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Thread: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

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    spetsnaz26's Avatar
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    choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Hi, I am an ameuter and I plan to buy a SONY A57 camera(APS-C, hence 1.6x crop) and wonder what else I should get to go with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. Candidates include Sony 35mm f/1.8 SAM DT, 50mm f/1.8 SAM DT, and the 85mm f/2.8 SAM, but other suggestions are certainly welcomed.

    Previously I had a NEX5 camera (same sensor) and mostly used the 18-55mm kit lens. I primarily do natural photography during field trips and also everyday shooting that may involve portraits at parties and 'walkabout' street scenes. My experience shows that the ubiquitous kit zoom is good enough for general purpose work, but even for me it is often painfully obvious when the lens is just too slow or, at 18mm, has way too much barrel distortion.

    Hence I think there is a need for a fast, affordable (<$400), and high quality prime lens that preferably covers both 'expansive vista' and 'everyday' needs. If impossible, perhaps one that can do either pretty well. I'll appreciate it if some simple explanation can also be given about how choice of focal length comes into play here. Thanks.

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    I don't know anything about the quality of your choices among Sony lenses, but I am partial to my 35mm prime on my 1.5 cropped sensor. I use it more often than my three other lenses combined. It works well for informal portraits in tight settings, such as parties, when a more typical, portrait focal length is too long. It's great for walkabout street scenes and, of course, many kinds of landscapes. A particularly attractive feature is its ability to focus close up at about 10 inches.

    When you consider your first prime lens, you might want to think about how your choice can affect the focal length of future primes to purchase. I had the good fortune to have a knowledgable friend recommend a set of focal lengths that approximately double in length as they get longer. So, my four lenses are a 12-24mm zoom and three primes: 35mm, 85mm and 180mm. I have been using the set for over 5 years and miss having "in-between" focal lengths only in very rare, specific situations.

    Best of luck making your decision!

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    spetsnaz26's Avatar
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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Thanks for the advice. I guess for serious enthusiasts here SONY cameras are really a joke, right?

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by spetsnaz26 View Post
    Thanks for the advice. I guess for serious enthusiasts here SONY cameras are really a joke, right?
    Not at all Ronald. I have two older Sony cameras and I know that there are a number of others on the forum with current Sony cameras. Although pretty much all brands are in use by the members of CiC, I suspect that the majority are either Nikon or Canon so there is a much greater chance of getting one of those two owners to be offering assistance. For most posts and questions, you can get help regardless of the camera in use.

    For most outdoor work I use a 55-300mm (450mm FFE) and the 18-55mm kit lens. For indoor work shooting houses for my wife's Real Estate work I use an 11-16mm wide angle. For really long zoom (between 450 and 840mm FFE) I use a Canon SX40.

    You may also want to post your requirements on the Sony forums.

    Hope this helps.

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by spetsnaz26 View Post
    Thanks for the advice. I guess for serious enthusiasts here SONY cameras are really a joke, right?
    No, that's not true, but the range of lenses available is limited compared to Nikon/Canon.

    Lately there are many that are raving about the new high MP bodies from Nikon - and they are admittedly equipped with the best sensors available (made by Sony). But my primary focus is landscapes, and the most useful landscape lens is one that will tilt and shift (these two movements ideally should be independent). Arguably the best tilt/shift lenses at present are the Canon TSE lenses. My decision to stay with Canon (and not switch) is partly economics, and partly the lens choice I have.

    That being said, if you have no need for the specialty lenses that Nikon and Canon offer, then the Sony is a good choice. Not everybody needs or wants these choices.

    Creativity does not come in a box with a Nikon or Canon label.

    Glenn

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by spetsnaz26 View Post
    Thanks for the advice. I guess for serious enthusiasts here SONY cameras are really a joke, right?
    Hi Ronald,
    Just to reassure you nobody at CiC would think Sony cameras a joke. We all have our preferred manufactures, but the main aim of the site is make the best pictures we can with whatever camera we have.
    I think all of our members just want to give good advice and I for one would be saddened if anyone was judged on the choice of camera. Wouldn’t life be boring if we all had the same’ kit’ I love seeing what camera each member has and how they use it.
    I personally use a Canon with 2 kit lens and would love to upgrade them to include some prime lens; but my bank manager (my Wife) won’t let me spend anymore at the moment. But I will get it in the end.

