Below you will find information on my recommended lenses for Canon digital cameras. All of these items I either own myself or have used in the past. Of course, there may be other products on the market that are just as good but I cannot recommend them if I haven’t used them. Don’t panic if your equipment isn’t on this list as it is probably still excellent. For example, there really aren’t any bad cameras any more but perhaps there are some better suited to some things than others. That’s why I have also provided a list of other possible products to consider at the end.
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At the beginner and enthusiast level, most cameras are likely to have APS-C sized sensors. These are smaller sensors than what we would call ‘full frame’ cameras, which have sensors of the same size as the old 35mm film frame. As APS-C cameras (sometimes called crop sensor cameras) have smaller sensors they don’t need such large lenses to cover the image circle as full frame cameras. Lenses can therefore be smaller and lighter and, as a result, much cheaper than their full frame equivalents. Canon’s range of lenses for full frame cameras are the EF range and the range for APS-C cameras are the EF-S range. EF lenses will fit on both types of camera but EF-S lenses will only fit on APS-C cameras as their image circle is not big enough to cover the whole sensor in a full frame camera. This means that for an APS-C camera you have a huge range of lenses available to you.
Using EF lenses on an APS-C Camera
Notwithstanding the recommended lenses below, the EF-S range is actually quite limited but of course we do have access to the full range of EF (full frame) lenses. The EF range has been around for almost 40 years so there are hundreds of different lenses on the market including discontinued or updated models available secondhand. However, I would caution against buying an older full frame lens as they simply cannot resolve enough detail to be used on a modern APS-C camera.
Most of the current generation of APS-C cameras have at least 24 megapixel sensors, which means that the actual pixel size is far smaller than what these older lenses were designed for. When Canon introduced the full frame 5DS a few years ago they realised that it’s 50MP high resolution sensor would out-resolve most of their old lenses and produce blurry images. They tested all their lenses and came up with a list of a couple of dozen lenses that were ‘compatible’. Amazingly, the humble ‘nifty fifty’ 50mm f/1.8 (see below) made the grade, but many of the earlier ‘professional’ lenses did not. Canon therefore did some hasty updates of their most popular lenses to ensure that they could cope with these high pixel density sensors. The 5DS sensor approximates two 24MP APS-C sensors stuck together, so the pixel density is about the same and therefore the same issues apply. If you are looking to buy an EF lens for your APS-C camera I would therefore recommend that you only look at the very latest lenses to ensure good image quality.
As the image circle produced by the EF lens is much bigger than it needs to be for an APS-C camera you are only using the middle part of the lens. Image quality for all but the best lenses tails off significantly towards the outside of the frame so by mounting an EF lens on an APS-C camera you are only using the ‘sweet spot’ in the centre and can therefore hope to get the best image quality that the lens can provide across the whole of the APS-C frame. This may provide an advantage but remember that you are carrying and paying for a lot of lens that you are not using and with the quality of the EF-S lenses that Canon produce, the benefit may not be worth it.
Recommended Lenses for Canon APS-C Cameras
The Canon APS-C cameras tend to come in kits with the 18-55 kit lens. This is ok for a starter lens as it goes reasonably wide at 18mm, allows a ‘standard’ focal length of 32mm (50mm full frame equivalent) in the mid-range and gives a good portrait length at its 55mm maximum (88mm full frame equivalent). However, I find that as a general ‘walkaround’ lens for days out and holidays I am constantly wanting to zoom in more. Therefore, I favour the 18-135 as this gives you the same wideangle and standard lens ranges but also goes up to a full frame equivalent of 216mm, which is extremely useful. Often with lenses with longer focal lengths you find that you lose out on maximum aperture but the 18-135 is exactly the same as the 18-55 (f/5.6). So, there is really no reason not to prefer the 18-135, except perhaps that it is bigger and heavier (but it’s really not huge compared to a lot of my other lenses!) and it costs a fair bit more than the 18-55. But it’s a far more versatile lens and is what stays on my APS-C camera most of the time. The latest version of this lens with Nano USM focus motors is exceptionally quick to focus and quiet in operation but I’ve also owned older versions of this lens and they are still very good.
