With a Little Help from My Lens…

…in this case, very little. OK, that’s an exaggeration, but I’m starting to wonder if I wasted my money on the lenses I bought to pair with my SL1. I still love the camera itself, and in no way think that was a waste of money, but the 40mm pancake lens isn’t turning out to serve much purpose other than being small, and the zoom lens may not be all that needed either, although I’m less disappointed with that one at the moment than I am with the 40mm. 

The 40mm on my 7D

Part of the issue is that I’m still figuring out exactly how I’m going to use the Canon SL1. I like how easy it is to throw in my car and take with me just about anywhere – which I do, although so far I haven’t used it spontaneously very much  – but when the results of using it have really made me happy have been when I’ve paired it with my 50mm lens. There’s quite a bit running through my head at the moment about the whole thing, so I’ll try to sort it out as clearly as possible.

A pic of my brother, taken with the SL1/40mm lens combo – he’s concerned you should probably bail on this post while you still can

I have tended to use the SL1 in more candid, walkabout situations such as this afternoon, when I went to a family barbecue to celebrate my two nieces graduating from high school. The last time I took pictures of a family gathering was Christmas Eve, and although the 7D took nice pictures, it did get quite heavy and cumbersome to use (I had the 17-40mm lens attached as well as a Speedlite). So I’ve known for awhile that this is the sort of situation where the smaller camera would be useful – not to mention the reduced need for studio-quality photos because the shots are more for family and memory’s sake than anything else. Unfortunately, these are generally low-light situations as well, and while the 40mm pancake lens is fast at f/2.8, I get another full stop out of the 50mm; add in that the two lenses are pretty close in weight, and there’s no real reason I need the 40mm at all.

My sister’s dog; a nice enough shot, but as you can see it came out pretty dark

Except for the fact that it’s so tiny, and as far as that goes the jury is still out as to whether or not that is going to be useful for me. Certainly the reviews are impressed with the lens for more than it’s small size – it is crisp and sharp and the build quality is quite good for the price – but the unobtrusive nature of the lens is the most highly touted factor. People who love it mention being able to put it in a pants pocket because it’s so small, or being able to pack it easily when traveling, things like that, and I’m not sure that’s ever going to be a big need for me. And the fact that it makes a camera body less obvious to others is negated, in my opinion, by the fact that you have to get right up on your subject for it to have any interest. When reading up on the lens today I came across a review by B&H photo which described it as having “a focal length that places it squarely in that bland category known as Normal,”  and I can’t think of a better way to describe the results I’ve been getting with the lens – bland. Sure, it’s not far off in focal length from my 50mm, but as I already mentioned, with the 50 I get a wider aperture and better performance in low light that allows me to keep the ISO settings lower. Now granted, because I’m still so fixated on keeping the SL1 as light as possible, I’ve not been willing to put a Speedlite on it, which is something I’ve never hesitated to do with my already-heavy 7D, so I probably have to get over that and realize that even with an external flash attached I’m still benefiting from a much lighter camera – in that case, the 40mm would keep things a touch lighter than the 50mm, although not by much. I’ll give it some more time to see if it ever becomes handy, but it may end up that the 50mm still wins. Moving on.

The collage I made out of the rest of today’s photos because they all came out BLAND – or grainy, if they were taken with the telephoto.

Since I was so bored by the focal length of the 40mm today, I quickly switched to my new EF 55-250mm to give that one a go, but at f/4 it was a bust. An f/4 aperture is at the edge of what’s considered fast, but I’ve never been able to get one to work in low light (my wide-angle 17-40 is a f/4 as well) without a Speedlite or a pretty high ISO setting. I liked the better framing I could get with the zoom lens since I could focus in tightly on people without being up in their faces (I tend to like portrait-length pictures even in crowds, rather than large group shots) but I had to push the ISO up to 3200 to allow enough light into the shot, and the results were way too grainy to make me happy. Perhaps the 7D would have done a better job at such a high ISO setting, but then I would have been lugging around the heavy camera again, so I still vote in favor of putting the 50mm (or even the 85mm, which is also very fast at f/1.8) on the SL1 and calling it a day. Either that, or get past my Speedlite aversion with the SL1 so we can all move on.

Testing the 55-250mm out on the waterfall in my backyard with the 7D – shutter speed 1/1000 and ISO 3200. Pretty grainy but otherwise not bad.

I still think the 55-250 might be useful as a zoom lens on either camera, because it’s so much lighter than my 70-200 and works nicely on the SL1 in outdoor situations, if nowhere else. And as I mentioned above, I could use it with the Speedlite when needed – I do still have my old 430EX that’s a lot smaller than my newer external flash (the 600-EX-RT) and that whole combo on the SL1 would still weigh a lot less than my 7D with the L-Series telephoto. And when using the 70-200 as a walkabout while photographing planes or whatever, the 55-250 might be nice to have in a bag nearby to use with my 7D when my arm starts getting tired. So I’m going to hang on to that one for now. And I guess the 40mm could be useful if I ever take the SL1 somewhere that I think it might get knocked around, because in that situation the compactness of the lens would keep it from getting damaged. So perhaps this whole long ramble sums up by saying that I’m still learning how to use the new camera, which I think I said somewhere up there at the beginning of all this mess. I guess the bottom line is that yes, I got a nice, new, small, cute, fun, light camera, and that’s all well and good, but to make it perform the way I want I’m still going have to attach some bells and whistles that add some weight, and that once again I’m going through the learning curve anything new requires. Thanks blog, for helping me work through all of that. Moving on.

Another weird waterfall shot – this time with the SL1 and the 55-250, same shutter speed and ISO as the 7D

Now, if you’ve actually waded through all this nattering, I applaud you. Or maybe I just console you. I have more macro shots to share tomorrow, I promise. I just keep getting derailed with shopping trips and failed lens experiments lately…