternatives in price.

    There are many great lenses in the $600–$1200 range.

  • Matthew Miller

    April 1, 2008 11:53 pm

    I'm not sure you can necessarily generalize from this specific test to the conclusion that more expensive is *always* better quality.

  • Sime

    April 1, 2008 11:52 pm

    Ha!... See, I thought you were going to leave yourself out in the dark and have all these amazing ideas and nothing to capture them with!...

    Crumbs Indeed!!

  • Dan

    April 1, 2008 11:49 pm

    I suppose you are right, Sime. I do have a camera, but I was talking more of upgrading and the like. Going from what I have to what is considered "better" really isn't as feasible to me as it once was. I see your point, however :).

  • Jared

    April 1, 2008 11:48 pm

    I see a difference - but not $1800 worth of difference. I am of the opinion that with some of Canon's higher end lenses you are paying more for the following rather than improved image quality:

    1. NAME (Canon)
    2. Weather Sealing
    3. Lens Construction Materials - metal vs. plastic housings

    For what I shoot and my lack of pixel peeping - the Sigma would be more than fine. I'm not going to fund Canon R&D to the tune of $1800 more dollars. No siree.

  • Mitch

    April 1, 2008 11:46 pm

    Thanks for the test...good job.

    I think unless you do some big prints, the average 4x6 or 5x7 user will not see any difference.

    Mitch

  • Sime

    April 1, 2008 11:43 pm

    But, Dan... What about when the inspiration comes and you don't have a camera... what ya going to do them!?

    :)

  • Dan

    April 1, 2008 11:31 pm

    I used to have my heart set on a 5D, 70-200 f/2.8L IS, a few speedlite 580EX's, etc.

    Recently, however, I'm more focused on the photography than the gear which helps produce it. I can have all the high end gear I want, but if that spark of inspiration isn't there, well...what's the gear for?

  • Greg

    April 1, 2008 11:23 pm

    I definitely see a difference. The Canon lens is much crisper. In the end, it comes down to what you can afford. Everyone would love the best of the best but not everyone can afford that so you have to work around your own budget.

  • Cariarer

    April 1, 2008 08:51 pm

    I found that "You get what you pay for!" is mostly right. There are exceptions to the rule. Especially with camera lenses. Try to use the Canon 85 1.2 L II on a XTi crop camera and on a 5D full-frame camera. There is a distinct difference. It's not the pixel peeping, but the whole image what makes this lens special on this camera.

    I do own this combination and also the 35 1.4 L is a very good choice. But the 50 L 1.2 is not supposed to be "worth" it, since it lacks this "magical" property and has seemingly some focus issues. So expensive is not always the best.

    Buy the best you can afford (not necessarily the most expensive). Give it a try out, or read up on the subject in question before you buy.

  • DKCN

    April 1, 2008 06:39 pm

    I think the point about this comparison is how the images will look like under normal conditions, meaning, not perfect conditions. So i don't think there is much need to critic what the experiment lack.

  • Keijokka

    April 1, 2008 04:06 pm

    1) Use open aperture
    2) Compare with diffirent focal length
    3) Compare quality near image corners

    Still comparison is quite hard here because 18-200mm and 28-300mm are really totally two diffirent kind of lenses to product.

    Still good thing to make these kind of comparisons and think how much do you really wan't to pay and for what.

  • Stephen

    April 1, 2008 02:18 pm

    I didn't read through all 43 comments, so im sorry if this is a repeat.

    But what aperture(s) were these shot at? A wide open cheap lens is CERTAINLY going to have less quality than a wide open expensive lens. Were these done at f3.5 or f11? That's a huge detail that was missing from this review, and a very important one if you ask me.

  • Luis Cruz

    April 1, 2008 12:45 pm

    Assuming you're lens specifications are the same (take, for example, the Sigma 24-70 2.8 and the Canon 24-70 2.8L), sharpness and color are only some of the reasons to pick a lens. While still focusing on image quality, some other factors include the amounts of CA (chromatic abberration), flare, and distortion or pincushioning.

