The ‘kit’ lenses supplied with Canon DSLR cameras have certainly improved over the years, but if you want to take your Canon photography to the next level, you’ll need a standard zoom with longer reach, faster apertures and snappier focusing. So we’re testing the most appealing lenses from Canon, Sigma and Tamron, while covering Canon’s other ‘standard’ options – all of which should offer an improvement in image quality.
We've split these lenses into four categories: one for Canon EF-M mirrorless cameras, one for each of Canons EF-S APS cameras and EF full frame cameras, and one for its full frame mirrorless EOS RF models.
Sometimes you can use a full frame lens on an APS-C Canon to good effect, for example, with telephotos, but here the 1.6x crop factor of the smaller sensor gives full frame 'standard' zooms too long an effective focal length for them to be useful here.
Kit lens options for full-frame cameras tend to be a little more limited than for their APS-C format counterparts, and there’s more choice when it comes to Canon own-brand upgrades. As in the APS-C format camp, one major reason for upgrading is so you can grab a lens with a wider aperture, typically of f/2.8, that remains available throughout the zoom range. This enables faster shutter speeds under dull or indoor lighting conditions, without the need to bump up your ISO setting too much.
A wider aperture also enables a tighter depth of field, so you can make the main subject really stand out against a blurred background. Alternatively, you can compromise on a ‘slower’ f/4 aperture and enjoy a lens upgrade with a more compact, lightweight build, or a bigger zoom range that stretches further into telephoto territory.
Canon EOS M
1. Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM
Really small and lightweight, it’s a little gem for the EOS M
Effective zoom range: 24-72mm | Lens construction: 10 elements in 9 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.25m | Filter size: 49mm | Dimensions: 61x45mm | Weight: 130g
Despite its impressive 24-72mm ‘effective’ zoom range, this retractable lens measures a mere 61x45mm and is a real featherweight at just 130g. To put that into perspective, a complete outfit comprising an EOS M camera body plus all three of Canon’s standard 15-45mm, 11-22mm wide-angle and 55-200mm telephoto zooms weighs as little as Sigma’s full-frame 24-70mm lens on its own, with no camera attached. Although small, the lens feels sturdy, has good handling characteristics and is impeccably turned out in a choice of silver or graphite finishes. The stepping motor autofocus system is quick and virtually silent, and the image stabilizer lives up to its 4-stop billing. It’s not the sharpest tool in Canon’s box but image quality is very satisfying overall.
2. Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
A veteran APS-C Canon DSLR lens, with high-quality build
Effective zoom range: 27-88mm | Lens construction: 19 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.35m | Filter size: 77mm | Dimensions: 84x111mm | Weight: 645g
This is the closest thing to a pro-grade, L-series ‘EF-S’ lens for APS-C cameras that Canon has ever built. Unlike Canon’s f/2.8 standard zooms for full-frame cameras, this one features an image stabilizer. Yet it’s an old version of the technology and only gives three, rather than four, stops of advantage in fending off camera-shake. Compared with the autofocus systems of other APS-C lenses on test, it’s faster and quieter, if not near silent as in Canon’s STM or Micro USM lenses. Lab scores for sharpness proved underwhelming for this particular test sample, but we’ve always been impressed by the lens’s clarity in our wide-ranging real-world tests and how other samples have performed in the past.
3. Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM | C
A new and improved Sigma lens for Canon APS-C DSLRs
Effective zoom range: 27-112mm | Lens construction: 16 elements in 14 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.22m | Filter size: 72mm | Dimensions: 79x82mm | Weight: 465g
Sigma’s Contemporary line of lenses aim to be compact, and the 17-70mm is no exception. At 79x82mm and 465g, it’s smaller and lighter than any other lens on test. Centre-sharpness isn’t quite as good as from Sigma’s 17-50mm lens but sharpness towards the edges and corners of the frame is more impressive at wide aperture settings, especially at the short end of the zoom range. Autofocus speed is a little quicker, while the optical stabilizer is similarly effective. This lens comes with a petal-shaped lens hood but, unlike the other Sigma lenses on test, it’s not supplied with a padded soft case. Overall, this newer Contemporary lens is the more appealing of the two.
4. Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM for Canon
A bargain f/2.8 lens for Canon APS-C DSLRs, but it's not perfect
Effective zoom range: 27-80mm | Lens construction: 17 elements in 13 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.28m | Filter size: 77mm | Dimensions: 84x92mm | Weight: 565g
This Sigma lens appears to offer most of the same advantages as its Canon counterpart, but at less than half the price. Whereas both of the Canon and Sigma lenses have ultrasonic autofocus systems, the Canon’s is ring-type, whereas the Sigma’s relies on a small motor. On the plus side, this helps to enable a more compact construction, but the autofocus system isn’t as near-silent and lacks full-time manual override. Image quality is sharp across most of the image frame but quite soft in the corners, especially at short to mid zoom settings when using apertures wider than f/5.6. Living up to its claims, stabilization is slightly more effective than in the competing Canon 17-55mm lens, but autofocus speed is a little slower.
5. Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM | A
Better than Canon's own 24-70mm lens for full frame Canon DSLRs
Effective zoom range: 24-70mm | Lens construction: 19 elements in 14 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.37m | Filter size: 82mm | Dimensions: 88x108mm | Weight: 1,020g
We prefer this lens to Canon’s own EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM standard zoom for DLSRs. Both have an identical zoom range and aperture rating, and both lenses deliver similarly excellent image quality in all respects. The big plus point for the Sigma is that it features an optical image stabilizer, which can be incredibly useful for general walkabout shooting. Another neat extra is that it’s compatible with Sigma’s optional USB Dock, which you can use for fine-tuning and customizing the lens, as well as for applying firmware updates. And like many Sigma Global Vision lenses, it can take full advantage of in-camera corrections in current and recent Canon DSLRs, for the likes of lateral chromatic aberration, distortion and peripheral illumination. All in all, it’s a highly desirable lens at a very attractive price.
6. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
This Mk II edition is perfect for full frame Canon DSLRs... at a pricee
Effective zoom range: 24-70mm | Lens construction: 18 elements in 13 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.38m | Filter size: 82mm | Dimensions: 89x113mm | Weight: 805g
The standard zoom of choice for pro photographers, Canon’s original 24-70mm f/2.8L was something of a classic. As you’d expect from Canon’s range-topping standard zoom, autofocus comes courtesy of a fast and whisper-quiet ring-type ultrasonic system. Image quality is excellent, with great sharpness and contrast even when shooting wide-open. Sharpness has been improved towards the edges of the frame but, even so, the ability to capture consistently sharp handheld images can suffer due to the lack of an optical stabilizer, featured in all of the other lenses on test. The lack of stabilization aside, this simply delivers the best performance of any lens in the group.
7. Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
A well-stabilized 24-70mm alternative for full frame Canon DSLRs
Effective zoom range: 24-70mm | Lens construction: 17 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.38m | Filter size: 82mm | Dimensions: 88.4x111mm | Weight: 900g
The Tamron is well built with a rock-solid feel and great handling. This updated "G2" lens brings with it a superb 5-stop image stabilization system and impressive autofocus performance - and unlike some lenses it is properly weather sealed for use in all outdoor conditions. The Tamron delivers excellent contrast and impressive sharpness in the lab – and particulaly so at the wide-angle end. Color fringing and distortions are well controlled but, unlike with some lenses, you can’t take advantage of in-camera corrections for lens aberrations.
8. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM
A great longer range standard zoom for full frame Canon SLRs
Effective zoom range: 24-105mm | Lens construction: 17 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 10 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.45m | Filter size: 77m | Dimensions: 84x118mm | Weight: 795g
The new Mk II has been redesigned to be tougher and more resistant to shock and vibration, as well as featuring fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements. More importantly, the optics have been revamped, with the aim of improving sharpness across the whole image frame, throughout the zoom range. Barrel distortion from the preceding 24-105mm lens was notoriously bad at the short end of the zoom range, but the Mk II performs a little better. It’s also a bit sharper, autofocus is a little quicker and bokeh is smoother, thanks to the fitment of ten, rather than eight, diaphragm blades. Overall, however, each of the improvements is quite subtle rather than making a hugely noticeable difference.
9. Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM
The best RF standard zoom for quality, versatility and cost-effectiveness
Effective zoom range: 24-105mm | Lens construction: 18 elements in 14 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.45m | Filter size: 77mm | Dimensions: 84x107mm | Weight: 700g
A highly popular choice for EOS R-series cameras, this lens occupies the middle-ground between the compact, low-budget RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS STM and the mighty RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM. The former has a disappointingly narrow aperture at longer zoom settings, while the latter has a relatively limited zoom range is much pricier to buy. For our money, the 24-105mm f/4 offers an ideal compromise. It has a very versatile zoom range with a constant f/4 aperture rating, it’s not overly big or heavy, and is sensibly priced. Highlights in handling and performance include a customisable control ring, 5-stop optical stabilization and fast Nano USM autofocus, all wrapped up in a weather-sealed and typically sturdy construction, befitting an L-series lens.
10. Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
A high-performance pro grade standard zoom for EOS R cameras
Effective zoom range: 24-70mm | Lens construction: 21 elements in 15 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.21-0.38m | Filter size: 82mm | Dimensions: 89x126mm | Weight: 900g
Unless you’re desperate for the faster aperture of Canon’s huge RF 28-70mm f/2L USM standard zoom, which tips the scales at nearly 1.5kg and is fiendishly expensive to buy, the 24-70mm is the better option. At 900g, it’s more manageable and is actually only 200g heavier than the RF 24-105mm f/4 lens. Naturally, it’s an f/stop faster but has less telephoto reach. The premium optical design includes three aspherical elements and three UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) elements, along with high-tech Air Sphere Coating to minimize ghosting and flare. There’s also a fluorine coating on the front and rear elements, to repel moisture and finger marks. High-speed Nano USM autofocus and 5-stop stabilization are featured but it’s the sensational image quality of this lens that makes it worth its undeniably up-market price tag.
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