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12-14-2006, 07:20 PM   #1
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cheap lenses vs expensive lenses

I'm trying to learn about lenses. I don't see any $600 or $900 lenses being in my budget any time soon. But I would like to understand better what I'd be getting if I did find a spare $600 bill lying around.

If you get what you pay for, what do you get when you pay more? And can anybody point me to a site on the web that has comparisons, say, showing pictures taken by a low-end lens and a more expensive lens? I not interested in knowing whether Sigma is better than Tamron is better than Pentax. I assume they're all capable of making good lenses, so I'm wondering, in what ways would a Sigma 70-300 that costs (say) $600 be better than a Sigma 70-300 that costs $200? I don't know if Sigma MAKES a 70-300 that costs $600, but you get the idea.

Will

12-14-2006, 08:18 PM   #2
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it pretty much down to the f2.8 thru out the range factor as opposed to F3.5 going down to F5.6..

sigma dont make a fancy 70-300 and the EX range of "better" glass jumps to very high prices indeed.. forget 600 dollars for long range ones.. he he

fast action.. low light.. pro sports.. big heavy.. if u need one u need to spend the money.. normal mortals dont.. my sigma 70/300 apo-dg produces suberb images.. and its usable..

todays mass market lenses are very good.. pro lenses are very expensive.. u buy one cos u need one and mostly cos it earns u money..

there is no noticable magic better image wow factor.. the expensive stuff has a wider working range as regards its abilities to take pictures..

thats my take on the subject.. others will differ no doubt..

trog
12-14-2006, 08:39 PM   #3
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Lens hunting?

There are links to many sites that compare lenses, do a search here or over at DPreview. Generally, what I have learned in the last 1 1/2 years of DSLR experience is to read a lot of various posts and view EXIF on photos in places like PBase that have listings by cameras and lenses. There are some real values out there in some of the older lenses, and some new ones such as the Zenitar 16mm. The high dollar items usually are in the f1.4-f2.8 range that give you some speed at low light. The Limited's are superb, but pricey. Read and observe what others are using is probably the best way to determine what is good and why it is good. I started with the kit lens and now have about 17 lenses, some very good and some so-so. If you do your homework, you will not have many surprises and will get what you want/need.
12-14-2006, 08:58 PM   #4
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Heh, I'll bite on this one.

I'm known to tote around $10 lenses that are not only a great value, but they're great lenses. I got my SMC Takumar 50/1.4 for free essentially - it is commonly lauded as one of the best 50mm lenses around.

So the dollar value in and of itself isn't necessarily what dictates how 'good' a lens is. Some important considerations in lenses:
'Speed' - the ability to shoot with very wide apertures. Compare the typical price difference between a Pentax-A 50/1.7 ($50), Pentax-A 50/1.4 ($150) and the Pentax-A 50/1.2 ($350). They are all exactly 50mm lenses, all manual focus, and all from the same era, but the prices go up as the aperture gets wider.
'Boke' ('Bokeh') - the quality of the out-of-focus areas in a photograph. This is very subjective, but there are cases (take the A50/1.7 compared to the A50/1.4 for example) where the quality of the OOF areas is more or less desirable. IMO Pentax does an excellent job in this regard (as opposed to most - not all - Sigma, Tamron, and other 'third-party' lensmakers.) All of my Pentax lenses suffer from bright-ring boke and transverse/longitudinal chromatic aberration - but to a greater or lesser degree. For me, reducing these flaws makes a lens more valuable.
Sharpness - I'll leave this one to people who care about it. Generally, the only lens I want to be sharp is my macro and *maybe* my ultra-wides. And even then it is more about maintaining corner details than anything else.
Build quality - Cheaper lenses are, generally, cheaper.

For me, those are my most important qualities in lenses. I am willing to put a dollar amount to get them, too - my all-metal Limited lenses with specially-designed elements are a great example. Is the $800 31mm Limited more than twice as 'good' as the $300 FA35/2? Is the $200 FA50/1.4 infinitely better than my SMC Takumar 50/1.4? I think the answer to both questions is no.

12-15-2006, 04:49 PM   #5
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Just to get you started, look out for these possibly benefits you can get from better (often more expensive) lenses:

More resolution (sometimes pointless if it exceeds your CCD/film - think limited lenses), sharpness (appearance of sharpness - some people like soft, others sharp, think Tamron, limited lenses and other 3rd party), colour (Pentax often good at this - A50/1.4, many zooms), drawing (how the lenses draws edges and details), speed (how much light it can make use of - 3rd party highspeed lenses), more focal length range (-> large zooms, actually often the opposite way round due to massive trade-offs in image quality, although primes are still cheaper), bokeh (pentax traditionally good at this), less chromatic aberation, less distortion (avoid consumer zooms), less vignetting, more contrast (nikon lenses), more tonality, less flare, less ghosting, larger image circle, extra functions - IS, tilt/shift, close focussing, wide and telephoto, and that '3d' look.

