Canon EOS Upgrade EF Lenses For EOS Digital SLR Cameras

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What is the best combination of better quality lenses to use with my semi-pro or consumer grade Canon EOS digital SLR Camera? To answer that question, I have compiled a list of lenses that I have personally found to be the best choices for my style of photography and budget (maybe yours too).

This Buyer’s Guide specifically applies to owners of the Canon EOS Digital Rebel, Digital Rebel XT, XTi, EOS D60, 50D, 40D, 30D, 20D and 10D Digital SLR camera bodies.

These particular models all share one very important attribute; they all have a digital image sensor, which is smaller than the physical dimensions of a full single frame of 35mm film. This has a profound effect on lens selection. These SLR cameras all have a “crop factor” of 1.6 X, which must be considered carefully as you are shopping for a lens for any particular application. The focal length of any lens that will be used on these models must be multiplied by 1.6 to reveal the true “Effective Focal Length”.

This has certain advantages and disadvantages that you must take into account as you search for the right lens to capture the images that you want. The good news is that an affordable 200mm long telephoto lens instantly becomes a 320mm monster telephoto on these models, and the extra “reach” comes with no additional cost! However, the bad news is that if you need a true wide-angle lens, you must buy a more expensive “Ultra-Wide” angle model to get the desired results.

If you are into "birding" or sports photography, where you need a fast, long telephoto, this can be a huge advantage! Conversely, if you specialize in large group shots or interior architecture, get ready to pay for at least one fairly expensive lens to meet your special needs.

There are “full frame” Professional digital cameras available that eliminate the need for “crop factor” compensation. As an example, the super expensive EOS 1Ds Mark II or the more reasonably priced EOS 5D. These models do not have the same lens selection requirements as the camera models that are listed above, and therefore, these “full Frame” bodies are not the subject of this particular guide.

With all of this taken into consideration, I can recommend an excellent combination of better quality “upgrade” Canon EF auto-focus lenses that will cover the most popular “effective” focal lengths on your "small frame" or APS Digital SLR. These are the lens models that I personally use most frequently on my EOS 10D. Remember, this guide applies specifically to photographers who want professional quality results, but need to get the best performance available for the price. I know that there are numerous better and faster lenses available. I am trying to narrow the choices down to the “high value” models that offer professional performance at a fairly reasonable price.

For photogs on a more limited budget, please read my other lens guide, titled “Canon EF “Affordable” Lens Guide For EOS Digital SLRs”.  Canon EF Affordable Lens Guide

I will start at the wide end, because it is the most critical range on these cameras.

The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM is a true ultra-wide to wide-angle professional zoom, ideal for landscapes, interior architectural photos, large group portraits, artistic wide-angle shots, real estate and exterior architectural photography.

The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM "Ultra-Wide to Wide Angle" Professional Zoom Lens

This is a sensibly affordable alternative to the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L professional lens. Unlike the 16-35 L, this one is within the budget of many serious photo buffs, but it is not quite as “fast” with a constant aperture of 1:4. It sells for about half the price of its “one stop” faster brother.

This lens is threaded for 77mm filters and accessories. It has the HEAVY DUTY construction and weather protected design that working professionals require. This beauty features a true ultra-wide angle range, with an angle of view of 74° to 29°. It has a very useful close minimum focus distance of only 11 inches. There are 12 lens elements in 9 groups, the rear group performs all focusing functions. This lens is very comfortable to carry around, as it only weighs just 17.5 ounces and is a mere 3.8 inches long. It is not a “feather weight” but for the true pro it is a very manageable size and weight.

This outstanding lens employs Canon’s “top-of-the-line”, ultra fast and quiet, “Ring Type Ultrasonic” Auto-Focus design. Manual focusing and zooming are performed buy two very easy to grip rings that are well positioned for fast and accurate adjustments. Auto or Manual focusing is selected by an “AF-MF” switch, which is conveniently located to make switching very fast and easy. THIS IS AN FTM LENS, "FTM" stands for “Full-Time Manual” focus. This feature allows you to make focus adjustments at any time, even WHILE THE AF SYSTEM IS ENGAGED! This is an awesome feature that I use almost constantly. The front lens group does not rotate while focusing or zooming, making it very convenient to use polarizing and special effects filters. The rear element “Internal Focus” design also means that the lens does not change in length during zooming or focusing. These professional features insure that focusing will always be lightning fast, very precise and dead silent, in any environment.

