Ah. The age old question of “Can I do this for cheaper?” has come up yet again. A major increase in third-party lens manufacturers producing surprisingly decent glass has led many photographers to ask if that pricey “professional” option is worth it. With how expensive photography and filmmaking can be, it is an extremely valid question.
If you think you have the eye and knowledge to tell the difference, I highly recommend this video comparison by YCImaging of two 50mm lenses, one that costs $50 and one that costs $1300. I don’t want to spoil things, so definitely check out the video first before moving on.
What did you pick? Did you guess correctly which was the $50 Yongnuo YN 50mm f/1.8 and the $1,300 Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L. I’ve spent a lot of time looking at all sorts of comparisons and lens reviews so I found this one to be quite easy, especially once you get to the autofocus tests.
Some of the best indicators are if you look at the still images closely. Since the lenses aren’t perfect equivalents (one is an f/1.8 and one is an f/1.2) you will have natural differences in the bokeh. The faster aperture and higher quality glass produces smoother out of focus elements that can be subjectively called better.
Also, it seems that fine details are better resolved by the pricier L-Series lens. Surprisingly, this is harder to tell in the video samples, meaning if you are more focused on video then you might have different thoughts on this test.
Of course, price isn’t tied completely to optical quality, there are a lot of other factors of lens design that need to be considered. The cheaper Yongnuo feels plasticky and lacks precision in autofocus. Also, the manual focus ring is practically non-existent.
When you check out the Canon L-Series lens you will see a nice, smooth rubberized focusing ring, weather-sealing, significantly better AF, and a more durable overall construction.
If you are just starting out with photography, you may not need all that extra stuff for the money. However, working pros who need their gear to work no matter what will certainly keep that in mind.
Here is the real takeaway. Would the photos from the cheap lens able to stand on their own if they weren’t placed next to images from a pricier lens? I think that in many cases the images are surprisingly good for the price.
If budget is a concern for you the price of equipment shouldn’t hold you back. Sure, can you get a slightly better image if you spend more money? Probably, but there are diminishing returns when it comes to costs for photo equipment. You might have to spend two or three times more money to get just 10% better quality.
Were you able to tell the difference between the two lenses? Think that it is worth spending the extra money on the “pro” lens or are you perfectly content with the budget option for your work?