DSLR Lenses - Focal Lengths for Chasing

I'm a Canon 300D owner and relatively new chaser, and I'm looking to purchase a new lens in the near future with chasing and weather photography in mind. Right now I only have the kit lens (18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6), which I'm very unhappy with, and a Sigma 70-300 mm that has served me well for the price.

Since I'm a broke college student, I'm not looking at anything above $500 really, and I'd prefer to keep it even less than that if possible. I think I've narrowed my search to two options: the Sigma 17-70 mm or Tokina 12-24 mm, which are both fairly affordable and have overwhelmingly good reviews and happy users on the photography sites I've visited.

Now I have to decide which focal length range is going to serve me better when I'm out on the Plains this spring, though. My initial inclination is to go for the Sigma, which would totally replace my kit lens and even add some range on both the wide and tele ends, plus it's cheaper. But on second thought, with the 1.6x crop factor of the consumer Canon models, perhaps the 12-18 mm range of the Tokina would come in quite handy in certain situations. Plus, my main interest outside of photographing storm chases is landscape photography.

So to help me weigh my options here, what focal lengths do all you DSLR users find yourself using most often? Is having only 17 mm on the wide end on my crop camera likely to be severely limiting for "storm structure" photos, or should I be more concerned about covering the 24-70 mm range with a respectable lens (which the kit lens is certainly not, in my experience)? The frustrating thing is that if the kit lens weren't so terrible, the Tokina would make more sense because I could just pull out the kit in cases where I really needed something between 24 mm and 70 mm, but given its poor quality and absolutely worthless focusing ring (which cost me the opportunity for some good low-contrast post-sunset shots during a storm in September), I'd love nothing more than to just ditch it altogether.

Thoughts? :cool:
 
Hi- I shoot Fuji/Nikon but I almost always use my 12-24mm lens for everything. Minus close-up and long fixed focal length/zoom situations, the wide angle works for many shots.
There are many on this board who are more experienced than I am but my 2 cents=wide angle over the mid-length lens.
Laura

PS- get a tripod also. Low light or not, it's a good investment. Oh yes.. and a circ polarizing filter. Happy hunting!!
 
I've heard good things about the Sigma 17-70, and how some say it's better than the 17-40 L by Canon (or equal to). Would be nice to have that extra 30 mm. Half the price of the Canon also...
 
I've used the Canon 17-40L the last two year and the kit 18-55 before that for 2 more years. My 17-40L is really the only lens I ever have on while chasing. Hell I only have one other lens, a 50mm. While my L is on it's at 17mm 99% of the time. I don't seem to have any need for beyond 17mm wide for chasing. You can be fairly close to the storm and still get it in the shot. And if not, you can jump 3 miles or so ahead of it and get it in that way easily enough.

As much as I use 17mm I wonder over and over why I didn't just get a prime in that range. It just seems to work really well for chasing.
 
Thanks for the advice, everyone. Mike, I've looked through the galleries on your website many times and love the images you come up with, so I really appreciate you replying. I'm leaning towards the Sigma (17-70) right now for sure, but I think I may hold off on ordering anything for a month or two since I won't get much use out of whatever I do buy during the winter months.
 
I ordered the Sigma 17-70 last week and when I get it in the mail(finally). I will post my thoughts on here. It seems like it will be a great lens for the price.
 
I got the Sigma 10-20mm specifically for storm photography, which is an option not yet mentioned in this thread. It is the widest rectilinear lens you'll find for a digital SLR. You said you were unhappy with the kit lens. Chances are, you will be shooting storms at the wide end of your kit lens, at 18mm. If you want to go telephoto to capture a tornado or a distant storm, you have the 70-300mm range covered already; you're not going to use 55mm with the kit lens, since that doesn't get you very close, anyway. That being the case, I'd reccomend an ultrawide lens. It will capture all the storm structure you'll ever need. Similar to Mike, I almost always use it at the wide end, 10mm, which is a huge difference from 18mm.

