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Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens Review

Canon's EF-S lens mount is designed for it's 1.6x crop factor cameras and as the best of these is not aimed at true professionals, this constant aperture lens does not qualify for L class branding. We take a look at how it performs.

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Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens Review: Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USMSpecification

  • Lens Name: Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
  • Focal range: 17-55mm
  • Optical Construction: 19-12 elements/groups
  • Max Aperture: f/2.8
  • Min Aperture: f/22
  • Closest focus: 0.35m
  • Filter Thread: 77mm
  • Dimensions: 83.5x110.6mm
  • Weight: 0.645kg
  • Price (SRP) £699.99

Build and handling
Despite lacking the L branding this lens is a good quality item of kit, as indicated by its price. The build quality feels right with all the switches and rings having that positive smoothness of operation to them. It is a large optic that has an extending front element that protrudes an extra 28mm as it zooms out to the longer focal length. The broad zoom ring does enable this movement with relative ease though. The extension is about the only thing we could criticise the lens for though and the inclusion of the 3-stop image Stabilisation system excuses the bulk.

The IS system, now much more usable than early versions, is capable of allowing hand holding down to much lower shutter speeds than would previously have been recommended and we managed shots at well beyond the ‘focal length=shutter speed’ and claimed 3-stop settings without any hint of shake. This, combined with the f/2.8 maximum aperture, does make the lens ideal for low light work although it should be remembered that the IS system will not stop subject movement. You need shutter speed for that! Focus speed with the USM motor is quick and near silent with the amount of light getting in ensuring a good lock-on.

Optical quality
Again, this lens can be regarded as quite high quality and is a massive step up from the ‘kit’ lens that it is designed to replace. All of the parameters that we measure are ‘quite’ good rather than the ‘very’ good you might expect of an L class lens. Some minimal evidence of chromatic aberration does creep in towards the edges of the frame, but nothing that can be detected by eye. Contrast, as with most of Canon’s optics, is good and the colour rendition is pleasantly warm without being too saturated. Resolution is good enough wide open and improves well to the f/5.6 mark, where it can be classed as excellent.

The one place where the lens is let down is in the area of distortion. At the wide end of the zoom range it is fine, with a minimal recording of 0.83% pincushion but at the longest focal length this turns into a reading of –3.3% barrel which is evident to the eye on critical subjects. It is, however, the only noticeable anomaly that we could pick up with this lens and images gave a crisp clean appearance when printed up to A3.

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens Review:

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens Review:

The focal range is the standard for cropped sensor cameras and gives good capabilities

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens Review:
Depth of field is easily controllable with this lens’ wide aperture and it give good Bokeh

 

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens Review:
Hand held at 1/10th second and f/11, this shot shows no sign of camera shake with the IS turned on.

Click on each comparision photo below to view full size versions

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens Review:
17-55mm set at 17mm and f/8

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens Review:
17-55mm set at 55mm and f/8

17-55mm set at 17mm and f/2.8

17-55mm set at 55mm and f/2.8

 

Below is our lens test data. To find out how to use these graphs look at this article: How we test lenses

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens Review: DxOMark provides objective, independent, RAW-based image quality performance data for lenses and digital cameras to help you select the best equipment to meet your photographic needs.

Visit the DxOMark website for tests performed on the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM.

 

Verdict
The lens is a high quality optic that is not quite up to L standard but takes close scrutiny to find the differences. Priced at the upper end of the spectrum for lenses that cannot be used on Canon’s professional camera models it would seem to have a limited place in the market. The price is added to if you want the optional hood though. That said, it is an ideal lens for anyone who does much low light photography.

In summary, the positive points of the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM are:
Good build quality with smooth operations
Excellent Image Stabilisation
Good image quality
Popular Filter size

The negative points are:
Expensive with no-upgrade path
Distortion at the longer focal length.
Slightly bulky for focal range.

Check the latest price for the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM here

Get the full test data results here

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Comments

brian1208 Avatar
brian1208 20 11.8k 12 United Kingdom
I got this lens to replace two I had in my bag, a Tokina 17mm f3.5 and Tokina 24-70 f2.8.

I agree with Ian regarding the smooth operation and I find the weight when attached to my canon 350D + battery pack balances very nicely.

Its a definite step up in image quality compared to the Tokina lenses and the standard kit lens and for the longer exposure / low light shots the IS is a boon.

The distortion is there at the longer end but is easily corrected in processing. Fringing and other colour abberation appears minimal and it seems sharp edge to edge from F4 up. I see a bit of vignetting at f2.8

It is expensive but with the money I got back in P Ex for the Tokinas I rate it a worthwhile purchase
JakeI Avatar
this is definitely an EF-S version of L lens, I think it is the sharpest zoom available today.

unless you compare it against a macro, there is no sharper lens than this.

I compared it with my 17-40L , 24-105L and Tamorn 17-50, this Canon 17-55IS is the best of all these sharp lenses . This is the best candid , low light lens in any mount now and so I will stick with my 40D for a long time.

No need a full frame , the EF-S is better than all full frame lenses.
FrankRobinson Avatar
Frankly I think you are pretty hard on this lens - most reviews rate it fully at L quality, with the argument being that canon don't give the L moniker to EF-S lenses.

And as to listing 'bulky' as a negative characteristic... if you want constant f2.8 then you have to have the glass. Try playing with the 70-200 f2.8 lenses...

This is an outstanding EF-S lens. Top drawer.
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