What is the Best Canon Zoom Lens?

Webmaster August 3, 2011 1
What is the Best Canon Zoom Lens?

Of all the lenses out there for your digital SLR camera, none is more versatile than a zoom lens. A zoom lens covers a range of focal lengths – unlike a fixed focal length lens, also called a prime lens, that is set at one focal length only. There are pros and cons of each; zoom lenses, while are more versatile by far, tend to lack the wide maximum apertures and image quality of prime lenses. Conversely, prime lenses are optically simpler and result in sharper, higher quality images, but are limited in their use as their focal length is fixed. Canon makes a very wide variety of zoom lenses – 28 in total, from the ultra wide 8-15mm fisheye to the telephoto 100-400mm, ranging from under $200 to over $2500. There’s a lot to think about when it comes to choosing a zoom lens – focal range coverage, maximum aperture, image and build quality, price, and the list goes on. Not all 28 lenses will be covered in this article, but regardless of what kind of Canon SLR you own, you’ll be sure to find a quality lens that will suit your needs in this article.

Ultra Wide Zoom Lenses

Canon makes four ultra wide zooms, one of which is an EF-S mount designed for APS-C sensor SLRs (will not fit on full frame cameras), that being the 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. So if you have a 1.6x crop camera like the 7D, 60D, or Rebel, and need an ultra wide perspective, there’s really only one choice made by Canon without being a fisheye. Luckily though, it’s an excellent lens. Full frame users have more choices. There’s the 8-15mm fisheye, which is a very unique and specialized lens. It’s a lot of fun to play around with the distorted perspective, but it’s not very practical when it comes to most applications. The 16-35L and 17-40L are both very good choices, whether you’re shooting landscapes, interiors, or architecture. The 16-35 is a touch wider and a stop faster, but comes at a higher cost. The 17-40 delivers similar performance at a lower price, but at the cost of being one stop slower and having marginally inferior image quality compared to the 16-35. All of Canon’s ultra wide zoom lenses are rated very well, and will be sure to impress.

Canon Zoom Lenses Article

Canon Ultra Wide Zoom Lenses

Standard Zoom Lenses

This is where things start to get interesting. Canon makes a variety of EF and EF-S lenses in this category. Your camera may have actually come with one as a ‘kit’ lens. For an APS-C sensor camera, you have choices from the small and inexpensive 18-55, which comes as a kit lens for Canon Rebel bodies, or you can get the very popular EF 24-105L, which comes as the kit lens for Canon’s 5D Mark II and III. For APS-C bodies, I recommend the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS. It’s very versatile, and matches the widest maximum aperture of any zoom lens Canon makes at f/2.8. Another big plus for this lens is the addition of image stabilization. It doesn’t cover the same ground as the EF-S 15-85 f/3.5-5.6 IS, or the EF-S 18-200 f/3.5-5.6 IS, but the image quality is superb, and the fast constant maximum f/2.8 aperture allows for more light gathering capability and shallower depths of field than the other lenses’ varies-as-you-zoom apertures. It makes an excellent all around zoom lens for crop bodies. For full frame users, there are some really great choices – there’s the 24-70 f/2.8L, which is arguably the most widely used Canon lens by professionals, their brand new 24-70 f/2.8L II, which isn’t available at the time of writing, but promises to improve upon an already great lens. Also available is the 24-104 f/4L IS, which comes with the 5D Mark II and III if you opt to buy the kit. Its quality isn’t quite that of the 24-70L, and it is one stop slower, but on the other hand, it does have image stabilization, and also has the extra reach of 105mm vs 70mm. Both lenses are excellent choices, and of course, will work just as well on an APS-C SLR, but will have a cropped field of view and will appear to act as a longer lens. Another good choice if you’re on a stricter budget is the versatile 28-135 f/2.5-5.6 IS. It has decent image and build quality, but at a lower cost.

