Best Canon Lenses 2018: 9 lenses perfect for your DSLR

Have you outgrown your kit lens? Fancy one that’s better suited to the pictures you like to take? Our round-up reveals the best Canon lenses available for aspiring photographers.

One of the great benefits of choosing a DSLR ahead of a fixed-lens camera is the versatility it offers when it comes to choosing the best lens for any given subject or shooting situation.

For the majority, the kit lens you buy with your Canon DSLR will be adequate for general shots and is likely to serve you well as you get to grips with how the camera operates. Give it a few months, though, and you’ll almost certainly feel like you’ve outgrown it and will want to explore other possibilities.

If you regularly find yourself in a situation where you’re struggling to contain everything that’s in front of you within the frame, or would prefer a lens that’s designed specifically for capturing wide-vista landscapes or interiors, an ultra wide-angle lens could make the world of difference to your photography.

Equally, if you feel limited by how close you can get to distant subjects then you’ll want to add a telephoto zoom lens to your kit bag, or maybe a fast prime to capture stunning portraits of family and friends. With so many offerings from Canon and third-party manufacturers, it can be rather overwhelming – especially when hundreds of pounds are at stake.

In this roundup, our focus is to provide a list of the very best Canon lenses for aspiring photographers who’d like to build up a system beyond the limitations of a kit lens. If you’re unsure of all the unusual lens terms, take a glance over the jargon buster below before scrolling down to our list of lens recommendations for your Canon DSLR.

Canon lens jargon explained

Lens mount: There are three different types of lenses for Canon interchangeable lens cameras, these include EF, EF-S and EF-M. When it comes to choosing your lens, you need to ensure that you’re selecting a lens that’s fully compatible with your camera.

EF lenses: The Canon EF mount dates back to 1987. EF-mount lenses are compatible with every EOS camera ever produced – including the new EOS M series when used with the EF to EOS M Mount adapter. When you mount an EF lens to a Canon EOS DSLR with an APS-C-size sensor, you need to multiply the focal length by 1.6x to work out the equivalent in 35mm terms.

EF-S lenses: EF-S lenses are specifically designed for Canon EOS DSLRs with a more compact-sized sensor such as the EOS 200D, EOS 800D and EOS 80D. Owners of EF-S mount cameras have access to a complete offering of lightweight lenses, extending from 16mm to 400mm (35mm equivalent).

EF-M lenses: EF-M mount lenses were introduced with the original EOS M range of cameras in 2012. Even more compact compared to the EF and EF-S range, they’re designed exclusively for use with EOS M cameras.

Prime: The word ‘prime’ is used to describe a fixed focal length lens; in other words, a lens that doesn’t zoom.

USM: USM is short for Ultra Sonic Motor. Canon’s Ultra Sonic Motors are known for being quieter and faster than standard motors used in cheaper lenses.

STM: First debuted on the EF-M 22mm f/2 STM, this refers to Canon’s stepper motor introduced to many Canon lenses since. It’s designed to produce a much quieter AF performance – good news for those who shoot video and don’t want pesky noises interrupting movie footage. STM lenses use fly-by-wire focusing, which means turning the focus ring doesn’t physically move the elements, but tells the AF motor to do so.

IS: This abbreviation refers to Canon’s optical image stabilisation. Canon lenses equipped with IS counteract hand-shake and allow us to use slower shutter speeds than would otherwise be possible.

L-series: If a Canon lens features the letter ‘L’ in its name then it falls within the manufacturers top-end, professional-grade range.

I, II, III – Used to identify the lens’ generation. For example, there are two Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM zooms: the first one is the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L USM and the newer version is the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM.

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

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

Best kit zoom upgrade lens:

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

Key features:

  • 19 elements in 12 groups
  •  7 aperture blades
  • 0.4m minimum focus distance
  • 77mm filter thread
  • 645g
  • £718

Though not the newest of lenses in the EF-S lineup, this fast standard zoom is an appealing optic for Canon users who demand a versatile, fast aperture lens that produces pleasing results.

