What lenses should I buy?

When upgrading to the 5D Mark II some of my EF-S lenses had to follow my old 400D (EF-S won’t work on the full frame 5D). So I need to buy some new lenses to cover my needs. But I can’t decide. This is what I currently own:

What I've got

Canon 70-200 f4L IS
Canon 50 mm f1.4 USM
Canon 15 mm f2.8 fisheye

And after posting the following question on Twitter:

If you could choose three Canon lenses. Regardless of price. What would you choose?

Here are the results so far:


Seems like the 70-200 f2.8L IS is a favorite. I already have the f4L version of that lens. Mostly because it’s half the weight and half the size of the f2.8L. I like to travel light. And the f4L is razor sharp and very high quality. Here’s a set of favorites shot with that lens. So I’ll keep that one. The next is the fantastic 85 mm 1.2L. Is it worth the weight and the price? Anyone out there owning one?

Still the problem is that I don’t know if I want to go for a zoom or some primes. I need something wide that’s not as extreme as the 15mm. And probably something for portraits that is faster and hopefully smaller than the 70-200 f4L IS. A couple of alternatives:

1. Convenience:
The 24-70 f2.8L

2. Pure quality and speed:
24mm f1.4L II + 85mm f1.2L

3. Travel light + reasonable quality:
28mm f1.8 USM + 85mm f1.8 USM

I’m also considering the legendary 135 mm f2L when I need more speed than the 70-200 f4L can give me. Or how about the very versatile and razor sharp 100mm f2.8 Macro?

What do you think? I need some advice. And at this point I don’t want to spoil the party by talking price. I want advice on the best solution. Your favorites. Regardless of price. Links to reviews. Etc…

I’m carrying my camera in my bag more or less every day. I shoot lots of stuff in natural and low light. Don’t like using a flash. Currently I use the 50 mm 1.4 a lot because of the combination of speed and light weight.

What lenses should I buy?

46 thoughts on “What lenses should I buy?

  1. 24-70 for the basic stuff
    70-200 for the tele stuff
    50 mm f1.4 for the very, very low light stuff
    …and keep having fun with the 15mm for the strange stuff

    Pretty good idea… Or not?

  2. If you need a lens for basic stuff, 24-70mm is brilliant.
    85mm f/1.2 is just as stunning as the price. Razor sharp and if you need a lot of light, and know how to handle the difficult 1.2, then you will never regret.

    I also have good experiences with 135mm f2L.

  3. Eirik,
    trust me, the 70-200mm f/2.8 is what you want now with your 5D. I have the f/4 and in low light, it just doesn’t work for me anymore, all’s blurred… it’s not that big.
    however, go prime with the 135mm should you need night shots :) or crop the pix.

    I really love my 85mm f/1.2. Excellent for portraits (beautiful depth of field), night shots. heavy but just love it.
    Sample shots :
    (evening light at a friend’s place:
    @BenB's birthday party in Paris
    very dark in a bar:
    @BenB's Birthday party in Paris

    I somehow think my 50mm f/1.4 is now useless, except if you’re doing close-up portaits (at a dinner table for example).

    And I love the effects of my 16-35mm f/2.8 II.
    Sample shots:
    in a bar at night:
    @BenB's Birthday party in Paris
    check the roof !!
    portrait effects:
    Working with vpod.tv partner BlueKiwi :)

    And indeed, I might go for the 24mm at some point :)
    just learning how to better user my 5D mark II at the moment.

  4. I have been using 17-40 4.0L USM with my previous crop format camera, and even though I have other lenses, I found that I hardly ever took it off except for special tasks. 17-40 on a crop is about 27-64, which is about 24-70, so 24-70 would indeed be the ideal lens for my new 5D.

  5. I had the 24-70mm with the old 5D, and now 24-105mm IS with the 5D II. Why? f/4 gives enough light for the 5DII, and you need the IS for your movies. It´s also lighter, smaller, cheaper and have more range.

  6. I’ve borrowed a 85mm 1.2f a couple of times and it is fantastic, it’s on the top of my wishlist along with the 70-200mm f2.8 IS L from Canon. The Sigma 17-70mm f2.8 is a good versatile lens and it’s quite cheap, I haven’t tried the 24-70mm Canon. I have a Canon 50mm f1.4 too, it’s a very good lens that I use alot, incredibly sharp for the low price and I don’t see any good reason to go for the 50mm f1.2 when you got that already. If I were you I’d go with Convenience, life is hell without a lens that covers the area in between around 20-70mm. Then again you’ll probably be more impressed by the quality and fun of the 85mm f1.2 lens :)

  7. Considering what you allready have, something like the 24-70 would of course be a very convenient chioce. Combined with a 70-200, you’re pretty much covered for most situations. I’ve got 24-105 f4, 50mm 1.4 and the same 70-200 as you’ve got, and I don’t lack very much. The only thing I am considering is getting something wider than 50mm that still works great in low light. 14mm would be brilliant, and 24 and 35. For portraits I would also like an 85mm, but even though the 1.2 version is stunning, I would probably be more than happy with the 1.8.

