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Thread: Canon lens conundrum

  1. #1
    mikejduk's Avatar
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    Canon lens conundrum

    This same dilemma probably applies to all makes of lenses. After settling for the Canon 60D I am now concentrating on building up my lens collection. However, as a novice I still haven't grasped why for instance would I need an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 when I already have an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ? And what am I likely to gain from a 90-300mm lens over the 70-300mm lens I already have? The latter I hasten to add is the much, much cheaper Sigma DG Macro f/1:4-5.6 but it performs fine.

    To add to my confusion, I am easily confused as you've no doubt guessed by now why are there several 70-300mm lenses at different prices and quality. Ok, I can hazard a guess that where the letter 'L' is included it has a higher spec glass,they're the ones that usually have me staggering and in need of resuscitation after I see the price I also know that USM will give me Ultra sonic movement when Auto focusing. I understand 'IS' as image stabilisation, but after that I'm at a loss.

    Now I am sure there are some really genned up enthusasts on this forum who can help me out on this, so I wait in anticipation for your words of wisdom

    Mike

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Quote Originally Posted by mikejduk View Post
    ... why would I need an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 when I already have an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ?
    You wouldn't.


    Quote Originally Posted by mikejduk View Post
    And what am I likely to gain from a 90-300mm lens over the 70-300mm lens I already have?
    From a practical standpoint, nothing, really.


    Quote Originally Posted by mikejduk View Post
    To add to my confusion, I am easily confused as you've no doubt guessed by now why are there several 70-300mm lenses at different prices and quality.
    I'm more of a Nikon guy so I can't really address the particulars of Canon glass.

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Mike

    Unless you are very fussy, your lenses are probably not a constraint. I did invest in L glass, but in my case I was looking for constant aperture capability, good low light (indoor) performance without flash and very controllable depth of field. However, as you have noticed you pay a high price for this. Hence I went for the triumvirate of 16-35, 24 - 70 and 70-200 all f2.8 L glass in latest iteration. The stand out lens is the 70-200, which is incredible for portraits. But it is huge and weighs a lot.

    I would suggest you hire lenses and try them before splashing out on very expensive glass: we are lucky in the UK that there are two or three good lens hire companies.

    If you want to venture into fast glass the 24-70 f.2.8 L is very good as an every day lens. No IS though so it will require good technique. Much cheaper and very good as a walk around lens is the constant f4 24-105L.

    If you want to experiment with fast glass the f1.4 50mm prime (not the L version which is f1.2) is fun, and not expensive. You can learn a lot about controlling DOF from this or the 85mm version, without getting into the realms of very expensive L glass.

    It is really about what you want to use it for. In my case I found that the better glass widened my horizons: I could start to do things with it that the kit lenses struggled with. Unfortunately this hits your wallet hard, especially when you decide to acquire a FF body as well.

    Adrian

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Hi Mike,

    When you say you 'settled for the Canon 60D'...did you do so after trying out a lot of different DSLR's or was it your choice straight off?

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    In many cases, Mike, your lens choices depend on exactly what you photograph most often.

    There can certainly be considerable variation in the quality between similar sized lenses; hence the price difference.

    This site gives some good independent reviews on lenses http://www.photozone.de/Reviews

    Different people have different opinions on what are essential requirements for lenses.

    For example, some will recommend wide angle (say 15 mm) F2.8 or faster lenses as being essential, and regard 50 mm as being the longest length which they require.

    Personally, I rarely shoot with a wider aperture than F8 and find 30 mm is quite adequate as a wide angle for me. Long telephoto lenses are for more important for my subjects.

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Quote Originally Posted by mikejduk View Post
    ... why for instance would I need an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 when I already have an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ?
    You don't. The 18-55 is the kit lens for the dRebels. They gave you something nicer to start with with the 60D. The only reason you might want the 18-55 is if you decide to sell the 60D and you want to keep the 18-135 for your next camera body, but find that whoever wants to buy your 60D wants a lens to go with it. The 18-55 is great at being cheap and useful as a travel snapshot walkaround.

    And what am I likely to gain from a 90-300mm lens over the 70-300mm lens I already have? The latter I hasten to add is the much, much cheaper Sigma DG Macro f/1:4-5.6 but it performs fine.
    Nothing. The 90-300 is a very cheap old "twin kit" lens, too, from the pre-digital era.