    Aside from image quality, you've got focusing speed, the amount of noise the focusing motor makes, and build quality. In a way, ease of use factors in too (e.g. full-time manual focus vs. having to switch from automatic).

    Basically, image sharpness isn't your only concern. There are so many other factors that determine how well your lenses will perform in day-to-day use

  • Daniel

    April 1, 2008 12:30 pm

    I'm sorry but the question is as vuage as the test itself.

    It's all relative to who you are, what you shoot and if you crop your photos to a large degree etc... so there is no correct answer.

    The extra $1800 is going towards image stabilisaiton, better build quality, improved apeture and longer range.

    If I was a professional hand holding my camera at 200mm the extra $1800 expence would pay itself off in no time.

    As a keen ameture, I'm happy to spend the money on other stuff and live with a bit extra pp cropping, or increase the ISO to get that extra stop in apeture.

  • James

    April 1, 2008 12:27 pm

    I completely agree. Thankfully I've only put a few hundred into lenses, but I found that I can hardly tell a difference between them for most shooting purposes. I won't be buying a new body/lens for a long time. Money is most effective when spent on lighting, lenses are far less important.

  • Robin

    April 1, 2008 10:55 am

    Keep in mind that photography is a hobby for some people. Hobbies can be expensive. For those with a big budget, they will buy the best. Everyone wants a fast AF, low noise, sharp photos with nice contrast, an easy to use camera with features not buried in menus, etc. I am not a professional, but if I had the budget for a 1D mkII I would've been the first to pre-order one when they were announced. For those on a tight budget, you have to settle for the consumer models.

    It's like comparing a Mercedes S Class with a Ford Focus. Both will get you to the destination, but your experience will be different. Consumer bodies and lenses can capture the same subjects, but trying to achieve a similar look won't be as easy. You might miss a shot because your camera has fewer FPS or your lens might have a slower AF, or you might just get more noise at ISO 1600, or you will have to use a flash indoors because your lens has an aperture of 4.5 - 5.6.

    No matter what the product, people pay more for quality and conveniences. Is it worth it? Yes to some of those who can easily afford it, maybe for those who can squeeze it in their budget, and no to those who have a tight budget.

    This question should really only be answered by those who would seriously consider buying or have the budget to buy pro gear.

  • Tomw

    April 1, 2008 10:42 am

    Wow. I'm surprised that the different body will actually produce a significantly different color saturation.
    So basically, the L lens was considerably more accurate with detail, but that is to an extreme. Both have good detail for a standard picture. Not many people crop the photo SO much that they want a single strand of fabric.

    Good test. I will definantly keep it in mind for the future.

  • Puplet

    April 1, 2008 09:20 am

    Sharpness isn't the entire story though - one of the reasons I buy the most expensive glass I can afford is because the more costly glass tends to exhibit less distortion, have faster apertures, be better built (not such a biggy with me), less prone to CA and flare, have a shorter minimum focusing distance...

  • Barney

    April 1, 2008 08:48 am

    I read a very good, detailed article several years that addressed just this subject. Their scientific analysis showed that the more expensive lenses are built to better standards (better quality control) and offer better protection against water intrusion.

  • Paul

    April 1, 2008 08:34 am

    A few important points:

    1) The improvements on more expensive cameras is generally in there ability to perform at the extremes/less favourable conditions. That's why ISO 1600 on my Pentax K100d looks nothing like as good at ohhh lets just take ISO 1600 on a Canon EOS-1Ds.

    2) Higher quality lenses are sharper across more of the range, and perform better on things like chromatic aberration/purple fringing etc.

    It's a matter of context and usage. I don't NEED a £2k lens and a £5k body for most of my shots, but the pros need to minimise any risk, maximise the flexibility and quality-range of their products because shots (and time) are their living.

