06
Oct
09

Canon 7D kit lens: POS for your EOS

I don’t understand why somebody would invest $1700 in a camera body and then throw in (almost as an afterthought) $100-$200 for a crappy kit lens. I had a look at the new Canon EOS 7D this weekend at my local camera store. I was impressed with the camera, which has a lot in common with my 5D Mark II (in fact, the autofocus and user controls are improved in the 7D, although the sensor isn’t as impressive).

I am considering picking up a 7D to replace the 50D as my second rig. Even though most of my needs are well-met by the full frame EOS 5D Mark II, I like having a crop-frame camera in my bag — they typically have faster frame rates than full-frame models, and they have great reach when you need a telephoto shot. The salesman I talked to told me they had immediately sold out of “body only” inventory on the 7D, but they were about to receive a shipment of 7D “kits” featuring a zoom lens. Here’s the package:

The fantastic EOS 7D, featuring POS lens

The fantastic EOS 7D, featuring POS lens

This lens is a piece of junk. How do I know it’s a piece of junk? First, because nearly all kit lenses are junk. This one makes big compromises with a variable maximum aperture, which means it’s pitifully slow at the telephoto end. As consolation, the lens offers image stabilization. Yawn. Stabilization can be useful, but I’d rather have two or three stops of aperture. Stabilization can offset minor motion at the photographer’s end, but to freeze subject motion, you’re better off with a wider maximum aperture, enabling faster shutter speeds. The lens is not weather sealed, which negates the benefit of the weather sealing on the 7D body. Kit lenses (with the exception of the EF 24-105 f4L that was packaged with the 5D Mark II) score terribly on MTF charts. They often have considerable chromatic aberration, vignetting, and corner softness. In hand, this particular lens feels lightweight and insubstantial — a good bump would probably damage it permanently.

Many people buying a 7D will be upgrading from another digital SLR. If you’ve got a recent-model Rebel, or a 30D, 40D, or 50D, why not keep the camera you have, and instead of investing your $1800 in a new camera body with a crappy kit lens, spend that money on either a pro-level zoom lens or a couple of nice prime lenses? Yes, I know the 7D has some very interesting bells and whistles, and has super-high resolution at 18MP, but you shouldn’t underestimate the role your lens plays in image quality. (Indeed, because the 7D has unprecedented pixel density, it should require exceptional resolving power in a lens to provide real detail to those tightly-packed pixels.) Putting an L-series zoom like the EF 24-70mm f2.8L on an old 8MP SLR will reveal sharpness, color fidelity, and contrast  you may never have noticed with a kit lens. For about the same price, you could buy two modest prime lenses, such as the EF 28mm f1.8 and the EF 85mm f1.8. Now that’s a decent kit. Need something wider on those crop frame cameras? There are reasonable offerings from Sigma and Tokina that feature better build quality and a constant maximum aperture.

The EOS 7D is not an entry level SLR, so why does it have an entry level lens? Please Canon, in future, offer prosumer SLRs in a kit with a prime lens. The 35mm f2 and 35mm f1.4L are both due for upgrades. Why not unveil a new 35mm prime lens with the next SLR?

UPDATE, AUG 2010: I did eventually buy a 7D, and I’m quite happy with it. The image quality is not on par with my 5D Mark II, but the autofocus and handling are great. I’ve shot a couple of events with it this summer, and it has performed like a champ. I bought the 7D in a kit with a 28-105 EF-S lens, which I immediately sold on eBay. With the money from the sale of the lens, the total cost for the camera was lower than if I had bought the camera body by itself.

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