    ... why are there several 70-300mm lenses at different prices and quality.
    Because people have differing views of what they need for image quality and what they're willing to pay for it. But the basics of the 70-300-ish Canon telephotos is:

    75-300 III. A very old design, came out first in the 1980s. Consumer-grade lens, but sold in three variants, as well as, of course Mks I, II, and III. There is a plain vanilla version, a USM version, and an IS USM version, so the used market proliferates with a lot of variants of what is essentially the same lens. The IS USM version was then replaced in 2005 with:

    70-300 IS USM (non-L). This improved the optics of the 75-300, as well as going a little wider, and had a much nicer IS unit. Today, this is the mid-grade telephoto zoom--most folks would point to the EF-S 55-250 IS as the low-end consumer lens for a crop body to get instead of a 75-300 III.

    70-300 DO IS USM. The DO version of the lens is very expensive and most of us would tell you it's not worth it. Canon created a line of optics where the main goal was to reduce the size of the lens. On the 400 f/4 DO, it's worth it, but on the 70-300 DO, unless you really really need to have a smaller lens and are willing to compromise on image quality for that size reduction, the high pricetag and lower quality optics put this one out of the running for most folks. Especially since a few years ago, Canon came out with:

    70-300 L IS USM. The L lens is more like an updated kid sibling to the 100-400L than it is related to the other 70-300 lenses. The optics are greatly improved (and the pricetag is greatly boosted), and for a white L, it's super-compact. It's still bigger and heavier than the non-L 70-300 IS USM, but it pretty much beats it on everything else: image quality, build quality, and close-up capability.

    Basically, there's some historical context going on here, and the newer lenses are typically going to be better, but more expensive than the older ones (although not always. The EF 50mm f/1.8 Mk I was actually better built and is probably more expensive on the used market than the EF 50mm f/1.8 II, since the II was made to be cheaper). If you ever want to know what the vintage of a lens is, the Canon USA website has a "museum" section that lists all the lenses, and their introduction dates.

    As everyone is saying, what lenses you want depend on what you can afford and what/how you want to shoot. The task isn't to find the best lenses ever. It's to find the best fits for you. My 2nd lens after the kit was an 8mm circular fisheye. This is a lens few people will ever want to rent, let alone buy. No one in their right minds would recommend it to a newb. But I purchased a dSLR in order to learn VR photography, and it was what I needed and it lives in my bag all the time.

    If you're happy with the lenses you've got now, then why borrow trouble? If you're not happy with the lenses you've got now, then hone in on why they're making you unhappy. What is it specficially that's the issue? That will lead you to the features you want in a lens. Is it the focal length? The max. aperture? A noisy/slow focus motor? Lack of stabilization? Close-up capability? ... these will lead you to the lens you want.

    People on boards can recommend lenses, but they'll probably be telling you what works for them. They're not you. You're the only one who know what it is you need and are willing to spend to get that. Also, as a dSLR beginner, you also want to take a bit of time out to consider if maybe it's not a lens at all that you're after. If you just want more sharpness, then technique, a tripod, or post-processing software could also be considerations. It may be that you need a book, a class, a flash, or a few thousand more hours of practice, instead.

    Right now what's getting you are all the things you don't know. And it's easier to look at gear because the numbers are hard and fast. But in my experience, most newcomer problems are ones of technique and knowledge. Posting images you're having problems with along with EXIF information and asking for advice can help with that, as can reading a book (Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure is one oft-cited book for beginners), or taking a class.

    Ironically, the more experience you have with gear, the less the gear begins to matter.

    Canon lens conundrum
    Aaron Johnson's What the Duck.
    Last edited by inkista; 17th June 2013 at 07:17 PM.

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    Moderator Donald's Avatar
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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Quote Originally Posted by inkista View Post
    Ironically, the more experience you have with gear, the less the gear begins to matter.
    I have never heard or read that before, but it is brilliantly put. That sums up the situation perfectly.

    Thanks Kathy. I'm sure I'll reference that a lot.

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Hi Mike,

    If you don't know why, you don't need it

    I don't mean to sound flippant, but I'm condensing the points made by others above into one line.

    Most people will 'buy another lens' for one of three reasons;
    a) to increase their coverage of focal lengths, something longer or shorter than the lens(es) they have now, OR
    b) to get a faster lens; e.g. a wider aperture for thinner DoF or lower light shooting, AND/OR
    c) improve quality; this may mean moving to a Full Frame capable lens (to allow for a future camera body upgrade)

    If you budget is not unlimited, don't rush, something only a bit better is likely to be a disappointment.

    HTH,

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Quote Originally Posted by mikejduk View Post
    This same dilemma probably applies to all makes of lenses. After settling for the Canon 60D I am now concentrating on building up my lens collection. However, as a novice I still haven't grasped why for instance would I need an 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 when I already have an 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 ? And what am I likely to gain from a 90-300mm lens over the 70-300mm lens I already have? The latter I hasten to add is the much, much cheaper Sigma DG Macro f/1:4-5.6 but it performs fine.