    The difference is not 'oh my jesus god look at that' different it is more subtle than that, but we should be careful to take a handful of shots as anything like a fair comparison of quality.

    Interesting article though

  • Mission

    April 1, 2008 08:21 am

    My opinion is, the 5d is so much clearer and vibrant, I believe that it does make a difference with the quality of the equipment, but the finances need to be considered in any transaction.

    As with the differences with the lenses, I see the main advantage of the canon lens lies with its detail at longer focal lengths. The difference seems minimal with smaller focal lengths but still noticable.

    Worth the money? I would buy the sigma and a normal DSLR (400d) as I am tight! My opinion.

  • Tyler Robbins

    April 1, 2008 08:19 am

    Some lenses you can compromise on, my favorite ooh it's cheaper lens is the tamron 28-70 xr di ... it's a cood lens, not an L, but better than cheap canon lenses. Will I get the canon L some day, yes, I will. I also opted to buy sheaper L lenses, but it sacrifices speed, I wish I had a 16-35 2.8, but hey I have 17-40 4.0 and I can always upgrade. I just like the build and feel of them. The otherbrands use more plastic and they feel cheaper, and I like stuff that is built to last. It's all about compromises. All of my large format lenses are older than me, but they work, bigger imaging area helps.... these tiny sensors demand the sharpest of sharp.

  • Jesta

    April 1, 2008 07:05 am

    There is a minor difference, but since one lens is image stabilisation and the other isnt and as your said you hand held the camera, that to me says that its not really a fair test, since one would counteract your very minor vibration and the other wouldnt, also one is from a different manufacturer and has different lens properties, meaning different glass used and different amounts of internal lens so for me its a void test. Not only that but this is a photo at very close range, while the majority of shots are distanced, so in one you might be able to get the individual strands of material but would that really be of benefit to a photo of the landscape where no such detail would come into play or sports photography where again the need to see the hairs on a players leg isnt necessary. A good idea but without using the same manufacturer and same lens abilities it doesnt really prove anything other than image stabilisation works. Perhaps repeating it with a 300mm and 300mm L lens set on tripods with a remote shutter would be more accurate and give the benefits of the test.

  • Joe

    April 1, 2008 07:00 am

    It's almost gotten to the point that, unless you are printing a 20x30 or greater image... there isn't any justification.
    But I still buy the best. Why is that?

  • Kevin Helton

    April 1, 2008 06:55 am

    It is better, like others have said, at sharpness and color rendering, especially at the ends of the zoom spectrum.

    First, I believe more often than not the person who will spend $2100 on a single lens plans on making money with the fruits of that lens thus making the lens more of an investment for future profit rather than a burden of price-to-quality battle. When you are trying to please clients, yes the sharpness and color matter.

    What's getting me is the lack (only mentioned once so far) of talk about build quality. In the "real world", lenses take a fair amount of abuse throughout their lives. We throw them in the bag or set them on the ground. In these kinds of environments, the lens that costs 6x more will hold up 100x better. This means you may be saving money in the long run. And, they will hold value much better than the "pretty good" lenses. So when you decide you've had enough with Canon and decide to enter the amazing world of Nikon, you can sell these lenses for a decent amount (Please, Canon comment was a joke :)!).

    That's what I says.

  • sime

    April 1, 2008 06:53 am

    I love my couple of more expensive lenses... I can see why people might say "why'd you pay the same amount for two lenses as I paid for...a secondhand car?" people that don't really... understand it... I don't know - I sound like a proper stuck up photographic twit, but, you know.. the difference between a 18-55mm kit lens and a 24-70L lens... the light I get out of my 24-70, I just find it totally stunning.. THAT SAID... I have taken a few [as said by others] nice shots with the old 18-55... Anyway... Yeah - i'm all for higher end lenses!

