The world of Canon lenses can be overwhelming for a beginner. If you have just purchased, or are still considering purchasing, your first Canon DSLR you may still be reeling from all of the choices of camera models available, let alone the myriad options of different lenses out there. In addition, for the new or amateur photographer, especially one on a budget, the camera purchase itself is expensive enough without even considering the cost of a good lens. What are some of the Canon camera lenses that a new DSLR owner should think about purchasing? Are any of them affordable? The answer to the second question is yes, if you are willing to make some compromises.
Even for the advanced and experienced photographers, choosing the right lens will depend on a variety of factors and may depend on your personal photographic style. Canon has a line of higher quality lenses called the "L" series that is targeted towards more professional photographers even though many non-professionals choose them as well due to their precision craftsmanship. The "L" stands for "Luxury", and it is not surprising that this title notably evident in the price tags of these lenses. However, their high cost is definitely justified by the superior quality of these lenses. You can clearly identify the "L" series lenses by looking for a red stripe that wraps around near the tip of the lenses. This signature identifying symbol can often be seen on the lenses being used by professional photographers at the sidelines of any large sporting event.
The Subject Determines the Lens
Different types of photographs require lenses with different capabilities. The most common types of photographs can be divided into a few categories, and there are moderately priced Canon lenses suited to most. If you are a advanced or professional photographer there is usually a "L" series equivalent or upgrade for each type of lens that may be a better choice given that you have the financial resources.
One of the biggest categories of photography is portrait photography. The best lenses for portraits take in a lot of light, making them suitable for low-light photography as well. The type of lenses that are perfect for these situations are prime lenses. Prime lenses are those with fixed focal length and cannot zoom. However, they usually produce sharper image than zoom lenses and can have larger aperture ideal for low light situations. A lot of people, especially beginning photographers, want to know how to create the blurry background and/or foreground effect. This can be achieved by using a lens with a large aperture (low f stop usually below f/2.8). Since prime lenses usually have the largest maximum aperture, they are ideal for achieving this effect. Other types of lenses with large apertures can also produce the same effect.
Prime lenses are great for beginners to practice their composition since they must move with the camera to change how a photo looks. A good, inexpensive prime lens is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II. This lens is only around $100, making it one of the least expensive you can find and is ideal for beginner photographers. It is lightweight and compact, and is capable of producing great depth of field with its large maximum aperture, which is also ideal for portraits. The next step up in price and quality is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, which has a even larger aperture than the f/1.8 lens, and has better focusing abilities. The ultrasonic motor (USM) makes the focusing nearly silent and thus is less distracting.
A step up from the standard prime lenses are the "L" series prime lenses. The Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM is the "L" series upgrade of the standard 50mm prime lens. The quality of the image produced by this lens are extremely sharp and of superb quality. The price jump between the normal and "L" series is most notable here with this lens costing just under $1,500. Another great "L" prime lens is the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM. This lens has a wider angle and is meant for full frame 35mm SLR and DSLR's. Again, the images produced by this lens are razor sharp and the colors appear natural. You can also look into other "L" series prime lenses with different focal lengths and apertures depending on your needs.
Another category of photographs is those taken at a distance, including wildlife pictures and action shots for sports photography. For these, a telephoto lens is needed, and the flexibility of a zoom lens is often preferred. Extreme telephoto lenses can easily get quite expensive, but there are some more reasonable options as well. One of these is the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS, which is compact while still offering Image Stabilization and a consistent high quality. A slightly less expensive option is the Canon EF 75-300 f/4-5.6 III. This lens does not come with Image Stabilization, but its low price makes up for that shortcoming.
Some of the most popular lenses belong to the category of "L" series telephoto lenses. One of the highest rated amongst these is the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS USM lens. This lens has a versatile range of focal lengths, a relatively large aperture with f/2.8, and ultrasonic motor for quiet focusing. On top of that, it also has image stabilization (IS) which provides additional assistance for low light situations. The IS can help you take sharp pictures at much slower shutter speeds. There are several variations of this lens including the less expensive Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM. There are some more options if you want even longer focal lengths and zoom ranges. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM is a good option as well although it has smaller maximum aperture and will not be as good in low light situations. However, with a maximum focal length of 400mm, you can take sharp images even from a very long distance. If that is not enough there are always telephoto extender accessories that can increase the focal length even more.
