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 two categories: one for Canon's smaller APS-C format DSLRs and one for its full frame EOS 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’s EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 is the top APS-C lens, while the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 wins for full-frame bodies. Both give class-leading performance and image quality, and especially in the APS-C arena, where the Canon has a much more pro-grade feel than its competitors.
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Best Canon standard zoom lenses for APS-C DSLRs
1. Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
A veteran APS-C format 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.
2. Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM C for Canon
A new and improved edition of Sigma’s 17-70mm lens
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.
3. Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II VC for Canon
Tamron’s updated 17-50mm lens adds stabilization
Effective zoom range: 27-80mm | Lens construction: 19 elements in 14 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.29m | Filter size: 72mm | Dimensions: 80x95mm | Weight: 570g
This updated version of Tamron’s constant-aperture f/2.8 lens for APS-C format cameras adds the company’s proprietary tri-axial optical stabilizer or ‘VC’ (Vibration Compensation) system. It’s effective to about four stops, beating the stabilizer in the competing Canon 17-55mm lens. Handling is adversely affected by the focus ring spinning during autofocus, so you have to be careful where you put your fingers. Performance is good overall but, towards both ends of the zoom range, levels of sharpness are disappointing around the edges and corners of the image frame. At wide-angle settings, image corners remain soft at all available apertures. Even so, it’s a good buy at the price.
4. Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM for Canon
A bargain – but things aren’t quite what they seem
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.
Full-frame Canon standard zooms
1. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
This Mk II edition is the reinvention of a classic
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.
2. Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 for Canon
An anti-shake advantage over Canon’s competitor
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.
3. Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM A for Canon
High-end quality makes this enticing
Effective zoom range: 24-105mm | Lens construction: 19 elements in 14 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.45m | Filter size: 82m | Dimensions: 89x109mm | Weight: 885g
One of Sigma’s first ‘Art’ line lenses, this one is built for quality and goes toe-to-toe with Canon’s 24-105mm lens in both zoom range and aperture rating. Similarly, it features optical stabilization and high-end build quality, as well as upmarket glass, in this case including FLD (Fluorite-grade Low Dispersion), SLD (Special Low Dispersion) and aspherical elements. The construction of the Sigma lens feels similarly solid to the Canon, but doesn’t feature weather-seals. Like the 17-70mm ‘Contemporary’ lens for APS-C cameras, this one is compatible with Sigma’s optional USB Dock. Compared with the Canon 24-105mm lens, the diaphragm has one less blade, at nine rather than ten, but the aperture is nevertheless well-rounded.
4. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM
Another Canon standard zoom gets upgraded
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.
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