Canon cameras are easily some of the best in the world, but if you’re working with an interchangeable lens model like a mirrorless or DSLR camera, the camera body itself only tells half the story. One of the main reasons these cameras can charge for so much is that they offer such a diverse variety of lenses to choose from. These camera lenses let you do everything from zoom in on miniature objects to providing you with impressive wide angle views of the world around you.
Read on for a diverse list where we review 10 of the best Canon lenses you’ll find in 2020. Then check out the guide that follows for more detailed tips about how you should go about shopping lenses for Canon cameras.
- 10 Best Canon Lenses
- 1. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
- 2. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens
- 3. Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens
- 4. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS II Telephoto Zoom Lens
- 5. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
- 6. Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
- 7. Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens
- 8. Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III
- 9. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens
- 10. Canon EF-S 18-55mm f
- Canon Lenses Buyer’s Guide
10 Best Canon Lenses
1. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens
Even if you work in a highly specialized field of photography, you're going to want a 50 mm lens. These serve as the cornerstone for most photographers' lens collections, and they don't need to be loaded down with especially fancy features. They just need to work. This ES lens from Canon is compatible with practically any camera that Canon offers, and it's also one of the cheapest lenses that you'll find on our review list.
The aperture here is nice and bright, so you don't need to worry about bringing along a second lens when shooting in darker environments, and it's also very compact in size. It may not be the fanciest lens that Canon produces, but it's a reliable standard that should work well for beginners or experts and will likely continue to earn its place in your bag for years to come.
2. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM Lens
Telephoto lenses may not get the same usage of a standard 50mm, but most photographers will want to add one to their collection eventually. The Canon EF 85mm is pretty similar to the 50mm listed above insofar as it manages to pack in the best essentials without getting too crazy with it. It's relatively affordably priced and packs in an ultra sonic focus motor: a huge asset for when you need to get up close and personal with your subjects with speed and silence.
And just like the aforementioned 50mm, the Canon EF 85mm lens sports a remarkably low weight and small size so you can make more space in your camera bag for more specialized lenses. This is an especially strong choice if you want a reliable lens that you can use for portraits and landscapes without having to spend a small fortune for it.
3. Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens
You'd have to look far and wide to find a wide angle lens with a sharper resolution than this Canon model. The 24mm focal length provides you with a classic wide angle view that's ideal for everything from real estate photography to natural panoramas, and its fixed prime design results in a sharper image and generally better build. And considering that you can pick this Canon model up for less than $150, that build is particularly impressive.
This is one of the first Canon models to incorporate an STM stepper motor, but it still works like a dream. The manual focus system is incredibly light and breezy to use, but you can flip it off with a simple twist of the ring. This may be a Canon model that's brusque and to the point, but it's a best choice if you just want to get the job done.
4. Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4.0-5.6 IS II Telephoto Zoom Lens
The first adjustable zoom lens on our lens is also available for less than 200 bucks. If you're an amateur photographer trying to fill out your gear with the essentials, this Canon lens is going to be one of the best additions you can bring to your collection. It hits the same important trifecta as the two lenses that preceded it on our list: a lightweight and petite lens (relative to its style of course) available for an incredible bargain.
But the quality here is still on point. This is a budget lens, and of course it's not going to hold a candle to those many times its price, but it does pack in a great micro USM system. The presence of a seven blade aperture is pretty impressive for the price and allows you to shoot reasonably well in a wide variety of zoom levels and lighting conditions.
5. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
The 50mm lens is such a prominent staple in the gear bags of photographers that we found it necessary to spotlight more than one. If you're looking for something with a more premium attitude than our f/1.8 model, check this Canon lens out. It costs about twice the price, but its significantly higher maximum aperture gives you a lot more flexibility to perform in varied and less than ideal lighting situations. It may tests the limits of an amateur's budgets, but it can grow with you as you make the journey into professional work.
It also trades in the traditional step motor for a more advanced USM system, allowing it to run faster and quieter and making it a more appropriate choice if you're fond of shooting both video and stills. The impressive multilayer coating, meanwhile, does a great job of minimizing flare and ghosting.
6. Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
Canon's output has been largely general purpose, so it's refreshing to see the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM Lens make an appearance, and it undoubtedly earns a spot on our best of list, although you may find it serving a more specialized role in your kit. It produces stunning wide angle photography with the expected fish eye effect, and this is also a Canon IS lens, so you can expect it to reduce shake significantly when you're trying to capture the perfect photo.
