Brian's Photo Blog — Article 122
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Current APS-C Camera Lens Kit
Wednesday 4 July 2012   —   Category: Equipment
It’s been about a year and a half since I first put together a lens kit for my Sony Alpha cameras. During that time, I have made significant additions to, as well as subtractions from, this kit, as I have detailed in previous articles. Therefore, it seemed high time to give an updated review of the current composition of my lens collection.

One thing to keep in mind is that cameras with an APS-C sensor, like the Sony α55 and α77, have a focal length multiplier of 1.5. What this means is that a 50mm lens functions as a 75mm lens (1.5 x 50) on an APS-C camera. In other words, 75mm is the 35mm-equivalent focal length. If the same lens were attached to a full-frame 35mm sensor camera (or a 35mm film camera), it would have the 50mm focal length that the lens is designated as.

This Sony Carl Zeiss 24-​70​mm f/2.8 zoom lens continues to be the normal, everyday lens that I keep on my camera, and the foundation of my lens kit. Its focal length — from medium-​wide-​angle to medium-​telephoto — is very versitile for general use. If I could have only one lens, or take only one lens with me on an outing, this would be it. As mentioned above, because the α55 is an APS-C camera, the 35mm-equivalent focal length of this lens on the α55 is 1.5 times larger: 36-​105​mm.

Its fast f/2.8 maximum aperture ensures good low-light performance. As with everything in life, this great performance comes at a cost. Weighing 2 lbs. 3 oz. (985g) — about half a pound more than the α77 body! — measuring 3¼ by 4⅜ inches (83 x 111mm), and costing $2,000 ($1,600 when I bought it!), this lens is neither light, small, nor cheap. In fact, it now costs almost one-and-a-half times as much as the α77 body! But, you get what you pay for, and there’s no way I’m going to get a nice body like the α77, and then skimp by settling for a cheap lens.

This lens does not feature internal zoom action, therefore, when you zoom to longer focal lengths, the length of the lens gets longer too. When at the minimum focal length of 24mm, the lens measures 4⅜ inches (111mm), but at its maximum focal length of 70mm, it extends to a length of 5¾ inches (146mm) — a modest increase of 1⅜ inches (35mm).

Next, my sec­ond most im­por­tant lens is a bit wider and much longer than the lens above — and although orig­i­nal­ly more ex­pen­sive, they are now the same price. The Sony G-​Series 70-​200 mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom lens is a monster — the above-mentioned 24-​70​mm lens mounted on the α77 body are, together, still shorter than this lens! This hunk of glass and metal weighs 2 lbs. 15 oz. (1300g), measures 3½ by 7¾ inches (87 x 197mm), and costs $2,000 (I paid $1,800). Yikes!

As with the previous lens, the fast f/2.8 maximum aperture ensures good low-light performance. And once again, because it’s being used with an APS-C camera, the 35mm-equivalent focal length of this lens on the α77 is 1.5 times larger: 105-​300​mm. It also comes with a nice, heavy-duty case. In addition, this lens is compatible with Sony’s teleconverters, so the focal length can be extended — more details about that below. This lens features an internal zoom action, therefore, the length of the lens remains the same no matter what focal length it is set to.

The newest ad­ di­tion to my lens kit is even more colossal — and just as expensive — as the previously-mentioned lens. The Sony G-​Series 70-​400 mm f/4.0-5.6 telephoto zoom lens weighs a hefty 3 lbs. 5 oz. (1500g), measures 3¾ by 7¾ inches (95 x 196mm), and costs $2,000. Double yikes! As usual, because it’s being used with an APS-C camera, the 35mm-equivalent focal length of this lens on the α55 is 1.5 times larger: 105-​600​mm. As with the previous lens, it comes with a nice, heavy-duty case, and is compatible with Sony’s teleconverters, so the focal length can be extended — more details about that below.

When I was first putting together my lens kit a year and a half ago, I had considered buying this lens rather than the 70-​200​mm. But the relative slowness of this lens — compared to the f/2.8 aperture of the previous lens — put me off. In addition, I reasoned that the 2x teleconverter described below would convert the 70-​200​mm f/2.8 lens into a 400 f/5.6. By going that route, I would have the advantage of the speed of the 70-200 f/2.8 and the focal length of the 400mm thanks to the teleconverter. If I were to use only the 70-400, I would have the focal-length advantange, but not the speed advantage.

But after an extended period of living with the 70-​200​mm lens, I have found that at times I am needing greater magnification. Dispite it’s slowness, this lens has a few advantages over the 70-​200​mm. Teleconverters are known to degrade the quality of photos by causing a loss of sharpness in the focus. Therefore — in theory, at least — this 70-​400​mm lens ought to be sharper in the 200-​400​mm range than the 70-​200​mm lens with a teleconverter. I have not done any actual quality tests yet, but hope to do so in the near future.

Secondly, with the 70-​400​mm lens, I can zoom directly to focal lengths between 200-​400​mm without taking the time to put the teleconverter on. In a fast-changing environment, this can mean the difference between getting that special shot or not. Thirdly, by omitting the teleconverter, that’s just one less piece of equipment to carry, get dirty, lose, or damage. Finally, if I do decided to use the teleconverter with this lens, the 35mm-equivalent focal length is doubled, from 600mm to an awesome 1200mm.