When I need something a bit longer than the 18-135 I stick this on. It gives a zoom range of 88-400mm full frame equivalent and it is extremely good value for money. It’s also very small and light, not much different to the 18-135 but with much longer reach. I absolutely love this lens and can’t believe what it can do for the money. A lot of my wildlife shots have been taken with this lens and it has more than paid for itself many times over with images having been published using it. When you sit this next to my full frame 400mm you realise what a compact lens this is and when you compare the image quality you have to wonder if the benefit for the ‘better’ lens is worth the extra cost and weight. I can’t recommend this lens highly enough.
Occasionally, I need to go a bit wider than the 18mm of the 18-55 or 18-135 and this lens allows this. I don’t do a huge amount of wide angle images so it doesn’t get used a lot but when I do use it I love it. What’s odd is that APS-C cameras aren’t usually preferred for wide angle images as that would appear to be the full frame camera’s forte but to get a lens for full frame with an equivalent angle of view as this lens would cost probably three time the cost of this lens. That makes this lens superb value. So, if you do a lot of wide angle images don’t think that you necessarily need a full frame camera – perhaps you just need the right lens!
This is actually an EF lens so it will work on full frame cameras, but due to the ‘crop factor’ of APS-C cameras the narrower angle of view makes this an equivalent of an 80mm lens when mounted on an APS-C camera. This makes it a perfect portrait lens. Now you might say that I’ve got the equivalent of this focal length in my 18-55 or 18-135 lenses but the only real issue with those lenses is that their maximum apertures are quite small. This means that in low light scenarios they might struggle a bit and also the narrower aperture means that it is quite difficult to get the shallow depth of field look with these lenses. That’s where the 50mm steps in as it’s f/1.8 maximum aperture is really wide, meaning that it can let in loads of light in a low light scenario (allowing you to use faster shutter speeds if necessary and making autofocus much easier) and also can achieve really shallow depth of field for those blurred backgrounds. Best of all, it is the cheapest lens in Canon’s catalogue. However, that low price tag means that there are a few negatives. It is quite slow to focus, which has caught me out a few times. Also, image quality at f/1.8 is a bit soft so I try not to use it wider than f/2.2. That’s still much wider than my zooms and creates a fab look on portraits. The image falls off a bit towards the edges (which you would expect on a cheap lens) but if you use it on an APS-C camera that doesn’t really matter as you are only using the centre of the lens. So the negatives can be worked around and you end up with a fab little lens that I’ve been really happy with.
Whichever of these lenses you get, make sure you get the relevant lens hood for it – not only for its intended purpose of shielding the lens from stray light preventing flare and ghosting, but also as a good means of protecting the front element of the lens from knocks, rain, etc.
Canon Mirrorless Cameras
The above discussion is mainly relevant to DSLR’s but Canon also produces mirrorless cameras in the APS-C format. These are the EOS-M range and whilst there are specific EF-M lenses to suit that range you can use any of the above mentioned lenses with EOS-M cameras if you use the appropriate Canon adapter.
Canon also have full frame mirrorless cameras that use the new RF mount. Whilst these cameras are full frame, and unlike the EOS DSLR’s, the RF mount cameras can use EF-S lenses provided you use the relevant Canon adapter. Obviously the image circle doesn’t cover the whole frame but the cameras recognise the smaller lens and automatically crop the image to suit – very clever! At the time of writing (late 2019) it is rumoured that Canon may at some point release an APS-C camera with an RF mount but this remains to be seen.
Other manufacturers, such as Sigma, also produce lenses that fit the EF-S mount. Sigma’s lenses of this type fall into the DC range. Most of these lenses are of focal lengths and apertures that are not available from Canon and therefore give some great other options. I’ve not used these lenses myself but the 18-35mm f/1.8 and 50-100mm f/1.8 look particularly interesting in that they give useful zoom ranges whilst maintaining very wide apertures. I wish Canon would produce lenses with these types of specifications for APS-C.
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