Canon Zoom Lenses Article

Canon Standard Zoom Lenses

Telephoto Zoom Lenses

For longer reach, a telephoto zoom is your best friend. the 70-200L (Canon makes five varieties), is considered to be the gold standard for telephoto zooms. At the top of the heap is the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II. Image and build quality with this lens is absolutely superb. Sharpness even rivals some prime lenses. Personally, it’s my favorite zoom lens, and while heavy and expensive, is worth every penny when you see what it’s capable of. If it’s a little too pricey and hefty for your wallet and/or arms, you can opt for the also excellent 70-200 f/4L, either with or without IS. You really can’t go wrong with any of the 70-200L’s, they’re all excellent. If you need longer reach, there’s the 100-400 f/4.5-5.6L IS, which is a very popular lens for wildlife and sports photography. It covers a wide range of 300mm, and image quality is excellent. If you need a truly do-it-all, high quality lens, there’s the 28-300 f/3.5-5.6L IS, covering everything from wide angle to nearly super-telephoto. It’s extremely versatile, but doesn’t have the speed or quality of having two or three high quality lenses covering the same range. If you’re on a stricter budget with an APS-C sensor camera, the EF-S 55-250 f/4-5.6 IS II delivers surprisingly good performance and a much lower cost than any of the L series telephoto zooms. Of course, image and build quality won’t be on par with the L’s, but for the beginner photographer, it’s a very good choice, and couples very nicely with the popular 18-55mm kit lens.

So which zoom lens should you choose? The easy answer is, there’s no easy answer. It all depends on what you shoot. Are you photographing landscapes and real estate? Purchase a wide angle lens that can take in much of a scene. Shooting sports or wildlife? Grab a nice long telephoto zoom to get in close to the action. I always recommend having two or more lenses to cover a variety of focal lengths. A fantastic and very popular combination for full frame shooters is the 24-70L with a 70-200L variation. This combination has no overlap ‘waste’ so you can take advantage of the entire range of both lenses. They both have top-notch quality, and covers nearly everything, except for ultra wide and super telephoto perspectives. 90% of the shots I take could be covered with these two lenses. If you have an APS-C body, I definitely recommend the 17-55 f/2.8 IS, as well as one of the 70-200L lenses. There will be a gap of 15mm, but that can usually be solved by either stepping forwards with the shorter lens, or stepping back with the longer lens. As for wide angles, I really like the 16-35L for full frame, and the 10-22 for APS-C. These are, in my opinion, the best choices. Often times, however, budgets don’t allow for an expensive lens like the 70-200L. Below are my recommendations for five scenarios. These are general recommendations. Obviously, if your concentration is sports, let’s say, and you only occasionally shoot landscapes, you can get a higher quality telephoto lens, and be more budget conscious when it comes to a wide angle, or vice versa. Hopefully you will find exactly what you need within these recommendations!

Canon Zoom Lenses Article

Canon Telephoto Lenses

Zoom Lens Recommendations

In the following table I list some popular combinations of zoom lenses for various budgets and cameras:

Full frame, high budget:

16-35L II


70-200 f/2.8L IS II

Full frame, mid budget:



70-200 f/4L, with or without IS

Full frame, low budget:

28-135 f/3.5-135 IS

70-300 f/4-5.6 IS


Crop body, high budget:

EF-S 10-22

EF-S 17-55 IS or 24-70L

70-200L variation

Crop body, low budget:

EF-S 18-55 II

EF-S 55-250 IS II


Canon Zoom Lens Video

In this video I discuss some of the popular Canon zoom lens choices.

One Comment »

  1. Jeanne Fanning April 1, 2012 at 5:07 pm -

    Very informative, it can be daunting when laying down money best spent in less frivolous areas, not that photography is frivolous but compare to paying your daughter’s college tuition, it has to take a back seat. Somehow we’ve been conditioned to think the more we pay, the more we get. According to your article, that’s not always the case. Thanks for clarifying the difference.

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