If you’ve recently received your first Canon DSLR, you are surely looking for the best image quality possible. We’ve put together a 2016 buying guide to twelve of the best Canon lenses currently available.
Some of the lenses in this list are relatively expensive, some offer incredible value for money for those on a tighter budget, but all of the lenses below offer excellent image-quality in comparison with the distinctly average kit lenses that ship with many consumer-level Canon DSLRs.
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L
The Canon 17-40mm f/4L is in the kit bag of thousands of landscape photographers the world over, and with good reason. This lens surely represents some of the best available value from Canon’s premium ‘L’ lens range. The optics are excellent, and, on a full frame body at least, this lens provides high-quality ultra-wide photographs. As with all L lenses, the build quality feels reassuringly solid.
If you aren’t on a full frame camera this lens obviously won’t be quite as wide, but the effective range of this lens on a crop body (27-64mm) also makes it a good ‘walkaround’ or travel lens. Being an f/4, it’s relatively light, so won’t weigh you down in comparison with some other zoom lenses available.
This is a little image distortion present at the wide end of this lens, but only the normal amount that is expected of ultra-wide lenses. This of course becomes less of a problem if you’re primarily shooting landscapes. Any distortion that is an issue can of course easily be quickly and easily fixed in post production.
All in all this is a great workhorse lens that fully deserves its popularity.
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5
The Canon 10-22mm is an ultra-wide lens for APS-C crop sensor DSLRs. Delivering an effective range of 16-35mm, the glass and resulting image quality of this lens is on a par with some of the more expensive L equivalents.
For an ultra-wide lens, image distortion is very well controlled, providing even better results in this area than the well regarded 17-40L. Chromatic aberrations are kept to a minimum. Whilst not weather sealed, the build quality is of a sufficiently high standard, and not too heavy to carry around all day if you’re out in the field.
To put it simply, if you’re serious about landscape, interior, or architectural photography, and have a crop Canon body, then you need this lens, it really is an excellent performer at this price point.
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS L
If you’ve got a crop sensor Canon DSLR and want a high-quality general purpose zoom lens then the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 is surely your best bet. This lens is a near to a professional L series as it gets. The build quality, whilst not weather sealed like an L lens, is very solid, but the image quality is what really counts, and this lens delivers it in fine style.
The focal length of this lens is ideal for an every day lens, the built-in Image Stabilization enables you to shoot hand-held in lower-light more often, and the constant f/2.8 throughout the zoom range further aids this aspect.
The Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS is one of the more expensive zoom lenses for Canon APS-C cameras, but with the performance it offers, it more than justifies its price.
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II was released in 2012, replacing its much loved predecessor. The old 24-70mm was a favourite with many professional photographers, it constantly delivered top quality images, with a beautiful background blur as a result of the constant f/2.8 maximum aperture.
The good news is, this new version is even sharper than its already excellent predecessor, the bad news, it’s got even more expensive. Weight was also an issue with the old version, which is affectionately known as ‘the brick’. This has been addressed somewhat with this latest version, with a little more plastic being used in the construction, but make no mistake, this is still a pretty heavy lens to carry around all day.
If you want the absolute best quality mid-range zoom for a full frame Canon DSLR, then here it is, just as long as you can live with the weight and price tag.
Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L is a real favourite as a general purpose lens for everyday use. With a very handy zoom range, from wide-angle to short telephoto, this is a versatile lens that produces constantly high image quality.
This lens is really best with a full frame sensor body, the 24-105mm’s biggest competitor in the Canon midrange zoom market is the excellent 24-70mm f/2.8 L, which is a faster lens with a constant f2.8 aperture. Many still prefer the 24-105mm however as it has a longer zoom range, is a lot lighter to carry around, carries a considerably cheaper price tag, and also boasts image stabilisation.
There is some relatively significant distortion present with this lens at the wider end, but this is easily corrected in Lightroom/ACR. Whilst, as expected with an f/4 aperture, the 24-105mm doesn’t have the creamy background blur of the 24-70mm, it is still possible to get relatively good blur/bokeh at longer focal lengths with this lens.
Ultimately the Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS is a very competent and assured performer, but could only really be recommended on a full frame camera body, those on a crop sensor may find the 17-55mm IS a much better fit.
Canon 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake
The Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens is a relatively new lens from Canon, it’s already proving to be a hit, and is well on its way to obtaining cult status. The most obvious characteristic of this lens is its size — this thing is tiny; just 0.9 inches deep. So super-small, as well as super-light; a discrete little lens that is perfect for street or travel photography.
For street use, this focal length really works best on a full frame camera, 40mm is a lovely classic range, it’s still a usable lens if you’re on a crop body, but the effective 64mm length feels a little awkward.