Image quality is superb! Sharpness and contrast are fantastic throughout the entire zoom range, truly equal to very good prime lenses. Flare is very well controlled, thanks to the use of three aspherical elements and “Super UD” (Ultra-Low Dispersion) glass. This is a very solid professional lens that will serve you well for many, many years to come.

I think the EF 17-40mm L USM actually has some important advantages over the more expensive EF 16-35mm L. Distortion looks slightly better controlled and sharpness is maybe just a bit more “crisp”. Pictures produced through this lens are absolutely “tack” sharp with great contrast and are very rich in color saturation. The EF 17-40 f/4L is considerably smaller and lighter too.

When it is used on a Canon Digital Rebel XTi or 40D, this is approximately equivalent to a 28-70mm zoom lens. That's due to the 1.6 X "crop factor" magnification. That makes it more of a “Wide-Angle to Normal Zoom” on these cameras. This lens would probably stay on your digital camera most of the time. It covers most of your “normal” and “wide” focal range needs. At about $800.00 (US) new, it is not cheap, but as your most versatile and heavily used lens, it will prove to be worth every penny in the long run.

To cover your “normal” focal range requirements, I can whole-heartedly recommend a choice of two extremely good “mid grade” models that have been very highly praised for outstanding performance; The Canon EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM or the EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 USM.

Let's start with the  EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM. This affordable little lens is currently available and very easy to find for under $400.00. This is a genuine bargain, when compared to the professional “L” lenses in this focal range which sell for well over $1,100.00 and up. This should bring a giant sigh of relief to anyone who has just “shelled-out” the big bucks for a 17-40 L. This very compact ultra-wide angle to telephoto zoom lens is quite comfortable to tote around and incredibly versatile.

The Canon EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM "Ultra-Wide to Telephoto" Zoom Lens

This model was designed by Canon to be a little wider than the EF 28-105mm 3.5-4.5 II USM, but not quite as long in the telephoto range. It is light and compact but it does not sacrifice anything when it comes to optical or mechanical performance. 

This lens has excellent optics, capable of capturing very crisp images with excellent color and very impressive contrast. The EF 24-85mm USM also has “Full-Time Manual” focus so you can make fine focus adjustments, while the AF switch is activated, just like the “L” lens. This is especially useful for setting the exact focus point in a close-up shot. It will allow you to dramatically emphasize a particular picture element while other parts of the image are intentionally blurred by a narrow depth-of-field.

This inexpensive little workhorse also uses the top-of-the-Line “Ring” type USM Ultrasonic Auto-Focus design. There are 15 lens elements arranged in 12 groups. Focusing is performed internally, so the front lens does not move as the focus is adjusted, making it much easier to use polarizing and special effects filters. These are the same features that are also found on the much more costly “L” professional models!

The zoom ring is very comfortable to use  and quickly goes from 24mm all the way out to 85mm in about an eighth of a turn. The barrel extends out for zooming, but the front lens element does not rotate at all. The position of the zoom ring relative to the focus ring makes this lens very easy to use, but the focus ring is a bit “skinnier” and rotates a little less smoothly than the focus grip on the expensive “L”s. This is a very small "gripe", when you consider the reasonable price, and it does not affect the lenses "usability" at all.

When mounted on a small frame Digital, this is approximately equivalent to a 38-136mm zoom lens. This is a great focal range for portraits, nature shots, “street” photography, landscapes and general “normal” range photography. This is a perfect mate to use with a Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L ultra-wide angle zoom. This model is very compact in size, about 2.75” long at 24mm to 4” at full zoom. It is very light-weight at only 13.5 oz. It has a nice solid "feel" with fairly smooth operation, although not quite up to the silky feel of the “L” models. Auto-focusing is lightning fast and whisper quiet (even quieter than the “L” models with the exact same “ring type” motor, for some reason).

The ultra-wide angle to short telephoto range make this a fantastic “walk around” lens. You will find that it will probably stay on your camera at least as much as the EF 17-40 L. This is definitely one of the best and most versatile “mid-grade” lenses ever produced for the Canon EOS camera line.  I have recently started using this model much more frequently, after depending upon the EF 28-105mm f.3/5-4.5 USM to cover the “normal” zoom range for many years.

