Canon walk-around lens choices - your input required...

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by VirtualRain, Jan 4, 2010.

  1. VirtualRain macrumors 603


    Aug 1, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    I've just purchased a Canon T1i (500D) to replace my aging Panasonic/Lumix camera. It came with the 18-55 kit lens and I want to upgrade to some better quality glass.

    My shooting is hobby... landscapes, architecture, people, dogs, cars, flowers, whatever strikes my fancy, etc.

    I'm looking at these options that cover the range I need (from cheapest to most expensive):
    1. Canon EF-S 17-85 f/4-5.6 IS USM ($300 on CL)
    2. Canon EF-S 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 IS ($450 on CL)
    3. Tamron AF17-50mm/2.8 XR VC ($650 new)
    4. Canon EF-S 15-85 f/3.5-5.6 IS USM ($800 on CL)
    5. Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM ($950 on CL)


    Which of these is the best value? Is #5 worth 3x #1?

    What's the optical trade-offs involved in #1-#4? For example, I've read the Tamron is soft at f2.8 which brings the whole value of that lens into question.

    Should I put much weight in USM (re: #2)? I assume I should be more concerned about optical quality.

    Is there an obvious choice I'm overlooking?

    If it was your hard-earned money looking for a good hobby walk-around lens, what choice would you make?
  2. luminosity macrumors 65816


    Jan 10, 2006
  3. davidinva macrumors 6502a

    Mar 29, 2009
    Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, USA
    Walk-around lens

    Shoot with the 18-55 (kit) lens for the first 1,000 or so photos. Results are good and it is lightweight. That way, you get to know your camera. Also consider renting one of the more expensive lenses before buying.
  4. tersono macrumors 68000


    Jan 18, 2005
    The 17-55 2.8 is certainly the best lens of the bunch, but I think you may be surprised at the quality of the kit lens - it's significantly better than earlier versions and is a pretty decent lens in its own right.

    I agree with the earlier poster. Stick with the kit lens for the time being until you get used to the camera. You may find that you do indeed need something better quality but, conversely, you may find that a different focal length range may suit you better.
  5. VirtualRain thread starter macrumors 603


    Aug 1, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    Thanks for the insights on the kit lens. It's not going anywhere but I probably will want to buy something a bit better within the next couple of months.

    I do know the focal length I'm going for, and it's definitely got to start at around 18mm and go at least to 50mm (28-70 35mm equiv.)... more is gravy and will be used occasionally. Of course, that rules out the 24-105 which isn't wide enough on my camera.

    I'm still interested in thoughts on these other lenses.
  6. FX120 macrumors 65816


    May 18, 2007
    Also consider the 17-40 f/4L.

    It's not as fast wide as some of the other lenses you listed, nor as long but optically it is very nice and quite affordable. On a crop camera it is a great "walk around lens".

    If I had to start over on a limited budget and on a 1.6x body, these are the lenses I would buy first: 17-40 f/4, 50mm f/1.4, and a 70-200 f/4, and in that order.
  7. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    stick with your kit lens. after a while you will figure out what you're looking for, rather than guessing based on what other people tell you.

    three of those zooms are aimed more for convenience than utmost image quality - the 18-135, 17-85, and its replacement. the 17-55 and 17-50 are shorter zooms that are about as good as it gets optically for APS-C standard zooms. you will have to decide if you want speed and quality or more convenience.

    let's start with the strengths and weaknesses of the 18-55 IS:
    - amazing resolution for its price class
    - light, compact
    - good flare resistance
    - cheap build
    - useless manual focus ring
    - slight pink (purple?) color cast
    - chromatic aberration/purple fringing can be problematic
    - poor bokeh
    - noisy AF motor ("noisy" meaning "not quiet" more than anything, though)

    here are the strengths of each lens you listed:
    1. better range than kit lens, much better build, ring USM and FTM (full-time manual)
    2. very useful zoom range, decent build, good flare resistance, and I think it has acceptable bokeh, but I haven't seen enough sample images to be sure
    3. this one is mostly unknown since it's new, but the earlier, non-VC version had exceptional resolution from f/2.8, decent build, good flare resistance, and decent (average) bokeh
    4. very good resolution, convenient range, 4-stop IS, very fast ring USM, FTM, best build of the Canon EF-S lenses, good bokeh, good flare resistance, and is properly wide
    5. exceptional resolution from f/2.8, above-average bokeh, decent build, very fast ring USM, FTM