Like the 24-​70​mm lens mention above — and unlike the 70-​200​mm — this lens does not have an internal zoom action. Therefore, when you zoom to longer focal lengths, the length of the lens gets longer too. When at the minimum focal length of 70mm, the lens measures 7¾ inches (196mm), but at its maximum focal length of 400mm, it extends to a length of 11 inches (279mm) — a significant increase of 3¼ inches (83mm), making this massive lens look even more colossal.

This Sony 2x teleconverter attaches to the above-mentioned 70-​200​mm and 70-​400​mm lenses (but NOT the 24-​70​mm lens — too bad!!), and turns them into 140-​400​mm and 140-​600​mm lenses. The 35mm-equivalent focal length of these lenses on the α77 is 1.5 times larger: 210-​600​mm and 210-​1200​mm! As usual, there is a price to pay for this blessing (besides the $550 it sells for!) — the photographic cost is losing two full f-stops, causing the 70-200 lens to have a maximum aperture of f/5.6 instead of f/2.8, and the 70-400 to have maximum apertures of f/8 at the shortest focal length to f/11 at the longest focal length. But in those cases where you must have the extra focal length, that’s not a very high price to pay. It does adds a modest 1¾ inches (44mm) of length — and 7 oz. (200g) of weight — to whichever lens it’s attached to, which isn’t too bad.

This Sigma 10-​20​mm F3.5 EX DC HSM lens is the only non-Sony lens in my kit, but it’s not the original wide-angle zoom lens I started with. It’s a long story, but I’ll try to summarize it here.

In August 2011 I picked up a Sony DT 11-​18​mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom lens. In early 2012 I ran across this Sigma lens and was attracted by the very appealing specs. At 10-​20​mm, it has a slightly wider angle and zoom range than the Sony’s 11-​18​mm. And with a constant aperture of f/3.5 throughout the entire focal length — as opposed to f/4.5 at 11mm and a dismal f/5.6 at 18mm on the Sony lens — it is more in line with all of my other Sony lenses, which also have a constant aperture throughout the entire focal length. So I decided to get one to replace the Sony.

As recounted in the article A Tale of Three Lenses, it took me three tries to get the correct version of this lens for my Sony α77 camera — that’s quite a story! I took it on a couple of major photographic outings to put it through its paces, so I could determine if I was going to keep it, or stick with the Sony lens. Because I had not been taking the two lens out together to shoot the same images at the same time, it was very difficult to decide which was the better lens. Therefore I decided to do my own testing in a controlled environment, right in my own house, to settle the issue once and for all. After these tests, which you can read about in my article Sony vs. Sigma Wide-Angle Lens Shootout, it was very clear that the Sigma lens produced the better images, so the Sony lens got the boot!

This Sigma lens measures 3.4 by 3.5 inches (87 x 88mm), and weighs in at 18 oz. (520g). Even though it has a retail price of $950, it’s currently going for $600 at — about $150 less than the equivalent Sony lens I used to own. Even though it does not have internal zoom action, it is only ⅛ of an inch longer when fully extended at the 10mm focal length setting — hardly noticeable at all! As always, the 35mm-equivalent focal length of this lens on the α77 is 1.5 times larger: 15-​30​mm.

I really love this lens! It’s ultra-wide angle — especially at 10mm — helps me to get some really dramatic shots. It’s great both for landscapes as well as close-ups, and can provide a really unique perspective on common-looking scenes — a very welcome addition to my lens kit indeed!

No lens kit is complete without macro capability. Sony has three different macro lenses available, but because a year-and-a-half ago I didn’t really know why I would want one focal length over another, I decided to go with the focal-length in the middle, the Sony 50mm f/2.8 macro lens.

After using it for some months, I noticed that it’s really hard to get subjects into sharp focus at such high magnification. Conventional photograhic wisdom says that shorter focal lengths have greater depth of field than longer focal lengths. Imagining that the same principle applies to macro lenses, I decided to buy the shorter-focal-length Sony DT 30mm f/2.8 macro lens. Once I had experimented with that lens, I realized that it didn’t really do much to solve the focus problems I was having.

In reading my photography magazine, I learned about the advantage of using a macro lens with a longer focal length, namely, that you don’t have to get so close to the subject, which is a great benefit when photographing wildlife. Around the same time, as I was reading the Wikipedia article on depth of field, I ran across this statement regarding close-up photography: “for the same subject magnification, at the same f-number, all focal lengths used on a given image format give approximately the same depth of field.” In other words, getting an entire subject into sharp focus is difficult for all macro lenses, and the 35mm lens is not going to do much better than the 100mm lens.

In light of all that, during March 2012 I purchased my third macro lens, the Sony 100mm f/2.8 (pictured here), and sold the other two. It measures 3 by 4 inches (75 x 98mm) and weighs a respectable 18 oz. (505g).

I've not used the 100mm macro very much yet. All of the photos in the Macro Magic 2011 photo album, as well as the first photo (my eye!) in the Macro Magic 2012 photo album, were taken with either the 50mm or 35mm lenses.

Well, there you have it — the up-to-date description of the lens kit for my APS-C cameras! As far as I can tell, the kit is complete, and I have no plans or dreams to buy or sell any more lenses for this kit. Even though there is a full range of Sony prime (non-zoom) lenses, I have never felt the need or desire for one, so I really do think that I’m done!
Brian's Photo Blog — Article 122
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