Recommended Canon Lenses
Recommended Crop Sensor EF-S Lenses:
Note that EF-S lenses can only be used on APS-C crop sensor bodies while all normal EF lenses can be used on any Canon body, and nearly all of the EF lenses list below will easily out perform the following EF-S lenses. "*" Denotes lenses of exceptional and near flawless quality.
Sigma AF 8-16/4.5-5.6 DC: Very wide and good all around optically.
10-22/3.5-4.5: Good all around lens.
15-85/3.5-5.6 IS: Not without its flaws but the best large zoom lens for a Canon crop sensor body.
17-55/2.8 IS*: This lens produces exceptional image quality and shallow depth-of-field with constant f/2.8 aperture. The optical performance is excellent and this lens is one of the best reasons to purchase a Canon APS-C crop sensor body. Simply unmatched quality when coupled with Canon's latest APS-C bodies. This is the only image stabilized general use zoom with great optical performance. It costs a lot and is rather large but you get what you pay for with this lens.
Tamron 17-50/2.8 and Sigma 17-50/2.8 OS: If you can't afford the incredible Canon 17-55/2.8 IS or you don't need the image stabilization then consider Tamron's affordable constant f/2.8 zoom. The non-VC version is sharper, smaller, lighter and cheaper than the new VC version. If you want image stabilization and can't afford the Canon then go for Sigma's 17-50/2.8 OS.
18-55/3.5-5.6 IS: The light and compact $100 kit lens offers surprisingly good performance, making it the perfect starter lens. Unless you absolutely need a single lens solution then I do not recommend other general purpose zoom lenses (15-85, 18-135 and 18-200) as they do not provide much improvement over the $100 kit lens other than increased telephoto zoom range, better build quality and faster AF. If you need to upgrade then consider Canon 15-85 IS, Tamron 17-50/2.8 or Sigma 17-50/2.8 OS. For the best quality get Canon's superior 17-55/2.8 IS. Also consider the 24-105/4L IS that performs very well on a crop sensor, and makes a great general use/travel lens when coupled with a 10-22 for ultra wide angle. The 24-105/4L IS can also be used on full frame bodies if you ever upgrade your body.
70-300/4-5.6L IS: A great long reach zoom on a crop sensor camera.
24/2.8 IS, 28/2.8 IS and 35/2 IS: While not a dedicated APS-C only lens and also not the cheapest or fastest primes available, they offer excellent IS as well as excellent image quality in a light and compact body. The latest 35/2 IS is probably the most compelling of the three for a general use prime lens offering a faster f/2 aperture and APS-C 56mm equivalent focal length.
40/2.8 Pancake*: While not a dedicated APS-C only lens, this super small pancake makes for a compelling match with compact APS-C bodies. Based on MTF charts it looks to measure up to larger, heavier and more expensive 50 primes.
50/1.8: While not a dedicated APS-C only lens, this lens makes the most sense on a crop sensor as a portrait lens with unbeatable image quality for $100. This affordable lens provides one of the most compelling reasons for purchasing an entry level Canon crop sensor DSLR.
60/2.8 macro: Can be used for any kind of shooting but is exceptional for macro. This is one of Canon's highest resolving lens and it is only available for APS-C.
Any EF full frame lens listed below will yield excellent performance on an APS-C body, although do not forget to consider the 1.6x change in FOV: 24-105/4L IS, 24-70/4L IS, 24-70/2.8L II*, 70-200/4L IS*, 70-200/2.8L IS II*, 24/2.8 IS, 24/1.4L I or II, 28/2.8 IS, 35/2 IS, 35/1.4L, 40/2.8, 50/1.8, 50/1.4, 50/1.2L, 85/1.8*, 85/1.2L I or II*, 135/2L* and any of the tilt/shift or super telephoto lenses.
Recommended Full Frame Sensor EF Lenses:
Note that EF lenses can be used with any Canon body. "L" lenses are professional grade offering better build quality, weather seals and better image quality in most cases. "*" Denotes lenses of exceptional and near flawless quality.