    [not to "dis" the kit lens - it does a good job]

    Now - someone lead me to the 5D MkII please!!! ;-)

  • themovie

    April 1, 2008 04:41 am

    it's better, but not $2,000 better

  • Bruno Rodrigues

    April 1, 2008 04:39 am

    I know the intentions were great, but you've made a couple of small mistakes that could compromise this "test" ;)

    - it seems you didn't use a tripod. This would help to always cover the same subject and keep the white balance and overall light more consistent.
    - without a tripod, you have photos at 200mm and 300mm, but with shutter speeds of 1/50. Unless you have rock hands, you'll shake and de-sharp the image. IS could help a little bit, but not that much.

    Now as we're testing sharpness, these are some "facts" I learned (and some even from this site :) ):
    - On the XTi, being 1.6x crop, anything above f/11 will loose sharpness, due to difraction caused by the size of the pixels.
    - On the 5D, which have bigger pixels, one can go up to f/16 whilst keeping the photo sharp.
    - all lenses start being sharp, in average, 2 f/stops above the maximum aperture. (I have no L lenses, but I can hope those may only require 1 stop to get better)

    Thus, for the 28mm side, both are f/3.5, thus you shall lock it in manual at f/7.1 (or f/8), with a fixed shutter speed (at least 1/30). According to the EXIF, they seem to be at f/6.3.

    For the 200mm, one lens is f/5.6, and two stops up becomes f/11, on the limit of the XTi. The other lens is f/6.3, where two stops above is f/12, above the limits. This means that the non-canon lens will never be 100% sharp, ever, on the XTi. Also, the shutter should be at least 1/200 or less.

    For example, the beauty of the cheap 50mm f/1.8 is not because the glass is amazing or that it's excellent at f/1.8. The two stop increase requirement means we get a lens that is sharp all in between 3.5 up to f/11 - in other words, always sharp!

    In conclusion, I see no reason for amateurs/hobbiest to go to L glass just for the sharpness (I won't go unless I go rich and move to a two or one digit canon camera). I would also stay away from lenses with f greater than 5.6, specially on cropped cameras. Of course on a full sensor, the improvement of a L lens in terms of colour, contrast, glare and the corners are really important, but that's another story.

    Just as a reference, my lenses are:
    - KIT 18-55mm - great at f/8-f/11. For the price difference (body vs. body+kit, always get the kit if you are a starter)
    - EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 IS USM - best for bang. 300mm + IS at f/8 is amazing!
    - EF 50mm 1.8 - essential to move to the next step of learning: "what is a DOF"
    - EF 28-105 f/3.5-4.5 II USM (the sharpest one I saw so far, for the price, not counting the 50mm)
    - Tokina 12-24mm aspherical - beats Canon 12-22 on the non-fisheye quality.
    - recent (as of today): EF 28-135 f3.5-5.6 IS USM (seems less sharp than the older 28-105 :( )

    Anyway, thank you for this test. We're anxious for your own conclusions.

  • Andrew

    April 1, 2008 04:04 am

    There are a lot of advantages to having L glass, but before dropping a couple grand on a lens a person should really consider what they are going to use that lens for. Is the person shooting professionally and making money off of their images? Are they making large prints where the difference in sharpness will be noticeable? Because chances are if the answer to these questions isn't a definite yes, then what do you really need pro glass for? Are you even going to notice the difference? You don't need expensive equipment to make stunning images.

    Excellent test. While not scientific it might make someone consider whether they really need the best equipment or not.

  • Stephen

    April 1, 2008 03:39 am

    I can tell the difference; whether I would PAY the difference or not, well, we'll have to see when I make the six figures I would need to justify purchasing a $2100 lens for a hobby. :)

  • Peter Bryenton

    April 1, 2008 03:06 am

    Please could we see a lit candle in a darkened room as the comparison image, at "wide open" aperture, or at least a shot into a bright light source with some shadow detail in the foreground (classic contre-jour)?
    Lens flare reduces quality in all kinds of ways, so we ought to see the expensive glass scoring here.