    To add to my confusion, I am easily confused as you've no doubt guessed by now why are there several 70-300mm lenses at different prices and quality. Ok, I can hazard a guess that where the letter 'L' is included it has a higher spec glass,they're the ones that usually have me staggering and in need of resuscitation after I see the price I also know that USM will give me Ultra sonic movement when Auto focusing. I understand 'IS' as image stabilisation, but after that I'm at a loss.

    Now I am sure there are some really genned up enthusasts on this forum who can help me out on this, so I wait in anticipation for your words of wisdom

    Mike
    Hi Mike, the image stabilizer is well worth the additional expense as it stops lens shake and allows you to shoot at 1/4 of a second hand held. This is great for zoom lenses such as the 70-300mm especially if they are a slow lens such as an F:5.6. The other way to spend the extra money is to buy fast lenses with better glass. I have a few special lenses such as the 50 mm F: 1.4 that I use for lanscapes, portraits and any low light shots. When a lens is a set mm rather than a zoom you will always get better (sharper) shots. I hope this helps.

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    As usual, Kathy has provided a superb reality check and encyclopedic coverage of existing lenses. Dave condensed things rather well, but I'd like to add a few things.

    Consider a really complicated lens name like (hypothetically, since this lens doesn't exist) Canon EF 50-300mm f3.5-5.6 DO IS USM III.

    EF: In Canon's nomenclature, EF specifies a lens that can be used on full-frame and smaller sensors. An EF-S lens can only be used on a smaller APS-C sensor (like the one in your 60D). This is relevant if you ever want to upgrade to full frame. That's a whole new can of worms, but if your lenses are all EF-S, and you go full frame, you'll need to buy all-new lenses.

    f3.5-5.6: The lens's widest aperture. f3.5 applies to the lens's widest focal length, and f5.6 applies to the lens's longest focal length. Basically, the lens will gradually stop down as you zoom in. If a zoom has only one aperture listed (f2.8, for example), then it will not stop down when you zoom, so the exposure will remain as you set it. It's worth mentioning that cases where you'll want an aperture wider than f2.8 are generally rare.

    DO: Lenses can have unique technologies (like the uncommon Diffractive Optics listed here) specified by letter codes in the name. Macro, soft focus, and other features may be specified here as well.

    IS: Image stabilization. Can correct for a certain amount of hand shake or camera movement. Some cameras will have multiple modes, including one designed for horizontal panning.

    USM: Ultrasonic focus motor. These motors are much faster and a little quieter than the baseline servo. Stepper motors (STM) are becoming available. They're not as fast as USM motors, but very quiet, and capable of continuous focus when filming video.

    III: Lens revision. Canon will sometimes release a lens with incremental updates, but the same major features as an existing lens. These are identified by different Roman numeral suffixes. For instance, the 70-200mm f2.8L IS and 70-200mm f2.8L IS II.

    What lens you can use is a different question. Are you shooting anything where 18mm isn't wide enough, or 135mm is too short? Do you need shallower depth of field or better low-light performance? If the answer's no, then keep mastering your 18-135 kit lens. If yes, then prepare for a long search.

    I would also add (and this is purely an opinion) that using a 50mm prime is a great way to produce photos that don't stand out. Nifty 50s (80mm on 1.6x crop) are recommended to practically every beginning photographer, and I'm not sure why. I own one (EF 50mm f2.4 USM), and I use it, but usually only when I'm forced into that focal length. If you're going to get a prime, look at a wide-angle like the EF 20mm f2.8 USM or EF 100mm f2 USM for a little added uniqueness.

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Great precis on the Canon lens nomenclature.

    Quote Originally Posted by RustBeltRaw View Post
    ... Nifty 50s (80mm on 1.6x crop) are recommended to practically every beginning photographer, and I'm not sure why....
    I am. Cost. A new 50/1.8 lens tends to be in the $100-$150 price range. It's f/1.8, so much faster than an 18-55 kit lens @55mm, and on APS-C, while it may not be the "normal" it is on a full frame, it's still a good portrait lens for head and torso shots. And it's cheap. Like an 18-55/55-250 IS twin kit, the 50/1.8 II isn't bad as a blind recommendation because it's soooo cheap and makes a decent training wheels lens.