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    No one sensible will consider your equipment a joke. If anyone responds that way, that's a good signal to ignore the rest of what he or she says.

    Re what lens to buy: I don't shoot with a Sony, so I can't comment on specific lenses, but I can offer a general suggestion. What determines which (if any) lens is worth buying is what you like to shoot, and what you can't do well with your current equipment. You started on that when you wrote:

    but even for me it is often painfully obvious when the lens is just too slow or, at 18mm, has way too much barrel distortion.
    Re the barrel distortion: this should be easy to fix in postprocessing. Even very good zooms, if they have more than a small zoom range, tend to have barrel and pincushion distortion at the ends, and correcting it (when it is noticeable) is a pretty standard thing to do. So you might be able to take this factor off the table, just by checking out the options in your software.


    Re wanting a faster lens: there are several reasons why people want this. One is the ability to shoot in low light without flash, without raising ISO (and noise) too much. A second is narrower DOF when the lens is wide open. A third is that some cameras have faster AF with faster lenses. Which is your concern? And for what type of photography? Events indoors? Outdoors walk-around?The more specific you can be, the better the feedback from others is likely to be.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Ronald - the answer to your question really comes down to why you would duplicate the focal length that you already have on your kit lens. You have the 35mm and 50mm range covered on your 18-55mm lens. Unless you are looking for a faster lens for low light or increased depth of field, you might not want to go there.

    In fact, far end on the kit will give you a fairly reasonable 88mm equivilent, which is not a bad focal length for portrait work. If you look at the 85mm lens (136mm equivilent), that's a pretty good focal length for head shots. The 35mm lens is probably a good choice for a "normal" walk about lens (56mm equiv). It would still give you the vistas you are looking at shooting. I personally find the 50mm on a crop frame a bit of a funny focal length on a crop frame; but at 80m equiv, it does give you a reasonable short telephoto portrait lens.

    Sony a joke? Not really; a lot of the Sony legacy, especially in the DSLR, line comes from when they bought Konica/Minolta's camera business.

    Before I bought my first DSLR, at the inital cut, Sony was under consideration and one reason I did not look at it in the end is that both Canon and Nikon had more depth in their offerings (lenses and accessories).

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    First a question: why the insistence on prime lenses?
    And as you are in the 'plan to buy' stage, why go for the kit lens? I recently got a Tamron 24-70 mm F2.8, which seems to be
    better than the kit lens (for me!), and would fit your budget. I also have a Sony (A330), so probably the same kit lens (which
    is not a bad lens, but I tend to hit the limits a bit too often in low light situations). And yes, the choice in lenses is more
    limited compared to Canon or Nikon, but all the common lenses are covered, either by Sony, or by independent brands.

    You say you also do nature photography during field trips. Would that require a macro lens, perhaps? That might be an option
    for the 2nd prime you mentioned. Also, you can probably check what focal lengths you use most with the NEX. That might help
    you decide what lens to buy as your main lens.

    Wrt the distorsion: of course you can correct that in post-production (PP), but that means that you crop part of the image,
    so you'll get the view of a 20 mm (or so)...
    Last edited by revi; 28th June 2012 at 05:47 PM.

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Because your NEX and the A57 both have APS-C sensors in them, the prime you should probably get would be the one you'd put on your NEX, if there were a NEX analog.

    I'd look at your NEX+18-55 images by metadata in Lightroom or using an EXIF analyzing package like ExposurePlot or PhotoStats, and see what focal length you're more likely to be sitting at with images: 35mm or 50mm, and then base your decision on that. Everybody's preferred framing and working distances differ.

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Ronald, Remco makes a good point about not going for the kit lens. Perhaps you can use some amount of credit for the lens towards one you prefer which is what I did. It's better than ending up with a kit lens you don't like. One you'll replace at your earliest opportunity and leave stuck in a drawer. By the way, Sony makes good cameras. It's what's 6 inches behind the viewfinder that counts.