  • Klaidas

    April 1, 2008 02:50 am

    Jamie:
    Because it's 28-300. Well, actually, I'd rather buy 100-400L for a wide zoom range lens, but some people want to sacrifice quality in order to have just a few (or just this one?) lens.

  • landon

    April 1, 2008 02:46 am

    "Why would you pay $2100 for a lens that’s f/3.5-5.6?"

    That was the best comment so far!

  • Fredrik Steffen

    April 1, 2008 02:46 am

    The test doesn't reveal all. You didn't shoot in situations where glare, chromatic abbreviation, vignetting might occur. Neither did you use the IS and USM. There's a reason why the L lens costs quite a bit more then the Sigma.

    Having that said I'm still a poor student and will do as good as I can with the cheaper third-party lenses, which is working out pretty good for me so far.

  • Jamie

    April 1, 2008 02:14 am

    Why would you pay $2100 for a lens that's f/3.5-5.6?

  • ramin

    April 1, 2008 02:13 am

    @Bo: As such, the difference between a Tamron 17-50 and Canon's similar 2.8 isn't all that large. Comparing a prime and a zoom in sharpness is fairly useless.

    When comparing the two lenses, we're also taking about entirely different animals. Sharpness and color contrast are just one issue as Tim also pointed out. With the L you also get IS USM, which significantly improve usability.

    When buying more expensive equipment build quality and all those issue become a factor as well.

    On the camera side the differences are more subtle, but focus points, processing power, the variety of controls and such give more options. However, using a more expensive camera requires more experience in trying out the different options to really utilize the full power of the more expensive purchase.

    But again, build quality raises its head. Weather and dust protection, materials and such may be a factor. One thing I've noticed is that the 300D (Rebel) offers a shutter that will last 30 000 shots or so, but the 30D gives over 100 000 (numbers Canon says they should last).

  • James

    April 1, 2008 02:02 am

    The test didn't take advantage of what makes the L lense expensive: the image-stabilization (IS), the ultrasonic motor (USM), and the lower aperture at the wide end.

    An aperture of 5.6 at 300mm on a super-zoom like that is incredible. To give an idea of how good that is, the prime 300mm f2.8 L lense is almost twice its price. (The prime 300mm f4 L lense is half its price.) Only Canon offers a 28-300mm 3.5/5.6 lense. All others I can find are 3.5/6.3. This means that, with the Canon lense, you can take shots with a faster shutter speed without having to increase the ISO (which adds grain).

    Canon's USM motor makes focusing blazingly fast. I have a Tamron 18-250, and it takes a second to travel from inf. to the min. focusing distance. I've used a Canon 70-200, and it takes almost no time. This makes a big difference if your subject is moving or likely to move/change. Also, in my experience, the AF on Tamron lenses gets confused more often than on Canon L series lenses.

    Finally, IS is a feature that often adds about $600 to the price of a lense. IS lets you shoot at shutter speeds up to 3 f-stops slower than without IS. If you're handholding your camera, IS is incredible. 28-300 is a typical range for travel photography, in which case you're probably handholding most of the time. In this case IS is probably worth it.

  • Robin

    April 1, 2008 02:01 am

    Peter, I forgot to mention that I have since purchased to 85/1.8 for indoor basketball to discover that my XT's autofocus leaves much to be desired. I also bought the 70-200/2.8, which is now my favorite lens because is truly tack sharp and has wonderful contrast. Even my snapshooting friends noticed the difference and are amazed with the results. I can only imagine how great my photos would look with it paired up with a 40D!

    When people see the comparisons, and realize what potential their camera or lens has, they will want to make the switch if they can afford it, and dream about it (or save up for it) if they can't.

    Peter, have you considered comparing the results of a 5D with 28-300 with an XTi after post production?