Here are some storm pictures I've taken with it while chasing, to give you an idea:
http://picasaweb.google.com/schrockwell/TheBestOfStormChasing2006/photo#4944752446308548626
http://picasaweb.google.com/schrockwell/TheBestOfStormChasing2006/photo#4944752228025106450
http://picasaweb.google.com/schrockwell/TheBestOfStormChasing2006/photo#4944752254830968850
http://picasaweb.google.com/schrockwell/TheBestOfStormChasing2006/photo#4944760377600311314
 
Anybody used the Sigma 28-70 DG lens or the Tamron 28-80 lenses? I'm looking for just a good starter kit of lenses and thus likely won't be looking at the very high quality like the 17-40L like Mike... I need something for chasing, thus the wide angle and I need something for the sports photography that I also like to do so I would like to have somewhat of a telephoto lens. Any suggestions for that? The two telephoto lenses that I saw were the Tamron 75-300 and the Sigma 70-300 DG lenses...

Or am I better off just going with the Canon lenses??

Thanks
 
I have used the Sigma 28-70 at the last couple of weddings I have shot and it really sucks. The AF motor is very loud (not good when you are trying to be discrete) and I have noticed a lot of problems with blurriness and underexposure with it. The zoom ring is not smooth at all and it is placed kind of close to the body (something that at least bothered me).

For what you are talking about Jason, I think you may want to invest in one of the so-called "superzooms" that go from 18-200 mm or so but are rather slow (f/6.3 at the long end) that are made by Sigma or Tamron. One of them will run you around 400 dollars. Tamron also makes a 2-lens kit that you can get for around 200 dollars that features a 28-80 and a 70-300.
 
Well I'm narrowing down my lense choices, for zoom I have 3 pretty much to choose from:

Canon 75-300 lens, the Tamron 70-300 lens or the Sigma 70-300.

As for wide angle, still am fairly open, but I think I have it down to the Sigma 18-50 or the Tamron 19-35, or anybody use the Tokina 19-35? I could also just stick with the kit lens if it has just as good value as those above, either way I hope some of you that have used SLR's for a while and had experiecne with some of those lenses could give me some advice...

Thanks
 
Jayson,

I have the Sigma 70-300 mm APO lens and I've found it to be a great value overall. Sure, it's not the same quality as the far more expensive Canon L telephotos, but from all I've read and seen it's quite a bit better than the cheapo Canon 75-300. I've been happy with mine.

I'm not sure about the Sigma or Tamron wide angles you mentioned, but I do recommend replacing the kit lens if at all possible. I've put up with it for over a year and a half now and I'm just plain sick of the poor quality and ridiculously bad focusing.
 
I have a Sigma 17-70mm lens and I would certainly not ever dream of going back to the kit lens.

The L series lenses are just too expensive for me - that was my simple reason for not going for a better Canon lens.

The Sigma also has mild macro ability

lil2.jpg


Some pictures taken with the Sigma - be aware that these pictures are heavily compressed and the levels have been tweaked.

http://ozthunder.com/chase/chase67.html

http://ozthunder.com/chase/chase69.html

Lastly a rather unscientific comparison between the Sigma and kit lens. Both pics are crops (not resized) from full 8mp images. Taken on two seperate days, but time of day and exposure were exactly the same.

kit.jpg


sigma.jpg


If you have not already guessed the Sigma is the last image.
 
Excellent comparisons and appreciate the feedback Michael. I just picked up this lens + hood + two high end filters for $330 so I'm pretty stoked. Should be here early next week, although then again it took something 6 days to go from Topeka KS to Kansas City this week, so who knows.
 
Jayson, the Sigma 17-70mm. I've been doing an insane amount of research which left me between this lens and the Canon 17-40mm USM/L. I like the extra 30mm, the $300 in savings and the hundreds of reviews/photos that suggested the quality is pretty well matched. Some people thought the auto-focus noise on the Sigma was a bit higher, but I don't plan on photographing any weddings any time soon :)

Evan
 
Anybody used the Sigma 28-70 DG lens or the Tamron 28-80 lenses? I'm looking for just a good starter kit of lenses and thus likely won't be looking at the very high quality like the 17-40L like Mike...

