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I'm looking to upgrade the 18-55 kit lens I got with my 450D. I finally settled choosing between these two.
Which one would you get and why?

I do mostly amateur photography on my spare time, trips and family events. I also have a Canon 55-250 zoom lens I take with me sometimes to complement the 18-55.
The 15-85 is appealing since it would stretch the range I currently have and it feels slightly more high-end
The 18-135 on the other hand has the appeal that if I don't feel like taking the zoom lens, I can still get a pretty good range.

What would you do?

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You might want to say something about your budget. Since the 15-85 is almost twice as expensive compared to the 18-135. –  Håkon K. Olafsen Mar 5 '12 at 9:21
    
Why do you want to upgrade your lens? what do you want to do but can't with the 18-55? –  Nir Mar 5 '12 at 9:32
    
The 18-55 just broke :) the 15-85 is at the top of the budget. –  shoosh Mar 5 '12 at 9:56
1  
15-85 seems good. it is a pity it doesn't have 2.8 aperture, some sigma or tamron lense have it for around the same price, even if resolution can be worst. –  Paolo Mar 5 '12 at 13:45

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

Assuming you have the budget for the 15-85mm (almost twice the price of the 18-135mm) I'd recommend the 15-85mm lens over the 18-135mm. Why?

  • It has better reach on the wide angle which you wouldn't be able to cover with your 18-135mm + 55-250mm combo. A lot of lenses cover up-to 85mm but none of them goes down to 15mm.
  • It has better image quality and able to render very good colors.
  • It's sharpness is comparable to any L grade lens, on the other hand, the 18-135mm is much softer.
  • It has Canons top of the line USM focus motor, which is faster and quieter. The 18-135mm doesn't have USM and makes sound while focusing.
  • It has non rotating front element and also the focus ring doesn't rotate while focusing, a automatic choice for filter users. The 18-135mm also has a non-rotating front but the focus ring moves during AF.
  • It provides FTM (full time manual focus), handy feature for fine-tuning or doing focus adjustments quickly.
  • It's build quality is better and also has focus distance meter.

ISO 12233 Chart 100% crop comparison between the 15-85mm and the 18-135mm, please refer to this link. Compare at different focal lengths and see the difference for yourself.

Overall, the 15-85mm is a better built, better performing and better featured lens comparing to the 18-135mm in almost every aspect. It also weighs more, costs more and having a larger filter thread (72mm over 67mm) makes the filters expensive. Once you get used to the quality this lens provide, you might even consider replacing your 55-250mm lens with may be a 70-200mm f/4 (mayybe) ;)

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Thank you! this is exactly the explanation I was hoping for. –  shoosh Mar 5 '12 at 9:54

The 15-85 are getting very good reviews, and is considered a very good walk around lens for a cropped sensor. It delivers better performance than the 18-135, and you're mentioning the extra reach as an advantage. Do you normally only carry one lens? How often do you think you'll not bring a tele-zoom too? If you normally bring a tele-zoom I would go for the better quality 15-85, and let my other lens take care of the telephoto end.

I'm personally looking at buying the EF-S 15-85mm IS USM for my 60D, and wouldn't even consider buying the 18-135mm. The main reason is that I can afford the 15-85 and I'm planing on matching it with the EF 70-300mm IS USM to get the range.

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Most review shows that 18-55 is sharper than 18-135. I would go for the first one. Moreover I personaly do not find too useful the extra tele range, which anyway can be covered with a 55-200 or somthing like that. Tele are usually rather cheap with good quality, so probably a 18-55 + 55-200 can give the best quality for that level of price.

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How important is image quality? I owned (and recently sold) the 18-135 and it is a mediocre lens at best. I never used the 15-85mm lens but have read a lot of favorable reviews. It has many L lens qualities including three aspherical elements and one UD glass element. Personally I would not hesitate to choose the 15-85mm out of the two presented options. However, unlike you I always take all of my equipment with me. (refereing to your comment "if I don't feel like taking the zoom lens") 135mm on the long end is not as long as you might think. You could consider the Canon 18-200mm "all in one" to replace both lenses. You will gain convenience and the image quality will be comparable to what you currently have. The 15-85 lens would likely be a step up in terms of image quality.

Then there is the price;

or you could replace both lenses you currently have with the 18-200mm which sells for $575 (grey market)

The 15-85 is an Ultra-wide lens and it is much wider then the 18-somthings giving some really nice creative options, however if ultra wide is what you want then there are also other options but this is another discussion boyond the scope of your question.

Long story short, if budget is not an issue I would recomend the 15-85 over the 18-135.

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I'd like to include that the 18-200mm doesn't exactly give you the 200mm reach. In fact, the viewing angle hardly changes after crossing 135mm if the subject is not far far away :( –  fahad.hasan Mar 6 '12 at 4:36

The 15-85 is a better lens in every way except for weight and price, if budget is not an issue the 15-85 is clearly the better choice.

But, budget is never "not an issue", even if you can buy the 15-85 you can use the money to buy the 18-135 + something else, for example a 430EX flash (a good flash makes a huge difference, especially for indoors family pictures) or a prime lens for the focal length you use most often, so you get the optical quality of the prime for the common case and range of the zoom for the rest.

Also, the 18-135 is optically in the same class as the 18-55 so if you were happy with the 18-55 the 18-135 won't disappoint you (I believe the 18-135 is sightly better than the 18-55 in most cases, but I don't expect the difference to be visible without 100% crops of test charts either way)

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