I know it may sound redundant but lenses are a very important part of great photography. This statement bears repeating because so often too many photographers focus too much on camera bodies and sensor specs. Megapixels, burst speeds, dynamic range; these aspects are all pertinent and undoubtedly desirable, but we can’t forget to invest in good glass.
Canon users are particularly blessed with an amazing lens selection as this company produces some of the finest glass in the business. Whether you are looking for the best Canon lenses for full frame or APS-C, you will not be lacking for good choices nor good quality.
There’s a lot of criteria when it comes to picking out the best Canon lenses. Size, weight, features, durability, price; all of these aspects play a crucial role in performance. Sorting through and measuring all these can be an enormous pain as well.
As a travel photographer, I have come across lots of different lenses in my life and have owned a vast array myself. Over the years, I have become pretty aware of what to look for in a good lens and what makes my own heart flutter as a photographer.
Best Canon Lenses Round-Up
Using a mix of personal experience and professional recommendations, I have arranged this Canon lens guide for both beginners and veterans to use. In it, I will outline 7 of the most popular Canon lenses and discuss why each is worthy of your attention. It is the purpose of this guide to help you in your own quest for the best Canon lenses.
By finding this article, you have already taken the first step. Now, all you need to do is look through it and then make your own decision on which lens is best for you.
Best Zoom Lens for Canon
For those who need a workhorse
There’s a reason why just about every professional Canon photographer as owned one these lenses – simply put, the 70-200mm f/2.8 gets stuff done. This lens is superbly sharp, extremely useful, solid as a rock, and very responsive. It’s the BMW of photography and, without question, one of the best Canon zoom lenses around.
The Canon 70-200mm has a very useful focal range and is advantageous for just about any type of photographer. Sports, wildlife, and event photographers will get tons of use out of this lens, and even landscape and portrait photographers will enjoy it.
The 70-200mm has a host of other useful features including weather-sealing and image stabilization. Image stabilization will reduce camera shake, which is admittedly a problem with telephoto lenses. Weather sealing and robust manufacturing mean that this lens is built to last.
The 70-200 f/2.8 is not a small lens nor is it a cheap one. While we know that it can and will be very useful to photographers, we only suggest you buy one of these if you KNOW that you’ll use it. Otherwise, you just bought a really expensive party trick.
Best Canon Prime Lens
For both beginning and seasoned photographers
Nifty fifties are one of the most beloved lens types. With a very useful focal length and solid optics, these lenses are among the first pieces that most photographers buy.
How does the Canon 50mm f/1.8 stand out? It’s not the optics; they’re great but not amazing. It’s not the size; admittedly, it’s a really small lens. It’s the price; at around $100, the Canon 50mm f/1.8 is an absolute steal!
The 50mm f/1.8 STM is an extremely useful lens and is arguably one of the best Canon walk-around lenses, ever. Few others have ever come close to matching this lens’ stellar combination of optics, size, and price.
At 160 grams this lens could probably fit in your pocket and even looks comically small on a full frame body. Optically, the lens is sharp enough and relatively free optic blemishes. At the end of the day though, the real reason for buying this lens is that it costs next to nothing. For less than the cost of a set of filters, you can own a brand new 50mm f/1.8, so why not?
The Canon 50mm f/1.8 does have its flaws though – distortion is surprisingly present, the autofocus is subpar, and maximum sharpness isn’t really achieved until f/4-5.6. All things considered, we think that these are minor complaints, at least in the grand scheme.
Best Canon Lens for Landscape
For those who need flexibility in the field
A lot of landscape photographers rely upon a good wide-angle zoom lens when they’re out in the field, for a number of reasons. 1. The extra focal flexibility helps accommodate for unknown compositions, and 2. Many photographers might not have access to multiple lenses if they’re trekking, or away from their gear. As a landscape photographer myself, I can attest that having a wide-angle zoom is very convenient and far preferable.
One of the best Canon landscape lenses out there is the 16-35mm f/4.0L II USM. This is an extremely impressive lens that offers supreme sharpness, durability, and performance. Best of all, this lens isn’t too large and, by many standards, is actually quite small. Backpackers and long-distance trekkers will appreciate this lens’ portability very much.
The Canon 16-35mm f/4.0 does have a slower aperture, which makes it less equipped for astrophotography and certain indoor scenarios. There is an f/2.8 version of this lens that people can pick up (IS is omitted from this version) and this faster model would be better equipped for these dimmer situations.
If you’re wondering why we didn’t suggest the f/2.8 in the first place, it’s because we have a hard time justifying the extra bulk and costs that come with it. At nearly double the price and 200 grams heavier, we just don’t think the extra aperture is worth it. The 4.0’s IS works well enough for us.