But the law of limiting returns also applies. In truth, if you've got a good eye, your art can sail above any poor quality lens. For the rest of us (me included), we rely on spending more money as the only way to better our photography, and we just like discussing the peculiarities of each lens, much like discussing wine, food, hi-fi's, ogg vorbis versus wmapro, porsche versus bmw

Duncan.
12-15-2006, 06:05 PM   #6
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think the word "pentax" equates with good.. think "third party" equates with not so good or in extreme case bad..

think after all this is a "pentax" forum..

trog
12-15-2006, 09:31 PM   #7
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QuoteOriginally posted by trog100 Quote
think the word "pentax" equates with good.. think "third party" equates with not so good or in extreme case bad..

think after all this is a "pentax" forum..

trog
Naah, I think most forum members would disagree with that.

I love my Tamron 14/2.8 and the Tamron 28-75/2.8 holds up well against the Pentax at 1/4 the cost. The Tamron 90 Macro is excellent, I've seen some great statements about the Sigma 17-70, and I've seen some excellent shots with the Tokina 90 Macro.

I think with all brands, it just depends on what you want.
12-16-2006, 08:47 AM   #8
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QuoteOriginally posted by trog100 Quote
think the word "pentax" equates with good.. think "third party" equates with not so good or in extreme case bad..
trog
try some of the K mount takumars and repeat this response.. the non-smc lenses.

12-16-2006, 12:42 PM   #9
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"Naah, I think most forum members would disagree with that."

my comment was said in jest.. i forget i was once told "irony is wasted on americans".. he he he

i only have one pentax lens.. an old smc 1.7 50mm manual prime in mint condition.. i use it as my "yardstick" to compare all other lenses with..

a mistake really cos it made a mockery of the pentax kit lens.. but then again so does my tamron 18 to 200 super zoom down around its shorter end.. the poor old kit lens has been ebayed..

trog
12-17-2006, 04:55 PM   #10
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Irony, generally, is wasted on fora. Rather hard to tell the difference using the written word as opposed to the spoken in this case.

Last edited by Arpe; 12-18-2006 at 01:05 AM.
12-17-2006, 05:34 PM   #11
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QuoteOriginally posted by trog100 Quote
my comment was said in jest.. i forget i was once told "irony is wasted on americans".. he he he
(snip)
trog
You're right, I didn't get it. Perhaps because I've seen it stated before in all seriousness!
12-17-2006, 10:00 PM   #12
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"You're right, I didn't get it. Perhaps because I've seen it stated before in all seriousness!"

absolutely.. which is why i made mockery of it..

trog
12-18-2006, 08:01 PM   #13
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You've gotten good advice here, but I'll add my specific recommendation; a 135mm prime. I've had 3 of them and they were all good lenses, and they started at $5!

I found a Sears 135mm f/2.8 (fully manual) at a camera show and bought it straight away for $5. Later at the same show, I found a Takumar (by Asahi Pentax) 135mm f/2.5 manual lens for $40. I also bought that one. The Sears lens took great shots and it was fun using a $5 lens. I sold it to a student for $5. The Takumar takes nice shots as well, but later I bought a Pentax SMC-A 135mm f/2.8 (auto aperture, hence the "A") for $75 at a camera shop and I use it much more just due to the auto aperture. While some of these lenses show up in reviews as being soft wide open and such, since you're using them on an APS-C sized sensor, you're getting essentially a 200mm prime and you're using the "sweet spot" center of the optics. You can find may variations of these 135mm's for a song, and they're fast, fun, and very useful. Great for indoor events in low lighting.

Here's a shot with the Pentax SMC-A 135 f/2.8:


Here's another with the Pentax SMC-A 135 f/2.8 at an NBA game taken 20 rows up at the opposite end of the court:


Here's a shot from the $5 Sears lens:


Anyway, that's my story and I'm sticking to it.
12-18-2006, 09:48 PM   #14
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Original Poster
Thanks to everybody who responded to my question. Very informative.

Loved those pictures, Russ (in) Houston. Wish I could take a basketball picture like that with my K100D.

Now, I have a sort of follow-up question. I have a new K100D. I rather like it. I have the kit lens + the Pentax 50-200, + the 1.4x Tamron converter. Here's my question: If I came into $1000 tomorrow, would it make more sense to spend it on (say) two decent $500 lenses, or forget lenses and upgrade my camera to (say) a new 10D? In other words, does it make more sense for someone like myself to be spending money on glass or money on cameras?

If you ask, what kind of photography am I interested in? I'll answer that I'm interested in general photography, kids, dogs, school events, but that some of the photography I most enjoy wants a telephoto lens, especially birding.

This question is not entirely hypothetical. I am certainly not considering upgrading from the K100D after having it for only a few weeks. But I might start saving up towards a new camera in a year - or I might think instead of buying a new lens. Which would make the bigger improvement in my photography?

By the way, let me save you the trouble of giving me the BEST answer to my question by saying that I know it myself: namely, that I can learn a lot with the K100D and should before bothering to spend more money on another camera body. I understand. But I'm trying to ask a question not about myself, but about the equipment.

Will (in Dallas)
12-18-2006, 09:59 PM   #15
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That 135 prime is a very impressive lense.
Thanks for the tips.
Will keep an eye out for one.
Nice shots by the way.
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