As I have upgraded to more professional grade lenses, I began to notice that I really needed my "normal" zoom to cover the extra wide angle range much more often than I needed the longer focal range of the 28-105mm. The overlap of coverage with the EF 17-40mm f/4L is perfect for most interior applications. I love my 17-40mm, there are many applications where this lens is indispensable, but there are times when the extra weight and the requirement of adding a Speedlight flash to the camera can be an inconvenience. This is especially true for casual shots and impromptu family photos. The 24mm range allows me to use the EF 24-85mm in places where I would have been required to switch from the EF 28-105mm to the heavier ultra-wide lens. I still have the option of switching to the “L” when I need to, but now it is a choice, not a necessity.

If you prefer a "Normal" range zoom that goes a bit longer, The EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 USM would be an excellent alternative to the EF 24-85mm. A lot of additional information is available here: Canon EF 28-105mm USM Lens Buying Guide

The Canon EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 MACRO USM

The EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 Macro USM is very affordably priced. However, be certain to find the best version. Avoid the earlier model with the yellow flower on it instead of the actual word "MACRO". Also, it is important to get one that was Made in Japan. As stated above (but  well worth repeating), avoid the new replacement model, the Canon EF 28-105mm f/4-5.6 USM. It is simply JUNK by comparison!

This wonderfully compact wide-angle to telephoto zoom lens is reasonably light and incredibly versatile. This model was designed by Canon to be a great "walking around" lens at a reasonable price. It is light and compact but does not sacrifice too much in performance. It has very good optics, capable of capturing crisp images with good color and very impressive contrast.

The Canon EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 “MACRO” USM is still considered to be a "Wide Angle to Telephoto" Zoom Lens. This model also has “Full-Time Manual” focus so you can make fine focus adjustments while the AF switch in activated, just like the “L” lens. This is especially useful for setting the exact focus point in a close shot. It will allow you to emphasize a particular picture element while other parts of the image are intentionally blurred by a narrow depth-of-field. This inexpensive little workhorse also uses the top-of-the-Line “Ring” type USM Ultrasonic AF design.

There are 15 lens elements arranged in 12 groups. Focusing is performed internally, the front lens does not rotate, making it much easier to use polarizing and special effects filters. Again, these features are also found on the much more costly “L” professional models! The zoom ring is comfortable to use and quickly goes from 28mm all the way out to 105mm in about a quarter turn. The barrel extends out for zooming, but the front lens element does not rotate at all. The position of the zoom ring relative to the focus ring makes this lens very easy to use. Image quality easily outperforms all of the popular “standard kit” zooms. Sharpness and contrast are impressive throughout the entire zoom range. Flare and distortions are also respectably controlled.

When used on a small frame Digital, this is approximately equivalent to a 45-170mm zoom lens. This is a great focal range for portraits, nature shots, landscapes and general “normal” photography. This is an excellent mate to use with a Canon EF 20-35mm f/3.5-4.5 USM ultra-wide angle zoom.

This model is very compact in size; about 3” long at 28mm to 4.75” at full zoom. It is very lightweight at a bit over 13 oz. It has a nice solid "feel" with fairly smooth operation, although not quite up to the silky feel of the “L” lenses. Auto focusing is lightning fast and whisper quiet. The wide angle to medium telephoto range make this a superb “walking around” lens.

The choice between these two excellent lenses is really a matter of personal preference. You will want the model that allows you to do most of your "normal" shooting with one lens, whenever that is necessary. If you need a little more "reach" into the telephoto range, then choose the 28-105mm. If you take mostly interior pictures in limited spaces, you might prefer the range of the 24-85mm. You would not be disappointed with either of these outstanding models.

I recommend at least one “fast prime” lens for use in low light situations, where the zooms just can’t quite do the job.

In this price category, I would suggest at least one of these two models. The Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 wide-angle prime or the discontinued Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 MARK I normal prime lens.

The Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 Wide Angle Prime Lens

This is one of the MUST HAVE lenses for every serious photographer’s EOS camera bag. This model has a very easy to use manual focusing ring, a real distance scale window with a depth-of-field scale and an infrared compensation indicator. Auto-Focus is very fast and accurate, using the Arc Form Drive (AFD) mechanism. It is threaded for inexpensive 58mm filters and accessories. It features the heavy-duty stainless steel lens mount. Much more detailed information is available at this eBay review:   Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 Prime Lens Review

This is an excellent quality prime lens, it has even been compared to "L" series professional lenses and was found to be surprisingly close in optical performance, but at a very reasonable price. You can really get excellent depth-of-field with this lens! You will be amazed by how much of your subject can be kept in focus within the frame. This lens also has an awesome minimum "close focus" distance of only 10", which allows you to capture incredibly detailed close-up shots!

