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Q: I have a Sony digital SLR with an 18-135mm zoom lens. I would like something with a bit more reach, but the fast, pro-grade 70-200mm 2.8 lenses are expensive ($2,500). I recently came across the used photo equipment site, and it has older Tamron and Sigma 100-300mm autofocus lenses on sale in a Minolta mount (which works with Sony) for only $17 each. Is this the proverbial case of something that sounds too good to be true?

A: I visited the website and found the lenses you are asking about. Both lenses are early 2000s vintage and were designed for use with film. They will work with your Sony body, although autofocus speed will be slower, and they likely will be a bit noisier when they focus. On your camera they will behave like 150-450mm equivalent lenses, which is really quite a lot of reach.

The optical quality is likely to rate only as "fair" compared with what you are used to, but I think it's certainly worth trying. KEH is a respected outlet. Given that the lenses are only $17, I would buy both of them. Put your camera on a tripod, take pictures with each of them at the 100mm, 200mm and 300mm settings and compare the images. Keep the one you like better, and return the other for a refund.

While you're on the website, KEH also has a Sigma 70-300 F/4-5.6 DG Macro lens for $76 that you might want to consider instead. This is a modern lens designed for digital that is quite good. Even if you eventually end up getting the 70-200mm 2.8 lens, the extra reach of 300mm will be useful sometimes, and the Sigma lens is much smaller and lighter, too.

Sound test

Q: Are the Vibes Hi-Fidelity earplugs you recently wrote about for use at concerts also OK for operating leaf blowers and other machinery?

A: Considering that most leaf blowers or lawn mowers produce lower sound levels than a typical rock concert, you could use the earplugs ( with light machinery. But, the manufacturer said, they are not designed for use with heavy machinery, for which over-ear protection is better.

Generating more queries

I've written two recent columns about home generators, but questions about them keep filling my inbox. So I've posted a full-length feature on my website detailing my home backup power solution from start to finish. You can see it by visiting

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