I was on Instagram the other day when an ad for one of Canon’s two-lens kits popped up. The kits package together a couple of interesting options for photographers looking to step up from a kit lens, but the real question is: are the lenses a good value for photographers or should the money be spent elsewhere?
You Win Some, You Lose Some
This week I’m taking a look at the first kit, the “Advanced Two Lens Kit,” since I suppose I would call myself “advanced.” This kit packages together a wide angle lens and a standard prime lens, the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens and the EF 50mm f/1.4L USM lens, for $899. These two lenses are the oldest in their respective categories, with the 17-40mm being introduced in 2003 and the 50mm in 1993 (25 years ago!). While they’re okay by modern standards, time has passed them by and there are some better values to be had.
The 17-40mm itself is not a bad lens (I still use mine all the time), but these days, it’s definitely marketed as Canon’s “budget” wide-angle, L-class option. Several newer versions of this zoom range have come out in the meantime. Consider that if you’re in the market for a wide-angle lens, the much newer and image-stabilized Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM is $999 new. It’s a much better value in terms of image quality and sharpness.
That said, as you can see from the photo at the top of this post, the 17-40mm holds its own. It's always a lens worth considering. But wait! At those prices I've listed, you don’t get the 50mm lens, right? Don’t worry, you’re not missing out. The EF 50mm f/1.4 USM has been surpassed in almost every way by its little brother, the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens. At a price point that's about one third of the f/1.4 version, it's a far better value, featuring a newer, more up-to-date autofocus system (STM vs. an older form of USM). The older lens also extends and retracts during focusing, so it's easier to break. Canon basically cannibalized themselves by releasing such a good lens at such a low price in 2015. I used the 1.4 lens a lot as my first prime, and it’s not one I’d recommend anyone get as their first prime in 2018 when the STM version exists.
Let’s be real here: both of these lenses here are long in the tooth, and Canon needs to clear out inventory, so here they are together. While the 17-40mm lens holds up well, the 50mm doesn’t, making this kit a poor value since you're forced to buy the lesser lens to get to the good stuff with the red ring.
So What Should You Buy Instead?
Newer technology matters. I’ve spoken with my dollars, having kept the f/1.8 STM model after owning the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, the EF 50mm f/1.8 II, the f/1.8 STM, the f/1.4 lens, and the Sigma Art version. If you have $899 burning a hole in your pocket, the better play is to buy a refurbished version of the 17-40mm at $640, buy the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM new for $125, and pocket the $134 difference. As I’ve said in the past, manufacturer refurbs are as good as new and in the case of Canon, carry the same warranty. You’ll get a better lens setup this way and save a little money.
If you’re looking to go the other way and spend the lion’s share of the money on the portrait part of this kit, strongly consider Sigma’s 50mm f/1.4 ART DG HSM lens. It’s sharper than any of the Canon options, though you pay dearly for it in terms of price and weight. Alternatively, Canon’s own EF 85mm f/1.8 USM makes a stellar portrait lens for the price, even if it’s a bit longer than the 50mm.
What's Your Dream Bundle?
While the 17-40mm lens is good, it would make much more sense to package this kit with the newer STM 50mm lens and lower the price. Bundles are great, though, and if Canon is serious about adding more bundles, I have a great suggestion: The Holy Trinity bundle. Give photographers the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM, the EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM and the EF 70-200 f/2.8L II USM at a little discount and watch the lenses fly off the shelves with even just a little bit of discount on the package price. There could even be a “Lite” version with the f/4 editions of the same lenses and a lower price point.
What are your thoughts on lens bundles?