Jayson, I've used the lens you mention, a Tamron 28-75 aspherical zoom for about 3 years and I like it for a storm lens because of the faster F 2.8 stop. From tests I've seen it's not as critical sharp as the 17-40L, but it's not soft at any stop. Also, it's a couple hundred dollars cheaper, I think I paid about $350 mail order.

Generally shooting wide open into bright light is a worst case test, that was the situation here where I shot El Reno at F2.8 at 640sec.
http://chaseday.com/PHOTOSHP/2006season/ElReno/ElRenoOK4-24-060021-1.jpg

This shot is a compressed JPEG for the Intenet, the original is much better. Not bad I think for "worst case" wide open.

Here are some reviews, of course people are holding it up to the Canon "L" standard and that's unreasonable, it's a $350 lens, not $600 - $1200 as most Canon L lenses are priced.

http://www.fredmiranda.com/reviews/showproduct.php?product=187&sort=7&thecat=29

Here is an interesting review of the Sigma 18-50 lens against the Canon 17-40L, worth reading I think. Perhaps an inexpensive way of replacing the kit lens, although there are many aftermarket lenses in this range. Generally the slower f-stop lenses are cheaper. That said, I think F 5.6 is way too slow for most "under the cloud base" photography.

http://www.jasonlivingston.com/sigma-review/
http://www.pbase.com/joemama/sigma_1850__28

As I've mentioned before the Canon 50mm 1.8 normal works great for the money ($80) and it becomes an effective 85mm on the D300/350/400 series Canon cameras.

gene
 
Jayson, I've used the lens you mention, a Tamron 28-75 aspherical zoom for about 3 years and I like it for a storm lens because of the faster F 2.8 stop. From tests I've seen it's not as critical sharp as the 17-40L, but it's not soft at any stop. Also, it's a couple hundred dollars cheaper, I think I paid about $350 mail order.

gene


I've used the Tamron 28-75mm lens as well the past couple of years, and it's been nice for me. I had a Sigma 24-70mm F/2.8 (I think...) a couple of years ago, but I had two bad copies that were terribly fuzzy / unsharp before trying the Tamron. Thankfully, I just got a Tokina 12-24mm that will be fun to play with this spring.
 
Right now I use the 17-40 f/4 L, 50mm f/1.4, and 70-200mm L f/2.8. All serve me quite well while chasing. Eventually I want to replace the 17-40 with the 17-55 f/2.8 IS. This should be an ideal chasing lens over the 17-40 L. Supposedly the optics are up to snuff with the L... just a bit of vignetting (which is easily corrected). I won't be replacing it any time soon considering the 17-55 has a pricetag of $1k.

With a bit of practice, it's possible to shoot at 17mm and stich a few photographs together to get a bigger FOV. If you keep near field objects out of the way, it's even possible to do this without a tripod.
 
One more thing about these lenses for digital cameras that folks new to the digital lens business might not know......

The Tamron I mentioned is actually a: Tamron SP AF Aspherical XR Di LD

What all this mombo-jumbo means is the lens has the high grade glass and it's made specifically for the small sensor digital camera (Di). Both Canon and the after market companies (Sigma, Tokina etc) started tayloring a line of lenses specifically for the small sensor (the 1.6X factor). There is good news and bad with this. These lenses are sharper than sticking an old EOS lens on a new Canon digital becase they are made specifically for the new format.....has to do with field curvature on the edges. That's why some of the old lenses mentioned here are soft. This is important if you see a bargin lens on Ebay for example. Also, some of the new format lenses won't work correctly on the full sensor digital cameras (a sensor the size of a 35 mm camera). One example of this is the new 10-20mm Canon zoom that is not recommended for the Canon 12.8 megapixel D5 full frame digital.

I know this is very confusing, but everyone that's building a system for the future will have to consider the consequences. I'll bet it's just a matter of time before all higher end cameras have full size sensors. This is one of the reasons I'm not sinking big money into the current Canon Digital cameras and lenses.

