Week 7, 2014: Upgrade camera or buy new lens?


Sound Advice

By Don Lindich

Week 7, 2014

Q. If I have a base-level SLR camera (in my case a 10.1-megapixel CanonXTi) 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. And note that I’m 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 do not make prints bigger than 5×7 inches. Do you think I should upgrade my camera body?

-R. Carpenter, Milwaukee, WI

A. A more recent entry-level digital SLR will likely have more megapixels, better low-light performance, faster focusing and overall operation, a bigger, more beautiful, higher resolution LCD display on the back, it will add or improve video functionality, and possibly get you some art filters or Wi-Fi capability. You are also 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. I think this is the proper advice for you as well, to stand pat and keep enjoying your current 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 are not interested in video. This tells me it is working well for you, and if you are only printing at 5×7 inches then 10.1 megapixels is plenty.

Though I think your best course of action is to continue using your existing camera, I do recommend you consider upgrading your 18-55mm lens. The 18-55mm lens that came with the Canon Digital Rebel XTi did not have image stabilization. The Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens can be purchased brand 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.  This lens has more telephoto reach at 70mm vs 55mm, which will produce better-looking portraits, it has excellent macro capability, it’s very sharp, it is much faster than the Canon kit lens (f/2.8-4 vs. f/3.5-5.6) and it also has image stabilization. The image stabilization is called OS for “Optical Stabilization” in Sigma nomenclature. The lens retails for $449, which only seems expensive until you realize you may have a good lens for twenty years or longer. In the age of digital, camera bodies will come and go, but the lenses will stay with you. You can see it at www.sigmaphoto.com.

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