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by Aditya

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If I'm to buy a cropped sensor Canon camera for personal needs (family shootings, treveling etc - probably 75% outdoors some macro like + portraits + streetshootings + landscapes, 25% indoors mostly portraits) I need as good walkabout lens as possible. For indoor photography I'll buy a decent flash to support the whole thing. My considerations are with these two lenses:

  • EF-S 17-55 F2.8 IS USM
  • EF 24-105 F4 L IS USM

They're priced somewhat similarly. The first one is faster (and supposedly optically excellent), but I suppose that IS on the second one (L line => optical excellence) is so good that lens speed doesn't play a huge role with indoor shooting with either.

So based on my needs which lens should I prefer and why?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 14 down vote accepted

A lot of that depends on how you see the world. I'm a bit of a long-lens kind of guy -- in the film days, my walking-around lens was a 90mm/2.8 macro, and I don't think I shot more than a couple of hundred pictures wider than 50mm out of several tens of thousands.

The 24-105 is a great lens, but probably not the one you want if landscapes and travel photography are going to be a big part of your repertoire. The crop sensor means that the widest setting on the 24-105 is going to be the equivalent of just a hair under 40mm on full-frame 35mm. That really restricts the kinds of pictures you can take -- huge vistas and grand architecture (particularly in the sometimes narrow confines of European city streets) are going to be largely off the menu. On the other hand, if people and details are your main interests, you have most of the portrait and tight-crop range covered. Do note that the f/4 maximum aperture will somewhat restrict your ability to selectively focus -- you need to be pretty close in order to limit your depth of field to the subject at the wide-to-mid focal lengths. From all accounts, though, it's a superb studio lens.

The 17-55, on the other hand, gets you significantly wider at the wide end (equivalent to having a 28mm full-frame lens), but the 55mm end might be a little short for tight people shots (it's around the same as a 85-90mm lens on full-frame 35mm, which is okay until you go for tight head shots). The extra stop, though, means that it's easier to throw the background out of focus at the long end. Again, it depends on how you see the world -- 55mm is where my world starts, really, but I shoot people almost to the exclusion of everything else.

There may be a workable compromise in the offing, though, if you tend toward log-lens shooting. The "kit" 18-55mm lens is a perfectly adequate, if unspectacular, lens, and if you pick it up with the body, it should be dirt cheap. It may be something you don't use very often (and may not like using -- it doesn't feel nearly as good as either of the lenses you've mentioned) but it can be there in your bag (or jacket pocket -- it's pretty small) when you want to go a bit wider, and would make a reasonable companion to the 24-105 "everyday" lens.

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I used a 28-75 f/2.8 as a walkabout all purpose lens on an APS-C body for many years. There were certainly times when I wanted to go wider than 28 (which is fairly long on a crop) at the time the extra stop was worth more, and I had a 10-22 for when I needed to shoot wide, mostly when indoors. So I think you could get away with 24mm on the long end for most things (though you do say you want to shoot 25% of the time indoors which could be a problem).

Landscapes don't have to be ultra wide. In fact I think it's much more difficult to use a wide lenes for landscapes as they will shrink the background and give you loads of foreground.

Do you have any other digital camera currently? If so you could simulate 24mm on a crop DSLR by zooming the lens on your camera to a horizontal field of view of 49 degrees (you might need a tape-measure, e.g. find something 370cm long and fill the frame horizontally with it at a distance of 4 meters) and walk round your house to get a feel for what you'll be able to capture at 24mm.

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Both lenses are excellent optically. Don't let the fact that the 17-55mm isn't designated as an 'L' lens put you off -- this was purely a marketing decision by Canon.

Your needs are similar to my own. I tried both lenses before settling on the 17-55mm. The 24-105mm may be the ideal walkabout lens on a full-frame body, but on a 1.6x crop, the wide end simply isn't wide enough for architecture and landscape shots.

The f2.8 aperture of the 17-55mm will also give you more flexibility creatively, and will certainly come in useful if you are shooting in low light. The one stop difference between f2.8 and f4 might not sound much, but this equates to twice as much light entering the lens, which will also give you a brighter viewfinder and improved autofocus.

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The one stop difference is offset on most FF cameras by the better high ISO performance. When my normal zoom lens was mounted on APS-C bodies it was a 17-50mm f/2.8. On the FF body I use for that function now, it is the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS. I get better IQ @ ISO3200 on the 5DII than I do @ ISO1600 on the 50D or 7D. –  Michael Clark May 17 '13 at 19:36

The 17-55 is a normal zoom on your camera, the 24-105 is not. And optical quality does not compensate for a slow aperture.

I have the 24-105L on a Canon 1Ds mk II and I am very happy with it, but if had a crop camera body instead of full frame I'd certainly go with the 17-50. The missing wide-angle on the 24-105 would be a major drawback, especially indoors where stepping back several feet is not an option.

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2  
Just a minor quibble — the wide end of 24-105mm is definitely with the "normal" range even on a 1.6× crop body. That doesn't mean your point about wider angle being desirable isn't well-taken. –  mattdm Apr 8 '11 at 11:28
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24mm on crop is a slight wide; but a "normal zoom" ought to go from moderate wide-angle to moderate tele in my opinion. Somthing 28-70ish, on full frame. I don't feel that a 35-xx really cuts it, and 24-105 is tighter than that on crop. –  Staale S Apr 8 '11 at 11:39
    
Sorry but I agree with Matt. That kind of statement about normality makes no sense. –  Itai Apr 8 '11 at 13:17
    
A normal zoom on a 35mm camera has traditionally meant about 28-75 or 80mm. The 24-105mm on a crop body yields an angle of view of about 38-168mm on a FF body. It covers most, but certainly not all of the normal zoom range, while extending well into telephoto territory. –  Michael Clark May 17 '13 at 19:46

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