If you’re anything like me, your camera bag tells the story of the many lenses that have come and gone. Very few, if any, have stuck around from the beginning. The cheap sometimes leave to make room for the more expensive and vice versa. Sometimes it’s about upgrading to the latest and greatest, to meet budget constraints, or to adhere to philosophy. If you’re like me, you’ve parted ways with glass that has left you feeling sentimental and sometimes with regret. Maybe it’s graduation-lenses or perhaps you didn’t realize what you had until it was gone. In any case, it’s fair to assume that no lens is safe in your bag as camera technology continues to advance. For that reason, I think it’s important to reflect on what you have before you sell it.
When I first started with photography, I fell into the trap that many do of thinking that my pictures would get better if my equipment got better.
For a while I believed this to be true, because I was becoming a better photographer, but it had little to do with the gear I was shooting with. Now that my camera bag looks nothing like it did when I started, I’ve realized that I’ve made a few mistakes along the way. I’ve grouped lenses that I’ve sold (or haven’t) with into three groups; Regret Selling, Don’t Miss, and Probably Won’t Sell.
A couple of disclaimers: This article is primarily of interest to Canon shooters, but the concepts apply to all gear. All of the opinions expressed below are based upon my personal experiences and needs as they apply to the lenses mentioned. I buy almost everything used and shop carefully. To see more of my work, follow me on Instagram!
This section includes lenses that I generally feel sentimental about. Lenses that got me to the point that I’ve gotten to. I hold nothing against any of lenses and would recommend them, in most cases.
Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 non-VC
This was one of the first purchases I made when I first started getting serious about photography. I bought mine off the gray market brand new for $300 as a replacement for the 18-55mm f4-5.6 STM kit lens that came on my Canon T4i 650D. I did the research and learned that the version without vibration control is actually a bit sharper. I honestly can’t recommend a better general-purpose zoom for crop sensors. This thing is ridiculously sharp. Like, red-ring sharp. For $300. It’s sharp wide open and the constant aperture of f2.8 makes it useful in many situations. The color and contrast are beautiful too. I shot my personal favorite photo ever with this lens (see the barn below).
Why did I sell it?: This lens was among the first to go when I upgraded to a full frame camera. I wish I’d kept it to use on my 650D in conjunction with a set of primes on my 6D.
Canon 24-105mm f4L
This one reminds me a lot of the Tamron 17-50mm. It covers a similar but broader focal range for full frame DSLRs. While it’s known as a “kit lens,” it doesn’t come with the kit lens reputation that many deserve. It is very sharp (at least my copy was) and produced similar looking images to the Tamron in terms of contrast and color reproduction. What makes this lens the better overall pick is the image stabilization and weather sealing. I picked this lens up used when I first starting shooting with my 6D because I needed something to cover all the bases. Many refer to this lens as the jack of all trades, master of none. I think that’s pretty fair to say. It’s not really the best lens for any particular situation (other than travel, maybe), but when you need something versatile and reliable, it fits the bill nicely.
Why did I sell it?: I was lusting after the 135mm f2L and needed the cash. If I had the money lying around, I would probably consider buying this lens again, but I’m not sure that I would. The biggest draw back for me with the 24-105L is the size. I didn’t really love this lens until after I’d sold it and reflected on some of the images it had captured.
Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6
When I was looking for a first wide angle lens, many were pointing to the Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 for wide angle photography on ASP-C sensors. I don’t think that’s a bad recommendation at all, but I opted for the Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 for whatever reason. They evidently don’t make this version of this lens anymore, as its been upgraded to f3.5 through the focal range. Likewise, the Tokina has been upgraded to an 11-20mm lens. On the longer end of either lens, you’re walking around with a near-35mm-equivalent, which makes either of these wide angle lenses a great walk-around lens. If you think you’ll spend more time photographing in low light or astrophotography, the Tokina is the better pick.
Why did I sell it? This was the second lens to go in my upgrade from ASP-C to full frame sensor. My 6D came with a 17-40mm f4L attached. I don’t miss it, exactly, but I do have fond memories of our time together. After all, this was my first foray into wide-angle photography.
