[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Unfortunately, trying to find the perfect lens that will address all typical situations defeats the purpose of a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses.[/pullquote]
Starting out in photography, the first thing many people search for is ‘the best Canon walkaround lens?’. What you are really asking is “if I am going to plunk down money on a lens, what is the one lens that can do it all?”. In this article I’ll give an overview of three Canon lenses I’ve used extensively in my search for a perfect lens.
Unfortunately, trying to find the perfect lens that will address all typical situations defeats the purpose of a DSLR camera with interchangeable lenses. The entire concept is you can find lenses specific to the application in which are looking to fulfill. With that said, if you are the average ‘new to DSLR’ photographer, looking for a lens that looks awesome, is sharp, produces great color, and can fulfill a wide-array of functions with perhaps not the best, but some respectable level of service then this review is for you![pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I wanted to find a great lens that was worth the money, would elevate the quality of my photos, and not greatly restrict my ability to walk around a city[/pullquote]
When starting in photography and having limited resources, I wanted to find a great lens that was worth the money, would elevate the quality of my photos, and not greatly restrict my ability to walk around a city or vacation destination and snap great shots. I went through a variety of lenses over a few years, and will share my experience with each lens and conclude with how I landed on the lens that I now use most often.
The first lens that I used on a Canon DSLR was the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II SLR Lens. This is the lens that is included with many Canon cameras. There are a few variations of this lens, including an IS (image stabilization) version, but they are all more or less comparable to each other in terms of overall quality. They are roughly between $100-$200 depending on the version and model. They make an excellent lens for a beginner, but with one major drawback that affected me and will affect you if you plan on shooting any video.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]while shooting video, there is an audible click and visible shift in the exposure.[/pullquote]
My goal was to utilize my DSLR for video, and as a beginner to video I didn’t realize that variable aperture lenses didn’t play well with video. With a variable aperture lens, typically denoted when you see a range on the lens itself, in this case the F3.5-5.6 denotes the range of apertures as the aperture changes as the zoom range shifts. While zoomed out to 18mm the aperture is 3.5, but as the zoom extends to the 55mm range the lens steps the aperture to 5.6. When this happens, while shooting video, there is an audible click and visible shift in the exposure. If one is never shooting video, this is irrelevant, or if you plan to shoot video but never zoom during recording this is a moot point.
The Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II SLR Lensis a very light, inexpensive plastic lens. These lenses also do not have separate focus rings. Manual focus with these lenses is much more difficult, which for most photography situations isn’t a problem, but when shooting video where manual focus is the only option, shooting with these lenses and pulling focus is almost impossible. Also, you may find it extremely difficult to photography night shots or long exposures with this style focus setup.
After saving a few hundred dollars I was ready to upgrade, and the next logical choice that fit my budget was the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens. This lens is a wonderful affordable upgrade for any Canon camera user. It is significantly heavier and has a much better construction than the plastic lenses. The picture quality is notably better, the image stabilization is improved, but it’s still a variable aperture F3.5-5.6 lens. It also has a much more powerful zoom compared to the inexpensive lenses.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I felt I was working closer to a ‘one-lens-for-everything’, or in other words it made a great Canon walk around lens.[/pullquote]
This lens started to open the door for versatility, and I felt I was working closer to a ‘one-lens-for-everything’, or in other words it made a great Canon walk around lens. At 28mm, the field of view was wide enough to capture big rooms, landscapes, and more. At the long end, it allowed for great close-ups, leaving a nice blurred background and instantly elevating the quality of portraits.
This lens still suffered the variable aperture problem, but I started to shoot video around it since the quality was so much better than the included lens that came with my camera. It’s not often in video I would care to utilize the zoom feature as I became more adept at creating video, which has a sense of irony as I thought these lenses were destroying my ability to shoot video.