Zoom lenses are very convenient, but they tend to be slower, with a widest aperture of 3.5 or more. The EF 24mm f/2.8 has a respectably fast aperture of 1:2.8, it "drinks in" plenty of light to allow you to get nice sharp pictures in less-than-ideal lighting situations. One of the main strengths of this lens is the lack of distortion, especially considering the focal length. You might have to compose your shots by using your feet as the "zoom mechanism" (by stepping closer or farther away from your subject). This becomes insignificant considering the superior picture quality that you will capture.

On non-full frame Digital SLRs, this lens approximately equal to a 39mm focal length. It is well-suited for all of your “slightly wider than normal” lens photography. It becomes just as important as a standard 50mm lens on a film body.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 Normal Prime Lens

This is one more of the MUST HAVE affordable lenses for every Canon EOS camera bag. You will have to find this little gem in the second-hand market. They can be hard to find, but it will be well worth the effort.

This older model also has a very easy to use manual focusing ring, a real distance scale window with a depth-of-field scale. Auto-Focus is fast and accurate, using the AFD AF drive. It is not a quiet as the “L” model, but check the price difference. If silence is worth a few hundred bucks to you, be my guest. This model is threaded for inexpensive 52mm filters. Unlike the newest Mark II version, this one does have the heavy duty stainless steel lens mount, which are much more durable than the cheap plastic mounts found on the current Mk II model.

This is a superb quality prime lens, it has been frequently compared to "L" series lenses and is famous for being surprisingly close in optical performance.

The EF 50mm f/1.8 has a very fast aperture of 1:1.8; it needs very little light to allow you to get nice sharp pictures. As with the EF 24mm, you will have to compose your shots by changing your distance from the subject, but what the heck, you need the exercise anyway.

On Digital SLRs with the 1.6 "crop factor" this lens is equal to an 80mm focal length. It is absolutely perfect for portrait photography. Since you don’t need a flash, you can really get some fantastic “candid” photos. It is so light and compact that you will barely know that it is there. It is affordable, sharp as a razor, super fast and distortion free. This tiny gem also has a very useful "close focus" distance of only 15", to let you get in there tight for all of those intricate details.

OK, now that we have covered all of the essentials, there is one more lens to consider, a long telephoto.

Again, I am recommending a reasonably priced true professional “L” model. The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM Telephoto Zoom Lens

The Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L USM Professional Telephoto Zoom Lens

Ok, what can I say? It isn’t cheap, but especially if you shoot outdoor sports, nature photography or bird watching this is the ultimate long zoom lens for under a kilo-buck.

You really command respect when you whip out your Canon EOS with this big white bazooka locked ‘n loaded. You instantly become the “Pro” (whether you actually are or not). It is quite gratifying to watch the crowds part to let “the real professional” get a little closer to the action. If you prefer to not call any attention to yourself, avoid this lens! Otherwise, be prepared for the envious stares from the guys with the long skinny black lenses.

On your 1.6 crop factor digital body, this lens offers the "Field Of View" of a very long 112mm to 320mm super zoom. This is a real rough & tumble lens, with optics delivered directly from the great glass gods. It will keep functioning properly when the rain or snow begins to fall during the last quarter or out on the eighteenth green, unlike some of the consumer grade long lenses (specifically the EF 75-300mm series models, which can just seize-up and die on you). There is almost NO DISTORTION visible through this lens, at any focal length. This is especially true on a smaller frame digital camera. It produces incredibly sharp photos time after time, after time, after time...

The optics are made-up of 16 elements arranged in 13 groups, including 2 Super UD elements, with superb correction capabilities. The minimum close focus distance is only 47 inches, excellent for a lens of this size. It is amazingly light, at just a feather over 25 ounces. The length is only 6.8 inches at all focal lengths. The aperture features 8 diaphragm blades for very well rounded “bokeh”. This model is threaded for 67mm filters, not the easiest to find, but so-be-it. The front element is always stationary, so using a circular polarizer is never a problem. The zoom and focus rings are plenty wide enough, even for the most gorilla fisted photogs out there, and yet, both rotate as smooth as a well-powdered baby’s behind.

Much more information is available at these eBay reviews:   Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L Professional Zoom Lens Review

Bottom line: if you are very serious about your photography and you need a lens that is ready for just about anything that mother nature can dish out, this is the right choice for your long telephoto lens.

I feel that this combination of high quality lenses would serve any semi-professional photographer extremely well. These may not be the very best lenses that money can buy, but they are probably the best lenses that this amount of money can buy.

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