  8. HH says:

    First off, I am very surprised not to find the 17-55mm f/2.8 lens mentioned, as it is a very popular (and praised) choice in the high-end.

    It could be interesting to hear a bit more about how you use your camera, as this defines your needs. Personally I have a 50mm f/1.4 and an 18-200mm 3.5-5.6 as my main gear. Although the 18-200 is optically inferior to a lot of other lenses, I find myself using it a lot because it is practical when travelling.

  9. Sam says:

    I’ve got the 70-200L 2.8 IS, 24-70L 2.8, 50mm 1.4, 100mm macro and a few other random lenses that never leave the house.

    By far the most used lens is the 24-70…It’s not too big, goes vaguely wide (though not on my 40D!) and is fairly sharp.

    The 50mm 1.4 is next fav – very sharp when stopped down a little, good value and great for available light shots.

    70-200mm is nice but bulky, heavy and generally a monster. If I had the choice again I think I’d be more inclined to consider the f/4 (maybe even non-IS) model.

    100mm is great for macro, as one would expect, but also very good as a ‘stand back’ portrait lens….And cheap / light compared to the 85 1.2

    Why not rent a choice of lenses over a few weeks to see which you find best. There’s conflicting opinions in the comments already on all of the lenses you mention…You will only find out if you ‘love’ a lens by using it and seeing if the lens suits your style etc etc.

    Spending $2k on a lens without trying it first is brave :)

  10. Lots of good advice in here already! Thank you and keep it coming.

    The EF-S 17-55 f2.8 IS was my favorite on my old 400D, but as Espen mention it won’t work on the full frame 5D.

    I have borrowed the new 24 mm f1.4L II for the last couple of weeks. It’s wonderful, but I can’t really decide if it’s worth the extra weight etc. I’ve also been fortunate enough to borrow the fantastic 200 mm f2L IS as well. Absolutely fantastic, but for my needs way too big and heavy.

    In addition to this I’ve tried the 100mm f2.8 macro for a couple of weeks.

    And I still don’t know what to buy…

  11. I guess Marius is referring to the following:
    He ALWAYS wanted me to lug around the 70-200 f2.8L IS and is of the general opinion that the f4L is for wimps. And I still disagree on that one… :-)

  12. I’ve tried both the 2.8IS and the 4 IS, and I think that as long as you don’t really feel the need for f2.8 it is not worth it. It was a great combo with a 1Ds and a 24-70 2.8, but it is heavy, bulky and the IS is not as good as on the 4IS version. Many people even suggest that the cheaper 4 IS is a bit sharper.
    That said, you do own the 70-200 4IS, and you should just consider if you really need the extra light, or if f4 has been enough so far.

  13. I love the 70-200 f4L IS. Especially with the 5D Mark II. Here’s an image shot at 200 mm f4, ISO3200:
    Martin Varsawsky

    I like it because it’s razor sharp wide open as well. In lab tests the f4L slightly outperforms the f2.8L and the IS on the f4 is one stop better than on the f2.8

    So, Rodrigo and Marius: you’ll have to wait some more before I get back to you saying “I know, you told me so. Now I’ve upgraded to the f2.8…” The f4L stays.

    The question here is more about wide angle, mid range, zoom or prime etc…

  14. Yes. I know. I’ll let you know when that extra stop gets too important and the f2.8 is heading my way.

    Now how about this:
    24-105 f4L IS or 24-70 f2.8L…?

    Yeah, Marius would say 16-35 f2.8L + 70-200 f2.8L IS and you’re covered? No?

  15. You could probably do pretty much with that combination, and you already have a 50mm if you need something in between. But having a 24-70 or a 24-105 as I have, gives you a lot in terms of conveniency. It depends how much you use focallengths between 35 and 70, but if time is of some importance, you’d probably be better of with something that gives you more or less “full” coverage.

  16. Looking at your Flickr images, I’d say you should put the EF 24-105 on top of your list. The 24-70 comes without IS, which actually make the 24-105 more flexible (unless you’re into action and need f2.8 to minimize exposure time). If you add the 16-35 you will be extremely well equipped.
    BTW, my gear is listed on the website link. :-) v

  17. Erik,

    Seems to me that you are missing a workhorse zoom lens for shorter focal ranges – the two obvious choices would be the 24-70 f/2.8 vs. the 24-105 f/4 IS.

