Elizabeth Halford Photography {the blog} » photography in plain English

What about Lens Envy?

Today’s question from Rebecca sure is a good’un!

Q. “I know it’s all about the photographer and not the camera and that I shouldn’t get camera envy as much as I do, but what about lens envy? Right now I have a Canon 50d and a 28-135mm zoom and a 50mm f/1.4 and I would like to upgrade to the 5dmarkii and get the kit lens and a 50mm and a 35mm. Should I upgrade the lens first or the camera first?”

{First, my tangent}

Yes. It is ALL about the photographer, not the camera. We face huge pressures to upgrade our cameras and I get lots of people wanting to know why their camera doesn’t ‘take good pictures’. And so we have already well established that it’s not the camera, it’s what you do with it that matters. That said, lenses are a whole ‘nuther issue which really should be discussed. A Canon 350d, 400d, 450d all have the same sensor. Same guts, just a facelift. The only benefit I experienced when upgrading all these different models was that the screens got bigger which does make a difference. But anyway the sensor is the same so unless you’re considering a major jump (500d to 5d), don’t sweat the small stuff.

Lenses, on the other hand, have everything to do with taking good pictures. I don’t think the statement ‘my camera doesn’t take good pictures’ is a valid one, but I do think you can easily say ‘my lens doesn’t take good pictures’. On the technical side of lenses, Peter has been posting here on Techie Tuesdays with all sorts of lens distortion explanations and I’ve posted quite a bit about the numbers and letters on lenses and what they mean.

Personally, I have always had major lens envy and in the past 2 years, many lenses have come and gone. I recently sold up and bought my first L series lens (the top-o-the-line) and it hasn’t left my camera for a moment. Not even my beautiful 50mm 1.4 has seen the light of day. The thing I’ve noticed in all this lens jumbling is that when you jump from the kit lenses (that come with your camera) into the higher-end lenses (which don’t even need to cost hundreds more) you see a vast difference in quality. After getting my 50mm f/1.4, the 50mm f/1.8 (‘nifty fifty’) seemed like I was looking through plastic. And when I jumped from the 1.4 to the L series 1.2, I again experienced an amazing jump in quality.

Bottom line? Yes, lens envy is a perfectly reasonable and valid experience. Get the best you possibly can, even if it means spending less on your camera.

{Now my answer}

So to answer your question, Rebecca, I would say that you already have a beautiful prime (50mm f/1.4). I love that lens. Your 28-135mm is a great mid-range which has the great benefit of IS (image stabilizing) and I would never buy another zoom without IS. If I were you (and this is completely from my own POV, without knowing what experiences and preferences you have), I would sell what you have (keep the 50mm), and buy the 5D if that’s what you want. And, Honey, that camera’s kit lens is the ultimate lensing pleasure! You can get the 5D with the 24-105mm L series f/4.0 as the kit lens. This lens was so sublime that I borrowed it for a wedding and that week sold up all my primes to buy my own. It’s beautiful at 24mm, beautiful at 105, sharp as a tack, heavy as a brick (I love heavy gear – it gives me muscles) and fast as anything. The 50mm 1.4 will still give you better bokeh, but as an everyday lens, the 24-105 is what I would recommend to anyone who can get their hands on it.


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  • http://www.rcablogtography.com rochelle

    This helped out a lot. Thank you E! My 50D came with the 28-135mm as well and I used that to start with , then I got the ‘nifty fifity’ I love love my 50mm f/1.4. It never left my camera either (unless I was shooting macro) . I am waiting on my First New “L” lens to arrive (I ordered 2 days ago) the 17-40mm . I am very excited. I, like you E, will prob never take it off either. Now this 50mm L lens coming out sounds pretty neat!
    Thank you , always, for your posts!!!

  • http://www.becciames.com Rebecca Ames

    Thank you so much, Elizabeth, for answering my question so thoroughly. I am so excited to go out and buy my first ‘L’ lens and now I can do it with confidence. Now, I just need to save up some money, but I can’t wait to see the difference.
    Now,do you ever give critiques?

  • http://www.thelifeinyouryearsphotography.blogspot.com Jaye

    Hi,
    Great post. I’m both glad to hear that I’m not the only one with constant lens lust and disheartened to learn that it’s not going to end any time soon. A follow-up question — how/where to you sell lenses when you upgrade? Do they hold their value on resale?
    Thanks,
    Jaye

  • elizabethhalford

    critiques = maybe! Depends on what you mean! :)

  • moximom

    Love this perspective!  I have the 24-105 and it has been my go to for everything!  I have found how to back up and shoot full out and get that beautiful bokeh we all crave even at 4.0.  So glad to see that someone else loves it as much as I do!!!!  Was contemplating the 50mm 1.2 but think I will just work with that I have for now.  Thank you, thank you!

  • Kathrene

    Hey Elizabeth, I know this article was published a pretty good while now, but I only recently
    discovered your website and facebook page (boy am I late) and if I could give you a huge hug filled with awesomeness and butterflies I would…. You are super amazing, I love you photog style and
    how easy going and fun you are. That aside (I have tones more to say but I’ll
    save it for later – I’m now hooked on your website)…I was wondering….I have been
    looking to upgrade from my kit lens 18-55mm (just recently upgraded from the 50mm
    f1.8 to the 50mm f1.4) to an L series zoom lens (tight budget but big
    dream), I have been looking at and reading a zillion reviews on the 20-700 f4 IS,
    however having read your response to Rebecca the 24-105mm L
    series f/4.0 seems pretty good too and it’s cheaper. So what do you think would
    be the better option? Sooo looking
    forward to your response……

  • elizabethhalford

    Hello Kathrene I’m so sorry for the delay. I’m probably too late to weigh in on your purchase, but I’d definitely say if I had to choose between the two, I’d choose the 24-105. When you get a 70-200mm some day, get the 2.8 version because it’s lifechanging :)