The lens focuses lightening fast and quietly with the Canon USM technology (Ultrasoninc Motor). The image stabilization also worked well, and really helped maintain sharp focus even in darker situations. At the 28mm range I was always able to comfortably shoot handheld indoors at 1/30th of a second with image stabilization and still have many sharp pictures.
One problem that annoyed me with this lens is known as ‘lens-creep’, whereas the lens would slowly creep out while walking around. Basically, the zoom ring seemed loose. I also was unable to use this lens for product photography, in instances where the camera would be pointed directly downward. The lens would simply drop out to 135mm. The weight of the lens itself would pull the zoom out. Also, in a studio situation where the camera was mounted over an object, facing down, the lens was unusable without the rubber band.
It was an annoying issue, and it does not seem to affect everyone, but does affect many lenses in this model. A simple google search for “lens creep 28-135” will result in many article discussing the problem. There are also some temporary solutions to the problem, such as using a rubber-band around the zoom ring, then looping it around the barrel of the lens to hold everything in place.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I could no longer stand in the corner of a small room and get a wide-view.[/pullquote]
Another issue I suffered was dealing with the crop factor when moving from 18mm, to 28mm. I lost a lot of the wide-end I had become in which I had become accustomed. I could no longer stand in the corner of a small room and get a wide-view. I was shooting with a 7D at the time, and with a 1.6x crop factor my Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lenswas essentially acting as a 45-216mm. This crop factor affects all lenses on most Canon cameras, except for those ‘full-frame’ cameras such as the Canon 5D series, Canon 6D, and all of the 1D series.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]I used the Canon 28-135mm lens exclusively for almost three years and had achieved many great looking photos, and lens creep aside this lens provided the most bang for the buck.[/pullquote]
I will spare a technical discussion as to why this occurs, but just know when purchasing a lens for a Rebel, or a 40D, 50D, 60D, 70D, and so on that the actual range will usually be roughly 1.6x greater than what is stated (on both ends of the zoom range).
I used the Canon 28-135mm lens exclusively for almost three years and had achieved many great looking photos, and lens creep aside this lens provided the most bang for the buck. At around $400, this is probably the best budget lens you can buy for a Canon camera that has a wide-zoom capability and produces decent images at both ends of the spectrum.
I should make clear that I write this review from the perspective of real-world usability and feel, not from a technical or scientific viewpoint. There are many other websites that break down these lenses with great detail and technical acumen, but I have found over the years that sometimes gear can look great from a technical viewpoint, but once you actually have it hand and use it, just because something was the sharpest, or the clearest, or the best at a certain aperture, or had slight chromatic aberration, the real-world application may differ dramatically. I’d still encourage anyone interested in these lenses to take a look at some of the more scientific results, but take them with a grain of salt. No spec sheet or sample photos can take the place of actually holding and shooting with a lens.
Many shortfalls with these lenses from a technical perspective can easily be overcome by a little post-production as well.
My current go-to lens, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lenssuffers some pretty bad color fringing, where details have purple halos. I’ve spoke to several people about it and some copies of this lens seem to suffer this problem more than others. Prior to Photoshop and Lightroom, a lens like this would more or less be useless, but now with one click of “Remove Color Fringing” in Lightroom it disappears and I don’t have to give it a second thought.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The build quality is simply far ahead of the non-L lenses.[/pullquote]
A minor vignette in the corners of a lens when zoomed out can easily be corrected using a subtle crop. While slight perspective distortion can also be corrected with one click of a lens profile.
This leads me to upgrading a lens yet again, and moving to the Canon 24-105MM L F4 lens. Once you move to an L series lens you never look back. The build quality is simply far ahead of the non-L lenses. The lenses are also weather-sealed to prevent dust and water from affecting the lens. Weather sealing is not waterproofing, but I often take my lens out in light rain or snow with no concern it will be damaged. The Canon 7D and the 5D Mark II and III (of which are my current cameras) also have improved weather sealing, which again is not waterproofing, but if a few drops of rain hit your camera you need not panic.