This isn't exactly a budget lens, but it's comfortably within the budget of hobbyist Canon owners (and that's really going to be the primary market for a model like this anyway). In fact, for an ultra wide lens, this is the most low weight, smallest, and price effect Canon model around. And the decent range on this art lens provides you with extra flexibility.
7. Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens
This Canon lens enjoys a unique role in our list: a fixed wide angle lens that comes close to approaching the focal length of a traditional 50mm. In fact, among many in the photography community, 40mm is considered the perfect and most natural focal length to use when mounted to a full frame camera rather than an APS-C. It's also one of the smallest models that Canon has produced, so it will fit comfortably in your bag even if it's loaded to bear.
The Line Stepper Motor, meanwhile, is great for reducing noise when the motor is in operation. If you're looking for a clever alternative to one of the 50mm models we have listed, you could do much worse than this model. Its combination of unique perspective, a budget pricing, and an incredibly compact design means it can even occupy your collection alongside a more traditional 50mm.
8. Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III
There's a lot of space between the focal length of a standard lens and the upper limits of what a lens can produce, and that's what makes a model like the Canon EF 75-300mm such a useful asset for a photographer. It gives you the capabilities to transition from portrait mode to full telephoto lens to macro in the entire process, offering the best range of zoom you'll find in a Canon lens.
In practical terms, if you need camera work that extends beyond standard focal length, this Canon model can do it all. And it can do it all for right around $200. Of course, you won't be getting the same level of visual integrity you would with any given primes in the Canon catalog, but the sheer versatility and value here is incredibly tough to beat here.
9. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM Fixed Lens
This Canon model isn't an all purpose lens like the 75 - 300mm model we just highlighted, but what it's missing out on in terms of versatility it more than makes up for with the sheer quality of the photos it produces. As a fixed macro lens, it's great for getting up close and personal with your subjects, but it works reasonably well as a means to take portraits from a distance as well. There's no doubt this is a specialized lens, but nature and portrait photographers will likely find themselves returning to it with some frequency.
This is a true macro lens, capable of delivering a 1:1 ratio for its magnification. What you see is what you get, and you can count on the quality build to last a good long time. And the USM achieves incredibly fast autofocusing capabilities. Combine all these together, and you've more than justified the $300 cost.
10. Canon EF-S 18-55mm f
The Canon EF-S 18-55mm is in many ways the flip side of the equation to the EF 75-300mm - spanning the gap from wide angle lens to normal model. These two may individually cost quite a bit more than their fixed contemporaries, but together they can cover almost the entire spectrum of shots and do so without the low quality expectations you'd find in a kit lens.
This is a fantastic lens with image stabilization built in so that you can make the most of your space without having to invest in a tripod. Affordable, light, and very cheap, this obviously won't be able to keep pace with any fixed lens at a given focal length, but it's a tremendous value for your price and one of the best options on the table if you want to minimize the type and number of lens models you need to carry with you.
Canon Lenses Buyer’s Guide
Canon is one of the most prolific manufacturers of lenses in the world, so we were able to construct this review list without having to venture into off brand models. Fortunately, Canon has a real talent for crafting lenses, and you can count on all of the models we have featured here to provide you with sharp and meaningful results. Below we’ll break down all the important terminology, help you understand what makes a Canon model lens special, and outline the traits and specs you should look for when shopping. We’ll close out our guide with answers to some of our most commonly asked questions regarding Canon lenses.
The naming conventions of Canon lenses are very descriptive, but that sense of description is often abbreviated to acronyms, numbers, and words that may not make sense to casual customers. Looking for a lens for Canon cameras doesn’t have to feel like reading a foreign language. Below, we’ll break down all the important abbreviations used in Canon lenses so photographers can more easily assess their value and use cases.
- EF lenses are compatible with any camera in Canon’s popular EOS line regardless of sensor size.
- By contrast, EF-S lenses are more specialized, working exclusively with EOS cameras that utilize an ASP-C (rather than full frame) sensor.
- TS-E lenses by Canon refer to a variety of specialty Canon lenses that are compatible with all EOS cameras.
- MP-E is another specialized lens that should work with any Canon EOS camera.
- STM designates a stepping motor lens. They tend to be fast and quiet, and they let you use continuous autofocus while shooting video.
- USM stands for ultra sound motors. They tend to be quieter and faster than conventional lenses, but they generally aren’t of the same quality as STM lenses.
- Canon IS lenses come with an image stabilizer built in to help keep your pictures looking good even when shooting in low light or at a distance. Canon lenses with IS are especially useful for zoom lenses.
- L lenses belong to the “L series”, some of the most professional and pristine Canon lenses available today.
