Newbie Lens Questions

tjm1989

I'm New Here
Dec 31, 2021
15
5
Hell everyone,

Was hoping you could help answer some general lens questions that I have. To start, what justifies the price different between two lenses with the same focal length?

E.G Canon RF 50MM F 1.2 USM ($2299.00) vs Canon RF 50MM F 1.8 STM ($200.00). There is a massive price difference here (and size difference) but both are RF lenses. Where is the extra $2k coming from? Same example with the 24-105mm in USM and STM and the 85mm USM and STM. Each have massive price differences.

Second question is, what is a Macro lens? I understand the functionality of the Macro lens, but can it be used for both super close photos and also regular photography? Could I use an 85mm Macro lens for close up photography and portraits? Or does it have one function? And how do you know it’s a macro lens? Is it simply the macro designation that defines it? I see 85mm macro and 85mm USM DF without a macro designation. What makes one a macro over the other?

Thanks so much in advance. I understand these are basic questions but I’m finally trying to get down to basics and understand what differentiates one lens from another.
 

SteveC

R5
CR Pro
Sep 3, 2019
2,566
2,466
Focal length isn't the only metric for a lens, the aperture makes a big difference as well. Photographers tend to prize lenses with large apertures. (The F number gets smaller the bigger the aperture, it's really f (the focal length) divided by the number given, e.g. f/1.2 The actual aperture isn't as important as the ratio of the aperture to the focal length, so that is what is routinely quoted.)
 
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Jethro

EOS R
CR Pro
Jul 14, 2018
659
590
The difference between lenses are also a function of the quality of the build - and the 50mm f/1.2 you mention is a professional standard 'L' series lens. The 50mm f/1.8 is sometimes described as a nifty-fifty, and it's designed as a decent quality 'fast' lens. The f/1.2 is really designed for particular uses, and was released back in late 2018 partly to show off the capabilities of the new R series camera bodies (and RF mount).

The 85mm f/2 isn't a 'true' macro lens as it only magnifies 1:2 (ie you can only cover the sensor with half of the subject while still in focus). 1:1 macro lenses should be able to cover the sensor with the whole subject. It is quite useable (and designed to be) as a portrait lens, and the macro feature is a useful add-on.

In terms of understanding the practical difference between lenses, this review site is very well regarded, and has reviews of the lenses you mention: https://www.opticallimits.com/
 
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EricN

EOS 90D
Aug 10, 2021
172
290
There is also things like weather sealing, how sharp it is in the corners, and vignetting.
 

Czardoom

EOS RP
Jan 27, 2020
459
999
As mentioned, there are numerous factors. Generally speaking, for lenses with the same build quality, a larger aperture (f/1.2 vs. 1.8. for example, the lower number being the larger aperture) means a more complex design, and a larger and heavier lens to accomplish the larger aperture. Many lens lineups will have, for example, two pro level 70-200mm zoom lenses, one with a 2.8 aperture and one with an f/4. The f/2.8 will be bigger, heavier and more expensive.

Many lens makers, such as Canon, will have two lines of lenses, a pro level and a consumer level. Your other examples fall into that category. The Canon RF 24-105 f/4 is a pro level in terms of build quality, plus it has a larger, non-variable aperture of f/4. The consumer RF 24-105mm has a cheaper build, little or no weather sealing, and has a variable aperture of f/4 to 7.1 (which as you can see, 7.1 is considerably smaller that f/4.) Usually the IQ is better in the higher priced "pro" lens, but the difference in IQ is often not that great. It is the combination of larger aperture, in many cases a fixed rather than variable aperture, better build quality, weather sealing, better overall IQ, and usually more consistency in the quality control that makes the pro lenses more expensive.

A macro lens can be used for both close-up and "normal" photography. I think most people use their macro lenses for both "macro" shots as well as other types of photography. Those that use the strict definition of Macro, will say a macro lens has a 1:1 magnification at the closest focal distance, meaning the image on the sensor is life size. Many companies will use the term macro (Nikon calls their close-up lenses "Micro") for lenses that have a 1:2 magnification ratio, meaning the image on the sensor is 1/2 life size. So, if a lens does not reach a 1:2 or 1:1 magnification, it isn't designated a "macro" lens.
 