Best Canon Lens for Wedding Photography
For those who need maximum sharpness and versatility
Wedding photographers are usually held to a very high standard – they are, after all, taking photos that will be looked at for decades to come. For this reason, they need a lens that offers the absolute highest optical quality while, at the same time, has enough flexibility to deal with spontaneous compositions.
The Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is just that lens. Its unparalleled optics and useful focal range make it a powerful tool and appropriate for just about any working professional. A very robust construction also means that this lens will be protected against mishaps, be it spilled glasses of champagne or the unexpected rainstorm.
Wedding photographers are not the only ones who can benefit from this lens – journalists, landscape, urban, portrait photographers, everyone can reap the benefits of this versatile Canon lens. It goes without saying that this is also one of the best Canon lenses for video, but you’ll probably want to invest in a gurney.
Like many of Canon’s best lenses, the 24-70mm f/2.8L ain’t cheap. For wedding photographers, the price can be written off, but for casual photographers, this one may be unreasonable.
On another note, we’re still waiting for Canon to put IS in their f/2.8 series. It’ll raise the price even more but, man, it’d sure make for a sweet piece of equipment.
Best Canon Lens for Portraits
For those who want that sensual bokeh
85mm is often considered the perfect focal length for portrait photography – long enough to create gorgeous bokeh and subject isolation yet short enough to still be manageable. Canon has released a number of 85mm lenses over the years. While some of these have impressed in the past, no lens is better suited for the title of “best Canon lens for portraits” than the 85mm f1/.4L IS USM.
The Canon 85mm f/1.4L IS USM is a magnificent piece of glass. Image resolution is sharper than ever, the bokeh is of that creamy variety that we all dream of, and build quality is excellent. Vastly improved over previous iterations is the autofocus system, which is fast and accurate.
The inclusion of IS is a somewhat surprising but very welcome addition. This means that the 85mm f/1.4L is capable of capturing handheld portraits in low-light situations. More importantly, IS will help videographers capture smooth, shake-free recordings, which makes this one of the best Canon lenses for video.
There’s not too much to dislike about the Canon 85mm f/1.4L. It’s on the pricey side but, for portrait photographers and videographers, it’s well worth it.
Best Canon Lens for Travel
For those who want to shoot everything and don’t want to be encumbered
Travel photographers and jet-setters in general usually have the hard decision of choosing lenses to take with them. Many who travel often can’t take all of their gear with them and others just don’t want to be bothered with packing lenses in the first place. So if you could only choose one lens to take with you, what would it be?
Enter, the Canon 24-105mm f/4.0L. This lens offers a very flexible focal range and sacrifices little in the process. This lens was quite literally built with travel photographers in mind and, regardless if one actually travels or not, is hands-down one of the best full frame Canon lenses available.
At 24-105mm, this lens can shoot all sorts of subjects. Landscape photographers will find it just wide enough to capture epic vistas while portrait photographers will appreciate the slight telephoto reach. The aperture is just fast enough to make this lens adept in most lighting situations and the built-in IS should be extra-helpful in difficult situations.
The 24-105mm f/4.0L’s optical quality, while excellent, is not spectacular and there are some flaws to keep an eye out for. Distortion and chroma are present at some focal lengths and peak sharpness is not achieved until higher apertures. Given the all-in-one nature of this lens, these blemishes are to be expected though and, in fact, are not really that bad when you consider the alternatives.
Best APS-C Canon Lens
For those who would like a semi-pro lens in a relatively small package
EF-S users should be relieved to hear that there are plenty of great Canon APS-C lenses out there. While there are many noteworthy third-party offerings from Sigma and Tamron, the best Canon EF-S lens is arguably the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. This lens is meant to be a crop-sensor stand-in for the superlative full-frame 24-70mm f/2.8 and, while it certainly has its shortcomings, does an excellent job.
The Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 performs commendably, thanks to an excellent autofocus system, image stabilization, and high image resolution. The inclusion of IS is much appreciated in this medium zoom as it handles low-light situations very well. Even in dim situations, the autofocus rarely falls behind either.
The Canon EF-S 17-55mm does have some flaws. Vignetting and chromatic aberrations are unfortunately present. Some people have also complained that this lens is a bit cumbersome, but we find this to be a moot point when you compare it to full-frame medium zooms.
Finally, this lens is slightly expensive. For a couple of hundred dollars less you could buy the Sigma 17-55mm, which performs near as well.