    A 35/1.8 or 35/2 may be a better fit for "normal" on APS-C, but only Nikon actually makes a $200 one. Canon's 35/2 and 35/2 IS are considerably more expensive. And at the $300-$500 price range, you can get just about any mid-grade prime and at that point, recommending a specific one becomes more of a crap shoot if you don't know what/how the person who requested the recommendation shoots. The 20/2.8, 24/2.8 (non-IS), 28/1.8, 35/2, 50/1.4, 85/1.8, 100/2, 135 soft focus, etc. etc. can all come into play.

    These days, I tend to recommend the EF 40mm f/2.8 STM as a first prime rather than the 50/1.8 II. $150, sharp from wide open on down, pancake size, metal mount, STM motor, and wide enough to be closer to normal on a crop, and serves as a near-35 on full-frame. It's a superb travel lens, so when you take the training wheels off and go for something else, it can still have a place in the bag. But that's what works for me. Trading off f/2.8 for pancake build is probably not worth it for a lot of folks.

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Mike,

    After settling for the Canon 60D I am now concentrating on building up my lens collection.
    I would not concentrate on building a collection. Dave's comment was exactly right:

    If you don't know why, you don't need it
    The suggestion I make to almost everyone in this situation is that if you can't say what you want a new lens to do that your old one can't do, save your money, because you are likely to waste it. With practice, you will learn what is, and is not, worth buying for you, given what YOU shoot.

    Just a few examples: some people want really fast lenses because (1) they shoot a lot in low light without flash, or (2) they want razor thin depth of field. Neither of these happens to apply to me. So, when I decided to splurge on an expensive 70-200, I opted for f/4 rather than f/2.8 and saved literally half the cost and half the weight. For me, a good decision. For some others, it would have been a bad choice.

    For my uses, full time manual focusing (where you can use manual focusing while the lens is set to AF) is important, and I set the camera to use a back button for AF. That means I spend more for some lenses than I might otherwise. For me, important, but for many people, completely unimportant.

    I could give you other examples, but the point is that what is worth buying, and how much it is worth spending, depends entirely on what you end up shooting. So relax, take a lot of pictures, and wait until you find that your current equipment seems to be holding you back. For example, perhaps you will find that you need faster glass, or a wider lens, or a macro lens, or something entirely different, like a tripod or a flash. When you reach this point, post again and tell us what constraint you are facing. You'll get good advice.

    BTW, your new camera is capable of superb images. Enjoy it.

    Dan

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Quote Originally Posted by inkista View Post
    I am. Cost.
    Ah. Very good point. I firmly believe that any beginner's arsenal should include at least one prime after they have a decent room range covered, and I shared a 50mm f1.8 with my sister when we were starting out. I've since upgraded to an EF 50mm f1.4 USM, but weirdly, I only use it for indoor action.

    Quote Originally Posted by inkista View Post
    These days, I tend to recommend the EF 40mm f/2.8 STM as a first prime rather than the 50/1.8 II. $150, sharp from wide open on down, pancake size, metal mount, STM motor, and wide enough to be closer to normal on a crop, and serves as a near-35 on full-frame. It's a superb travel lens, so when you take the training wheels off and go for something else, it can still have a place in the bag. But that's what works for me. Trading off f/2.8 for pancake build is probably not worth it for a lot of folks.
    Excellent recommendation, which I will now shamelessly parrot to anyone with a similar question! I got a chance to try that lens a few months ago, and it's nice and sharp, wide enough 98% of the time, and hilariously maneuverable. You know it's a thin lens when its rear cap nearly doubles the thickness. Looked like a toy on the front of my mate's 1Ds.

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    I would just appeal to all to think weight of lens as well. Yes there are some fine Canon L series lenses, but they are heavy, If one doesn't need to use the max aperture often then a cheaper lens may do as well and be less to carry. As with tripods, the best lens is the one you have with you when you need it.
    I have a series of L lenses I use with my 5D III, which is great when I doing architectural photography.
    But I also have a 10-22, 15-85 and 70 - 300 as kit to go with a 7D. Not too heavy to carry on a long walk, but max aperture may only be 5.6, but usually I would be using f8 or f11 so no problem. IS is however worth getting, it really does make a difference, especially the 70-300.

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    This thread should be a sticky.

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Quote Originally Posted by GrahamS View Post
    This thread should be a sticky.
    Job done!

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    Re: Canon lens conundrum

    Excellent thread with lots of great advice. For my two cents worth:

    I started with a point and shoot (Canonís version du jour) in 2004 and decided to spend a lot of time learning how to make decent photographs from a compositional point of view and with basic software (PS Elements) before getting a DSLR (I used a Minolta SLR many years ago while in college, so I made this choice despite previous experience) because I agree with the notion that the most important part of the photography process is the photographer. I used the P&S until it broke in 2006 and had a lot of fun with it.

