Reader Question: Time To Upgrade My DSLR?

Former CNET editor Will Greenwald, who is now editor of and a friend of mine sent me a reader question recently asking for DSLR advice. Let’s try to help him out.

The Question

“I’m thinking about upgrading my camera. I’ve been using my XTi for a while, but it’s kinda stifling. I’m not skilled (or have the budget) for a higher tier model, but I think a more recent near-entry-level camera like the T1i/T2i would be a good upgrade. I’m SERIOUSLY kicking myself for missing an amazing deal (at SEARS of all places) that had a T1i kit, a 55-250 IS lens, a 75-300 non-IS lens (I could sell it to recoup the cash) for freaking $660. It sold out just a few hours before I decided to actually order the damn thing.

I know my XTi is a bit dated, but do you think I could get maybe $200-400 for the kit on Criag’s List/eBay? If I could spend less than $500 on a new camera and a decent zoom lens on top of the standard I’d consider it a win.

What do you think? Is it enough of a step up? Would I be able to get enough for the XTi to offset it? My main interests are the higher ISO (freaking 8x more than my XTi’s current peak, with boost. I know 12800’s probably grainy as hell, but being able to do halfway decent low-light shots would be awesome), the video mode, a 250mm zoom, and (and this is the least important bit, but still a nice upgrade) the higher resolution.


The Answer

Short answer—go buy a new lens and save some cash.

Here’s the thing: Will shoots for his site. What he’s usually shooting is products and events. In truth, that’s really what most tech journalists/bloggers shoot anyway.

Now let’s weigh the costs using my friends at B&H Photo Video.

The T2i costs $799.99 body only at the time of writing this posting. You can see the full review for the camera here. Then you’ll have to add on lenses too. I’m sorry, but your kit lens is just not going to do it no matter how high you crank up that ISO. The T2i has great high noise control at 6400 but you won’t have to make it go that high if you just get better glass to put in front of the sensor.

I know you asked for the T1i, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The reason why is because of the video aspect—it only does good 720p HD video. The T2i’s is wonderful.

Now here’s your alternative copy and pasted from another posting:

24-105mm F4 L IS– By far this is probably one of Canon’s most versatile lenses. If you’re using a 7D, 1D Mk IV or 5D Mk II this lens will be able to provide a wide range of shooting abilities. The cropped field of view on the 7D will make this a must have lens. It allows for great establishing shots or even panning shots. For reference, the 7D and XTi have the same sized sensor.

Now this is an expensive option put it’s a relatively slow lens. I’d recommend a flash with it. Your alternative is:

50mm F1.4/F1.8/Zeiss 50mm F1.4- The 1.8 is the cheapest and gives great results when stopped down. The Canon 1.4 is one of Canon’s best lenses and provides great results when shooting wide open. The Zeiss is fully manual focus and can provide some amazing depth of field and great image quality in low light. For your needs and for cost purposes, you’ll probably be better off with the F1.4 or the F1.8. The F1.8 can be harder to use though, so be warned.

85mm F1.8– The greatest bang for your buck portrait lens ever made. On your XTi it will be approximately 135mm, so it will cover telephoto needs.

35mm F2/1.4 L- These two wide angle lenses are very nice and provide some of the best views at this focal length for video. Once again, great for establishing shots.

Plus, why not just buy a flash like the 430 EX II? It’s easy to use for what you need and can really help with the products.

The Round Up

T2i= $799.99

24-105mm F4 L IS + 430 EX II = $1,049.00 + $250.00 = Appx $1,300.00

50mm F1.8 + 35mm F2 + 430 EX II = $99.95 + $329.00 + $250.00 = Appx $680.00

50mm F1.8 +35mm F2 = $99.95 + $329.00 = Appx $430.00

50mm F1.8 + 35mm F2 + 85mm F1.8 = $99.95 + $329.00 $379.00 = Appx $809.00

50mm F1.8 + 35mm F2 + 85mm F1.8 + 430 EX II = $1,059

So you’ve got a good choice of options there. What’s my recommendation for you? The 50mm and 35mm plus the 430 EX II flash. Your on camera flash is horrible Get an external and you’ll see just how much your photos will improve for a portion of the price.

Even if you still went with the T2i, I would still tell you to go get the better lenses. Camera companies are doing a lot now to educate consumers on ISOs and how important they are. What they aren’t teaching is just how much a new lens can improve your photography and allow you to keep your existing camera.

What would you recommend to Will?

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Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.