How to Choose the Best Canon Lens
There is no doubt that each of these lenses can take amazing images with the highest image quality. However, the lens that is right for you depends a lot on you! Let’s examine…
The first question that you need to ask yourself prior to buying a lens is “what kind of pictures do I want to take?” Each lens is more or less better equipped to deal with a specific photographic situation and there’s a reason why certain lenses are recommended for certain photographers.
For example, landscape photographers usually need a wider lens to capture a larger scene; portrait photographers need a more telephoto lens for subject isolation; astrophotographers need a faster lens for extreme low-light scenes. The list of examples goes on, but you get the idea.
When someone suggests a lens, it’s usually for a certain style of shooting. Medium zooms and nifty-fifties are among the most popular Canon lens recommendations because they have useful focal lengths. At the same time, overly specialized lenses, like telephoto primes or macros, are not usually the first lenses that one buys because they’re just too niche.
So consider what kind of photos you want to take and then buy the best canon lens for yourself. If you don’t know what kind of shooter you are, then buy a more versatile Canon lens. Play around with the focal lengths and decide on which you like. Once you know what kind of photographer you are, then you can invest in expensive glass.
Lenses can add a lot of weight to your bag. Ask any photographer who carries all of their gear around: it’s tough work. All of those lenses, accessories, spare camera bodies, they get heavy really quick and it’s not unheard of for packs to weigh in excess of 50 lbs all-together. Now imagine what that does for your mobility…yee, you’re not getting around very easily with all that stuff no matter how fit you are.
If you want to be able to move effectively and, for that matter, want to save your back, you have to consider the size and weight of your lenses. Each lens weighs and measures more or less differently so you’ll have to consider each individually.
Most photographers have what they call their “trinity set” i.e. their three top lenses. Three lenses are usually a manageable number and shouldn’t create an excess amount of bulk or weight. Three lenses are also enough to cover most photographic situations.
Some photographers may prefer more or fewer lenses. APS-C users have the luxury of being able to carry more as their lenses are smaller. Professional photographers may choose to use only two, as professional-grade lenses can be very bulky. On that note, some pros may be too busy running around and shooting to even be bothered with rummaging through lenses anyways.
Think about how much you’re willing to carry and how many lenses you actually need. If you’re the type who only shoots a limited variety of compositions or uses heavier lenses, then you may only need a few. If you can afford to carry more lenses, either because they’re small or you have a means of transporting them, then, by all means, go crazy.
A lens’ aperture is important to consider for several reasons – 1. Aperture dictates bokeh 2. Helps in dimly lit situations and 3. Is Indicative of lens quality. If you are interested at all in shooting certain creative compositions or during low-light situations, then you must invest in a lens with the proper aperture.
Often times, a lower aperture rating (a faster lens) is preferable. Faster lenses usually produce more attractive bokeh and are able to take in more light. Generally speaking, a lower aperture also indicates that a lens is of a higher quality and is sharper. While this is not always relevant – most lenses are soft at anything less than f/2.8 anyways – having a lower aperture is certainly not a bad thing.
Bokeh is arguably the most desirable photographic effect for portrait and macro photographers. Lower aperture means softer backgrounds and more subject isolation, which are two things that a lot of photographers lust over. If you want to up your portrait, macro, or creative game in general, a lower aperture is a must.
Lenses with lower apertures are also better in dimly-lit situations because they allow more light to strike the sensor. Photographers who shoot primarily at night or indoors are often faced with a lack of ambient lighting. These people usually reach for a faster lens to avoid bumping up ISO or slowing down the shutter too much. If you think that you’ll be doing a lot of night, astro, and event photography, having a faster lens will definitely be helpful.
Zoom vs Prime
Lenses come in two varieties: zooms and primes. Zoom lenses have module focal lengths i.e. they can zoom in and out across the focal range. Prime lenses have fixed focal lengths, which means that cannot zoom in or out. These inherent qualities aside, both types of lenses have their owns pros and cons.
Zoom lenses are desirable for their focal flexibility and these make for some the best walk around Canon lenses. Since you can change the focal length and tighten or widen your composition as needed, they are usually the go-to choices for those who like to shoot multiple ways.
Zoom lenses do have their faults. Excluding the most premium of lenses – like the 24-70mm f/2.8 – zooms do tend to be softer than primes and can be more subject to optical blemishes like vignetting. Because they have more glass elements, zooms are usually heavier and more prone to mechanical failure as well.
Primes are limited in focal flexibility but are usually aces in terms of performance. Primes are sharper, heartier, smaller, and less subject to optical imperfections. On another note, they are often cheaper than zooms, although there are some pretty expensive primes out there. If there is a singular focal length that you absolutely adore, then a good prime will serve you very well.
