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Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM review

This is the widest standard zoom on the market for APS-C Canon DSLRs

(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

A useful zoom for APS-C users, the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM provides a generous range in a surprisingly light body. You do have to be aware of a few trade-offs – the narrow maximum aperture is perhaps most obvious, though there are also a few sharpness problems that are alleviated by stopping down, further reducing the lens’s low-light capabilities. Still, extra features like a useful four-stop stabiliser and a focus distance scale mean this is definitely a lens for APS-C users to consider.

For

  • Wide zoom range
  • Four-stop stabiliser
  • Relatively lightweight

Against

  • Narrow maximum aperture

Considering that a starting point of 24mm is pretty ubiquitous in standard zooms for full-frame cameras, it’s surprising that this is the only zoom lens for Canon APS-C format bodies on the market that gives the same effective maximum viewing angle. The outright zoom range is also exceptionally generous for a lens of this type, equating to 24-136mm in full-frame terms.

Originally launched back in 2009, this lens is similar to many other mid-range lenses in the Canon stable. It isn’t weather-sealed and its hood is sold separately, in this case costing £38/$30 for the EW-78E hood. It also sports ring-type ultrasonic autofocus, in which the focus ring remains stationary during autofocus and enables full-time manual override. Also, unlike most kit zooms, it has a focus distance scale.

Despite its generous zoom range, this lens is smaller and more lightweight than many of its contemporaries, weighing just 585g and taking 72mm rather than 77mm filters. The trade-off comes in the form of the variable f/3.5-5.6 aperture rating, which is a good deal slower than many lenses of similar focal range. If you can deal with that, you’ll find a lot to like about this expansive zoom – it’s a great general-purpose lens for all sorts of shooting situations.

(Image credit: Future)

Performance

Handling is refined with smooth operation of the zoom and focus rings, while the ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is quick and quiet. The four-stop image stabiliser is also very effective, expanding the user’s handheld shooting options. Sharpness is good  – not great – and benefits from stopping down. Image quality is pleasing, but barrel distortion and vignetting are clearer at the short end of the zoom range.

Super Spectra coatings have been applied to reduce ghosting and flare, while the internal optics include both UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) and aspherical elements, tamping down aberrations and distortions for smooth results. Finally, a seven-bladed aperture allows for the creation of images with smooth transition from focused to defocused areas, and beautiful bokeh.

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