The 24-105 is a heavy lens, as are all of the L lenses. In fact, the lens is heavy enough that it makes the included Canon factory strap not very worthwhile. I’ll add, I absolutely love the factory strap. The grip material clings far better than any strap I’ve ever owned, and I’m sure this is in contradiction to what many other photographers will say, but I simply love the grip of the factory strap as it virtually never ‘slip-off’ my shoulder. The factory strap does not provide any padding though, so when moving to the Canon Mark II, with the 24-105mm L lens, I chose to switch straps as well. I currently use an Optech Sling Strap which I’ll review in a later post.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]With the 24-105, I found my perfect walk-around lens. I use this lens all the time for many different applications.[/pullquote]
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lensgives amazing clarity and color. Color was the one thing that impressed me the most as I moved up the lens line. I guess I never thought much about color when purchasing a lens, instead I always thought of the shallower depth of field, a sharper image, and the improved feel and quality. In reality, the most notable improvement moving up the range was color. The contrast and saturation are simply better on the L lens than the 28-135, and the 28-135 is far superior to the 18-55.
With the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens, I found my perfect walk-around lens. I use this lens all the time for many different applications. I have also used the Canon 24-70 F2.8 L (without stabilization). Quite honestly, while it performs well and looks amazing, the enormous price difference between the F4 and the F2.8 is simply not justified. In terms of low light performance they perform similar. Of course the 2.8 has a more creamy shallow depth-of-field, but the difference is not significant and when I’m looking for the super shallow depth-of-field, I always default to the Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens, which is by far my favorite lens, but also is one of the furthest things from from a all-purpose walk-around lens! Also, while searching for a great walk-around, remember the Canon 24-70mm 2.8 lacks the zoom reach of the 24-105mm F4 L lens.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]All in all, I use my 24-105mm F4 L lens nearly everyday.[/pullquote]
Again, there is no ‘perfect’ lens for every application. In wedding photography where low-light performance is absolutely critical, the 24-70mm with a 2.8 aperture makes a needed difference, but for the casual photographer this type of critical situation does not typically present itself.
All in all, I use my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lensnearly everyday. I use it for landscapes, portraits, weddings, events, studio product photography, and just as a general walkaround lens when I’m on vacation or roaming the streets simply have my camera slung over my shoulder and not carrying a bag full of gear.
You cannot go wrong with this lens, and I’ll also add the color fringing I referenced from what I’ve seen and heard varies from copy to copy of this series. Again, despite mine seeming a bit worse than others I have seen, one click and the problem disappears, so I’m not overly concerned about it. There is also some mild vignetting that occurs in the corners when zoomed all the way out to 24mm, and is especially evident with a bright sky, but again it’s a problem that is easily corrected.
The L series lenses are incredibly sharp, and while there are certainly other lens that cost less and provide a slightly sharper picture, as a package, in terms of weather sealing, the USM, the IS, and overall feel and quality of the lens, I think it’s ‘good-enough’.
The 24-105mm is roughly a $1000 lens, and is often offered along with many Canon Camera DSLR packages at a fairly significant discount. For example, adding it to a camera body may only increase the package price about $700 (effectively 30% off buying it on its own).
Lastly, consider resale value when purchasing such an expensive lens. Canon L glass holds its value better than any 3rd party lenses. It may not matter if you plan never to sell it, but again when evaluating an entire package it’s something I always take into consideration. I’ve bought and sold my fair share of equipment, including many things I thought I’d keep forever!
If you’re on the fence, buy it now and don’t look back! At this price point and at this performance level you will surely not having any second thoughts once the lens is in hand.
So, what is the best Canon walk around lens? If you have a $1000 get the L, if you have $400 get the 28-135, and if you have nothing stick with your kit lens. Any of the lenses can produce great images, and you can work around the pitfalls of any lens. Color and sharpness improve as you move up the line, but the differences won’t make or break your next photoshoot or video project.
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