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unfocused

EOS-1D X Mark III
Jul 20, 2010
6,725
4,663
68
Springfield, IL
www.mgordoncommunications.com
Just adding one point.

As with almost everything, costs are not linear, but follow an ever-steeper curve as you approach "perfection." For a lens, it just gets harder to squeeze out that extra bit of light gathering capacity without sacrificing sharpness and other factors as a lens gets faster.

On the plus side though, with today's cameras and lenses, you don't have to sacrifice a lot when you go with the less expensive option. The increase in price can easily seem out of proportion to the actual gain in quality and unless you actually need that extra bit of "quality" there is no sense paying for it.

Interestingly, many professionals actually opt for the less expensive options. That's because they know how much more work they have to attract to cover the additional costs and balance that out against the additional benefits of the more expensive option. They also know the conditions that they shoot under and whether or not they really need that extra benefit of a particular lens. For example, one of the best known sports photographers in the country uses the 70-200 f4 lens instead of the f2.8. It's not because he can't afford the f2.8, but because he doesn't need the extra stop under the conditions he shoots and he prefers to save the weight.

With today's lenses, even the least expensive lenses are of good quality and will produce sharp pictures. Most will also survive a reasonable amount of abuse, including some weather resistance. If you are considering a particular lens, read up on it and decide, based on your own needs, whether or not it will meet those needs.
 
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tjm1989

I'm New Here
Dec 31, 2021
15
5
Thank you everyone for your detailed and excellent responses. You helped clear up my confusion on the subject. My 2022 resolution this year was to take photography and my videography more seriously. I started by pre-ordering the R5C and now I am exploring the best lenses to buy! I truly appreciate your time and responses.
 
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Del Paso

M3 Singlestroke
CR Pro
Aug 9, 2018
1,562
1,773
And, in order to add my little grain of salt, glass isn't just glass.
Some special glass types can be almost as expensive (maybe even more) as gold. I'm almost certain that one single glass lens of the RF 1,2/50 costs more than the whole RF 1,8/50, this reflects in the fantastic quality of the 1,2/50 lens.
You get what you pay for, the choice being between a very good lens and a superb one. The 1,8/50 represents an excellent value!
 
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AlanF

Stay at home
CR Pro
Aug 16, 2012
9,588
14,334
Thank you everyone for your detailed and excellent responses. You helped clear up my confusion on the subject. My 2022 resolution this year was to take photography and my videography more seriously. I started by pre-ordering the R5C and now I am exploring the best lenses to buy! I truly appreciate your time and responses.
As a matter of interest, why did you decide on the R5C for the camera?
 

Joules

doom
CR Pro
Jul 16, 2017
1,791
2,233
Hamburg, Germany
A lot of really good points have been made already. Just a few tiny extras:

The actual amount of glass matters too, which means lenses with wide apertures and long focal lengths will naturally cost more than those with the same aperture but a shorter focal lengths. That's why even an extremely dark aperture such as f/11 still goes for a multiple of the price of the 50 mm 1m8 you mentioned, in the case of Canon's RF 800 mm f/11.

Also worth noting (although it doesn't matter for the R5C due to lack of IBIS) is that Canon's more expensive L lenses seem to largely be designed with bigger image circles, resulting in enhanced image stabilization. That in particular is another difference you would find for the two 50 mm options you compared.

And although Canon has demonstrated that even L lenses are not safe from relying on digital manipulation to reduce some image artifacts, a practice such as leaving the corners of the image black or leaving strong distortion will be more commonly found on lower end lenses. Simply because it is cheaper to correct such artifacts digitally, even if the quality suffers more from it.

And perhaps one last thing to mention are the autofocus motors. Canon uses a less capable type of motor, referred to as STM in the lens names, for cheaper lenses while higher end ones get hogher end motors just covered under the USM abbreviation.
 
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rpg51

I'm New Here
CR Pro
Oct 7, 2021
24
10
I have same question. And, what kind of photography will you be doing?