Beginner Canon Digital SLR Lens

Have you been agonizing over the purchase of your first Canon digital SLR Lens?

That is a common dilemma for many first digital slr owners.

In fact, after your decision to get a Canon EOS camera, it SHOULD be your next decision. You really should know which lens you want before you even buy your camera.

Will you just settle for the kit lens? Or will you buy a different lens to get more bang for your buck?

The second scenario is that you already bought the camera with the kit lens, but you want to get a more capable all-purpose lens.

Just so we understand terms, a kit lens is the one that comes with the camera unless you opt for a “body only” when you buy. The kit lens may vary depending on the Canon Digital SLR you are looking at. For the lower level cameras, such as the Rebels, the kit lens will be an 18-55mm zoom lens.

The first assumption here is that you want to get a lens that will service a wide variety of situations with excellent results. This would eliminate any prime lenses from this discussion. (Prime is a single focal length lens, like 50mm or 300mm -  no zoom at all.

The second assumption is that you are looking for a really excellent lens, but you are not going to be submitting your photos to National Geographic Magazine, meaning you want good pictures, but this lens will serve as a general all-purpose, “let’s just get the shot” kind of lens. It would be used for things like street photography, vacations, birthday parties, and the like.

Lens Quality

Two parts of the photography puzzle work together to give you a great photograph. Of course the camera has to be part of that puzzle, but the lens is equally important. If you have a great camera and a piece of junk lens, the results will more reflect the lens quality and you will wonder why you are getting these lousy pictures. On the other hand, a high class lens attached to a poor camera will also give disappointing results.

The cost of a lens is usually a reflection of the quality. There are a few exceptions like the Canon 50mm f/1.8 which is one of the best quality lenses, yet is costs less than $100. That is a very unusual case. Most of the time good lenses are not cheap.

That being said, don’t expect to pay $149 get all your bases covered. Something about that lens is causing the low price, whether it is the glass quality or lack of focus or sharpness.

There are plenty of lenses that cost more than the camera. Just be forewarned.

Now that we understand where we are going with this page, let’s get there. The following lenses will serve you very well as a general walk around lens.

Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS
(similar to kit lens)

Canon 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 Canon has always supplied a Kit lens, and it has gotten a bad rap in the past. However, there have been improvements and we can now recommend this lens as a starter lens for your Canon Digital SLR setup.

The good:

  • Price
  • IS (image stabilization) has been added so hand held shots are sharper

The Not-So-Good

  • Aperture is not constant throughout the zoom range. This means that if you want to take a photo at one of the longer focal lengths in low light, you will probably need a tripod.
  • Plastic construction means it is less durable

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

Canon 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM This lens is really ideal for someone who will be doing mostly available-light photography. It offers a wide aperture at 2.8 throughout the zoom range, PLUS it has IS (image stabilization). That’s why a hand held camera with this lens attached in low light settings can still result in a really sharp picture. The EF-S signifies that it can only be used with cameras that do not have full frame sensors.  If your interest is mostly in landscapes and such, and you don’t mind carrying a tripod, you can save a good bit of money by going with one of the lower cost alternatives.

The good:

  • Great for low light, hand held shooting
  • IS (image stabilization)
  • USM – UltraSonic Motor for fast focus

The Not-So-Good

  • Price
  • Only 55mm on the long end

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

canon 17-40 f4 L This Canon L lens has long been considered one of the “must have” lenses. Not so much any longer because of the wide variety of lens glass now available. But it is still an excellent lens if you are interested in landscape or cityscape type photography. It has a somewhat limited zoom range.

The good:

  • Price – for “L” glass it is not expensive
  • Excellent image quality across the zoom range
  • Great for landscape type photography

The Not-So-Good

  • Limited zoom range

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM

Canon 24-105 f/4 L IS Another “L” lens, this one is really well regarded. From literally hundreds of users on different forums, this lens has always been rated at 8 or higher. That does not happen often. Down side, of course, is the cost. But if you want the best, this is it.

The good:

  • It’s an L lens
  • Superior quality and color
  • IS (image stabilization)
  • USM (UltraSonic Motor)

The Not-So-Good

  • Price

Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 SP XR ZL Di LD Aspherical (IF)

Tamron 28-75 This non-Canon lens offers a very distinct advantage in wide aperture and lower price. It has been in production for quite awhile and has stood the test of time. Good for low light photography, it gives nice sharp images. It is similar to the Canon EF-S in that it can not be used on full frame camera bodies.

The good:

  • Price
  • 2.8 aperture is constant throughout the zoom range
  • Fast focus in spite of no HSM

The Not-So-Good

  • Not a true wide angle lens at 28mm on a crop body such as a Canon Rebel or 50D

Sigma 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC OS HSM IF

Sigma 18-250 This is a Super-Zoom lens. It is offered by all the manufacturers in several zoom ranges. This particular one has gotten better reviews than the others. The major advantage of a super-zoom is that it can take the place of two zoom lenses. It is great if you have only a limited budget or you want to keep just one lens on your camera all the time (not why you bought the digital SLR, though). Some feature it as a Vacation lens.

The good:

  • Price – at about $500 you are getting “two for the price of one”
  • Get the shot without having to switch lenses
  • OS ( same as image stabilization)

The Not-So-Good

  • Aperture is not constant throughout the zoom range.

Tamron AF 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di-II LD SP ZL Aspherical (IF)

Tamron 17-50 Another Canon competitor, this Tamron 17-50mm lens has surprised reviewers with its excellent performance. Save money and get the same results as with the Canon equivalent. Another constant aperture lens at f/2.8. Compared to the Tamron 28-75 above, it covers a wider focal range at 17mm.

The good:

  • Price
  • Constant 2.8 Aperture
  • Fast focus in spite of the lack of focus motor

The Not-So-Good

  • A little more length would have been good, but adding a 70-200 second lens is almost a given anyway.