Gene
 
Gene,

I would like add to your comments and offer my own opinions. The lenses made by most 3rd party manufactures for the 1.5 Nikon or 1.6 Canon sensor sizes just cover the smaller sensor and are not suited for full frame or Canon’s 1.3 sensor size.

The EF-S lenses made by Canon are made to only fit a 1.6 sensor size. They cannot work at all due to the back end of the lens protruding into the camera and whacking the mirror when a picture is taken. So Canon doesn’t just “not recommendâ€￾ them for their professional series or full frame cameras but warns they can cause damage to the camera or lens or both.

As for the notion that the smaller sensor size is going away is nonsense. Canon and Nikon will keep moving forward with it and making more and more lenses to fit it.

Finally, I disagree with you idea that lenses made for smaller sensors is better due to the curvature of lens. It has always been discussed that the sweet spot of any lens is in the center with the edges being the problem with CA and distortion.

Using a full frame lens on a small sensor camera makes use of the sweet spot of the lens leaving the poor areas of the lens unused.

As for not buying into Canon gear until it goes full frame for everything will have you waiting for a very, very long time. Smaller sensors are here to stay and any lens bought for that will always have a resale market available.

As for me, I shoot action sports and use Canon Professional EOS bodies and my lenses have little red rings on them. *grin*

Jim
 
Gene,

As for the notion that the smaller sensor size is going away is nonsense. Canon and Nikon will keep moving forward with it and making more and more lenses to fit it.

Actually I said "I'll bet it's just a matter of time before all higher end cameras have full size sensors." Not that the small sensor is going out of production
icon7.gif
. Maybe the better question is "will Canon and Nikon make professional (strong not cheap plastic) small sensor cameras? As cameras like the full frame Canon 5D come down in price (now about $2800 without lens) they will be the choice of the better photographers, I'll bet they are the choice here. Only time will tell who's correct on this. I don't want to replace my equipment every 5 years; especially after getting spoiled by Canon's F-1 series that worked without flaws for over 20 years. My current Canon digital that I've owned for 3 years is already having some problems. Finally, it can be argued that the money saved on a small sensor camera will be spent in the end trying to get adequate wide angle lenses (75-90 degrees), something that most storm chasers want. I for one will wait probably another year, I still have a good 35mm system and Canon may have a big upgrade coming next spring.

Finally, I disagree with you idea that lenses made for smaller sensors is better due to the curvature of lens. It has always been discussed that the sweet spot of any lens is in the center with the edges being the problem with CA and distortion. Using a full frame lens on a small sensor camera makes use of the sweet spot of the lens leaving the poor areas of the lens unused.

Yep, the outer edges are the main difference on the newer lenses made for small sensors. That said, I believe the "sweet spot" is not so important in storm photography as sports, where the outside of the image is often blurred or "brokah" to enhance the subject, usually players. Many storm chase (still) photographers want very good edge to edge shots for their wide angle panorama or structure images. Since clouds by nature are a soft subject we often have to depend on structures along the horizon to make our images look sharp.

As for me, I shoot action sports and use Canon Professional EOS bodies and my lenses have little red rings on them. *grin*

Well you must have big biceps because those "professional" Canon cameras are darn heavy
icon10.gif
, not to mention the accompanying 3 lb telephoto lenses. So far the "L" series lenses (most I'm familiar with) are built to work with all the cameras and it's hard to go wrong. Of course we shouldn't be forced to buy only "L" lenses just to get a good product. Fortunately Canon does make quite a few high quality lenses that are not the most expensive.

Gene Moore
 
I want to ring in and reccomend the Canon 10-22, *if* you're shooting with a 1.6x crop camera (i.e., Rebel XT, 20D, 30D.) Holy cow is that a nice lense. It's basically an L lens without the L designation, as Canon has no plans on giving any 1.6x crop lens the L designation. It effectively becomes a 16-35mm lens, which is really a sweet spot for storm photography. 16 gets the structure even up close, 35 gets the structure when far away, and you can get a cheap 50mm 1.8 lens for $50 to zoom in on storm features. Most all of the storm stuff I've shot is with the 10-22; everything in this gallery (except for the first three and the closeup of the windmill) were shot with this lens.
 
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