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.
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.
I knew exactly where my car was parked on the road around 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.
This is cropped from the image above to fill the frame with the eagle.
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.
A frame filling crop of the original image doesn’t look too bad, especially for an eagle that is 80 yards away.
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.
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.
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 options are available. See the second link below.