Q + A // camera vs. lenses


People ask me quite frequently what kind of camera/lens I use, usually during their quest to find out more info before making a camera purchase.  My short answer: Buy a great lens.  If you have a DSLR already, and you've got a lower end kit lens, ditch that baby and purchase yourself a nice lens.  Lower end DSLRs aren't too big of an investment (in comparison with higher end, more pro DSLR's). For example a Canon Rebel EOS T3 runs about $275 and a Canon T3i runs around $500, which is pretty decent when you consider that you can pay around 3 to 4 grand for something like a Canon 5D Mark III, which is an amazing camera, but definitely more geared for professional photographers.  

I started this blog using a Canon Powershot, which was just a little digital point and shoot that probably took worse photos than any iPhone these days.  Once that broke I finally caved and started using the hand-me-down DSLR that my Mom had given me:  A Canon EOS 300D from about 2003.  I used this camera with the kit lens for about, eh, a year before I started wanting more from my photos.  I really wanted the shallower depth of field (subject in focus, background totally out of focus and blurry) and asked a photographer friend what I needed to get that look.  He recommended I get a lens that was f/1.4 or f/1.8, which meant that the lens would have a very small depth of field.  He suggested the EF 50mm f/1.4 lens, which runs around $400.  A similar lens, the 50mm f/1.8 lens is much cheaper and produces similar photos, but I chose to go for the higher end lens (against my more frugal urges), because I knew the higher quality lens would be a) more durable, and b) give me better, sharper images.  I bought that lens in fall of 2009 and I've been using it almost non-stop ever since.  I've dropped it a few times and had to send it in to get fixed, but I still use it every day.  It's the lens I use for all of my outfit photos, food photos,  and pretty much everything else.

I used this lens for a long time on my old 300D camera body, which, by the time I was using it in 2009/2010, was a very out of date DSLR.  But the difference in my photos between my old images with the kit lens and the images with the 50mm was really quite amazing.   Would the difference in my photos be noticeable if I had chosen to buy a fancier camera instead of the lens?  Probably not.  A good lens on a bad camera will probably always produce a better image than a bad lens on a good camera.  In the winter of 2010 I upgraded to a Canon T2i, and really, my images didn't change all that much.  I gained more megapixels, much better low-light photography, and the option to shoot video, but daylight images didn't really change that much from camera to camera.

Here's an example.  The first photo was taken with the kit lens (28-80mm), the second was taken with the 50mm.  Now, neither photo is great to begin with, but I like the second one way more.  The image color is better, the image is sharper, the depth of field is shallower.  To me, the first looks like it was shot with a point and shoot, and the only difference is the lens.  Same camera, same location, same time.

So, long story short, if you're thinking of making the leap to shooting with a DSLR vs your old point-and-shoot, consider buying a cheaper camera body and using your money to buy a great lens.  If you buy a Canon T3i and a nice lens, you're still going to be spending less than if you spend all your money on a super expensive camera body.

*I use Canon as my example because that's what I shoot with, but other camera manufacturers like Nikon also have similar lenses/bodies