    I recently got the 24-105 as part of a 5D MkII Kit and (though I am still waiting for the nody and using a borrowed 24-105) I find it both versatile and light.

    The discussions around which one of these two to pick are endless if you start looking, some of the main arguments go:

    – They are more or less equal when it comes to sharpness.

    – 24-105 overlaps with the 70-200. This can be a good thing as you will change lenses less often (esp since you choose the wimpy f/4 70-200), or redundant, depending on your preferences.

    – 24-70 is a stop faster, the shallow DOF is of course nice and it stops motion which the IS does not do. The 24-70 however does not have IS, and as the 24-105 has a 3-stop IS you will actually be better off in low lights unless you have a strong need to shoot moving subjects.

    – The 24-70 is 950 g vs. just 670 g for the 24-105. Your 70-200 weighs in at 760.

    – “Some people say” that a wider aperture is mroe important at longer focal ranges, and you probaly will be using the 1.4 if you want to go bokeh-crazy anyway.

    You already have the body, if not I would say that value-for-money is a no brainer as you get the 24-105 cheap (ehrm, might not be the right word but you get the gist)

    Note that I am on Mairus’ team when it comes to the 70-200 (Love my 2.8 IS), I have still not had any moment where I cursed my lack of aperture in the lower ranges as long as I have my trusty 50/1.4 at hand.

  18. @ Vidar Nordli-Mathisen
    According to your Flickr-page you’re pretty well covered! :-)

    Another good argument in the direction of 24-105 is, like Eirik Urke has mentioned in this thread the IS and video recording on the 5D. For hand-held video recording the IS does wonders even at 24mm.

    I like the 70-200 f4L because it is razor sharp even at f4. How about the 24-105? You can actually use it at f4?

    And another question:
    I see you own the Canon EF 135 f2L. Do you use that one often?

  19. Vidar Nordli-Mathisen says:

    The 24-105 is definitely a high quality lens that delivers tack sharp images. I find it more than acceptable even at f4 through the whole zoom range. I have uploaded a couple of samples for you to check out.
    73mm: http://flickr.com/photos/vidarnm/3309065769/sizes/o/
    24mm: http://flickr.com/photos/vidarnm/3309894352/sizes/o/in/photostream/

    And yes, the L primes are even sharper, although only pixel peeping (and probably side by side comparisons of large prints) will reveal the difference from the L zooms.

  20. Per Ervland says:

    I would recommend this setup:
    17-40 f4 L (more for your money than the 16-35 f2,8 L but if you have the money go for this:-)
    24-105 f4 L (more for your money than the 24-70 f2,8 L and more versatile)
    70-200 f2,8 L IS (the best lens ever made :-)
    But if you got the money go for some primes to
    50 f1,2 L and the 85 f1,2 L

  21. Eirik says:

    This is my thoughts on this. Hope it helps.

    I use my 5D + 24-70L with flash when I’m shooting different situations in a day on assignment (and don’t knowing how the situation is). It’s convenient and you got what you need to make nice photos.

    But when travelling, just carrying around or having the shoot planned I love using my 35L without flash; being creative with f-stops and get closer, and giving me some wide-angle when I want to, it makes it kind of a general lens to.

    My 85L and 135L is used when I know I need them, and for that they’re great.

    Generally I find the results from my L-primes superior to my L-zoom. So, beacause og this, I use my primes as often as I can.


  22. Morten Davidsen says:

    I think you’ve summed up the choices perfectly well. Even the ranking – like mine. The problem… you need them all – in the end… ;-)

    If I started today with a Canon kit, it would be the following:
    16-35 2.8
    24-70 2.8
    70-200 2.8
    Oh… a 50 mm prime at whatever should really be the start. Good optics at more or less no cost.

    On the other hand, a good start would also be:
    24 mm prime
    35 mm prime
    85 mm prime
    (and maybe a 105, and 135 )

    I would shoot with that for a while, check the metadata, and after that consider primes I would buy.

    I’m a Nikon shooter (after the D3), but the reasoning behind choosing lenses would be more or less the same. Here’s a very good link from a Nikon perspective dealing with the same problem (overall transferable): http://www.bythom.com/rationallenses.htm

    Personally, what I really like about Canon prime lenses, that Nikon at the moment doesn’t have is: a 24mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.4. A good camera deserves good primes! And the fact that Canon has lenses like the 70-200 f/4 – Nikon only has the 2.8 variation. Nikon on the other hand has a 70-300 at 3.5-5.6 – supurb optics- but a little slow – then again, very cheap.

