Considering Purchasing a Lens as a Christmas Present?

I am commonly approached about photography gear as friends, family and clients make buying decisions. Yesterday a parent asked me whether she should purchase a Canon 75-300mm f/4-5.6 lens for her adult son this Christmas, since he has been looking for a good telephoto zoom.

My answer was that the 75-300 is a very good lens and gives a huge amount of flexibility, but that if her son is likely to use the lens without mounting the camera on a tripod, it might not give the best results. I suggested that if budget allows, she should instead consider purchasing the Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens. And the primary reason is this:

These lenses are essentially identical, but the 70-300mm includes image stabilization (IS), which is an absolute lifesaver for getting crisp photos out of a telephoto lens when you're doing handheld shots. As you get into higher lens lengths any shake becomes very noticeable in your final photos. Overall if you're purchasing a lens with a maximum focal length under 85mm, Image Stabilization is a luxury, but for anything over that, it is essentially a necessity unless you intend to use a tripod.

*Note: Image Stabilization (IS) is primarily a Canon term. Nikon uses the term Vibration Reduction (VR).

Not all digital SLRs require image stabilization lenses. Primarily just Canon and Nikon use lens stabilization. Other manufacturers utilize "sensor shift" stabilization, which is done in-camera without the need for special IS or VR lenses. These manufacturers include Sony, Pentax, Olympus and Kodak. Some dSLRs do not include optical stabilization (via the lens or the sensor), but instead rely on digital image stabilization, which at this time is not nearly as effective as the optical stabilization options.

Conclusion: If you're buying a camera lens for someone this Christmas, be sure to check out alternatives that include image stabilization, and if it's in the budget, spring for one with that option.

Below are examples of photos taken around Coeur d'Alene with my 70-300mm IS lens as I was testing it the first day I owned it. Left is with IS turned off, right is with IS turned on.

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