Repair service for digital components, SLR lens quality

Q: I purchased the Panasonic SA-XR25 receiver you recommended and it sounded great but broke out of warranty. I then called a repair shop that Panasonic recommended and they want $65 just to take a look at the receiver. Should I just replace it or do you have any other recommendations?

-Jason Gerstenkorn, Wichita, KS

A: Try United Radio Service at www.unitedradio.com. They do not charge for estimates and do top-notch work. I used them for my prized Denon DVD-1600 DVD player and they did a fantastic job and turned it around quickly. Two very enthusiastic thumbs up!

Q: I saw your recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on “Lens choice isn’t always clear”. I recently purchased a Canon 20D digital SLR camera and a Tamron 28 – 300 mm lens. I’m still partial to my Pentax Film camera which seems like it takes sharper pictures than my digital camera. My question is- would I get a sharper picture with a pro lens vs. what I purchased… the consumer Tamron lens?

-Gene Lange, Eagan, MN

A: First, make sure you are sharpening your pictures in software. All digital camera images benefit from a little bit of sharpening. Look for the Unsharp Mask option in Adobe Photoshop under Filter>Sharpen>Unsharp Mask.

That said, you would certainly get a sharper picture with a pro lens. The difference will be night and day.

The Canon 20D is a tremendous camera. I myself own one and I am continually amazed at the image quality, as well as the professional feel and features. I use my 20D exclusively with the Canon L series pro lenses and prefer the combination to any 35mm film and lens combination I have tried. I can assure you the camera is up to the task.

There are two things working against you with the lens you have: the zoom ratio and the lens quality itself.

The larger the zoom ratio, and the larger the digital sensor surface area, the more challenging and expensive it is to design a very sharp lens.

Small ultra-zoom digital cameras such as the Panasonic DMC-FZ20 have a small digital sensor, so designing and manufacturing a high-quality lens at a reasonable price is achievable. The sensor of a digital SLR is much larger in comparison and requires more glass as well as greater size to adequately cover the sensor.

When you combine the low price and large zoom ratio of the Tamron, you get optical compromises that hurt performance, especially in low light.

If you must have a single lens that zooms from 28-300mm, the Canon 28-300 L series lens will definitely satisfy you. Unfortunately, it costs $2,200.

My recommendation is to get two high-quality lenses to cover most of the 28-300mm focal length. The Tamron 28-75/2.8 XR lens is a very good choice, and it performs well in low light. It costs $359 after current rebates. The Canon 70-200/4 L series lens offers professional quality for only $579. It’s one of the best lenses that Canon makes and lets you get into their pro lens line without spending $2,000. You lose 100mm on the long end, but you still have tremendous magnification and more importantly, you will get super-sharp pictures.

That’s almost $1,000 for lenses, which may seem extreme- but you have to look at things long term. If cared for, the lenses will last you a lifetime. The $1,300 20D, on the other hand, will likely be obsolete (though still a great camera) within 18 months.

If you want to get the most out of that expensive digital SLR, buy great lenses for it! Otherwise you are missing out. Spend a little more or accept a bit less zoom ratio to get the best results.

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