  • Jason

    April 1, 2008 01:55 am

    It appears there is a difference in DOF or focus points between the images... if you look at the wooden deck surface, especially in the first two images, that can't be attributed only to the quality of the lens', but must be in the geometry of the compound lenses. I'll have to look up the datasheets on the lenses and do some math (after blowing the dust off that old textbook...)

  • eos_dude

    April 1, 2008 01:47 am

    [Quote from GEli] "Like night and day on the first set, but the differences in the second appear to be due to in-camera settings and processing. The contrast and saturation settings on the second image are very, very different (or the light changed in between shots)."

    I agree completely with this assessment. Take a look at the red part of the cap in the 5D image. My first question was what camera settings are you using? This is a completely irrelevant comparison if you're not shooting in RAW and post-processing the images identically. I have no basis to assess whether you were or not so I have to go with the visual clues which definitely speak to the differences in cameras settings

    The colors on your 5D images (second set) look like a your saturation is way too high which is blowing out your low contrast details in the image. It also might be contrast as well but it's hard to say given the lack of exposure information for each image.

    Unscientific doesn't have to mean an apples to oranges comparison.

    The comparison is a good way of addressing the questions but this test needs some more stringent guidelines to allow for comparisons to be made.

  • Jono

    April 1, 2008 01:45 am

    The difference is quite noticeable. In fact, the lower less expensive lens, at high zoom, just doesn't appear to cut it.

    Unfortunately, the price difference is as remarkable as the difference in image quality.

    I guess that's where you draw the line between a simple hobby and an avid passion or a profession.

  • Tim

    April 1, 2008 01:45 am

    While I read the non-scientific disclaimer, I still take issue with the fact that this is just testing for sharpness and color rendition (which the L is clearly winning at, but that's to be expected). At 28mm, the differences aren't big... but testing the lenses outside in various conditions would likely reveal other issues, like CA and flare, in the cheap lens.

    When you buy a $2000 lens, you're paying for significantly more than just a tack-sharp image--you get superior image quality in a variety of ways, along with (generally) wider apertures and better build quality.

  • Robin

    April 1, 2008 01:44 am

    Thanks for sharing your results! A picture is worth a thousand words! I have been debating the cost efficiency of pro lenses and cameras for the last 1 1/2 years since I came back to photography after a decade of just shooting snapshots with compacts. I decided to start with a consumer camera (the XT), and purchased the 17-40 L and 50/1.8 to get started. My thought was the glass was more important. You can only sharpen a photo so much in post production to give you the results you want, if the capture was slightly blurry not due to motion. I have been seeing the limitations of my XT in terms of sharpness, contrast, AF speed and accuracy in low lighting, noise reduction, and overall quality of the photos. I am considering the 40D now, since I think the difference in price between the consumer and prosumer models is worth it to get quality shots. Can photoshop even the playing field? That would be interesting to see. I am still debating between the 40D and 5D, but I think the latter might be to slow to capture sports, and is another $1K on top. As for the pro bodies (the 1D models), I think you have to either be a professional at the top of your game, or just have a generous budget to justify the price. I would LOVE to buy a 1D Mk III to shoot my kids playing sports, but I can't warrant paying an extra $3K.

    It probably all boils down to your standard. One person might be buying an XTi with the Sigma 18-200 to replace their point-and-shoot camera to take family and vacation snapshots and thinks their pictures look fabulous. Others might be professionals who are perfectionists and while not turning to the medium format for various reasons, go for the the 1Ds Mk III. Then there are hobbyist/enthusiast who LOVE photography and want to get the best their money can buy. If you are in the middle like myself, and can afford a 40D or 5D coupled with pro lenses, I think it would be worth the money to capture images closer to your expectations when viewed right out of the camera.

  • Peter Carey

    April 1, 2008 01:43 am

    Thanks for the comments. Keep 'em coming!

    As for the EXIF, if you click on each image you will get a full size image. That image has the full EXIF available.