  23. Morten Davidsen says:

    After reading the other comments:

    A REALLY good start would be:
    50 mm whatever
    24-105 (miss that one from Nikons range, the 24-120 is versatile but lacking in optics – not the Canon).

    16-35 2.8
    50 mm whatever (… or maybe a 60 mm macro – I’ve seen some awesome shots with Nikons 60 mm micro in advertising – mostly portraits, strange enough – though only 2.8)
    70-200 2.8 (preferably) or 4 (totally OK)

    A range of primes that suites you – but I have a feeling you need a set of zooms first to make a reasonable choice.

  24. JinZ says:

    I own the 5DmarkII along with 70-200 2.8IS, 85 1.2II, 50 1.4, 12-24 f4 Tokina, and few others. Ive had experience with 135 f2L,24-70, 24-105, 200 1.8 prime many others. But from what Ive seen as result on the 5Dmark2, you will hate not going 24-70. 24-70 is a superior lens for standard zooming with 5Dmark2 hence the 2.8, the f4 IS does no justice for the mark2. You dont really need IS on 24-70. If you go in deeper you would pull out the 70-200 IS by now. Some claim the 135mm quality is the same as 85mm 1.2, let me tell you that its not, Canon will never make a lens 1000$ more for no reason. 85mm1.2 is far softer “dreamier” looking than 135mm. To me the 135mm is only really soft bokeh whereas the 85mm is dreamy (mark that term dreamy because its the only lens out there in any brand can do such thing.) Wide I would go with a 16-35 or wider. If im going wide i really want it wide, if not I can survive with 24mm from the 24-70. Thats my opinion. You may find a better set up if you wish.

  25. Thank you. Some interesting thoughts on the 85 vs 135 here. I ended up with the 24-105 because of the IS. Not for stills, but for video. Because I actually use my 5D MkII for quite a bit of video work.

    And I know that I will probably end up with some very fast primes for that low light and high quality work.

    The 85 f1.2 and 24 f1.4 being very interesting…

  26. JinZ says:

    I also do a bit video now and then, but i went with 24-70, just because I thought if I needed the reach, I might as well switch to 70-200 for that long steady reach. I kind of want my 2.8 set haha. 85mm 1.2 is no doubt many people dream lens. 24mm 1.4 im not as tempting because Im more tempted by the 35mm 1.4. Many might tell you the 35 and 85 go together like siblings, one is wide enough to not get a lot of distortion and one is far ebough for clean portrait. =)

  27. eirik, don’t you get a brrrr… sound when you shoot video with IS ? so unless you’re dubbing it afterwards, I tend to put IS off.

    also, do you need IS at 24-70mm ? shouldn’t move too much? You can always use either a tripod, or image stabilization on Movie afterwards ?

  28. JinZ says:

    No you hear no sound from the IS at all. That’s teh purpose of USM for soft focus and IS. The IS is so small u literally had to place your ear on the lens to hear it rotate. The sound recording from the camera isnt internal after all. Therefore, you wont hear it especially when ambient sounds are louder. =D You dont need IS really, the 24-70 is just fine the way it is.

  29. @Rodrigo:
    If you record using the internal mic you can clearly hear the noise from the stabilizer. And all the noise from whatever buttons you press on the camera. So the internal mic isn’t really useful anyway.

    When recording video I use an External Røde Mic. That doesn’t pick up the noise from the stabilizer. And really: the stabilizer on the 24-104 is very, very good. And I use it all the time. Both for stills and video.

    But: rumors says that Canon is working on a 24-70 f2.8 L IS… Sounds interesting. :-)

    And I will buy the new 100mm f2.8 L IS as soon as it is available. Looks fantastic. Both for portraits and for macro work.

  30. aha! “rumors says that Canon is working on a 24-70 f2.8 L IS” – any link to that rumor ? maybe I should wait a bit then :)

    as far as the 100mm goes. i understand how you can use it for macro work. But does it also work well as a prime lens / tele lens ?

  31. I would have waited if you don’t really need it NOW… Rumor:

    100mm Macro as a prime. Yes, indeed. I’ve borrowed the current 100mm f2.8 non IS non L Macro for a while. It is an amazingly sharp lens at all distances. But I don’t like the build and I miss the IS. So now when Canon decided to add L build and a brand new IS system it looks like a very nice one. The nine blade circular aperture will probably give it a beautiful bokeh as well.

  32. I have the 17-55mm IS (EF-S) lens on my 50D right now. When I upgrade to the 5D MkII I’m gonna find it hard to justify keeping it on my 50D as a backup camera and lens. it’s a lot of $$$$ to keep as a backup…

    Maybe its time to buy a 5D MkII and a cheaper 5D as backup?

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