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by DanK View Post
    Re wanting a faster lens: there are several reasons why people want this. One is the ability to shoot in low light without flash, without raising ISO (and noise) too much. A second is narrower DOF when the lens is wide open. A third is that some cameras have faster AF with faster lenses. Which is your concern? And for what type of photography? Events indoors? Outdoors walk-around?The more specific you can be, the better the feedback from others is likely to be.
    Low light indoor events and night city scenes. I looked at the statistics of my photos using the tool kindly suggested by Inkiska, and found that I almost exclusively used wide open aperture+lowest ISO speed available. This correlates well with the frustration I often had when calculated shutter speed is way too slow for hand held when I'm walking around without a tripod. When shooting outdoors in low light because my subjects are usually far away a shallow DOF shouldn't be a problem.

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    Ronald - the answer to your question really comes down to why you would duplicate the focal length that you already have on your kit lens. You have the 35mm and 50mm range covered on your 18-55mm lens. Unless you are looking for a faster lens for low light or increased depth of field, you might not want to go there.

    In fact, far end on the kit will give you a fairly reasonable 88mm equivilent, which is not a bad focal length for portrait work. If you look at the 85mm lens (136mm equivilent), that's a pretty good focal length for head shots. The 35mm lens is probably a good choice for a "normal" walk about lens (56mm equiv). It would still give you the vistas you are looking at shooting. I personally find the 50mm on a crop frame a bit of a funny focal length on a crop frame; but at 80m equiv, it does give you a reasonable short telephoto portrait lens.
    I forgot to mention but the kit zoom is mandatory on A57, same thing they did with NEX5. I want a prime lens because it's fast and usually of higher optical quality.

    What I don't understand is (because my experience is not as varied), why people would shoot portraits with anything but a wide angle or normal focal length, lens? Is the subject sometimes 'uncooperative'? I ended up shooting most of my portraits at a focal length of 18mm, which is the widest angle shot I can make with the kit zoom.

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by revi View Post
    First a question: why the insistence on prime lenses?
    And as you are in the 'plan to buy' stage, why go for the kit lens? I recently got a Tamron 24-70 mm F2.8, which seems to be
    better than the kit lens (for me!), and would fit your budget. I also have a Sony (A330), so probably the same kit lens (which
    is not a bad lens, but I tend to hit the limits a bit too often in low light situations). And yes, the choice in lenses is more
    limited compared to Canon or Nikon, but all the common lenses are covered, either by Sony, or by independent brands.

    You say you also do nature photography during field trips. Would that require a macro lens, perhaps? That might be an option
    for the 2nd prime you mentioned. Also, you can probably check what focal lengths you use most with the NEX. That might help
    you decide what lens to buy as your main lens.

    Wrt the distorsion: of course you can correct that in post-production (PP), but that means that you crop part of the image,
    so you'll get the view of a 20 mm (or so)...
    The kit lens...is bundled with the body. I wanted to get perhaps a 18-105mm lens instead of the garden variety kit zoom but SONY won't allow it. Guess this is a sign that A57 is still very much amateur oriented.

    I have never done any serious post processing. Using the 18-55mm kit zoom at its lower end the barrel distortion is such that it becomes difficult to frame skyscrapers because nearby buildings will appear significantly skewed.

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    spetsnaz26's Avatar
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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by inkista View Post
    Because your NEX and the A57 both have APS-C sensors in them, the prime you should probably get would be the one you'd put on your NEX, if there were a NEX analog.

    I'd look at your NEX+18-55 images by metadata in Lightroom or using an EXIF analyzing package like ExposurePlot or PhotoStats, and see what focal length you're more likely to be sitting at with images: 35mm or 50mm, and then base your decision on that. Everybody's preferred framing and working distances differ.
    Your EXIF tool is very useful. The statistics show that I did most of my shooting with 18mm focal length, or 55mm....but above all at 18mm. Even 18mm is sometimes not enough and I wonder is it true that anything of shorter focal length will create obvious fisheye distortion? I read somewhere that human FOV is close to 50mm, but at 18mm the kit zoom is equivalent to only about 27mm for full format cameras. Why is the FOV seen in my pictures so much smaller than what my own eyes are capable of?