  • Steve Crane

    April 1, 2008 01:40 am

    The L lens does appear to deliver more sharpness and more saturated colours. Whether the price is worth it or not is a personal choice. Any image taken with the consumer grade lens you bought because it was cheap will always be sharper than the one you couldn't take because you were still saving for the pro grade lens. With that in mind my philosophy has been to purchase affordable, but not necessarily cheap, lenses to cover the range of photography that I want to do, and then to gradually replace those lenses with better ones as I can afford them. My desire to replace them with better lenses is not driven by a desire for improved quality, as much as by a desire to have faster lenses that perform better in extreme conditions such as low light.

  • GEli

    April 1, 2008 01:31 am

    Like night and day on the first set, but the differences in the second appear to be due to in-camera settings and processing. The contrast and saturation settings on the second image are very, very different (or the light changed in between shots).

    I'd be much more interested in border quality comparisons than centre-quality, as that's where a good lense will really outperform a cheap one. The good lense will also perform better at wider apertures over the other. May I ask what the EXIF data is?

  • Bo

    April 1, 2008 01:28 am

    Wow, thanks for this experiment! I've been wanting to see some comparisons like this for awhile, but I don't yet have the finances to purchase a high-end lens for comparison. Haha.

    In the first comparison of the two lenses, the Canon lens is obviously sharper and offers more detail. Of course, for the difference in price, I'm sure many beginning photogs are willing to sacrifice that extra bit of sharpness and go with a lens that's reasonably affordable. I think it all comes down to personal preference as to whether or not that extra detail is worth the money.

    Personally, it's hard to beat a sharp image. I sold my Canon 35mm f/2 to buy the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8. While I gained a broader focal range, I sacrificed an extra bit of clarity and sharpness that's just not present in my current shots. I sorely miss it and am now saving up for a sharper (more expensive) Canon zoom.

    I was also interested in the 5D vs. the XTi. Though the detail seems to be about the same from both cameras (with some slight softness from the 5D, and I'm assuming this is a result of the crop factor), the richer colors is where the 5D shines. Of course, you can always made your colors richer in pp, so...

  • David Barto

    April 1, 2008 01:25 am

    I saw that the Canon lens had a much sharper image immediately. It was that dramatic.

    The difference between the lenses on the 5D is even more interesting. The Canon lens seems to have better color. That could have been shifting light however. Dpreview has covered both lenses. Canon http://www.dpreview.com/news/0401/04012901canon28300is.asp, and Sigma (for Nikon) http://www.dpreview.com/news/0712/07121901sigma18200d40.asp.

    Is the 5D superior to the Xti? I don't know.

  • Klaidas

    April 1, 2008 01:24 am

    If you open up those 100% crops in different tabs, and then change from the cheaper to the more expensive one, you can clearly see the difference.

    Is it? Yes. Isn't quality the reason we started using DSLRs in the first place?

  • Torgeir Frøystein

    April 1, 2008 01:21 am

    As for me, I can see no significant difference between the lenses. Some difference in sharpness on the text maybe, but not enough to justify the price hike.
    Between the cameras there seem to be more of a difference, wich should be no surprise, since they are so different in sencor size, but not as much as I would expect.

  • vs

    April 1, 2008 01:20 am

    Looks like the difference in bodies isnt so big like in glass...

  • rick s

    April 1, 2008 01:16 am

    In my opinion you can definitely see a quality difference between the sigma and the canon. The canon lens appears to be much more crisp and clear than the sigma. Of course if you can't afford the hefty price tag of the canon lens than the sigma one would have to suffice.
    As far as the different cameras to me it looks like the xti took a better picture.

  • techne

    April 1, 2008 01:10 am

    Can you put the shots side by side, please?

  • Paul Harrison

    April 1, 2008 01:03 am

    Interesting - but to be fair you need to compare like with like. Using one lens with the 5d and the other with the Xti is not a straight comparison. How do we know the difference is due to the lens and not the camera?

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