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Canon EF-S 55-250/4-5.6 IS Lens Review

by Bob Atkins, July 2008


The EF-S 55-250IS is a relatively new lens designed to supplement the EF-S 18-55IS "Kit Lens" for the Digital Rebel line of DSLRs. Like the EF-S 18-55/3.5-5.6 IS, the 55-250/4-5.6 IS uses Canon's new low cost IS system. Nevertheless, Canon claims up to 4 stops of additional stability, which is as good as (or even better than) lenses with Canon's traditional IS control. Canon suggests that sharp images can be obtained at shutter speeds as low as 1/15s.

Like the image stabilized EF-S 18-55IS, the EF-S 55-250IS seems to be Canon's answer to low-cost DSLR bodies with stabilization built in, which are currently being offered by Sony, Pentax and Olympus. With those DSLR bodies a stabilized lens is not needed to make a stabilized system, thus potentially lowering lens cost.

The EF-S 55-250IS has been designed to meet a low price by the extensive use of plastics - even the lens mount is plastic. However, the optics of the lens haven't been compromised too much, and in fact the 55-250IS uses a special element of ultra-low dispersion (UD) glass in order to minimize aberrations. The front of the lens rotates during focusing, which can be inconvenient when using a polarizer.

The EF-S 55-250IS is designed for use only with small (APS-C) sensor Canon cameras introduced after the Digital Rebel. It will not physically mount on cameras with larger sensors (EOS 5D, EOS 1D(s) series) and it will not mount on early APS-C DSLRs such as the EOS D30, D60 and 10D. It cannot be used with any Canon or 3rd party TC, nor can it be used with the original Canon extension tubes.

Lens Performance

Despite the relatively low cost and plastic construction, the EF-S 55-250/4-5.6IS is optically pretty good. Sharpness holds up all the way to 250mm. At maximum aperture there is quite noticeable vignetting and this shows up quite clearly if, for example, you're photographing flying birds against a blue sky. Stopping the lens down a stop or two minimizes the vignetting, but that's probably not something you really want to do if you're capturing action and want to keep the shutter speed up. Vignetting can be corrected using Canon's DPP RAW conversion software, in fact DPP can do it automatically during the conversion process. It can also be corrected in JPEGs by many image editors including Photoshop.

The 55-250mm range covers a variety of applications from portraiture at the short end of the range to sports and wildlife work at the long end. In terms of angle of view, the 55-250IS is the equivalent of an 88-400mm lens on a full frame 35mm camera. When paired with the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, (compare prices) (review), you get two lenses, which cover the whole range from 18mm to 250mm (29mm to 400mm in full frame equivalent terms). In addition, both these lenses are small and light and when paired with a camera, such as the Canon Digital Rebel XSi (review), they make a very portable outfit.

Overall, I can certainly recommend this lens if you're looking for a small, light, inexpensive telephoto lens for an APS-C DSLR. It doesn't have quite the reach of the 70/75-300 zooms, but it matches better with the EF-S 18-55IS kit lens, it's optically as good as or better then the non IS 75-300 zooms - plus it has IS!

Alternatives

There are several alternative lenses which cover a similar focal length range, but all are either significantly more expensive or lack IS. The Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, (compare prices) (review), is a better-built lens, has more telephoto reach, and can also be used on full frame cameras. It doesn't show the vignetting that the 55-250IS does, but it's about double the price. The Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III USM, (compare prices), is cheaper and has a longer reach, but it lacks IS and I don't think it's as sharp since it lacks a UD element. The Sigma 70-300/4-5.6 APO Macro is interesting, it has 1:2 macro capability and has two SLD (super low dispersion) elements. However, it lacks stabilization, which can be very useful indeed for a handheld telephoto lens.

Where to Buy

The Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS, (compare prices), is available from amazon.com. It's normally in stock and overnight shipping is available.

More

Newcomers to the Canon line of DSLRs and lenses might like to take a look at an overview of the Canon EOS DSLR system.

Technical Specifications

Focal Length & Maximum Aperture 55-250mm f/4-5.6
Lens Construction 12 elements in 10 groups, including one UD-glass element
Diagonal Angle of View 27° 50'- 6° 15' (with APS-C image sensors)
Focus Adjustment DC motor, gear-driven (front focusing design)
Closest Focusing Distance 3.6 ft./1.1m (maximum close-up magnification 0.31x)
Filter Size 58mm
Max. Diameter x Length 2.8 in. x 4.3 in./70 x 108mm
Weight 13.8 oz./390g

Canon 55-250IS Example Images

Taken with the Canon Digital Rebel XSi (review).