Obviously, lenses play a huge part in image quality (they are, after all, what literally refract the light). Sharpness, contrast, distortion, brightness; all of these things are influenced by how well a lens was manufactured.
Sharpness is usually the first aspect that people think of when it comes to the best Canon lenses. The sharper a lens is, then the higher it’s usually regarded.
While sharpness is certainly an indicator of lens quality and definitely owes to greater desirability, don’t feel like it’s the end-all-be-all. There are plenty of good Canon lenses out there that are a little soft at times, and, in fact, some can be too sharp. Portrait photographers may shy away from overly-sharp lenses, like macros, because they can reveal unattractive details in their subjects, like pores and scares.
A lack of optical blemishes, like chroma, distortion, and vignetting, are what you should be taking note of. While most of these degradations can be mitigated in-camera or fixed in post-processing these days, an overabundance of any will certainly ruin an image and make it unusable. Vignetting can be particularly distracting if there’s too much of it. Chromatic aberration and distortion are easier to fix in post-processing and only in extreme cases will they prove worrisome.
At the end of the day, every lens has some level of blemishing, even the really expensive ones. The key to choosing the best Canon lens comes down to striking a proper balance between the good and bad.
Focusing is a subject that many beginner photographers often take for granted. Because we are so accustomed to fast, effective autofocusing systems, either on our phone or in a DSLR, we often forget that these systems can be extremely variable. Different lenses focus in different ways and I can assure that no one system is the same. If for some reason you need optimal focusing power, then try not to assume that every lens will give it to you.
Autofocus is a feature that allows a lens to focus on its own (via a half-press on the shutter button). This is possible thanks to advanced technology found both in the lens and in the camera body itself. Different lenses/cameras may use different types of tech and these technologies may autofocus more or less effectively.
Autofocus is not just a matter of the lens; cameras also affect how well an autofocus system may work. If you find that your camera just isn’t focusing quick or accurately enough, just remember that it may not always be the lens’ fault.
A quick and fast autofocus system is most helpful for action photographers, or those who shoot moving subjects; this includes those who shoot wildlife, sports, and performances. In these fields, it is extremely important to have good autofocus (and tracking, for that matter). Otherwise, you’re going to miss your target 9 times out of 10 and start banging your head against a wall.
There was a time where lenses were just a series of glass plates built into a cylinder. These days, lenses are super advanced pieces of equipment that can focus on their own and even provide electronic data. More and more features get built into lenses as photographic technology advances and every year there is something new to consider.
Two relatively recent developments that are currently becoming the new norm are image stabilization and weather sealing. While certainly popular for a reason, neither is necessarily required for taking great pictures.
Image stabilization is a piece of tech that is designed to compensate for camera shake. For example, when you take a photo and your hands are shaking (even a little), image blur may occur at slower shutter speeds. In certain photographic situations where shutter speeds may become worrisomely low, IS can be a real boon.
In less demanding circumstances, image stabilization may be overkill. Landscape photographers obviously benefit the least from IS since their subjects aren’t moving all that much. IS is useless when using a tripod anyway and can even degrade image quality when active.
Finally, image stabilization usually raises the price of the lens substantially. Think hard about if you need IS or not.
Weather sealing is definitely helpful if you expose your camera to the elements often. Sand, water, debris – things that can obstruct your camera’s functions – are less able to penetrate a lens with sealing. Landscape photographers and travel photographers love this feature.
Weather sealing only works if a camera is weather-sealed as well though. Only professional-grade cameras are weather sealed and these are often very expensive. If you don’t think that you’ll need weather sealing, you may want to save yourself the cash.
Conclusion – Which Popular Canon Lens will you Choose?
Lenses are special tools and photographers can up end having weirdly sentimental relationships with them. Like wands in the wizardry world of Harry Potter, lenses are catered to specific individuals and sometimes it feels like they choose us rather than vice versa.
If you want to become a photographer, professional or otherwise, you must consider lenses just as much as cameras. Many would say that they are even more important than the camera itself.
Figure out what kind of photographer you are or want to be and then think hard about which lens you want. Each is better suited for certain styles of shooting. Whether you’re looking for the best Canon lens for wedding photography, landscape, travel, or portrait, just know that each will require something different.
So think hard about which Canon lens is best for your needs. The fact that you’re thinking about this at all, means that you’re beginning to care deeply about the art of photography. With the proper lens, a good eye, and a deft pair of hands, you’ll be able to shoot whatever you want. So good luck to you all and, as always, we look forward to seeing your work.
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