Readers' Questions

First Steve that's a great shot of Ankor Wat. What camera, lens and settings did you use for the shot? Steve I'm soon going to buy a Canon camera, the new 5D when it comes out, and was wondering what 4-5 lenses you would think would be best? Retiring soon to Thailand and this will be my hobby while here.

Regard: Doug

Hello Doug –

Nice to hear from you.  I’ll answer your question via email and if you don’t mind I’ll run this answer in next weeks column so other people can benefit as well?

Thanks for your comments about the Angkor Vat shot.  The full size image is stuffing.  I’ll attach a crop so you can get a feel for the lens I used.

The camera was a Canon 1ds Mark II.  The lens was a Canon 24-105mm USM IS L lens.  Many people compare the Canon 24-70mm F2.8 USM L lens to the 24-105 and ask which one they should get.  The optical differences are very small with the edge going to the 24-70.  The 24-105 however provides extra reach and image stabilization.  You much make the decision on which lens based on the above differences and your unique personal needs.

I mounted the DSLR on a good tripod and set the aperture F11, ISO 100, 47mm, and the shutter at 1/20th using mirror lockup and an external shutter release.

The new Canon 5d Mark II promises to be a significant upgrade to the 5d it replaces, and it’s image quality promises to be the best yet from Canon.  Personally I’ll wait until its been tested by a few places and the verdict it out, but either way its probably a safe bet.

You ask about what “4-5” lenses would be “best.”  Really, this depends on you and your photography needs and experience.  It might be better to ask what lenses pack the most value for a given budget to accomplish your needs, and then list your needs as specifically as you can.  Some lenses match the 5d Mark II’s body size and weight better than others while performing  very close to their closest choices.  Without more information, if I must list some lenses, I think you couldn’t go wrong with the “F4 zoom series” which includes the Canon 17-40mm F4, Canon 24-105mm F4 IS, Canon 70-200mm F4 IS, and perhaps the Canon 300mm F4.  To go much beyond this recommendation you’d need to be very specific as to your needs.

Most people when the first start out with a DSLR don’t really know their needs.  In this instance it would be a mistake to buy 4-5 lenses.  Perhaps it would be better to start with a high quality zoom in the most commonly used focal length which includes image stabilization and great image quality.  This lens would be the Canon 24-105mm F4 USM IS L lens.  It would probably be better to wait and add more lenses as you develop your needs and experience.  You can buy Canon lenses here in Thailand at very good prices, very close to the states (up or down), with a full warranty here in Thailand.

I hope this helps


Thank you Steve, I wasn't planning on buying the camera until around April next year anyhow. That way there should be a lot of reviews out by then. I thought the camera and lenses would be more here than the states, I will have a look around and price out a few things in Bangkok before I fly back home on October 3rd, if not I'll check at Christmas that way they should have a price on the Canon 5D Mark 11 as well. The lenses I was thinking about were the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, EF 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM, EF 135mm f/2.0L USM, 70-200mm f/2.8L USM, and 24-105mm f/4L USM. There should be some rebates or discounts on the lenses sometime between now and next June, they seem to offer them every year from what I have seen. These lenses are a little on the high side for starting out. The lenses you listed would be good too and I may take your advice and just buy the one lens for now, and see what I really need. The company's giving me the money for hanging around until April 1st and a good camera and lenses were going to be my retirement present to myself. Thank you Steve for your help.

Best Regards: Doug


Doug –

Keep in mind that many people buy, sell, buy the same things again, sell again, and go through many cycles with photography equipment.  Why?  Many don’t take the time to discover their own style and what they really need, but most think equipment will make them a better photographer and when one lens doesn’t do it they think another will.  Many think if you just buy the best lenses available that will do it.

The hard truth is, is that the better the lens is, the  more specialized skill it takes to use it effectively.  But when you do learn WOW, the images are stunning.  The two lenses you mentioned, the Canon 85mm F1.2 USM and Canon 135 F2 USM are two such lenses.  Both are highly specialized (especially the 85/1.2) and take a fair amount of skill to really learn to use well.  Be sure to take a look at next weeks learning topic (DOF and Portraits) as there will be some good information there with some decent examples.  I could easily spend a few days teaching someone to use just one of these lenses, and I’ll often spend an entire day with a student helping them discover just what jewels these lenses really are.  Many people buy them, discover bokeh, and think they’ve learned how to use them because they can achieve bokeh in their images.. but there’s so much more.

I have the Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS USM L lens.  Great lens.  It’s ideally matched for a 1d series body and will feel a bit lopsided with a 5d body.  If I was buying today I would very seriously consider the 70-200mm F4 IS USM L lens because image quality wise it’s 99.9% of the F2.8 version, plus it’s a lot lighter and smaller which becomes very important on a 5d body and when traveling around Thailand.

I also have the Canon 16-35mm F2.8 USM L lens.  It’s a nice lens, but I find myself using the Sigma 12-24 F4 lens 10x more often and with better results.  I also have 4-5 other wide angle lenses I choose from.  My rule of thumb, is that if I can shoot at F8 or smaller I’ll take the Sigma.  If I shoot wider than F8 I’ll take the Canon.  These are my main two wide angle zooms and I love both.  The Sigma btw is only about $500!  The Canon 17-40 has every bit the image quality as the 16-35 at half the price.  You give up the F2.8.. but with a wide angle you’d rarely.. and I mean very rarely.. shoot at F2.8, F4, or even F5.6 anyway.

There is a shop in Mall Bangkapi who routinely beats the prices of what Canon equipment (and I assume other equipment as well) costs in the states via mail order discounters.  I’ll be doing a lot of business with them in the future.

I can’t think of a better retirement present!  But I really do think the one lens mentioned (the 24-105) will keep you busy with the 5d Mark II for quite some time before you need other lenses.. and Canon will be offering the 5d Mark II and the 24-105 in a package with a savings of several hundred dollars.  If you will be moving to Thailand immediately after the purchase, do consider buying your gear locally so you’ll have warranty coverage.  Canon has an excellent service center here in Bangkok which I use all the time.

I hope all this helps.


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