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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.

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Peter West Carey
Peter West Carey

leads photo tours and workshops in Nepal, Bhutan, Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles and beyond. He is also the creator of Photography Basics – A 43 Day Adventure & 40 Photography Experiments, web-based tutorials taking curious photographers on a fun ride through the basics of learning photography.

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