Pushing the Limits: $239 lens vs $2159 lens

Bald Eagle, Home Lake. Canon SL3, EF-S 55-250mm lens.

Is a $239 lens as good as a $2159 lens? Much of the time, yes (see the first link at the end of this article). Sometimes no. It depends on the photo situation. I get lots of equipment questions and some of them have to do with photography on a tight budget. I’ve been comparing a refurbished Canon SL3 camera and a refurbished Canon EF-S 55-250mm lens to a Canon 7D Mark II camera with a Canon L series 100-400mm lens.

I was at a local lake and had the SL3 and 55-250mm lens in my hands when a bald eagle flew across the lake (top photo) and landed in a tree near the lake.

Bald Eagle in a tree near Home Lake. Canon SL3 and Canon EF-S 55-250mm lens at 250mm.

I drove my car to a location as close as I could get to the eagle without disturbing it and created images with the SL3 and 55-250 lens. The image immediately above is uncropped. This is what I saw at 250mm with the eagle about 80 yards away.

Google Earth Pro, car to eagle distance. Click for a larger version.

I knew exactly where my car was parked on the road around the lake, and which tree the eagle was in. I used the measuring tool in Google Earth Pro to determine the eagle was 80 yards from my car, give or take a little. At that distance with a 250mm lens an eagle is pretty small in the frame.

Bald Eagle, Home Lake. Canon SL3 and 55-250mm lens, cropped from the original image.

This is cropped from the image above to fill the frame with the eagle.

Bald Eagle in a tree just south of Home Lake, Lamoni Iowa. Canon 7D2 with a Canon EF 100-400mm lens at 400mm.

I picked up the Canon 7D2 and 100-400mm lens to do some comparison photos. The extra 150mm of focal length makes a difference and the eagle is not quite so small in this uncropped image.

Bald Eagle, Home Lake. Canon 7D2 and 100-400mm lens, cropped from the original image.

A frame filling crop of the original image doesn’t look too bad, especially for an eagle that is 80 yards away.

Side by side comparison. Click to see a larger version.

This side by side comparison tells the tale. The image from 55-250mm lens at 250mm lens is looking shabby compared to the 100-400mm lens at 400mm lens. An eagle at 80 yards is just too much for the 55-250mm lens to handle. I have pushed the lens beyond its limits. The 100-400mm lens is at the edge of acceptability. If the eagle was much farther away, even the 100-400mm lens will not handle the job. Be sure to click the image to see a larger version.

Bald Eagle, Home Lake. Side by side 100% magnification. Click to see a larger version.

Another way to compare the two images is to look at the center of both images with a 100% magnification “actual pixels” crop. That means one pixel in the image file is one pixel on the computer monitor. Be sure to click the image to see the larger, 100% magnification image.

When I did this comparison, I set out to push the 55-250mm lens to its limits, and in this comparison I pushed it beyond its limits. If the eagle was closer, this would have been a different story. With subjects that are closer you would be hard put to tell which photos were taken with which lens.

Canon 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm. Canon SL3 with Canon EF-S 55-250mm.

I bought my SL3 and 55-250 lens as “refurbs” from Canon USA a couple of years ago. Here are some comparison prices as of the time of this article.

Canon SL3 camera body: $519 refurbished, $749 new.
Canon EF-S 55-250mm lens: $239 refurbished, $299 new.

Canon 7D Mark II body: $609 used, $1169 new.
Canon EF 100-400mm lens: $2159 refurbished, $2699 new.

The good news is a relatively inexpensive camera and lens combo can do a good job in most typical photo situations. The inexpensive combo, refurbished, is $758. The expensive combo, refurbished/used, is $2768. Less expensive refurb options are available. See the second link below.


Can a $239 Lens Do The Job of a $2159 Lens

Get a Quality DSLR and Two Lenses for $500