    When I bought a DSLR to replace it, I bought a Canon 20D after the company had moved on to other models (so I wasnít getting into the latest thing) and over time added a 70-300mm 1:4-5.6 IS USM, 17-40mm 1:4 L USM, and 50mm 1:1.4 (all Canon lenses) based upon budget and desire. I also went from PS Elements to the full version of Photoshop. I used the 20D until 2012. By then I was ready to use an upgrade and had decided that I wanted to go with prime lenses. I had also been putting money away consistently so I could ďfeed the monsterĒ when I was ready. I now use the 5D Mark III and the original 50mm, along with a new 100mm 1:2.8 L IS USM (macro) and 14mm 1:2.8 L II USM (also Canon lenses). I love both of these lenses and donít mind doing my ďzoomingĒ with my feet. I still have the 70-300 and 17-40 but havenít used them in a year. The 70-300, in particular, is a bit soft IMHO. I also started using LR.

    Iíve never regretted taking my sweet time to learn the equipment and software I already had and I donít mind waiting until money is saved up before moving to the next best thing in Toyland.

    If I had started out with Canonís better camera in 2004 there is no way I would have learned/decided where I wanted to go with my lenses. Iím sure many people would not make the same lens selections I have made, or for that matter the body selections either. I agree with those who have said that itís important to know what you want to do before you spend money on equipment. I also think that my photographic development has been helped by forcing myself to learn the art of photography before jumping right into gear at the outset. (Each upgrade has been substantial: from P&S to 20D to 5D Mark III. I won't be making any additional purchases until technology increases again, if then. ...O.K. maybe another lens or two....)

    Taking this route, I also can look back now at some pretty decent photographs made with that old P&S and appreciate what it took to make the images.

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    Help! What equipment should you have

    I believe there are only 4 things required in photographs. A subject (very helpful) a reasonable able quantity of light (kind of helps....) A box (Camera body) to hold the image i.e.: glass plates, tintypes, slides, film, or even a sensor. The only thing between your success and your subject is the GLASS. How can a 24 Meg camera with a low quality Lens ever be as fantastic as an 8mg camera with a $2000.00 lens? Purchase the most expensive lens you can afford, and the cheapest camera. We are all aware that the "new" camera is passť by the time you hit the exit door. It is the Glass, the glass, and the glass. For all of you out their wondering if Canon or Nikon or Sony,etc.. do not get hung up on the brand. Find the best glass at the best price and pick a body that feels good in your hand.
    I have worked the retail end of photo equipment for 20 some years in that time i have seen all kinds of products to aid in creating your art or to tell your story, however the one thing that has not changed in photography is "the better the glass the better the image" Thank you for your time, The D

  19. #19
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    Re: Help! What equipment should you have

    The lenses you choose should be predicated on:

    1. What you want to shoot. Some types of shooting require more from a lens than other types of shooting. Indoor sports is one venue I have in mind when I mention this...

    2. What your final product will be. Images for posting on the Net and printing to a small size don't need the quality glass required for images destined to be printed to larger sizes...

    3. What your personal quality criteria is. Some photographers demand greater image quality than others...

    4. Another criteria is what you can afford or are willing to spend. This can be the greatest limiting factor, One corollary to this last statement is that if you are intending to shoot for pay, you should select the very best lenses possible...

    The use of a tripod and creative use of flash will certainly improve most images and will often allow you to attain very good to excellent imagery with less than top line lenses. It is amazing the image quality that can be attained by today's kit lenses when shot around f/8 to f/11...

    Generally, a less expensive kit includng the Canon 18-55mm IS lens and 55-250mm IS plus a tripod and a hot shoe flash will serve most begnning photograpers quite well. It won't break the bank and will be fairly light in weight. Other photographers will be happier with a wider range zoom lens and not worry about the extra weight and changing lenses of a two lens setup...

    Finally, many photographers can be quite happy and quite successful with a good quality bridge camera such as the Canon SX-50 which is certainly lighter in weight and less expensive than a full size DSLR outfit. Add a hotshoe flash and a lightweight tripod and these little cameras can really perform quite well...
    Last edited by rpcrowe; 29th June 2013 at 03:43 AM.

  20. #20

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    Re: Help! What equipment should you have

    Another thing don't get all up about something new, its mostly all hype. I still have a 9 yr old camera a d-70 nikon and it still takes great pictures. It lets me use my money for better glass. Which is where it is at.

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