Canon 35mm f2 IS
This sale of this one stung the hardest. If you’re in the market for a 35mm prime but don’t want to spend $700 or more, there simply isn’t a better option for Canon shooters. This was my favorite lens for a long time and I never imagined that I would sell it. The 4-stop IS is unreal. Leave the tripod at home and go out at night for some street photography and you’ll see what I’m talking about. This was the lens that cemented 35mm as my favorite focal length. It’s the perfect focal length for a night out with friends, wedding receptions, group shots and more.
Why did I sell it? I thought that I needed the 24-70mm f2.8L MKI to photograph weddings. I was wrong, but we’ll get to that.
Canon 100mm f2.8 USM Macro
This is an awesome piece of glass. Nearly as sharp as its L-counterpart, the EF 100mm f2.8 USM macro lens is the only lens the casual macrophotographer needs. The ability to focus at 1:1 will provide hours of fun photographing typically-uninteresting things around your home. This lens is also a fantastic portrait lens, though it is critically sharp. You may actually find yourself unsharpening headshots should you grab this one for that purpose. Some people have knocked this lens for focusing slowly, but I tend to disagree with that assessment. I think it focuses adequately fast for portraiture. The misconception, I feel, likely comes from the focusing range that this lens has to cover.
Why did I sell it? It was spending a lot of time in the bag. After the novelty of macrophotography wore off for me (nothing against it, I just got over it), I found it was only coming out for 1-2 occasional ring shots, which I could accomplish with extension tubes and decided I’d rather have the funds for other investments. If I ever decided that I need a 1:1 lens in the future, this is the one I will grab.
Canon 55-250mm f4-5.6 STM
This one has got to be the best value telephoto zoom on the market for Canon ASP-C sensor cameras. This is another lens that I never should have sold. I decided to part ways with this one in my switch to a full-frame compatible system and I really wish I hadn’t. I should have reserved my crop sensor for my telephoto zoom needs. After all, the 1.6x crop-factor gives me better reach. Full frame equivalents on a similar level of quality cost 2-3x more and now I’m stuck with a Tamron 70-300mm f4-5.6. The Tamron is a slightly cheaper, slightly slower-focusing and slightly less sharp version of the Canon.
Why did I sell it? I needed the funds and didn’t think I’d continue to use my 650D as much as I do.
Canon 40mm f2.8 STM Pancake
The EF 40mm f2.8 STM pancake lens by Canon is a neat little thing. I picked my copy up for something like $150 on eBay and then resold it for roughly the same amount. It’s very sharp, fast, inconpicuous and built like a lens ten times more expensive. The size factor was probably my favorite thing about this lens. Slap it on the front of your camera’s body and you’ll hardly notice that its there. You can carry it around all day without putting any strain on your neck or worrying that someone might mug you to steal your big fancy camera.
Why did I sell it? I had fallen in love with the 35mm focal length and my 35mm f2 IS outperformed the pancake lens in every category but compactness, it seemed. On top of that, I’m a big fan of the 50mm f1.8 STM, but we’ll get to that. When you’re shooting with 35mm and 50mm primes, 40mm starts to feel a little redundant.
This is the fun section where I trash lenses that many people love. I won’t be too hard on these guys, I’m somewhat of a lens apologist, really. I could only think of two lenses that I truly regret buying.
Canon 50mm f1.4 USM
Before I say anything else, let me say that this lens is capable of taking fantastic images. Additionally, stopped down, it is one of the sharpest lenses I’ve ever owned. That said, I sold my nifty-fifty (50mm f1.8 ii) to upgrade to this lens and realized quickly that I had made a mistake. This lens is notorious for its sub-par build quality, often-breaking focus motor and delicate focusing element that protrudes from the front of the lens. The common recommendation is that you affix a lens hood and leave it on all the time just in case. Most of these qualities can be attributed to the fact that it is old, but it really wasn’t brilliantly designed. I had relentless front-focusing issues even after microadjustment. Nothing against Canon, but I honestly don’t see the value in paying $250+ for this lens when the nifty-fifty is on the market.