As you’d expect from a fixed-length prime lens the image quality is excellent, with the maximum aperture of f/2.8 being a real help in low light conditions. This is a plastic lens, but has a reasonably robust feel to it. Considering the low price this lens could be considered a veritable bargain, and one small enough to keep permanently in your kit bag.
It took an awfully long time for Canon to produce a pancake lens for their DSLR camera line-up, but the wait has been worth it.
Canon 50mm f/1.4 USM
The Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM is a superb little lens. Prime optics deliver tack sharp image quality, with the 50mm focal range proving very useful, whether you are on a full frame or crop body. On a full frame camera the 50mm is a classic length for both street photography and portraits, on a crop body remember this lens will effectively be 80mm.
Whilst not an L lens, the build quality of the 50mm f/1.4 is perfectly acceptable, the exterior of this lens is plastic, but it never feels cheap. Auto focus is solid, manual focus is nice and smooth. Distortion is very minimal, to the point where you’d probably never notice it.
Images are more than usable at f/1.4, but this lens really comes into its own when stopped down a little. For the relatively low price, the image quality this lens is capable of is highly impressive.
If you currently have one of the cheaper zoom lenses on your Canon DSLR, investing in this lens will bring a massive increase increase in image quality, not to mention the extra portability that it also offers.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
The famous ‘nifty fifty’, or Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II, to give it its full name, is surely the best value Canon lens from their entire range. The build quality is cheap feeling, fashioned from lightweight plastic, this is a lens that wouldn’t be very well if it was dropped, but at this price point, you could just buy another one.
Image quality is superb for a lens at this level, background blur quality is reasonable, but understandably, not as good as the higher-priced 50mm f/1.4. This is primarily down to the fact that the f1.4 has more blades, thus producing a slightly smoother bokeh effect. Distortion on this f/1.8 is minimal, auto focus is fast enough, but a tad noisy in comparison with more expensive lenses.
Despite the short-comings with the build quality and slightly uninspiring background blur, ultimately you can have no complaints with this lens as it really does provide unbeatable value. If you’ve not got the budget for the f/1.4, then you need this lens in your kit bag.
Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS
The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS is a superb telephoto zoom lens. The build quality is rock-solid, for a telephoto lens it’s also relatively light, so won’t break your back if you’re out with it all day.
The built in Image Stabilisation works a treat, more than good enough to let you use this lens without a tripod in fair lighting conditions if needed. Auto focus and general zoom operation are a joy to use. This is a classy telephoto performer at a competitive price point.
Finally, here’s our primer for the best lenses for the Canon 70d DSLR camera.
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8
The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 is a prime lens primarily pitched at portrait photography. Build quality is solid and robust, this is a small, lightweight and highly portable lens. Both auto and manual focus are super-smooth to use. There’s more good news when it comes to image quality; the results are tack sharp, with a gorgeous dreamy background blur.
The minimum focus distance is 85cm, a perfectly acceptable length for portraits. Filter size is 58mm, the filter mount is non-rotating, so this is perfect for use with polarising or graduated filters.
At this relatively low price point this little lens represents excellent value for money, particularly when compared to the L series lens of the same focal length that costs five times the price.
Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS
Introduced in 2009, the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS is one of the finest lenses available from Canon’s L range. A true 1:1 macro lens, the image quality is fantastic, with lovely natural colours, and high-quality background blur. That fact that this lens has built-in image stabilisation is an obvious advantage for macro photography in particular, and low-light photography in general.
The auto-focus performance is superb, super-quick and virtually silent. Being a high-quality prime lens, image distortion is pretty much non-existent. The minimum focus distance is 0.3m. A maximum aperture of f/2.8 is ideal when trying to capture images in low light conditions.
The Canon 100mm f/2.8 IS, whilst clearly not a everyday walk-around lens, is capable of much more than macro photography. It’s also very popular for portrait photography, and is simply a very useful general purpose short telephoto lens. All things considered, this is a near perfect lens for its intended uses, and comes highly recommended.
Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS
Released in 2012, the Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS is a versatile and lightweight wide-angle prime lens. A perfect choice for travel photography, this lens can shoot landscapes or interiors in fine style. If you’re intending to use it for landscapes, then this lens really needs to be mounted on a full frame body, as the effective focal length on a crop body is around 45mm, which isn’t particularly wide.
The Image Stabilisation is a major plus, in tandem with the fast aperture, this is a lens you should be able to put to good use in lower-light situations. The build quality feels just right, with fast and accurate focusing. Image quality is excellent across the range, you won’t lose much detail with this lens, even when used wide open.
Weighing in at just 260 grams, the Canon 28mm could be a great fit for your camera bag.