    the last three have very good control of CA

    and weaknesses:
    1. horrible barrel distortion <20mm, not that much sharper than the 18-55
    2. noisy motor, not much better if not worse than the 18-55 in sharpness, MF ring is still not that useful
    3. non-VC version had very slow and unreliable AF in low light, but I'm hearing that's been mostly corrected in the VC version. AF is noisy.
    4. still expensive since it's new, slow given its price class and intended market
    5. poor flare resistance, build is not-quite-good-enough given its price, some have had issues with dust, and some have had IS failure. however, I haven't heard/read the last two complaints in awhile, particularly the IS failing.

    note that this is based on my knowledge, which is incomplete

    depends how serious I am. if I just want a P&S with better IQ, I would stick with the 18-55 and get the 17-85 or 18-135 if I get sick of the build. slightly more serious, and I'd go for a Tamron 17-50 (either version), or the 15-85 once it drops in price. if I'm pretty involved, I would (eventually) get the 17-55 or 15-85.
  8. miles01110 macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
    You're not going to find one lens for everything, but your kit lens will do all of these "ok." The 18-55 IS is light years ahead of the old 18-55 (non-IS) the Canon entry-level DSLRs used to ship with.

    These threads seem to pop up a lot, and honestly I think that 95% of them are posted out of enthusiasm rather than a sense of grounded reality. If you're on a budget I see no reason to drop another couple hundred dollars on marginally better glass just for facebook pictures.

    Again, ask yourself "why" and "will I notice the difference?" Answer is probably not.

    How do you know that you "need" at least 18-50mm ?
  9. Edge100 macrumors 68000

    May 14, 2002
    Where am I???
    Go for the 17-40 f/4L. It's a perfect walk-around lens for a 1.6x crop sensor body (it becomes a 27-64). It's relatively cheap, it's very sharp (esp. when stoppped down to f/5.6, but also very good wide open).

    The 17-40 was my walkaround on my old 10D, and it hardly came off that camera. It's a bit less useful as a walkaround on my 1DmkII, and it's too wide for a walkaround on a FF sensor, but for a 1.6x, it's perfect.
  10. Phrasikleia macrumors 601


    Feb 24, 2008
    Over there------->
    Yes, the 17-55 is worth the premium. It really is that much better. Sharpness, contrast, and color rendition are superb with it. Of course the real boon with that one is the constant f/2.8.

    That said, the new Tamron equivalent is very much worth considering. If the optics are as good as the non-stabilized version, it's a very good value for the price.
  11. VirtualRain thread starter macrumors 603


    Aug 1, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    First, let me say that being a veteran in other forums, I too get frustrated with often repeated threads... so I understand some of your frustration. However, hopefully there's something new injected here (I think there has... Toxic's post is sticky worthy and information I could not easily find elsewhere).

    While obviously I could get by on the kit lens, as with most people here, I want to strive for better results, both in my skills and equipment. Just because it's a hobby (I don't make money from my photography), doesn't mean I'm not wishing to produce professional quality results. I find it odd that on one hand, there is a mindset that one should buy cheaper bodies and expensive glass, and then at least a few people here encouraging me to use a lens that effectively cost $40 (difference between body price and kit price).

    While I agree, it's sound advice to first understand the limitations of your existing equipment, I wouldn't have posted a very specific list of lenses for input, if I didn't have a clue what my needs were.

    And it's not that I'm on a "budget", I just want to invest my money wisely. Even if I had just won the lottery, I would probably post this same thread. If the value is there, I may spend more. But I need people's experience and wisdom on these lens choices to make an informed decision.

    The reviews I've read of the new Tamron with VC is that it is much softer at 2.8 than the non stabilized version and that it must be stopped down to get sharp images... leading me to question the merits of this lens at all. I was hoping some folks here could confirm or deny this.
  12. miles01110 macrumors Core


    Jul 24, 2006
    The Ivory Tower (I'm not coming down)
    I wrote what I wrote because I was having trouble understanding exactly what you were looking for, because the list of lenses you gave paired with the desire to "produce professional quality results" doesn't really match up. If you want great results in terms of optical quality you need to start shelling out the dough for the L-series. There's really no substitute. People like myself are recommending that you use your kit lens because you're either not likely to notice the quality "increase" or it will be so marginal that it won't be worth the money you spend.