8-15/4L*: If you need a fisheye for any Canon sensor size then this is the best.
16-35/2.8L II: While not without its flaws, overall this is the most versatile and all around best performance ultra wide angle zoom for Canon. Nikon's 14-24/2.8G is the absolute best from an optical standpoint, although, has considerable distortion and isn't nearly as practical (zoom range, size/weight and front element). If you want wide angle perfection look to Canon's new 17 and 24 TS-E lens's or 24/1.4L II for lowlight.
17-40/4L: If you want a compact and afford wide angle zoom for landscapes (f/8 with daylight hand held or low light tripod), then this is a good and affordable option for full frame.
24-70/2.8L II*: The first 24-70/2.8 out of the many 24-70-105-120-etc lenses to provide a truly professional level of image quality that is on par with Canon's near perfect 70-200/2.8L IS II and matches prime lenses at f/2.8 and above. The new Tamron 24-70/2.8 VC lens is a good alternative considering its comparatively low price and inclusion of image stabilization, but image quality isn't equivalent. If you want IS more than f/2.8 then look at Canon 24-70/4L IS or 24-105/4L IS.
24-70/4L IS: Brand new but should be the go to general use lens as it is compact, light, offers professional build quality, includes IS, has the latest Canon image quality technology and is likely to provide exceptional image quality like all of Canon's latest top billed lenses.
24-105/4L IS: The distortion and vignetting at the wide end are problematic, however, this lens offers good versatility for Canon bodies for a very low price.
70-200/4L IS*: The smallest, lightest and best performing lens of its kind, even as sharp as most primes! Fast and accurate autofocus. And this lens is one of Canon's least expensive truly "L" grade zooms.
70-200/2.8L IS II*: This lens matches the excellent performance of the f/4L IS version but at f/2.8! This lens will cost you twice as much, weigh twice as much and take up twice as much space as the f/4L IS, so make sure you need f/2.8 in a zoom and consider the option of picking up the f/4 version with 85/1.8 and 135/2L for about the same price! If you need the f/2.8 version then you will have what is probably the best zoom lens ever produced!
200-400x1.4/4L IS*: Not yet released but expect this to be as exceptional as it will be expensive like the rest of Canon's super telephoto lenses.
17/4L TS-E*: If you shoot architecture this is the absolute best lens produced with zero distortion and flawless optical performance even with large shifts or tilts. As with Nikon's 14-24, price and an unprotected bulbous front element are penalties one pays for exceptional ultra-wide performance. Link to a detailed review of the 17/4L TS-E with example photos.
24/3.5L TS-E II*: While not as wide as the 17 or as good for large/tall architectural projects, it is a more versatile all around lens and in general better for nature photography. Link to a detailed review of the 24/3.5L TS-E II with example photos.
24/2.8 IS: A great lens offering excellent IS as well as excellent image quality in a light and compact body.
24/1.4L II: One of Canon's best low light lenses, the lens produces some of the best center performance of any fast lens but the corner performance rapidly drops off to become just about the worst. If you don't need autofocus or ultra large apertures, then consider Canon'2 24/3.5L TS-E II for better overall performance.
28/2.8 IS: A great lens offering excellent IS as well as excellent image quality in a light and compact body.
35/2 IS: Brand new but should be another great lens offering excellent IS as well as excellent image quality in a light and compact body.
Sigma 35/1.4 DG*: This new Sigma has trumped Canon's "L" lens, at least until Canon releases an updated Mark II version. It is also less expensive than Canon's "L" and will be substantially less expensive than a new Mark II version.
40/2.8 Pancake*: Super small, light and good performance straight from f/2.8.
50/1.4: While not as sharp as other lenses on this list when shot wide open, above f/2.2 or so it is one of the sharpest lenses out there. It also represents good bang-for-the-buck.
50/1.2L: Don't expect optical or autofocus perfection, only dreamy bokeh.
85/1.8*: Fast/reliable autofocus and nearly flawless at f/2. Considering the price and performance, this is the best FF lens per dollar around.
