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15x Optical Zoom vs 100-400mm Lens

Kamran Paracha , Feb 22, 2010; 08:07 a.m.

I know this is a basic photography question that has left me really confused. I currently use a Sony DSC-H50 that has an optical zoom of 15x. I am now thinking of getting a Canon SLR with Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L (Need to photograph birds acutally)
Question is, applying calculations I get 4x Zoom for this $1.6k lens! How much Zoom will I really get from the Canon EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L lens?
Help appreciated!


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Matt Laur , Feb 22, 2010; 08:25 a.m.

It's possible that you're confusing the range of the zoom lens (meaning, the difference between its widest focal length and its longest focal length) with the magnifcation of the zoom lens. The 100-400mm lens provides significant magnification ... but its range of magnification only goes from "quite magnified" to "very magnified" - as opposed to the "super zoom" stylle lens that might go from "quite wide angle" to "quite magnified" in an attempt to be more generally useful. But that huge range of focal lengths always comes with optical compromises. When you want high quality lenses that don't introduce artifacts, or softness, or small apertures, etc., you end up paying a lot more money for what can appear to be less versatility.

The difference is that the more specialized lens will produce far better results than the do-it-all lens with a wider range of focal lengths. Whether this makes sense for your type of shooting is a personal judgement call.

JOSE LUIS MIEZA RAMOS , Feb 22, 2010; 08:43 a.m.

The range of the canon lens is 4x, but it must be noted that the zoom starts at 100 mm, thus we get the result will be greatly expanded. Moreover the sensor size of the Canon is superio the compact camera that allows you to get higher definition results without artifacts

Professor K. , Feb 22, 2010; 09:41 a.m.

One way to think about this is to convert to the field of view equivalent for 35mm cameras. On an APS-C digital SLR camera, the 100 to 400 zoom will have a field of view (magnification) equivalent to 160 to 640mm on a 35mm camera. My tiny Canon SX-10 has a 20x optical zoom that is equivalent to 28 to 560mm on a 35mm camera. Check the owner's manual for your Sony, they almost certainly tell you the 35mm equivalent. (The SX-10 even has it right on the lens!)

Tommy Lee , Feb 22, 2010; 11:46 a.m.

5X to 20X. It is debatable that this is a correct comparison or not, but if you just compare apple to apple, the Canon EF100-400/5.6 on a 1.6X crop Canon Rebel Class DSLR will have a range which look like 5X-20X when compared to an Sony H50. It is like 5X at 100mm and 20X at the 400mm end of the zoom. This is because the Sony 35mm full frame equivalent is 31mm-465mm.

Jim Momary , Feb 22, 2010; 12:26 p.m.

Dpreview says the Sony DSC-H50 is ~ 31mm - 465mm (based on 35mm).
If you put a 100-400mm lens on a crop body Canon (1.6X, as above), then the 400mm length of the 100-400mm behaves, sort of, like the field of view of 1.6 times 400 = 640mm, approx.
So, for all practical purposes you get 'more reach' with the dslr in this comparison.

Steven F , Feb 22, 2010; 12:27 p.m.

A 30mm lens will provide you with a normal view (or a magnification of 1) on a camera with an APS-C sensor . For a full frame a 50mm lens is considered a normal view. on a full frame camera the 100-400 will magnify the image 2 times at 100mm to 8 times at 400mm. For a APS-C camera its 3.3 to 13.3. Please note that there is some debate as to what focal length is equivelent to the normal human eye. So some people won't agree with me.

From my own experience 4X zoom range is as far as I would go. Beyond the zoom range of 4 the optical issues really start to get noticable. My preferance is for a zoom range of 3 or less.

Nathan Gardner , Feb 22, 2010; 12:57 p.m.

100-400mm lens is a professional lens to go on a DSLR. The 15x zoom is on a point and shoot. Each has their advantages. If you want conveneince and don't plan on taking pro looking photos or don't care about absolute best quality, then go with the 15x point and shoot. The DSLR is made especially for full control and manipulation for the best possible quality for the most demanding photographers. The 100-400mm lens is just one of many lenses you can use on a DSLR. The idea is that you choose the specific lens that best fits your specific situation for the best quality. If you plan on taking artful photos that you want to frame and put on the wall, the DSLR is the solution. If you just want something to shoot family functions or keep in your pocket, get the p&s. The DSLR is much heavier and usually requires at least a backpack full of gear to take along.

Robert Cossar , Feb 22, 2010; 04:56 p.m.

Gotta tell you guys....I have a Canon p/s with a 28-560 mm equivalent zoom. The quality is better than many of you might think.....also you have the reach, and range, for shots that the dslr simply hasn't.......And there is just as much control as any dslr offers. Don't be a snob to the point of missing good shots.....Robert

Nathan Gardner , Feb 22, 2010; 05:18 p.m.

I agree that the p&s cameras can take incredible photos. But, I'm just curious, have you made any large prints from it? Like 11x14 or bigger? I have never done so, so I don't know how they compare, but I was just wondering if you have and could give us some insight on p&s large prints vs DSLR prints.

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