The Day I Ditched Professional Grade Lenses as a Photographer
It was a scary choice, but I made it, and it ended up being a good choice.
I’ve been shooting since the early 90s, starting with a vintage film camera. I got into digital photography the day the Canon 10D came out, and the same day I also bought my first lens for it, a brand new 28-200mm lens. It was inexpensive, lightweight, versatile, but although I did some great photo reporting with this kit, mostly at sporting and action events, the quality of the images limited me.
Growing up in photography, I invested in the real deal: brand new, high-end, professional-grade lenses. I bought the “holy trinity” of the L series “red ring” lenses for several thousand dollars and wow, the quality was there without a doubt! The Pro glass was a good investment, and I enjoyed every image I made on many contracts with them. My image quality was better, yes.
As much as I love these lenses, there was something that kept coming back to me. I never forgot how awesome it was during the years that I was able to own one lens that could do it all.
One day I finally dusted off my old 28-200mm and went out to my garden for a quick shot. Maybe I could fall in love with it again. Why not? Some people buy various old lenses.
Meh. It was terrible.
I couldn’t believe how bad the pictures came out. My eyes and expectations were now at the professional level and I cannot go back.
I wish so much that one day we could leave home with a perfect camera and lens kit to do it all. I mean, we drive electric speed cars and we fly in space, so there is hope for that, right?
Like most of us, I keep up to date with the web, pro shops and contacts. I’ve done some research over the past few years and for the most part the general consensus on simple, do-it-all goals has never been very good.
After saving some money for a new camera body but not spending it because I felt I couldn’t find what I was looking for – I’m in no rush for this – I decided to ‘invest in a trip instead, thinking it would be a good photographic investment. Spoiler: it was.
The thing is, I didn’t really have the opportunity to bring my trinity of professional goals on this trip. Ouch. I was going to a great place to photograph the best scenery in the country, but without all my gear.
My option then was either to bring my 24-70mm pro – super sharp but heavy enough to ruin the day of hiking, and its range was okay but not great – or to get a different lens (either buy it, rent or borrow it).
After days of careful thought and a few days of local hiking with my pro-level 24-70mm, I decided I had to at least try again to find a new or recent travel lens that might be good enough for my trip. Once again, the vast research has begun.
Thanks to Gordon Laing’s very detailed goals pages and other great reviews and videos that I enjoyed, I was able to complete my research and make a choice. I ended up buying a used 18-135mm travel lens, rarely used, with image stabilization, and at a great price as well. I did it.
All I had to do was test it before going on a trip. To my surprise, the quality was “quite sharp”. Was it equal to or better than my pro goals? Of course not. It was good ? Yes!
That day, in front of my Lightroom screen, a weight was lifted from my shoulders. I felt that maybe I had finally found what I was looking for.
Then the trip took place. Many photos were taken in various situations, from sunny scenes to rainy scenes, from wide images to zooms. Then I was back home and in Lightroom andâ¦ the photos were good! I was happy. My images were great. My choice was the right one; a versatile lens.
At home I decided to give this ultra zoom lens more chances so I tested my 18-135mm in other personal shots and again the same feeling – I was happy. It’s not as good as my professional grade glass, but it’s good enough for me to choose this lens as a lens from now on.
As for my professional lenses, I keep them and plan to use them when I need them and during my paid photographic work.
I hope this story can help some photographers like me who are wondering about ultra-zoom travel lenses. My advice would be: do your research because not all travel goals are good, try before you buy if you can, and once you feel you’ve found one, take the plunge.
Don’t be afraid to have an unprofessional lens mounted on your camera. It may be a way of enjoy more photographs and bring your camera more often.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author alone.
About the Author: RenÃ©-Pierre Normandeau started photography because his father didn’t want to lend him his old Minolta 35mm, a camera that eventually became his tool for several years. Influenced by sport, action, speed and movement, he mainly focuses his art on these subjects, but also on landscapes, nature and travel. His company Polar Media is based in Mont-Tremblant, Quebec in Canada. You can find more of her work on her website and Instagram.