    If your stated goal is to produce professional-level photos, either save your money for an L-lens or at the very least get a decent prime (especially if you're going to be spending in the higher $ amounts).
  13. mdwsta4 macrumors 65816

    Jul 23, 2007
    that is essentially what i did years ago. started with a 300D and 18-55 kit lens. picked up the nifty 50 f1.8, then the 17-40 f4L, then the 70-200 f2.8.

    I didn't like the 50mm focal length at all on a cropped sensor and rarely used it. the 17-40 was my day to day walk around lens and i loved it. great build quality, focal lengths, and most importantly image quality.

    that said, i did pick up a sigma 30 f1.4 toward the end of my cropped sensor days and it was hands down my favorite walk around lens. the 30mm focal length was essentially 50mm on a FF, the f1.4 meant i could take pictures in near darkness, and for me, it was the best lens i could use. it also got me away from being too far away from subjects (like with telephotos) and really exploring areas because i didn't have the capability to zoom. if you haven't already, take a look at primes. their IQ is almost always better, they'll typically have a wider aperture, and often times can cost less.

    fwiw, after upgrading to FF cameras, i picked up sigma's 50 f1.4 which is a hell of a beast! easily my favorite day to day lens now.

    like others have said, i'd go to places like and try out a lens before you buy it to make sure it fits your needs. also, you're not going to find one lens that covers everything you need. start with something you'll use often and build your kit over time from there. as for professional results, i'm a bit of a snob, but it's basically L glass or nothing. i also don't like any zooms where aperture changes at some point in the zoom range.

  14. VirtualRain thread starter macrumors 603


    Aug 1, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    So there is a 17-40L for sale on my local CL for $675 which may ultimately go for $600. Is this then the best buy of the lot?

    Is it worth the extra few hundred for the added range and wider aperture of the 17-55 f2.8? What is the optical quality like between this and the 17-40L?
  15. zero85ZEN macrumors regular

    Apr 8, 2009
    17-40mm f4L

    I also used this lens on my 10D as my (only) and everyday lens when I first got into digital photography. It's still on my 10D in fact. Very nice lens on a crop body. Not as fast as some other more expensive options out there but the IQ is exceptional for the price and if you don't need to shoot low light it shouldn't be a too much of a problem for you. Definitely a step up from your current kit lens.
  16. toxic macrumors 68000

    Nov 9, 2008
    I personally think the 17-40 is probably the worst choice among the 17-50-ish lenses. it has a short range, it's slow, doesn't have IS, and it's only marginally sharper than the 18-55 at the telephoto end. what you're paying for is better build, no color cast, improved resolution at the wide end, and better color and contrast.

    compared to the Tamron 17-50 or 17-55, it has a better build than both and better flare resistance than the 17-55. otherwise, it is optically the same or worse. its AF performance is good, but still not quite that of the 17-55.
  17. Roy Hobbs macrumors 68000

    Roy Hobbs

    Apr 29, 2005
    24-105 on a crop sensor body, no way. Not even close to what I would consider a walk around lens
  18. FX120 macrumors 65816


    May 18, 2007
    Short range is debatable, I never hear people bitch about the 24-70 f/2.8 being to short on a FF body. And yes, it's slower but it also is $300 less expensive. It's faster at the tele end than the other variable aperture lenses he listed and only 1/3 of a stop slower on the wide end. When I think "walk around lens" (which really is a stupid concept) I think outdoors and daylight.

    Build quality is by far the best reason to avoid the 17-55 f/2.8 which has a reputation for IS and AF randomly failing. Nothing would suck more than to pack up your oh so critical "walk around lens" for a trip only to discover that your camera gives you nothing but Err99 messages. Your investment also goes out the window when you have to send it back to Canon to be repaired at your cost if the warranty has expired.
  19. Nostromo macrumors 65816


    Dec 26, 2009
    Deep Space
    Number 5 is the best choice.

    I recommend covering the front element with a UV filter, though.

    Otherwise, the lens will, when zooming, will suck dust inside.
  20. Nostromo macrumors 65816


    Dec 26, 2009
    Deep Space
    Not a good choice with APS-C sensor cameras.