- #-#mm (where each # is a number) refers to the minimum and maximum focal length of a camera. If there’s only one number, that means the focal length isn’t adjustable.
- DO signifies that the Canon lens includes the presence of diffractive optics, a means for better color correction that we’ll cover in more detail below.
- f/#-# is similar to focal length but instead signifies the lowest available f-stop at the maximum and minimum focal length. Lenses with a set focal length will only show one number here.
- A camera that lists a Roman numeral (ex. II, III) indicates that it’s a later edition of an existing lens.
Not all of these definitions match up to cameras on our list, but we’re leaving them here to help you if you decide to do some Canon lens shopping research on your own. Consider the glossary as a reference point you can turn to when looking to decode a lens’ functionality. And if you still find yourself confused by some of the definitions, we’ll get into them in greater detail below.
We’ve been conscientious about finding the best specs for shopping and outlining in them in detail under each of our reviews, but just because they’re important when looking for a photography lens doesn’t mean that they’re self explanatory. Below we’ll walk you through each of the specs that we’ve highlighted above along with some other important specs and features you should consider when shopping for the best Canon lenses (or any camera lenses for that matter).
Lens Type/Focal Length
If the focal lengths listed under each of our reviews seem like a foreign language, don’t worry. We’re here to break them down for you. The focal length of a lens is a very simple measurement. It refers to the amount of space between the focus point of the lens and the sensor itself. And while focal lengths are measured in mere millimeters, the slightest bit of difference between focal lengths can actually have a dramatic effect on your results.
You don’t need to understand how every specific focal length works in practice. Instead, just understand the fundamental differences between short focal lengths and long ones. The first quality affected by the distance from lens to sensor is the width of the photo produced. A shorter focal length will provide broader panoramas, while a larger number provides tighter and more focused images.
Secondly, the higher the focal length, the flatter the image produced. If you shoot with a short focal length lens, the depth of field will be more pronounced, and you’ll have a level of clarity even in the background. Shooting with a longer focal length will produce images with more background blur and a shallower depth of field. Knowing this, it’s easy to break down each Canon lens into a different type. More advanced photographers may want to study the listed focal length closely in the specs above, while more amateurs should be fine just checking out the type listed.
- Ultra wide angle lenses, also known as fisheye lenses, are some of the most specialized gear you’ll find for a camera and can generally be qualified as an art lens. Ultra wide angle lenses capture a greater sense of width than any other Canon lenses, but that comes at a cost. Ultra wide angle lenses distort the environment to create an effect like looking through a fishbowl. It’s a unique perspective that will only be rarely used by most photographers. An ultra wide Canon lens falls between 14 and 24 mm.
- A wild angle lens for Canon cameras has a focal length of between 25 and 35 mm. While you may see a bit of distortion in the lower range of wide angle lenses, most of them are going to push that distortion to the edges and offer sharp photo results more or less throughout. The wide angles are ideal for nature and landscape photographers because they can capture a wide field of view while still maintaining a sense of realism.
- Standard lenses essentially produce results most closely resembling the human field of vision. What you see is what you get, and that makes it a stellar choice for first time photographers. The most common is the 50mm, known in photography circles as the “Nifty Fifty” because it’s useful for just about any standard photography, but standard lenses can fall anywhere in the range from 35 to 70mm. We recommend that everyone keep a standard Canon lens with them at all times.
- Medium telephoto lenses are what you probably think of with the phrase “standard zoom”. They fall in the range of anywhere between 70 and 105mm, and they extend beyond the standard zoom to serve a variety of different purposes. An 85mm camera right in the middle of the medium telephoto range is considered the sweet spot for shooting portraits, but all of these lenses do a stellar job of keeping your subject in sharp clarity while lending a sense of background blur (or bokeh) to everything behind them.
- A full telephoto lens is anything that goes beyond that 105mm focal length, and it’s great for capturing subjects beyond the standard zoom. Just keep in mind that their ability to capture shots from incredibly far away results in a flatter and less sharp perspective. That makes them the best choice for action and wildlife photography.
The final consideration you’ll want to make when shopping for a Canon lens is whether you want a prime or zooms. The former offers only a singular focal length, but they tend to be better quality, shoot fast, and produce sharp images in comparison to the alternative. Zooms by contrast, offers an adjustable focal length, but you tend to lose integrity in the process.
We generally recommend that new photography enthusiasts start with a prime lens, as it’s the best way to learn the fundamentals of positioning and lighting when trying to shoot with your Canon camera. As you develop your skills, you may want to add more zooms into your collection.
You can’t just put any lens on any camera. Every camera makes use of a mount that’s used to slot the lens into place, and most manufacturers make use of distinguishing mounts that make it impossible to use any lens except those built by them or approved manufacturers. And while many manufacturers offer a confusing array of mounts, Canon keeps things simpler. You’ll find three different types of lens mounts for a Canon camera.
- The EF lens mount is the most common, and it’s compatible with any lens that’s designated either EF or EF-s in design. While it’s built for use with a full frame camera, it works just as well with a Canon APS-C model. That makes it the most compatible mount that Canon offers. They’re made for use with Canon DSLRs.
- An EF-S mount is more limited in that it only works with EF-S lenses. This mount appears on many Canon APS-C models, and it won’t work with a full frame model. These are also designed for use with Canon DSLRs.
- Finally there’s the EF-M mount. This is a universal mount for mirrorless cameras, and it won’t work with a DSLR at all.
As you may have noticed, we don’t feature a single EF-M lens. There’s a reason for that. While there are some great Canon models designed for work with mirrorless cameras, they’re far less abundant than the lens models designed for Canon DSLRs. And while a Canon EF-M mount will never work on a DSLR, a simple adapter can be attached to a Canon mirrorless model to make it compatible with its EF and EF-S counterparts.
The magnification ratio isn’t the best or most commonly used metric type when determining the value of a Canon lens, but it’s an interesting one. The magnification ratio is a pretty easy concept to understand. Completely distinct from the sensor size or the frame size of your Canon camera, magnification ratio determines how close in size the photo produced will resemble the subject in real life.
For instance, a Canon lens with a magnification ratio of 0.25 will, at its maximum zoom settings, produce images that are a fourth of the size of their subject. A macro lens will traditionally offer a magnification ratio of 1.0 or greater. After all, if you’re taking a picture of a ladybug, you really want to capture its detail. Understanding the magnification ratio of a Canon lens is one of the best and easiest ways to figure out how well it zooms without having to interpret the focal length.
When you click the button to shoot an image, the cap covering the lens opens up, allowing light to filter through the lens, hit the full frame or APS-C sensor, and imprint the image it focuses on into the sensor. The size of this hole determines the amount of light that’s allowed to spill through, and that can have a major effect on the quality of the image. In photographic terms, we refer to this space as the aperture.
The aperture is adjustable in an interchangeable lens, and as one becomes more advanced with their camera skills, they’ll get a better grip on how to shift between the max and minimum aperture settings. The larger the aperture, the more light is allowed to come through and the more saturated the results will be. A wider range of aperture settings is useful whether you use auto or manual settings, because it allows you to work in a wider range of lighting environments without things seeming too dark or washed out.
Understanding how to read the maximum and minimum aperture is tricky until you understand one fundamental theme: a larger number actually represents a smaller aperture width, while a smaller number represents a larger aperture width. The minimum and max are the reverse of what you might intuitively expect. The depth of field also increases the smaller the aperture gets, and that makes it one of the most important specs to look at if you’re going to be shift between multiple environments with your camera.
We discuss the aperture and what role it plays in the larger concept of the exposure triangle in our guide to the best mirrorless cameras of 2020.
Size and Weight
Professional photographers need to be pragmatic – almost strategic – in how they choose their lenses. Because while pricing is a big factor in what models work for you, what you can carry is just as important. And you need to take into consideration both the weight and size of a lens when determining what you can carry. Below, we outline the three types of lens that every beginner needs to carry, but as you start to shift towards a more professional capacity and add more accessories to your kit, your collection is bound to grow.
That’s why it’s important to think in terms of what you need rather than what you might eventually one day use. After all, if you don’t have the space to carry another lens, it won’t ever get any use. Weigh the advantages of fixed vs. zoom lens models, as they can help you consolidate your space. And be sure to check out our guide to the best camera bags of 2020. That can give you more information on how to find a bag that can hold your camera, lens models, and accessories comfortably.
Canon Lens Shopping Advice For Beginners
Having a grip on the specs you’ll find in Canon lenses can go a long way towards shopping smarter, but it can still be easy to feel lost regarding exactly where you should start shopping. Below we’ll provide you with some important tips you can use to guide your Canon lens shopping process.
How We Picked Our Featured Canon Lenses
When putting together a guide to gadgets at HotRate, we usually have the privilege of comparing products directly. Our methodology is to identify the most important factors for that product type, weigh them against one another, and use those as metrics to narrow down our results to the best handful of options on the market. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to take that approach with our best Canon lenses guide.
