Photo packs have come a long way in the past decade, especially those that are targeted toward outdoor and adventure photographers. Alaska-based adventure photographer Dan Bailey takes a closer look...
If you want a high-quality Canon-brand mid-range zoom for your
Canon small-sensor digital SLR, you have a choice between the Canon
17-55/2.8 and... nothing. Fortunately, this is a very high quality
lens indeed, with a constant f/2.8 aperture and image-stabilization. The 35mm equivalent focal length range is 27-88mm.
If you've got a Digital Rebel, a 20D or a 30D, and you're not on a tight budget,
buy one right now from amazon.com, (compare prices).
Why this instead of the kit zoom?
Your Canon small-sensor digital SLR probably came with a lightweight
plastic zoom lens covering roughly the same range as the EF-S
17-55/2.8 IS. Why spend the money and carry the weight of this
First and foremost is performance in available light. The typical kit
lens has an f/5.6 focal length at 55mm and no image stabilization.
With the 17-55/2.8, the lens itself passes four times as much
light through to the sensor. The image stabilizer adds another three f-stops of capability
(8X), which means that you need light only 1/32nd as bright to capture
a photo with this lens. With the kit lens indoors, you'll be blasting
every scene with the on-camera flash. Pictures will come out looking
just as though you'd been wearing a miner's headlamp.
Second is the brighter viewfinder. An aperture of f/2.8 means that
the viewfinder image will be four times as bright as with the kit
lens, making it easier to evaluate composition and focus. One of the
great things about a digital SLR compared to a point and shoot digital
camera is the viewfinder. This advantage is seriously compromised
when using the slow cheap kit lenses.
Third is image quality. The EF-S 17-55 will have higher contrast and
better sharpness, especially in the corners, than the kit lens.
If all of your photography is on bright high-contrast sunny days, you
might not need this lens. If you like to take natural-looking photos
indoors or near sunset, the 17-55/2.8 IS is a great investment.
If you don't need the zoom and love to take photos in dim light,
consider the Sigma 30/1.4, (compare prices). It is two f-stops
faster than the Canon lens, and, despite the lack of image
stabilization, is more useful in low light.
How well does it work with the EOS 5D?
This is an "EF-S" lens, casting an image circle only large
enough to cover the sensor in Canon's less expensive digital SLRs. If
you managed to defeat the lens mount interlocks and attacked this lens
to a film or full-frame sensor body, such as the
Canon EOS 5D, (compare prices) (review), the corners of the
resulting images would be black.
My best photos with this lens are used to illustrate the Canon 40D review (all the photos
on the linked page were taken with this lens).
Manhattan with an EOS 30D...
Santa Monica and Venice Beach with a Rebel XTi... (note how well the
image stabilizer works in the photo of the Getty Villa, taken from an
airplane moving at 120 mph and vibrating from the operation of a four-cylinder engine)
Boring Technical Details
35mm film equivalent focal length (mm)
Angle of view (horizontal, vertical,
68° 40' - 23° 20',
48° - 15° 40',
78° 30' - 27° 50'
No. of diaphragm blades
Closest focussing distance (m)
Maximum magnification (x)
0.17 (at 55mm)
Filter diameter (mm)
Max. diameter x length (mm)
83.5 x 110.6
Magnification with Extension Tube EF12 II
Magnification with Extension Tube EF25 II
1. Only compatible at tele.
2. Mechanical full-time manual focussing built-in
* Maximum number of Hood III/IV attachable. In the case of zoom lenses, the maximum number
applies to the shortest focal length.
NC: Not Compatible with Gelatine Filter Holder III/IV.
** Product specifications subject to change without notice