Wide-angle, or panoramic, shots are another popular type of photograph. Wide-angle lenses are great for taking landscape views and pictures of dramatic sunsets, as well as large group photos. they are also good for taking photos in places where there is little room for the photographer to move around. A good wide-angle lens can set you back a large amount of money, so it will probably not be one of the first lenses you buy for your Canon DSLR. When you are ready to invest in one, however, the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM is a solid choice. This lens has an excellent image quality, and since it is also a USM lens it will focus quickly and silently. Another good option is the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. However, the EF-S lenses only work for certain Canon DSLR models but not the higher end models. However, most of these models that are compatible are targeted towards beginner and amateur photographers. There are other manufactures that also make wide angle lenses for Canon such as the Tamron AF 17-50mm F/2.8 XR Di-II LD SP ZL Aspherical (IF).
The higher end "L" series wide angle lenses work with all camera models but cost significantly more. One of the best "L" series wide angle lenses is the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. It has solid construction but is still pretty light and easy to handle. The only down side is that it has a large 82mm filter size which means you cannot share filters with other lenses and the 82mm filters themselves are more expensive. Another quality "L" wide-angle lens is the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM. The focal range is similar to the 16-35mm but it has smaller maximum aperture. However, this is the smallest and lightest "L" lens currently in production.You can also go for some of the "L" lenses with the widest angles which include the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM and the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM. However, these are prime lenses do not have zoom features.
Macro shots are another category. This refers to extreme close-up shots, such as of flowers or insects. A standard lens does not offer the same high quality as a macro lens for these photos. Macro lenses are one of the more expensive lens groups, with a quality lens costing $300 or more. Of these lenses, the Canon EF-S 60mm f2.8 USM Macro is on the lower end of the price spectrum. This lens excels at macro shots but is also usable for portrait work as well. Another choice for a regular macro lens is Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens which are ideal for the lower end Canon DSLR's with 1.6 crop factors. The Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro is also a good choice if you want something with longer focal length and can go up closer on the subjects.
The "L" series macro lenses do not have many options in the shorter focal ranges. One of the best "L" series macro lenses is the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 L IS USM Macro. However, it has wonderful image quality and has a useful focal length that is ideal for full frame cameras. Combined with its large aperture at f/2.8, this is a great macro lengths for the upper end consumer and more professional photographers. If you want even longer focal length, the Canon EF 180mm f/3.5 L USM Macro lens is the lens you are looking for. This lens has the longest 1 to 1 macro working distance and is also the biggest black "L" lenses. You can expect the top notch quality of "L" series.
Lenses for General Photography
The last major category of photographs is those that do not fall into a specific category – the general, everyday pictures taken by amateur photographers the world over. There is a good chance your camera came with a standard Canon lens for general-purpose photography, but you may want to upgrade to a model of higher quality and with better features. The Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS is a good low-to-mid-cost option, offering an impressive zoom range that makes it suitable for a variety of situations. An even lower priced model is the Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS, which does not have as wide of a zoom range, but is still flexible enough to be used for everyday shots. Again check the compatibility of your camera with EF-S lenses. Some other general purpose lenses you might want to look into include the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM.
Another popular "L" series lens belong in this category of general purpose lenses and this is the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM. I personally own this lens and it is very useful for everyday photography uses. It is usually the one I carry around on a daily basis and when I go on vacation. I can attest for its high quality along with the relatively large aperture at f/2.8 which also makes it great for lower lighting situations. Another choice similar to the 24-70mm f/2.8 is the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM. This lens has a longer upper end focal length but has slightly smaller aperture. However, it still remains very versatile for everyday use.
Special Purpose Lenses
There are finally some lenses that are targeted for very special use in photography. One of these is the fisheye lens. These lens are considered to be "extreme" wide-angle lens that produce very abstract hemispherical image that appears distorted. These lenses are usually very expensive and are not good for general purpose photography. Some good fisheye lenses to look into if you are interested are the Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye and the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM. A cheaper alternative is the Rokinon 8mm F/3.5 Fisheye Lens made for Canon cameras. I do not have much personal experience with fisheye lenses so I will not provide too much insight here.
Tilt-shift lenses are another special type of lens that I do not have much knowledge of. However, they are lenses that allow photographers to control the perspective of the image. Some of the tilt-shift lenses that Canon produces are the Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt Shift Lens and Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens. The "L" series tilt-shift lenses include the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L Tilt-Shift Lens and the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II Tilt-Shift Lens.