The AF performance is brisk, accurate and quiet, while the image stabilization (IS) system is effective at allowing you to shoot three stops slower than is otherwise possible.

Full time manual focus and an ultrasonic motor both feature as you’d expect. Particularly useful for shooting in challenging low light scenes where you don’t want to raise the ISO too high, it produces high levels of sharpness and low distortion.

The only real downsides are wide-aperture sharpness at 55mm and the appearance of colour fringes under some conditions.

This capable lens deserves attention from users of Canon APS-C bodies such as the EOS 77D, EOS 80D and EOS 7D Mark II.

Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM

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Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM

Best wide-angle zoom lens:

Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM

Key features:

  • 14 elements in 11 groups
  • 7 aperture blades
  • 0.22m minimum focus distance
  • 67mm filter thread
  • 240g
  • £199

If you’re after a compact wide-angle zoom for your Canon APS-C DSLR, this is a fine example to consider. It pairs up particularly nicely with Canon’s entry-level models as well as mid-range DSLRs like the EOS 800D/77D.

Its Stepping Motor Technology (STM) helps keep focus operation inaudible and with 4-stop image stabilisation it’s possible to shoot sharp handheld images with shutter speeds as slow as 1/5sec.

It has a plastic mount and electronic manual focus, but don’t let that put you off as it delivers impressive results for such a low price. As such, it’s hard to think of a reason not to include this in your lens collection if you’re looking to expand and fancy a lens that’s well suited to shooting landscapes, interiors and architecture.

Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM

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Best budget prime lens:

Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM

Key features:

  • 6 elements in 5 groups
  • 7 aperture blades
  • 0.16m minimum focus distance
  • 52mm filter thread
  • 125g
  • £134

This ultra-slim pancake prime is one of the least expensive lenses on the market, and measuring just 22.8mm thick it’s one that can easily be carried around all day without any inconvenience.

It’s a marvellous little optic for travel and street photography, providing a 38mm equivalent angle of view on Canon APS-C DSLRs for which it’s designed.

The lens does exhibit vignetting at wide apertures as well as distortion, but both are easily remedied in software. Most importantly, the lens focuses accurately and gives consistently sharp, detailed images.

With its bargain price, carry-everywhere size and highly competent imaging performance, this lens deserves to be high on the wish list of many a Canon APS-C DSLR user.

Read the full Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM review

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM

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Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM

Best macro lens:

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM

Key features:

  • 12 elements in 8 groups
  • 7 aperture blades
  • 0.2m minimum focus distance
  • 52mm filter thread
  • 335g
  • £379

If you own a Canon APS-C DSLR and like the idea of photographing objects at true life size (1:1) you’ll want to add a dedicated macro lens to your arsenal.

Equivalent to 96mm in the 35mm format, this dedicated macro lens will enable you to capture stunning close-ups thanks to its 20cm minimum focus distance.

It focuses silently on subjects thanks to the inclusion of Canon’s Ultra Sonic Motor (USM) and with Super Spectra coatings to suppress ghosting and flare in addition to full-time manual focus override, it’s not short of features for under £400.

What’s more, it doubles up as an effective portrait lens, creating beautiful background blur behind subjects when used at its maximum aperture.

All in all, an excellent macro option for Canon APS-C users.

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

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Best fast prime lens:

Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM

Key features:

  • 6 elements in 5 groups
  • 7 aperture blades
  • 0.35m minimum focus distance
  • 49mm filter thread
  • 159g
  • £106

This small ‘nifty fifty’ improves upon Canon’s older designs and has been brought up to date by incorporating a Stepper Motor (STM) for smoother and quieter AF.

Compatible with full-frame and APS-C DSLRs, it becomes a highly practical and creative short telephoto lens equivalent to 80mm when it’s attached to the latter.

If you enjoy shooting portraits or any subject where you’d like to create attractive background blur, this lens allows you to do it without breaking the bank. It has a smaller 49mm filter thread and improved build quality over Canon’s older EF 50mm f/1.8 II, but produces results of similar quality.

