Following on from our popular 5 Must Buy Lenses for Nikon DSLRs, here we’re covering the 5 must-have Canon lenses out there.
So, you’re just getting the hang of your brand new Canon DSLR, playing around with the standard 18-55mm kit lens it came with.
But you’re starting to outgrow the kit lens, craving more freedom to experiment with focal length, aperture, and perspective. The next step for you is to start upgrading your Canon lens selection.
Where do you start though? There are literally hundreds of lenses to choose from, and some aren’t worth the glass they’re made of. Some, on the other hand, are little gems that you can have years of fun with.
That’s where we come in…
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Canon Lenses Explained
First, we have to get a bit of admin out of the way.
Like all manufacturers, there’s a host of abbreviations and specialist terms try and comprehend before purchasing a lens.
EF – Canon’s EF lenses are designed to work on their full-frame DSLR cameras and EOS film bodies.
That being said, you can still use EF lenses on your cropped sensor cameras, but you can’t use their cropped sensor lenses on full frame camera bodies.
Read more about sensor size in our Best Cameras for Landscape Photography article.
EF-S – These lenses are designed specifically for Canon’s cropped (or APS-C) sensor camera bodies. They’re often cheaper, smaller, and lighter than their EF equivalents.
EF-M – Canon’s mirrorless camera lens mount. For the purposes of this article, these lenses should be ignored.
DO – This stands for Diffractive Optical. Lenses with this abbreviation have an optical element in the lens that help to control chromatic aberration.
IS – Stands for image stabilization. Having an IS lens means you can handhold the camera at slower shutter speeds than you typically would be able to.
L – Canon’s L lenses are their higher end offerings. The L stands for Luxury and typically have more features, better optical performance, better build quality and, obviously, a higher price tag.
STM – Refers to lenses that have a stepping motor to provide quick, smooth, and quiet autofocus performance. Mainly useful for videographers.
USM – Another autofocus term. USM stands for Ultrasonic Motor and again offers fast and quiet autofocusing.
5 Must Have Lenses for Canon DSLRs
1. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM – FX
- 50 millimeter focal length and maximum aperture of f/1.8
- Great for portraits, action, and nighttime photography; Angle of view (horizontal, vertical, diagonal): 40º, 27º,46º
Best for Shooting: Everything
If you’ve been around Click and Learn Photography for any length of time, you’ll know that we love budget friendly, fast prime lenses.
The field of view is similar to that of the human eye, which makes it a fantastic lens for all genres of photography. Not only that, but the long history of the 50mm lens means that manufacturer’s have all but perfected the design. It’s cheap to make and cheap to buy.
That also makes it a great lens to add to your travel photography gear.
Despite costing well under $200, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM actually outperforms most of the $1,000+ telephoto lenses in terms of overall image quality.
Buying this 50mm lens won’t only improve your images technically, but being limited to a single focal length can do wonders for your creativity too. It forces you to think more deeply about composition, and the wide f/1.8 maximum aperture lets you get creative with depth of field too.
2. Sigma 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM – DX
- Maximum Aperture Range: f/3.5-6.3
- Focal Length : 18-300 mm, Minimum focusing distance -39cm/15.3 inch; Offers a maximum magnification ratio 1:2 and changeable angles of view enables zoom-macro photography
Best for Shooting: Travel and Everyday Photography
We recommended a similar superzoom lens in our article on Nikon lenses, and be aware that the Tamron talked about there is still a very viable option for Canon shooters.
We thought we’d mix it up a bit here though, recommending the Sigma equivalent in this category.
Is it the best lens out there in terms of image quality? No.
Is it a convenient walk around lens for everyday use? Definitely.
Superzooms often get a bad rep, but the image quality on the Sigma 18-300mm is pretty decent for the most part. It’s not quite as cheap as the Tamron version mentioned above, but it does come with near-macro capability and offers 1:3 size magnification.
This is perfect for those times when you’re out with friends and family and don’t want to hold everybody up by constantly changing lenses.
3. Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM – DX
- EF-S series macro Lens with built-in macro Lite
- Bright f/2.8 aperture and 35mm standard angle of view
Best for Shooting: Macro photography
Macro lenses open up an entirely new world of photography opportunities. You can find extraordinary images in the most mundane of subjects simply by getting really close and being creative.
Often, photographers will opt for a longer focal length macro lens to try and increase their working distance. However, there’s a very strong argument for the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM.
As with most macro lenses, the image quality is superb. However, the shorter focal length offers a wider field of view than most macro lenses and can open up some unusual opportunities, such as displaying the wider world behind your close-up subject.
The real reason we recommend this, though, is their ingenious built-in lighting feature. This lens actually comes with its own built in Macro Lite to illuminate your subject. You can independently control the left and right lamps as well.
The 35mm focal length is perfect for environmental portraiture and woodland photography too.
4. Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM – FX
- Full-time manual focus permits critical focusing precision, even in AF mode. Help provide excellent color balance
- Rounded 9-Blade Diaphragm
Best for Shooting: Landscape and architecture photography
If landscapes and architecture are more your thing, you’ll probably be wanting a wide-angle lens.
We often recommend the superb Tamron 15-30mm here, to cater for photographers of all brands. However, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM certainly deserves a mention.
In terms of image quality, it’s very similar to that of the Tamron. However, while it loses a stop of light in it’s f/4 maximum aperture, the autofocus performance of the Canon is stunning.
Not only that, but the build quality is excellent, as you would expect from a L series lens. Despite all this, it retails at around the same price as the Tamron 15-30mm, making it a definite frontrunner for the Canon shooters out there.
There really isn’t much to choose between the two lenses in terms of performance. It’s worth noting that the Canon is much easier to use with filters than the Tamron, as well as being lighter as well.
If you find you want to go even wider, the Canon 11-24mm f/4L USM mentioned here is another option. It’s the widest lens (excluding fish-eye lenses) on the market.
5. Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 – FX
- VC performance is 5 stops (VC mode 3) and offers three modes optimized for different shooting situations
- MOD reduced to 37.4" (1:6.1 max. mag. Ratio). Angle of view (diagonal): 34°21' - 12°21'(for full-frame format), 22°33' - 7°59'(for APS-C format)
Best for Shooting: Wildlife, Pets, Portrait, Landscapes, Weddings
We’ve really tried to steer clear of recommending the same lens twice, but it’s really hard to do that when you have such a clear category winner.
The Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.2 Di VC USD G2 is wonderful, performing as well as the Nikon and Canon equivalents despite costing much less than their counterparts.
The 70-200mm focal range is a staple across all genres of photography, coming in handy for weddings, pet portraiture, adventure photography, and landscapes. The Tamron has class-leading image stabilization as well, making handholding much more reliable in dynamic situations.
Overall, a fantastic lens that is up there with the best.
That should be enough to get you started, but these five lenses are far from the only ones worth considering.
There are hundreds of lenses to choose from, some of which are more suited to certain genres of photography than others. For example, we have dedicated articles on the best lenses for landscape photography and the best lenses for astrophotography.
Alex is the owner and lead writer for Click and Learn Photography. An avid landscape, equine, and pet photographer living and working in the beautiful Lake District, UK, Alex has had his work featured in a number of high profile publications, including the Take a View Landscape Photographer of the Year, Outdoor Photographer of the Year, and Amateur Photographer Magazine.