Canon 24-70mm f2.8L I
This thing feels less like a lens in your hands and more like…a brick. In fact, that’s its nickname. I mentioned early that I picked this lens up thinking that I would need a 24-70mm lens to shoot weddings. While the focal length and aperture make it pretty versatile in a wedding situation, I just wasn’t feeling it. I’m not going to knock the image quality, because my copy was pretty sharp at f2.8 and plenty sharp stopped down. The bokeh is also beautiful on this lens — one of my favorites in that category. The focus is quick and it’s built like it would survive a fall down the stairs. As great as it is, this lens had the quickest turnaround time of any that I’ve owned — one week, from purchased to sold. I’ve never used the MKii version of this lens, which I hear is improved in nearly every way.
Maybe it was out of spite for the sale of my beloved 35mm f2 IS. I can’t really say, but I just didn’t feel the magic with this lens and felt it was way too expensive for what it offered.
Probably Won’t Sell
These are lenses that I still use on a regular basis for wedding and portrait photography, among others.
Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art
This was the solution to hole in my heart left by the sale of my 35mm f2 IS. With a little microadjustment (+5 on my copy), the Sigma 35mm f1.4 Art is tack sharp wide open and just a pleasure to use. The contrast and color rendition is beautiful. It’s my favorite focal length and my most used lens. I really don’t have any complaints other than that it’s quite heavy, but that doesn’t bother me much. I don’t really have a favorite photo I’ve taken with this lens yet, but I use it all the time. Just check my Instagram.
Canon 50mm f1.8 STM
I’m a big fan of the 35/85 prime combo, so this lens doesn’t get used a whole bunch, but I still love it. It’s sharp and focuses quickly and quietly. On top of that, it’s cheap (~$125) and light. The only thing I would consider complaining about might be the build quality, but that’s what keeps it so lightweight. I’m a big fan.
Canon 85mm f1.8 USM
This lens has been in my bag longer than any other. I bought it off Craigslist for $320 when I was first taking a serious interest in photography. I immediately fell in love with everything about it. It’s strong points are its cost, size, build quality, sharpness and focusing-speed. Group me into the camp of photographers that can’t justify upgrading to the 85 f1.2L or other f1.4 variant. The cost/quality and focusing-speed are the main reasons for me. If I photographed fewer dogs, I’d consider upgrading, but this has got to be one of the best lenses for pet photography available — even if the design is 20 years old.
Some people will hate on the 85mm f1.8 for is purple-fringing or lack of sharpness in the corners wide open, but I think the images stand for themselves. The abberation is easily correctable and generally avoidable. The other “flaws” lend to the lens’ character. One additionally note, I love the way that this lens flares when your subjects are being lit from behind. I don’t know if I will ever sell this lens.
Canon 135mm f2L
I’ve heard a lot of fitting nicknames for this lens, but my favorite is probably the magic prime. Magic is the best word to describe what makes it so special. If you are a bokeholic, the 135mm f2L is a great place to get your fix. It’s just wonderful in every way. You don’t even have to take pictures with it to get enjoyment out of it. Just look at the front element and you’ll smile. When I have the space to work with, this lens gets more use than any other during my portrait sessions. If 135mm was a focal length with more general usability, it would be easy to call this lens my absolute favorite. Truth be told, I mostly shoot this one at f2.
What would I do differently if I knew everything I know now when I started?
For the most part, my answer would be: “not much.” I love trying new lenses and I’ve very rarely been disappointed with my decision to buy one. Used camera lenses hold their value remarkably well. Knowing this, I’ve always assumed that if I don’t like or use a lens for whatever reason, I can get my money back…or most of it. I’ve even turned a profit a few times when I happened to have snagged a really good deal.
Experimenting with lenses that are new to you actually can make you a better photographer.
You’ll learn to see in different focal lengths. Additionally, you’ll learn to love a lens not only for its precision or brilliance, but for its quirks that give it character and then know when that character is well-suited to a photograph or situation. My hope for this article is it might guide a new photographer in making good decisions in lens-buying and encourage them to experiment with different focal lengths. I love talking about gear (if you couldn’t tell) so feel free to shoot me any questions or comments you might have below!
I’d also like to know — what lenses you’ve sold and felt regretful about?
Thanks for reading,