Stopping down from f/1.8 to f/2.8 improves sharpness and all trace of vignetting disappears by f/4.

It’s one of best lenses to buy after outgrowing your kit zoom.

Read the full Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM review

If you are shooting a 16-35mm wide zoom, the gaps between filling the frame with your subject in the 16mm end of the focal range will make imagery much different than pictures captured at 35mm from a larger distance. The same can be said for 24-70mm zooms and 70-200mm zooms. Whenever time allows, always research your subject at different focal points and distances.If there were a downside to shooting with zoom lenses, it would have to be none of them opens up broader than f/2.8, and when they did, they’d be quite hefty. It is not that zoom lenses with broader maximum apertures (i.e. f/2 or even f/1.4) would be impossible to design and manufacture, but you would need to mount them on a forklift if you wanted to take one. Reading the spec sheets of a 70-200mm f/1.4 or even 16-35mm f/1.4 zoom would be amusing, to say the least.Are fixed focal length lenses are sharper than zooms? It’d be fair to say many contemporary zooms rival their fixed focal length counterparts in terms of controlling power, contrast, and overall image quality. And they’re capable of taking very good photographs.Zoom lenses come in two varieties: constant aperture and variable aperture. Constant-aperture lenses, which maintain a constant maximum aperture whatever the focal selection, are inclined to be faster (i.e. have broader maximum apertures) than many variable-aperture versions. Constant-aperture zooms also have a tendency to be bigger, thicker, and frequently pricier compared to their own variable-aperture counterparts.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

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Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Best medium telephoto prime lens:

Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM

Key features:

  • 14 elements in 10 groups
  •  9 aperture blades
  • 0.85m minimum focus distance
  • 77mm filter thread
  • 950g
  • £1569

This lens slots into Canon’s range of fast medium telephoto primes between the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (£325), and EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM (£1765). It’s compatible with Canon APS-C DSLRs (equivalent to 136mm in 35mm terms), but handles best on full-frame EOS DSLRs with large grips like the EOS 6D Mark II and EOS 5D Mark IV. 

The lens is aimed at serious enthusiasts and professionals who specialise in portrait, reportage and wedding photography. The focal length is very complimentary to the subject of portraiture and by opening the lens to its maximum aperture it’s possible to produce sublime background blur, albeit not quite as dreamy as you get with the faster EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM.

The headline feature is its in-built optical image stabilisation – something neither the cheaper EF 85mm f/1.8 USM or more expensive EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM offer. The IS system is effective to 4 stops, allowing users to capture sharp handheld shots slower than would otherwise be possible in low light shooting conditions.

As to be expected from an L-series optic bearing Canon’s famous red ring around the barrel, the lens is fully weather sealed and features a focus distance window behind its large manual focus ring. Focusing is fast and silent and the lens delivers impressive centre sharpness at f/1.4.

Canon users have had a long wait for an 85mm f/1.4 to arrive, but this lens doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. It’s a cheaper and lighter alternative to the EF 85mm f/1.2 L II USM and it’s a lens that many EOS full-frame users would love to have in their kitbag.

Read the full Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM review

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

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Best telephoto zoom lens:

Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM

Key features:

  • 17 elements in 12 groups
  • 9 aperture blades
  • 1.2m minimum focus distance
  • 67mm filter thread
  • 710g
  • £449

This mid-range telephoto zoom incorporates four-stop image stabilization and a new, Nano USM motor for fast and silent autofocus.

It weighs 720g, features a nine-bladed diaphragm for attractive background blur and is equivalent to 112-480mm when used on APS-C sensor bodies.

An interesting idea is the lens’ LCD panel which can be used to cycle through three modes: focal length (shown as 35mm equivalent on crop-sensor bodies), a camera shake meter in two dimensions, and the current focus distance complete with a simple depth-of-field scale.

Build quality and handling are acceptable for the price, but it does lack a seal around the lens mount.

Overall, a great match to Canon’s mid-range DSLRs, offering a great balance between portability and image quality.

Read the full Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM review