Which is more important, lens or body? In this completely unscientific test we try to compare two different EOS Camera and lens combinations.
Camera 1: EOS 5D Mark III with EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM lens.
My primary camera, I’ve had this since 2012 and haven’t dared look at the shutter count on it because I know it’s going to scare me. My record so far is close to 3000 shots in one day. But it’s still working of course.
Camera 2: EOS 700 35mm film camera with EF 35-80 f/4-5.6 POWER ZOOM lens.
One of the most feature-bereft EOS cameras ever made. Not quite as bad as the EOS 750, but pretty close. The lens, the EF 35-80 f/4-5.6 POWER ZOOM has some right to be called the worst lens that Canon have ever made. It’s the only Power zoom EF lens (where it has a motorized zoom function) that Canon ever made, for good reason – it’s an awful system.
Time to switch!
I’ve switched lenses, so the EOS 700 now has the EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM lens, and the EOS 5D Mark III now has the fantastic 35-80 Power Zoom.
One of the advantages of EF lenses is that every Canon EF lens ever made (excluding EF-M and EF-S) will work on every Canon EOS camera ever made. Except it’s not quite true. I wanted to test the 35-80 Power Zoom lens on my EOS M3 with adaptor, but it didn’t work!
Interesting sidenote to the sidenote:
Back in the days of film Sigma made a bunch of EF lenses without approval of Canon and reverse engineered the EF lens format. They got sued a bunch of times, stopped, then started again. But Canon changed something in the EF lens system around the time of the EOS 20D which stopped these old Sigma lenses from working properly – if you put them on a more modern camera such as the EOS 5D Mark III then they will only work with the aperture fully wide open. The moment you try to stop them down you get a lens communication error. But on the EOS M3 with EF adaptor the old Sigma lenses I’ve tested work just fine, with full aperture control!
Anyway… back to the competition:
Sparing no expense, I loaded the EOS 700 with a roll of long-expired generic ISO 200 film that came from a mail-order print processing house, one of those free rolls they used to send out to encourage you to take more photos. This came from eBay and I had no idea if it would work, who knows where it’s been stored and what it’s been subjected to.
I then processed the film at ASDA (UK supermarket, owned by WalMart, for my non UK readers) who are probably only still processing film because of the films I take into them. I asked them to scan them to CD which they do at the lowest resolution they can get away with because to do any higher would clearly be too taxing for their staff.
I tried, as much as I could, to take the same photos or as near as possible with both cameras. I also tried to restrict the zoom usage on the 24-105 to the 35-80 range, but that kind of went out of the window a bit when I stumbled on a couple of cute fox pups AND a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress randomly flying past within seconds of each other.
The rules are that I take the same number of photos on each camera. The only processing of the images I am allowed to do is adjusting exposure. And no images deleted. All images, good or bad, are added to this article.
So… how did they do?
The plan was to take 24 photos with each camera. However, some of the photos on the film camera messed up – possibly because the film was poor, so we only had 21 from the EOS 700. And I got over-excited taking photos of the foxes, so I ended up taking 31 on the EOS 5D Mark III.
Camera 1: Good Camera, Bad Lens
Here is a gallery of images taken with the EOS 5D Mark III and EF 35-80 Power Zoom lens
Camera 2: Bad Camera, Good Lens
Another gallery, this time with the EOS 700 film camera and EF 24-105 f/4L IS USM lens
Comparing the results
Now let’s compare some of the photos directly.
This is an abandoned block of council flats next to the River Wandle in Hackbridge. It is currently being demolished and the photo was taken through a grill in the security fencing. Left is the Good Camera/Bad Lens, right is the Bad Camera/Good Lens
The crops below are 1:1, they show a different zoom because the 5D Mark III has a much higher resolution than the ASDA film scan.
For me on this one the 700 with the good lens wins this one hands down, the colours are vibrant and the image is as sharp as we can expect given the crappy film and scan.
This photo really shows the limitations of the poor 35-80 PowerZoom lens on the EOS 5D Mark III, the crop shows the resolution is poor and the colour is flat.
+ 1 point for the Bad Camera, Good Lens
Moving along we take a photo of a tree with the abandoned building behind it. Left is the Good Camera/Bad Lens, right is the Bad Camera/Good Lens
Oh, my poor film camera. Even with 200ASA film it just can’t cope at all well and we’ve lost any semblance of normal contrast. Except for the detail on the building itself which is a little better than in the digital version, where we are a little burned out. But look at the 1:1 on our 5D mark III, totally uninspiring blurry image of some ivy.
I can’t bring myself to give a point to either of these images. 0 points for both combinations.
This photo is from the Good Camera, Bad Lens
There’s only one photo because the equivalent shot on the 700 didn’t come out at all, it was almost completely overexposed (and therefore ASDA didn’t bother to scan it onto the CD).
Any photo is better than not having a photo at all.
+1 point for the Good Camera, Bad Lens
The fox – a couple of foxes wandered across the path as we were walking seemingly unconcerned with our presence. Again, good camera/bad lens on left, bad camera/good lens on right. Click on image to open up full screen.
In this case the digital camera has recorded a richer grass colour than the film and the resolution is clearly higher than our poor-quality ASDA scan. However, the film camera did manage to capture the fox with his eyes open which makes for a better photo. But I can’t award points just for a fox opening its eyes at the right time.
+1 point for the Good Camera, Bad Lens
Although in Hackbridge we’re used to low flying planes coming over on their way to Heathrow Airport we don’t often see World War II bomber aircraft, so it was a little surprising to see a Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress. And all I had on my EOS 5D Mark III to capture the moment was this shitty little 35-80 lens. “Why didn’t you bring your good lens?”, my wife helpfully asked at the time (referring to my EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM often paired with a 2X extender III). She didn’t understand the importance of this research project that I am now documenting for you. Left is the Good Camera/Bad Lens, right is the Bad Camera/Good Lens
He we see both lenses at full zoom, and clearly we have an advantage with the 105mm reach of the L lens on the film camera. Because I was faffing around trying to get the cameras set up for the foxes the cameras were both set to 1/60 second Tv mode for these shots, the 5D Mark III chose f/16 for this at ISO 200 which looks like it wasn’t the best choice.
Even though we have a lower resolution on the film scan and the B-17 is larger on the digital 1:1 crop it doesn’t seem that there is any more detail in the digital image, so in this case Film wins again.
+1 point for the Bad Camera, Good Lens
And now it’s time for the final scores.
Out of a possible 5 points, the results are:
Good camera, Bad lens: 2 points
Bad camera, Good lens: 2 points
It’s a draw. Both combinations are equally rubbish.
So, it just goes to show, don’t put a good lens on a bad body, and don’t put a bad lens on a good body. And always take your 70-200 lens with you because you might see a Flying Fortress.