Sound Advice: High-quality lens can improve performance of entry-level camera

  • Article by: DON LINDICH , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 14, 2014 - 1:26 PM

Sigma’s 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS lens.

Q: I have a base-level digital SLR camera (a 10.1-megapixel Canon XTi) that’s about five to six years old. Are there any advantages to updating to a more modern version, other than more ­megapixels?

I’m talking strictly from a photography point of view and ignoring video. I’m also asking about updating (going to a more recent base camera), as opposed to upgrading (going to a higher-level model).

I have a Canon 18-55mm kit zoom lens and a Canon 50/1.8 fixed lens for lower-light situations. I rarely make prints, and when I do, I don’t make prints bigger than 5 by 7 inches.

Should I upgrade my camera body?

A: A more recent entry-level digital SLR will probably have more megapixels, better low-light performance, and faster focusing and overall operation. It also will have a bigger, higher-resolution LCD display on the back, improved video functionality and possibly art filters or Wi-Fi capability.

You also are likely to get better-looking images due to improvement in sensor and image processing technology. How much better depends on your technique, the environment you take pictures in and your willingness to adjust pictures in software later.

Last week, I recommended that a reader stand pat and enjoy the audio system he had, rather than upgrade. This is the proper advice for you, too. Keep enjoying your camera.

You had to ask me about the advantages of a more modern entry-level camera, rather than telling me about the perceived shortcomings of what you have now, and you’re not interested in video. This tells me that your camera is working well for you. If you’re printing only at 5 by 7 inches, 10.1 megapixels is plenty.

Although I think your best option is to continue using your camera, you should consider upgrading your 18-55mm lens. The one that came with the Canon Digital Rebel XTi doesn’t have image stabilization. The Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens can be purchased new for $99 to $149. The IS stands for “image stabilization,” and having this feature will help whenever you hand-hold the camera, especially in low light.

An even better choice for a lens upgrade would be the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS lens (www.sigmaphoto.com). This lens has more telephoto reach at 70mm vs. 55mm, which will produce better-looking portraits. It also has excellent macro capability, is sharp, is much faster than the Canon kit lens (f/2.8-4 vs. f/3.5-5.6) and it has image stabilization.

The image stabilization is called OS for “optical stabilization” in Sigma nomenclature. The lens retails for $449, which seems expensive only until you realize that you might have a good lens for 20 years or longer. In the age of digital, camera bodies will come and go, but the lenses will stay with you.

If you had $449 budgeted for the new camera body, I would strongly recommend buying the Sigma 17-70mm lens and adding it to your XTi camera. The improvement will be immediately obvious, and your camera will be more capable overall.

Send questions to Don Lindich at donlindich@gmail.com. Get more recommendations and read past columns at www.soundadviceblog.com.

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