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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by spetsnaz26 View Post
    but SONY won't allow it.
    That kind of marketing restriction is what caused me, as a Sony shooter for years, to get a Nikon (but it could have easily been a Canon). Sony has a number of restrictions and marketing practices that stifle options. Sad, but that's the way they do things.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by spetsnaz26 View Post
    I forgot to mention but the kit zoom is mandatory on A57, same thing they did with NEX5. I want a prime lens because it's fast and usually of higher optical quality.

    What I don't understand is (because my experience is not as varied), why people would shoot portraits with anything but a wide angle or normal focal length, lens? Is the subject sometimes 'uncooperative'? I ended up shooting most of my portraits at a focal length of 18mm, which is the widest angle shot I can make with the kit zoom.
    The higher optical quality may or may not make any difference in real life work, unless you have something very specific in mind. Higher speed (low light work), more compact design, etc. are a couple of other reasons for the prime. A third reason that I love primes is that they make you a better photographer by forcing you to move your feet to compose, rather than standing there just zooming in an out.

    Why a longer lens for portraits? To flatten out the image and reduce distortion. Just to make sure that we are on the same page, a portrait to me is a head short to a 3/4 shot, usuually of a single person. A longer lens is the only way to go here and I will usually shoot in the 70mm to 200mm range (full-frame equivalent) with a pretty well wide open lens. I can't remember shooting wider than 70mm and have certainly shot longer than that. This results in pleasing composition and ensures that the background is minimized and is nicely out of focus too, so that it does not distract.

    This is where I am coming from....

    choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

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    spetsnaz26's Avatar
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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by FrankMi View Post
    That kind of marketing restriction is what caused me, as a Sony shooter for years, to get a Nikon (but it could have easily been a Canon). Sony has a number of restrictions and marketing practices that stifle options. Sad, but that's the way they do things.
    Frank, could you recommend any Canon or Nikon camera that is suitable for a beginner, perhaps close in specs to SONY A57? I do hate SONY for the bundle thing, but after looking on the Internet for a while I came to the conclusion that the new SONY A series SLT cameras don't have any direct competitor that can offer the same performance(fast continous phase AF, good EVF...), features in the same price range. The traditional DSLR with optical viewfinder is probably difficult because of the differences between what you see through a optical viewfinder and what you get on the sensor. Moving mirror also is more prone to damage, generates more noise, etc...

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    spetsnaz26's Avatar
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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    The higher optical quality may or may not make any difference in real life work, unless you have something very specific in mind.
    I looked at various reviews on the Internet. Optical quality in terms of distortion, vignetting, sharpness and CA almost always favors the primes. Although this is not the no1 reason why I want a prime lens, it's certainly not pointing in the other direction.

    Quote Originally Posted by GrumpyDiver View Post
    This is where I am coming from....
    I see your point, and it's a scenario I have never experienced. I only take portraits of friends and family before.
    Also, this is where you are coming from? more like southeast asia than Canada to me.

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    Moderator GrumpyDiver's Avatar
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    Re: choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    Quote Originally Posted by spetsnaz26 View Post
    I see your point, and it's a scenario I have never experienced. I only take portraits of friends and family before.
    Also, this is where you are coming from? more like southeast asia than Canada to me.
    Actually it's Southern Africa (Namibia) and is a San (Bushman) woman and child taking during a trip there late last year. I tend to handle people shots the same way, whether it is family or people shots when I'm out and about.

    Is this Canadian enough for you?

    choosing a prime lens to go with a kit zoom

    As I said in a previous posting, the review sites are correct, from a purely technical standpoint (a.k.a. pixel peeping); but this will have very little, if any impact, in real world shooting.
    Last edited by GrumpyDiver; 29th June 2012 at 01:00 PM.

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