Monday, April 06, 2009

Getting the Most Bang for Your Bucks

A hard (and expensive) lesson to learn, leastwise for me, has been to spend my money where it really counts. I'm talking about money spent on gear.

My photography equipment is okay. It's not great. It's not the best. It's just okay. It gets the job done, but just barely. If I had to go back and rethink how I spent my money for photographic production gear, I'd probably spend it differently. (Note: I'm as invested in video and video post-production gear as I am in photography gear. That also goes for continuous lighting as well as strobes. So my gear investments are kinda spread out.)

As a non-photographic example, let's look at stereo equipment. I've known many people who have spent a bunch of money on the best amplifiers on the market. Then, when it came to buying things like speakers or tape or CD players, i.e., the input and output devices, they decided to cut corners. When it comes to audio gear, your money will probably be best spent when it's used to buy top-of-the-line speakers and input devices rather than top-of-the-line amps. Ideally, of course, buying top-of-the-line everything might be best but, unfortunately, we can't always afford the best of the best for all the components of our systems. So, we spend where we think we'll get the most bang for our bucks, that is, by spending on (what seems like) the most important parts of those systems. In this case, the amplifier.

When it comes to photography, my opinion is that your money is best spent on glass. That's not to say a good camera isn't important. It is. But it sure seems to me that an awful lot of people are foaming at the mouth over each new iteration of dSLR the Big 2 camera-makers release while ignoring the importance of other components of their dSLR systems, most importantly, glass.

I shoot with a Canon 5D. (I also have a 20D body as a backup.) In my opinion, I'd get way more bang for my hard-earned bucks by spending on good glass rather than, say, a Canon 5D mkII. Why? Because in spite of things like the processor upgrade and the many more megapixels loaded into that 5D mkII, great glass will improve my images dramatically while a new 5D mkII will improve those images to some lesser extent. More so considering so much of the work many of us produce will be reduced to 72 DPI for web use.

I shot for Hustler on Friday. A friend came along to assist. He brought some of his glass for me to play with, specifically, a Canon 24-105 f/4 "L" and a Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS "L." Both are lenses I had never shot with before. Frankly, I think the images were more improved using these lenses with my 5D than they would have been using a Canon 5D mkII with lesser glass. Optimally, those "L" lenses would produce the best work on a 5D mkII. But my budget won't allow for that. And that's why when I next spend on gear, it's going to be on glass, not on a camera body.

Incidentally, I really loved the 24-105 f/4 L. That's not to say I didn't like the 70-200, I did, but the 24-105 really wowed me, leastwise, for the type of work I generally shoot. The 24-105's auto-focus was near instantaneous and spot-on! Yeah, it would be nice if they made the 24-105 with a f/2.8 minimum aperture instead of f/4. And I would have liked a bit more focal length. But I'm thinking the 24-105 is a perfect, all-around, utility lens suitable for almost everything I shoot. How come they don't make an "L" version of the 28-135? That would probably be the most perfect utility lens for me.

The pretty girl in the two pics above is Tori from last week's shoot. (Not Friday's Hustler shoot.) Or was it two week's ago shoot? Damn! I must have ambrosia or whatever it's called. Anyway, I made the B&W conversions using the Channel Mixer method. (Channel Mixer tool with Monochrome box clicked and Red=40, Green=60, Blue=0 as starting points. Adjust to taste.) Composition could have been much improved on the first one-- I had Tori flipping her head quickly to the side, on a count of three, to get that hair movement. But I didn't nail the composition. Oh well. I kinda like the image anyway. No Gaussian Blur was abused used in either image.


Sean Mc said...

I know lots of people that have serious issues with the 24-105 that ended up going with a 24-70 instead.

I made the choice for the 24-70 myself.. so don't be afraid to try that option too..

I'm sure 1 24-135 f2.8 L IS would be great, but weigh a ton!

Peter Wine said...

I knew that I had a big event to shoot this past weekend, and while generally I enjoy shooting with a Tamron 17-50 f/2.8 and Canon 70-200 f/2.8 combo, this weekend I wanted a bit more.

But the amount I was to receive for this assignment was still, well, small, so I couldn't just go out and buy stuff.

So I made a compromise. I rented the Canon EF-S 17-85 IS f/4 - 5.6. I might have preferred the Canon 24-105 IS f/4, but I needed something I could afford to buy a lot sooner. It was more of a test drive.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that the focus at times was REALLY slow (when you get less light in, it takes more work, I understand that...) and there were times I was really frustrated with how long it took to focus.

However, the problems were outweighed at the event I was shooting by the ability of the IS lens to help get shots that (without a tripod, and they are hard to carry around at a gala) would be all but impossible in the shutter range I was shooting.

I've heard people say that I should be able to get sharp focus at 1/60 on a short lens (like say the 17-50 2.8) But that hasn't been my experience. Maybe I'm getting shaky in my old age. :-)

This weekend, I felt that I was able to let go of some technical concerns I've been carrying around recently, and concentrate a little more on what was happening.

It felt good.

Stephen Haynes said...

I agree with your friend 100%.

When I started shooting available light opera rehearsal photography, I quickly had to upgrade from consumer glass, so I purchased Canon 17-35mm, 28-70mm and 70-200mm, all f/2.8 "L" zooms, and I've never, ever regretted the significant cost. I shoot with that 28-70mm lens probably 90% of the time. Yeah, it's a little short (I drool over the 85mm f/1.8 "L" prime, but that's for another economy and another time). But, oh the quality of the images! With my 50D, I regularly enlarge to 20"x30" with wonderful clarity, and in fact am showing a 20x30 print shot with my 20D using another "L", the 28-300mm IS, which simply could not be done with anything short of medium-format film.