85/1.2L II*: Actually sharp wide open at f/1.2!!! This is the only lens of it's kind with autofocus and accurate autofocus at that, although, the autofocus is slow. While there is some vignetting (corner shading), it is far less than typical for a fast/large aperture lens and less than one stop in the corners when slightly stopped down. This lens ranks in as the not only the best shallow DOF and bokeh delivering autofocus lens around but also as the best low-light lens. With the exception of the slower focus, this lens is a marvel of engineering. When rebates are available this lens even ranks as a bargain when considering its performance compared to more exotic lenses.
90/2.8 TS-E*: Amazingly creative lens for portraits and products. Great optical performance even when shot wide open with full movements.
100/2.8L IS*: Great for macro and portraits. Canon's latest IS technology makes a huge difference for hand held work. Optically it is identical to the non-L version so if you don't need IS or weather sealing then you can save a ton of money by getting the older version. That being said, the L version doesn't cost considerably more and will perform better for a variety of uses. But the when it comes to 100/2.8 macros there yet one more lens that should be consider, Sigma's 100/2.8 OS that pretty much matches Canon's 100/2.8L IS but costs less. It lacks Canon's hybrid HIS and "L" build quality and AF. Yes, sometimes having to many excellent options is a problem also.
100/2: Like the 85/1.8 this lens is compact, light and affordable with excellent image quality and autofocus.
135/2L*: Sharp wide open for dreamy subject isolation. As one of Canon's best performing lenses, it is surprising inexpensive for a "L" prime. Since the lens lacks IS, you will have to watch your shutter speeds to keep things sharp. Considering the cost, size, weight, build quality, AF speed and optical performance, this lens is one of Canon's best performance for money spent.
Sigma 150/2.8 OS APO*: The best macro lens out there at present that also happen to be an APO lens so is exceptional for any use. Plus the price is surprisingly low for the quality.
Any Canon telephoto or super telephoto prime lens, although, the latest Mark II versions offer superb quality compared to any telephoto lens available: 200/2L IS*, 300/2.8L IS II*, 400/2.8L IS II*, 500/4L IS II*, 600/4L IS II* and 800/5.6L IS.
Upgrading Your Canon Crop Sensor EF-S 18-55 Kit Lens
Option One: Fast Prime Lens: Canon 50 f/1.8
These are fixed focal length lenses, otherwise known as a prime lenses that do not zoom. These lenses provide a much larger aperture compared to the kit zoom lens and for that matter any other zoom lens available.
Lets talk about the name of these lenses, for instance the 50 f/1.8. The first "50" number indicates the focal length, which is the angle of view that you see when looking through the camera's view finder. All entry level (below $2,500) DSLR have crop sensors to reduce sensor fabrication and lens glass costs. Understanding how crop sensor effects focal length is a bit more complicated than on full frame cameras because the smaller sensor essentially only "sees" the center portion of the total image that the lens projects back into the sensor. Canon cameras have a 1.6x crop factor, meaning that the 50mm lens projects 50mm but your camera only sees 80mm (50mm x 1.6 = 80mm). So whenever you put a lens on your camera you need to multiple it by 1.6 to understand what you see in the viewfinder/screen.
The "normal" focal length is 50mm, which is approximately what the human eye sees without using peripheral vision. Any focal length number smaller than 50mm is considered wide angle, while any focal length number larger than 50mm is considered telephoto. This means that the Canon 35 f/2 would provide a "normal" view of 56mm on your crop sensor Canon camera. So this is a very good lens to get because you do not have to "train" your eye to see wider or tighter shots than normal.
Now lets discuss the second part of the 50 f/1.8 name, the "f/1.8" portion. The number after the "f/" signifies the lens's maximum aperture opening size. The SMALLER the number after the "f/" the LARGER the aperture opening. Do you get that? It is an inverse relationship! The larger the aperture opening the more light the lens lets into the camera and the smaller the aperture number. The more light you let into the camera the faster the shutter speed the camera will produce for any given lighting condition. Can you imagine how this would be helpful in low-light conditions, such as shooting indoors or at night?
Since these large aperture lenses produce faster shutter speeds in low-light conditions they are called "fast" lenses. The main benefit of faster shutter speeds in low-light conditions is that it prevents the normal shaking of your camera and thus causing the subject in your image to look blurry. Faster shutter speeds also prevent the subject from blurring as a result of their motion.
In addition to speeding up the camera's shutter speed, large apertures also provide shallower depth-of-field, which is the distance between in-focus and out-of-focus portions of the image. The larger the aperture the smaller the depth-of-field and the more the in-focus subject pops out from the out-of-focus background. This is a highly desirable look for portraits.
So why would you purchase a 50 f/1.8 or any of the fast prime lenses listed above? For all the reasons we just reviewed: 1) it captures images in low-light conditions without camera shake or subject motion blur, and 2) when taking portraits it renders a beautifully blurred background to highlight your sharp and in-focus subject.
Option Two: General Purpose Fast Zoom: Tamron 17-50 f/2.8, Sigma 17-50 f/2.8 OS or Canon 17-55 f/2.8 IS
So now that you understand how to interpret lens names, what can you tell me about these lenses? First that the focal length is not fixed but has a range from 17mm to 50/55mm, and to understand what this range will look like on your camera you need to multiple by 1.6 (17mm x 1.6 = 27.2mm and 50mm x 1.6 = 80mm), so for example the Tamron or Sigma lenses "see" from 27.2mm to 80mm on a Canon body. That is a very useful range in that you see quite a bit wider than the normal 50mm and quite a bit tighter than the normal 50mm. This zoom range is similar to the kit lens, so you should have a good idea of the what that zoom range "looks" like.
The big difference between these fast zoom lenses and the kit lens is signified by the "f/2.8" part of the lens name. This means that the lens has a maximum aperture of f/2.8. Now this is a smaller or slower aperture as compared to the f/1.8 primes as discussed above but it is still considerably larger and faster than the kit zoom lens. With this lens you get the best of both worlds, the versatility of a zoom with the faster aperture for less camera shake and better portraits. You shouldn't write off the Fast Primes option because they perform even better in low-light and offer even more subject pop from shallow depth-of-field.
With Canon's 17-55 f/2.8 IS you get the best general purpose zoom currently made for either a crop sensor camera or a full frame camera! It is insanely sharp throughout the zoom and aperture range, plus has image stabilization, a feature I will discuss in the next section. This lens isn't cheap but it offers uncompromising quality.
Option Three: General Purpose Daylight Zoom: Canon 15-85 f/3.5-5.6 IS
Okay here's last lens upgrade type. Now what can you tell me about these lenses, why would you want this lens over the others? The main reason is that these lenses offer an extended zoom range. This allows you to get "closer" to your subject while making the "view" much tighter. Now what's the obvious trade-off of this increased zoom range? The "f/f3.5-5.6" is a much larger number, which means you have less light available for faster shutter speeds that reduces camera shake and subject motion blur. We will talk about how Canon's "IS" eliminates the camera shake problem in a bit. Back to the aperture f/3.5-5.6 discussion. The other thing you will notice is that the aperture designation f/3.5-5.6 isn't just a single number but a range, similar to the zoom range. This means that the maximum possible aperture changes or reduces as you zoom. So at the long 85mm end of the zoom range the maximum aperture is only f/5.6, which is a small opening and resulting in slow shutter speeds.
Now lets discuss what the "IS" designation means. "IS" stands for "Image Stabilization", a very useful feature that eliminates camera shake that results form slow shutter speeds. The IS feature does nothing to help with subject motion blur that may occur from slower shutter speeds. One other fact that I would like to introduce, is that the longer the focal length the more camera shake will effect the photo. Think about this, it makes perfect sense. If you magnify an image in a microscope very small movements of the slide or slide contents result in huge movements in your magnified view. Right? Same principle here. The rule-of-thumb is that you need a shutter speed at least equal to the focal length, but double is preferable. Of course you need to use the crop sensor focal length, such as 85mm x 1.6 = 136mm, so at this focal length you need at least 1/136 second to be free of camera shake, that is without IS. With IS you can cut it in half or more! This means that IS compensates for the smaller lens apertures when shooting still subjects, such as landscapes.
So why would you get this slower f/3.5-5.6 lens in the first place? The intended purpose of this lens is for outdoor and daytime photography. This is the best hiking and travel lens, especially when couple with any of the Fast Primes list above in option 1 for low-light and evening photography.
There's nothing wrong with having all three lenses and even more for that matter! However, budgets are limited so you probably only want to purchase and use one or two lenses:
Option 1: Keep your current kit lens for general outdoor/daylight use and purchase the a Fast Prime from Option 1 above for low-light and portrait use. This is the lowest cost option and allows you to upgrade your kit lens in the future. Keep in mind that the 18-55 kit lens performs fairly well at f/6.3 to f/8, especially Canon's latest version that optically out performs more expensive EF-S lenses in some criteria.
Option 2: You could replace your current kit lens with a General Purpose Fast Zoom from Option 2 above for improvements in both general outdoor/daylight use and low-light/portrait use. Go with this option if you don't want to switch lenses and you don't mind having less than the ideal set up for each of the two types of photography discussed in this posting.
Option 3: You could replace your current kit lens with a General Purpose Daylight Zoom from Option 3 above for improvements in general outdoor/daylight use and purchase a Fast Prime from Option 1 above for low-light and portrait use. This option will cost the most but provide you with the best overall performance.
Crop Sensor EF-S Superzoom Options
The main reason for purchasing a DSLR is the ability to switch lenses in order to obtain maximum image quality, which brings the concept of super zoom lenses into question. So I do not recommend going the single lens route and instead recommend at least two lenses. The following is a list of lenses to cover the long end:
Canon 24-105 f/4L IS (38-168mm): While hardly a super zoom it is closest you can get to having normal focal length and longer telephoto focal length in one lens without compromising image quality. You would still need a second lens for the wide end, ideally coupled with a Canon 10-22 for ultra wide angle.
Tamron 28-300 f/3.5-6.3 XR Di VC (45-480mm): 28mm is no longer wide on a crop sensor so this lens barely qualifies as an all-in-one super zoom. Ideally you would couple this lens with a Canon 10-22 for ultra wide angle. Like Canon's 24-105, this lens is designed for a full frame so the sensor crops out the soft and dark edges.
Canon 55-250 f/4-5.6 IS (80-400mm): A step down in quality but also a major drop in price. This lens is super cheap, compact, light weight and a very good performer considering the above three points. Once again, you will need to purchase and carry another lens to cover the wide and standard focal lengths. Consider keeping the 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens that came with your DSLR, as it offers similar cost, size, weight and performance characteristics/advantages as the 55-250. This lens is also offer with the 18-55 as part of a kit and when purchased this way represents a good value.
Canon 70-200 f/4L IS (112-320mm): This is hands down the best option for optical quality. There are two downsides to this lens, the cost and the fact that it does not cover the wide to standard focal length, so you will need at least two lenses. Coupled with the 17-55 f/2.8 IS for $1,060 you have the best optics produced by any manufacturer on crop sensor DSLR! Once again, you will need to purchase and carry another lens to cover the wide and standard focal lengths. Consider keeping the 18-55 f/3.5-5.6 IS kit lens or stepping up to either the 15-85 f/3.5-5.6 IS for $720 or 17-55 f/2.8 IS for $1,060.
Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6L IS (112-480mm): While not as fast as the 70-200 f/4L IS at the long end, more expensive and slightly lower overall optical performance, this lens does provide excellent performance for such a large zoom range. Also consider the much less expensive Canon 70-300 f/4-5.6 IS for $550. While not as good in all regards as the 70-200 and 70-300 "L" versions, it costs a lot less. As with the 70-200 discussed above, you will need to purchase and carry another lens to cover the wide and standard focal lengths.