Consumer vs. pro SLR lenses, receivers with 4 ohm and 8 ohm speakers

Week of May 1, 2005

Q: I read your recent column and bought a digital SLR with the18-55mm kit lens.. I want to add another lens- what should I know and what do you recommend?

-Jackie Rutledge, Mt. Lebanon, PA

A: You have two sources to consider- the camera manufacturer and independent lens manufacturers. Of the independent manufacturers, Sigma and Tamron are the most highly regarded. They make lenses to fit almost all camera brands.

The camera manufacturers as well as Sigma and Tamron have two lines of lenses- a consumer line and a pro line. The pro line is differentiated with a letter code- for example Canon’s pro line is called L, Sigma’s is EX, and Tamron’s are called SP. Pro lines lenses from the manufacturers typically cost 25-30% more than the independents.

Pro lines lenses have incredible optical quality leading to beautifully sharp and colorful photographs, the ability to shoot in low light, and top-notch mechanical construction. They are much more expensive than the consumer lenses- and bigger and heavier, too.

You don’t have to be a pro to enjoy these lenses. Upon my recommendation a grandmother in Kansas bought a $1,700 Canon L lens to photograph her grandson’s indoor basketball games. I have heard from her since and she is thrilled with her purchase. The lens got her what she wants- sharp pictures in difficult lighting situations, without a tripod. In short, if you are a serious photographer or want the best, pro lenses are worth the investment.

Consumer lenses require more careful shopping, which is kind of ironic since they cost so much less than the pro lenses. They are not designed to the same high standards of the pro lenses, and even the best manufacturers there are some lens models that are poor performers. Do some research at web sites such as photographyreview.com before you buy. There is also more sample-to-sample variation, unlike pro lenses which are subjected to rigorous quality control.

A good fit for you would be my favorite add-on consumer lens, the $160 Sigma 55-200mm DC. Starting at 55mm, it picks up where the 18-55 lenses leave off, providing seamless zoom range. The 200mm end provides all the telephoto reach you will likely ever need. It’s a perfect match to today’s digital SLR camera/lens kits.

The Sigma 55-200 has a metal lens mount (many consumer lenses have plastic mounts), is lightweight without feeling cheap and feels perfectly balanced when mounted on a camera. Most importantly, it is tack sharp and has great color.

If you want a taste of a pro lens without spending $1,700 like the Kansas grandma did, the Sigma 50mm EX Macro lens will give you new close-up capabilities as well as work great in general photography. It is beautifully made and finished, and the photographic results will stun the average camera user who has never experienced pro quality. It sells for around $270, within reach of anyone who wants to experience what pro lenses can do for them.

Both lenses can be seen at www.sigmaphoto.com.

Q: Can I use speakers with different resistance ratings with a receiver, for example 4 ohms for the front speakers and 8 ohms for the surround speakers? I heard somewhere that they should match all the way around.

-Rick Frame, Dallas, TX

A: It is not necessary that they match all the way around. Most receivers can handle 6 ohms front speakers with 8 ohm surround and center speakers, for example.

What you have to be careful about is many modern receivers cannot drive 4 ohm speakers, especially if they have to drive surround and center speakers, too. If you have such an arrangement, use a separate amplifier if possible or buy a heavy-duty receiver.

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