You can't get the 28-70mm any longer -- the 24-70 is nearly as good, as I understand it. Buy it -- you won't regret the investment.

jimmyd said...

@StephenHaynes, I'm looking at a used 28-70 f/2.8 L on Craigslist. Seller wants 700. Thinking of offering 600. that would be a great price! This lens is not an IS lens. (I don't think they make the 28-70 L with the IS.) But, according to some reveiws I've read, it's a very sharp lens. True?

Stephen Haynes said...

The 28-70 is super sharp, in my experience (I've been shooting with mine since 2001 and have never had to send it back -- that's tens of thousands of clicks). It's sharp well out toward the corners, too. No IS, but since you're working with strobes that's a non-issue. I've never felt a need for IS. It focuses very, very fast, even in low light. One critic doesn't like the fact that it bellows when zooming, which might increase sensor dust, but that's also not been a problem for me w/ the 5D. (Looking back, I see I said I had a 50D -- nope, 5D like you.)

jimmyd said...

@Everyone, A friend suggested I take a look at the Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 SP XR ZL Di LD.

I started reading reviews and I was astounded at what people are saying about this lens. The vast majority say, with the exception of build quality and focusing noise, this lens outperforms the Canon 28-70 f/2.8 L as well as the 24-70 f/2.8 L in many ways, most notably optically. And I do mean "vast majority." BTW, these folks aren't saying the build quality on this Tamron sucks. They're saying that it seems somewhat cheaper than the Canon L glass in the same focal length rages. (It is a mostly plastic lens after all.)

Considering a new Tamron 28-75 costs about 1/4 of what a new Canon 24-70 L costs, I'm thinking, "Hmmmm..."

Anyone? Anyone? Buehler? Anyone?

Stephen Haynes said...

Re Tamron vs. Canon, I've got no good advice. I'm afraid I'm the guy who always buys factory-warranted parts; I buy HP ink cartridges for my printer; etc. I've never owned Tamron; people I know who do have complained about build and durability issues. I'd say, if you can get that 28-70 "L" from the Craigslist guy, that's your best choice.

jimmyd said...

@StephenHaynes, I hear ya, dude. And your view of things like Tamron lenses on Canon (or Nikon) cameras is shared by just about everyone EXCEPT when it comes to this, particular lens. And remember, they're not comparing this lens to Canon consumer glass, they're comparing to Canon pro glass!

Anonymous said...

Good call Jimmy!, I mean Camera bodies come and go but glass stays with you, regardless if you buy a new body! for me the order is: Lighting, glass, camera :).

Wishing you the best


Gary said...

I owned the Tamron 28-75 for 3 years, used it 90% of the time but then one day it decided to start going error 99 on me when my battery was low but I didn't want to spend money right then, well during a shoot a month later it went error 99 permanently. So I bought the Canon because I needed that focal length is my 90% lens in the studio.

So having had the canon now for the last couple months I can say a couple things.

The Tamron was plenty sharp, efficient took good pictures as does the canon, in fact in terms of what they produce there isn't that much difference.

That said the canon feels far more substantial, it focuses much faster and somewhat better in low light (the 30D isn't a great low light camera to begin with).

So basically I guess I am saying I wasn't unhappy with the tamron but for some reason now that I have the canon it just feels a bit more right (a lot heavier) but just more solid.

jimmyd said...

@Gary, Don't know how much you shoot so you using the lens 90% of the time for 3 years doesn't tell me much about its longevity.

@Everyone, Since the reviews for this lens are so overwhelmingly positive, with most people saying it exceeds the optical quality of Canon's 28-70 and 24-70 "L" glass, I went ahead and purchased one from Amazon. The price was right: A little under $400 with free shipping. I had some gift certs from sales commissions from the blog so I ennded up getting the lens for just over $300.

Worse case is it becomes a walk-around lens or, if I don't like it much, I Ebay it or sell it on Craigslist for almost what I paid for it. I was gonna go ahead and get that used 28-70 off Craigslist but it sold to another buyer. (For more than I wanted to pay.) I'll let everyone know what I think of the Tamron when I get my grubby hands on it and try it out on some pretty girls.

Now I'm back to drooling over Canon's 135 f/2 "L" prime. And I'm gonna get one! There is no aftermarket lens (that I know of) that competes with the 135 "L" prime for optical quality or in any other way. So, when I decide to buy, there will be no Tamron, Tokina, or Sigma interloper.

Gary said...

haha fair comment, I think I have shot eh 50,000 or more frames in that 3 years, I would put myself in the still learning category so I have a bad habit of overshooting so 300 shots in 4 or 5 hours instead of a cool refined 150-200 so yeah it was abused quite a bit that is for sure.

Like I said I think it is a great lens and until it started to go belly up on me I wasn't planning on changing anytime soon, but its breaking coincided with tax return and since I was so happy with my 70-200 2.8 canon I got off of craigslist once the tamron failed I thought it was a good time to go canon on the other lens.

Stephen Cupp said...

All this is true I just have one thing to add. Don't buy something based solely on price because you'll end up having to buy it twice.

Anonymous said...

Ooh, nice blog!

You should come and visit sometime. ;)

Anonymous said...

Hey, I was the guy that told Jimmy about the Tamron and loaned him my lenses! I just thought I should get credit for it. LOL

jimmyd said...

@Anonymous, Yep. U b him.

WillT said...

I'm late to comment on this one, but...

I traded my Canon 24-70 f2.8 L for the 24-105 f4 L because I needed the range. In terms of image quality, it's as good or better than 24-70, and even though it's slower, I've had no problem focusing.

That said, I've pretty much given up on zooms for my work, much preferring what I get from the 50 f1.4 and the 85 f1.2, both of which are vastly superior to either of those zooms.

I do continue to use my 70-200 f2.8 L though, as there's really nothing quite as good in that range.