Can a $239 Lens Do the Job of a $2159 Lens?

Amish Buggy at Sunset, US 69, Iowa. Focal length: 250mm,

The good news is most of the time a $239 telephoto lens can do the job of a $2159 lens, but not all of the time (see “Pushing the Limits” in the links below). This article will share a few examples.

Except for the equipment photos created with an iPhone, every photo in this article was created with the Canon EF-S 55-250mm lens on a Canon SL3 body. I provide the lens focal length for the photos taken with the 55-250mm lens.

Cameras with telephoto lenses. Canon 7D Mark II with Canon EF 100-400mm lens. Canon SL3 with Canon EF-S 55-250mm lens. iPhone photo.

Why Did I Want to Know?

There are three reasons why I wanted to know if a $239 lens (and a relatively inexpensive camera) could do the job. One reason is simple curiosity. How good could a $239 telephoto lens be? Reason two is weight and size. I carry a backpack with a camera body and two or three lenses almost everywhere I go. It is just a part of me. I never know when I will want a serious camera to do what my iPhone can’t do. So I wondered if a small, light weight set of gear that weighed less than half as much as my regular gear could do the job. Reason three is safety for my gear. It isn’t often but there are some situations that I don’t want to risk my expensive gear. Losing a $239 lens when a wave hits a kayak doesn’t feel as bad as losing a $2159 lens.

A very active small boy. Focal length: 109mm.

To find answers, a couple of years ago I bought a Canon “refurb” kit which included a Canon SL3 body and Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens. Then I bought a Canon EF-S 55-250mm telephoto lens when it became available as a refurb. That gave me a nice two lens kit. Plus I already had a nice EF-S 10-22mm lens for really wide angle work. The Canon 55-250mm lens currently costs $239 as a refurb as compared to the Canon 100-400mm lens which costs $2159 as a refurb. More about refurbs at the last link below.

A thoughtful moment. Focal length: 146mm.

At first I used the inexpensive equipment in non-critical situations where bad results wouldn’t matter. Once I trusted the gear to do the job, I began using it in more important situations.

Sports portrait. Focal length: 61mm.

I shoot for the local newspaper and that means I need to use gear that I know will do the job. After several months experience with the inexpensive gear I began using it for some newspaper jobs.

Hannah Aldridge performing at the Lamoni Listening Room. Focal length: 250mm.

The inexpensive gear was up to the task. I could trust it to do important jobs.

Kathryn Ross in concert at the Lamoni Listening Room. Focal length: 124mm.

My inexpensive kit is now my usual “take with me everywhere I go” camera bag.

Dr. Christopher Brandt, Director, Lamoni Band Concert. Focal length:146mm.

How Do I Choose Which Backpack To Take With Me?

There are times I need choose the more expensive gear.

1. When I really need a focal length longer than 250mm like a 70-300 or 100-400mm lens. That usually means I am shooting sports and wildlife at a distance.

2. When I need a really wide angle focal length, like a 15mm semi-fisheye lens.

3. When autofocus is critical for really fast action events. The autofocus on a Canon 5D Mark III or a Canon 7D Mark II feels more reliable in fast action situations than the Canon SL3. If I am photographing sports I get a higher percentage of keepers with a 5D3 or 7D2 camera.

4. When I need a more powerful flash unit than the built in flash on the Canon SL3.

Lamoni Elementary School Band Concert. Focal length: 200mm.
Lamoni High School Band Concert. Focal length: 155mm.

My Two “Every Day” Camera Bags

My “go everywhere” camera bag with more expensive gear. iPhone photo.

This was my “go everywhere, do everything” backpack before acquiring some lighter, much less expensive camera gear. This still goes with me on some occasions in which I need the added capability of this equipment. Fully loaded as you see it here, this backpack weighs 13 pounds. Not a lot, but keep in mind this backpack went everywhere with me with the exception of my daily exercise jaunt.

I also have a bigger much bigger backpack if I am going on a serious photographic excursion (like a landscape and wildlife photo trip to Colorado). Everything you see above goes in the big backpack plus I add a Canon 7D Mark II camera body and a Canon EF 100-400mm lens.

My “go everywhere” camera bag with less expensive gear. iPhone photo.

This is my new, smaller “go everywhere, do everything” backpack that I now grab most of the time when I go out the door. There are still some occasions (listed above) when I need the more full featured backpack above. I take the backpack I need for the task at hand. The only item that moves back and forth between the two backpacks is the Olympus digital audio recorder. Fully loaded as you see it here, this backpack weighs 6 pounds.

The point of all of this is that a relatively inexpensive camera body and lenses will do the job in many if not most situations for a lot of photographers. You don’t have to break the bank to have fun with some capable gear.


Pushing the Limits: $239 lens vs $2159 lens

Get a Quality DSLR and Two Lenses for $500 with info on Canon refurbs