When dealing with lenses, each model is essentially a single tool in a larger kit of gear. And after all, you wouldn’t directly compare a hammer to a screwdriver. For that reason, we decided to provide as much diversity as we could with our guide to Canon lenses. While you’ll find a few lenses that fill the same niche more or less specifically and others that offer some crossover in terms of how they perform, most of the Canon lenses here aren’t comparable with each other for their purposes.
With that in mind, you should consider what exactly it is you’re looking for as a photographer when you read each review. Below, we’ll help you come to an understanding of what beginners should look for and help you devise a plan for how to build out your collection of Canon gear.
Is a Kit Lens Enough For Amateurs?
Almost every Canon camera you buy is going to come with what’s known as a “kit lens”. Fortunately, a kit lens allows you to unpack your camera and start practicing photography right away. Unfortunately, they aren’t the best options if you have intentions of working as a hobbyist or professional photographer. A kit lens is low weight, and they’re zooms. This lens focuses between 18 and 55mm, so you can shoot both standard and wide angle images.
Unfortunately, they tend to be of fairly cheap quality, and they aren’t going to offer the speed or sharp results you’d find with a more professional lens. While a kit lens is one of the best ways to learn how your new camera works, we recommend that you begin investing in more advanced models once you have a grip on the fundamentals.
The Three Lenses to Start With
Many professional photographers will rack up hundreds or even thousands of dollars in lenses over the years, but that doesn’t mean that you need to spend that much to get started. If you’re looking to flex your photography skills and have enough variety to shoot a wide variety of subjects, there are three lenses you should look for once you’ve tired of your standard kit lens.
- A standard prime lens. No matter what type of photography you practice, you’re going to sometimes find yourself wanting to just shoot a “regular” photo. In fact, most photographers (especially beginners) will keep this one their camera most of the time. The combination of great speed and sharp image quality on this type of lens means that it can serve a wide variety of situations in a pinch.
- A portrait lens. The ability to shoot at a distance can’t be overstated, and neither can how well this type of lens focuses on your subject while lending a nice sense of blur to the background. If you’re looking for primes, we suggest something in the range of 80mm. This is generally the preferred choice for portraits, and it falls right in the middle of the pack. You can also go with a zoom type lens, but it’s not going to provide quite the same level of quality for the price.
- A wide angle type lens. An ultra wide angle type is going to be a little too specialized to do you much good, but getting a zoom type model will give you significantly more room to play around with your shooting skills. They don’t offer the same sharp quality as primes, but they’re still an admirable choice.
If you’re working within the constraints of a budget, we suggest you prioritize the standard type lens. This is something that’s guaranteed to suit your needs in the long term, whereas the value of a wide and portrait lens are really there to help you determine your needs. Once you’re up to speed on how your camera works and what your preferences are, you can start looking at the best specialized models that come at a higher price point. After all, there’s no need to invest in an art lens until you’re certain the type of art you want to make.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the Sharpest Canon Lens?
As is typically the case, the sharpest results you’ll get from a Canon lens is from a prime standard lens, and among the models we’ve highlighted, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM takes the cake. It may cost a bit more than others in its type, but it’s well worth the price for its exceptional photo quality and fast shooting speed.
What is the Best Canon Lens For Beginners?
We’re confident in the belief that the best starting lens for any amateur is a standard 50mm. It provides a great middle of the road focal length that encourages you to learn the fundamentals. For that reason, we recommend the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM. It’s an impressively inexpensive lens that covers the fundamentals while offering some of the best value you’ll find.
Which is the Best Lens For DSLR?
All of the models we’ve featured work with a Canon DSLR camera. And since each one offers its own strengths and weaknesses, it’s hard to identify which lens is the best. We suggest that you consider what you’re looking for and make a decision based off of the type of photography you’re trying to capture.
What is the Difference Between a USM and STM Lens?
A good camera lens motor has to find a decent balance between speed and noisiness, and Canon has addressed that problem by producing two different types of premium motors. The Canon USM (ultra sonic motor) type runs exceedingly fast but doesn’t employ many measures to keep things running quietly. The STM (stepping motor) aren’t quite as fast but run nearly silently. Each type of Canon motor has its own value in the right situation.
We hope that you’ve found our guide to the best canon lens models of 2020 useful, but the lens is just one component of photography gear. And while we’ve tried to be comprehensive in our approach to analyzing the Canon lens models available today, our guide is still just scratching the surface of what there is to say about Canon photography. We have plenty of guides available for a variety of photography accessories, and we highly recommend you check out our ultimate guide to mirrorless cameras. Even if you’re using a DSLR type camera, many of the fundamentals there are going to be useful to you.