    Don't forget the 1,6 factor.
  21. JFreak macrumors 68040


    Jul 11, 2003
    Tampere, Finland
    24mm is not that bad on a 1.6x sensor, its field of vision is equivalent to 38.4mm full frame. Most 10-20 years old cheapo point-and-shooters had 35mm fixed lens and the difference is close to nothing.

    24-105mm can be translated to: "38.4mm lens with 4.4x optical zoom" in marketing speech. Sounds like a walkaround lens, doesn't it?

    Also remember that you cannot beat the laws of physics. The shorter the optical length, the larger the distortions. This is more pronounced on cheap glass, but it is also present on L glass, albeit not that big of a problem. If you really want to shoot ultra wide, then consider a full-frame body to begin with!

    IMO, f/4.0 is not cutting it if you take most pics indoors. Also, the much praised Image Stabilizer is not that much needed with shorter (less than 50mm) focal lengths. And lastly, if you even consider going full frame some day, you should only think of full frame lenses starting from day one.


    If you're certain you never need full frame, then this is it:
    * Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM

    If you want to keep that full frame dream alive and require better low-light performance, iow. shoot mostly indoors, then these are the best choices:
    * Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM (mark I is also excellent, available 2nd hand only)
    * Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM

    If you don't care about f/2.8 and mostly walk around outdoors, then these are the best choices:
    * Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM
    * Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L USM

    Then again; if you don't care about Canon brand, here are some nice 3rd party full-frame low-light capable options:
    * Sigma EX 50mm f/1.4 HSM
    * Sigma EX 24-70mm f/2.8 HSM
  22. VirtualRain thread starter macrumors 603


    Aug 1, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    Some clarifications/reminders...

    I have no intention of going full frame, hence my short-list of EF-S lenses. Although build quality won't be up to L standards, the EF-S lenses will be lighter and more compact for "walking around" :)

    The 24-70L is NOT on my list as it doesn't shoot wide enough for me on the crop body.

    Image Stabilization is important to me so I can gain the advantages of more flexibility when hand-held at dusk and indoors without flash.

    Photos will be taken both indoors and out (about 10%/90%).

    Does anyone actually have any further input on the pros/cons of the lenses I short listed?

    Given Toxic's advice, it seems the 15-85 would be ideal if I could find one for a decent price, but at current prices, the 17-55 f2.8 would almost seem like a better decision at only $150 more.
  23. jampat macrumors 6502a

    Mar 17, 2008
    From an investment point of view, the 15-85 will be the most expensive lens (by far) to own. The used 17-85's are selling for ~500 less than the 15-85's right now. It won't take the 15-85's long to plummet. The other lenses will hold their value and cost much less to own over a few years. Lenses like the 17-55 and 17-40 depreciate very little and are almost free to own (you just have lost opportunity costs from the tied up capital). says the 17-55 is one of their most failure prone lenses, but many people have them and love them.

    As others have said, shoot for a few months, then decide what the new lens is supposed to help you with. A 17-85 will not produce remarkably different images than your 18-55. The 17-55, 16-35, 17-40, 24-70, 24-105 all produce images that will have a lot more pop to them (noticeable even at thumbnail size). I have no experience with the 15-85.

    Buying a new lens without a clear purpose will likely end up with wasted money. Personally I have decided that f5.6 lenses are basically useless for 90% of what I shoot so from your list that would only leave lenses 3 & 5 (and other lenses not on your list). You say you want to shoot indoors without a flash, basically most of the time lenses 3 & 5 give you a shot (but are likely still too slow), lenses 1,2 & 4 will produce mediocre results at best in most typical indoor lighting situations.. Figure out where the 18-55 is limiting your shots and buy the lens that fixes that problem. Many people walk around with 30 mm or 50 mm 1.4's and love them. A fast prime is what you really need for your indoor without a flash pictures.
  24. FX120 macrumors 65816


    May 18, 2007
    IS is useless indoors and in low light, especially at short focal lenghts unless you're shooting static things at which point you should be using a tripod. If you're planning on shooting people you're better off bouncing a flash.

    It seems like you have answered all your own questions, so get the 17-55 f/2.8 and enjoy it for what it can do.
  25. VirtualRain thread starter macrumors 603


    Aug 1, 2008
    Vancouver, BC
    Could you elaborate on this?

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