Purchasing a Canon Lens
You can actually buy Canon camera lenses directly from the Canon website, but the prices on the site are standard and may not be the best prices you could get. An Internet search on the lens you are looking for will bring up many different places to purchase one, allowing for price comparisons. Amazon.com is usually a good and trusted place to shop for what you are looking for. Lenses are a potentially expensive investment, so make sure you only buy from a reputable dealer if purchasing online. Used lenses can also be found on sites like Amazon and eBay, and in such cases, it is even more important to be wary of a seller.
If you prefer to buy your Canon lenses in person, they are available at several major retailers as well as at camera specialty stores. The Canon website can help you find a store in your area that carries the lens you are looking for. If you are not sure about which lens is best for you, visiting a store and talking with a knowledgeable salesperson can help answer any questions you may have.
DEBANGEE MANDAL from India on April 08, 2017:
Thanks for the valuable information with the relevant pics. Well written.
Sherry Thornburg on March 02, 2015:
wow, nice job of showing off Canon's line of lenses. I just put together a hub on lens choices for birding photography. There is so much to research when explaining these products.
Sean Fliehman on February 04, 2015:
Fantastic article, I thought it was well written and very informative.
Peri Abdurrahman from Indonesia on December 17, 2014:
Great advice, I think most beginners confused what to pick one.. But it's a good idea for the first steps...
katlineHunt on April 28, 2014:
Just got the New Nikon DX lense from Amazon and they are going absolutely crazy with the discounts with these brands. If you don't have a promo code, you can use this one: http://amzn.to/1hGzlO1 - before they take it down.
Caspar Diederik on January 25, 2012:
Thanx for the great overview..!! very very insightful. I just bought a 5D mark II with Canon EF 24 -70 mm F/2.8L USM for 1999 euro's to create ass kicking video's. Keen on getting a good alternative to the canon 50mm f1.2 for playing with focus depth, because I'm out of budget now. Any ideas?
Reva on November 26, 2011:
I have a canon rebel xs. Want to upgrade normally I take nature,wildlife and bird photos.
cjane on July 03, 2011:
i do have the 50mmf/1.8 and 18-55mm lenses, i would like to ask for your suggestions on what lens will i buy next for an everyday photography?
Yackers1 from East England, UK on December 13, 2010:
A great hub that covers virtually everything. Thanks for sharing.
jackw827 (author) from Los Angeles, CA on November 30, 2010:
You can achieve the blurry effect with a lens with a low f stop. Usually f/2.8 and lower will work great and will create a shallow depth of field. Objects closer or further away from the subject in focus will be more blurry. This does not depend on whether the lens is prime or a zoom. However, prime lenses tend to have a larger maximum aperture (lower f stop). The cheapest prime lens is the 50mm f/1.8 II which you can experiment with for minimal investment.
Vivi2010 on November 29, 2010:
Thanks so much for this post. I have a cannon rebel XTi. I want to take pictures of my 5 and 1 year old that will look more professional. For example, clear shot of them with a blurry background. Would you recommend a prime lens for that or a better general photography lens?
Newdad0610 on October 19, 2010:
Very helpful and accurate hub!
bestdigitalslr on September 23, 2010:
Thanks for an incredibly informative hub! Getting the right lenses can definitely be confusing but you've broken it down really well for beginners and pros.
Motaz from Egypt on September 22, 2010:
thnx a lot, Jack :) now im thinking about the Canon 10-20, Tokina 11-16 and sigma 10-20, totally lost!
jackw827 (author) from Los Angeles, CA on September 22, 2010:
For the 450D, the EF-S line of lenses are great since they were made for the non-full frame cameras. The EF-S 10-22mm is the widest one and EF-S 17-55mm is the next in line. If you are looking for a prime wide angle lens then there are a couple L series ones but they are very expensive. The 14mm f/2.8 L is the widest "L" prime lens but the L series were made with full frame cameras in mind.
Motaz from Egypt on September 19, 2010:
nice and informative...what do you recommend as a wide angle lens for architecture and landscape on a 450D ? I think the 35 and 24mm won't be that "wide" with the 1.6 cropping, am I right? what do you suggest then?
jackw827 (author) from Los Angeles, CA on September 03, 2010:
Thanks for your comment. I am glad this helped. If you have any other questions feel free to post here or send me a message.