This image shows the degree of vignetting to expect when photographing with the EF-S 55-250IS wide open at 250mm.

Note the reduction in vignetting when the EF-S 55-250IS is stopped down to f/8.


Text and pictures ©2008 Bob Atkins.

Article created July 2008

Readers' Comments


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Jim Bracegirdle , March 09, 2009; 08:02 P.M.

I am a little late since the review was dated July 2008, but I did not seek any reviews 'til a few hours ago. (Mar.9th'09)7pmEST. I am not as spry as I once was and I am looking for an alternative to my 70-200 f4 L. It gets a wee bit heavy after a few miles with my 40D with batt,grip and rrs bracket and tripod with old faithful Kirk ball head also. Thank you for the review and your honest opinion of the EF-S lens. Stay warm and happy shooting. Regards. Jim.

Peter Commeyne , October 10, 2009; 05:44 A.M.

Definitely cheap and cheerful, and for the price you have to make a few compromises, but the sharpness of this lens is definitely in a whole different league from the 18-55 IS lens. The lens has the tendency to go "hunting" especially in the 250mm range, and is not the fastest out there. However, in good light and with subjects that are not moving around too much you get amazingly good quality and very sharp pictures for the price.

Brian Micheals , December 23, 2009; 10:40 A.M.

Got this lens to be used on my T1i and it worked great. An asset to any camera bag. Light, easy to carry and sharp images thoughout the zoom spectrum. Can't beat the performance for the price. The IS feature was great for taking long shots when possitioned on our boat. Gave me at least 2 1/2 stops leeway when we were rocking back and forth. I have since stepped up to the 75-300 USM 4-5.6 IS. I sold the 55-250 to a friend that is just starting out in photograghy. I'm gonna miss this lens.

Phil Roberts , July 02, 2011; 09:37 P.M.

I have been trying to put together a comprehensive lens kit for my new T3i. I did my research here (and everywhere) to get some advice from those who know and take the time to share their experience (thank you very much). I purchased the much-coveted EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM to replace the kit lens (not the worst), and it is superb. My choices for 55mm to telephoto were limited, since I want to use the correction features that Canon only supports on its lenses. Not hearing the greatest reports about the EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, and not rich enough for an L IS lens, I decided to give the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS "el-cheapo" lens a try. All I can say is WOWZA! I never expected it to be so good. It is a quality piece of glass! I have been doing some fun shootout tests with all my lenses and this lens holds up very well from end to end. Sharp in the corners at 250mm, and nice contrast and saturation. Hard to find any fault with it.

The only complaints I have about it are serious vignetting at the long end (see Bob's plane picture above), and the plastic mount. My major concern using this for video with the vignetting problem was not being able to correct that in DPP, but I did some video tests of sky shots and found out the camera DOES correct the dark corners automatically while shooting video. Bonus! I guess it treats the video like it treats JPEG stills with Peripheral Illumination Correction. So now my only complaint is the plastic mount. For $250 bucks (new in box USA) I can deal with that. Auto focus in day, or even at dusk is fast enough for me. The IS works great. And the IQ is very very good end to end. Until you get up to L lenses, I think you will have a hard time beating this lens. Kit complete! Time to sell some other glass. ;-)

EDIT 7/16/2011:

After spending some time with this lens I have found it is very very sharp (almost unreal sharp...I can't get over it!...MTF ratings are off the charts good.), even in the corners, but suffers from a dark contrast haze throughout the whole image. Best MTF, and least distortion/vignetting, is at f/5.6 on the wide end, and f/8 on the long end. No issues at those aperture settings. CA is no issue at all! Doing my best to match the image contrast to my better lenses in DPP, I came up with a formula that improves the brightness and contrast to a great extent without making the image look "pushed". By pulling the brightness down to -4, pushing the contrast to +5-6, and giving saturation a slight push to about 106 (+6), the image clears up and brings brightness and contrast up to par. It clears the dark cloud and gives the image(s) life. I tested this on many shots with different focal lengths and it worked well on all (with a correct exposure to begin with). No washout, either. I took many hand held shots at the 250mm long end and can't get over the extreme sharpness! Adding any more above say 50-75 in DPP is just too much. There is no need for any, really. I have been searching for a better lens in this range (or close to it...at any price) and can't find one. I really wish Canon would make a lens based off the same optical design, with better quality glass (and coatings), and also with a better build quality; Something that would be the perfect mate to the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. I hope they do, but I'm getting great results with this for now using "the correction formula". ;-)


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