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Time to be with loved ones

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If money where no object what is the best quality non-prime walk around lens to pair with a crop sensor Canon dSLR for travelling?

From what i have read so far a lot of people recommend the Canon EF-S 15-85 IS USM, however it is not an full-frame or an L series lens, does this matter? (considering i'm looking for for the best quality lens regardless of price?)

I imagine this could be a generic question worth answering but if specifics are required then i am planning to get a 7D and start of with a single lens for travelling, currently i have been using a Canon S95.

Edit: Based on comments I've udpated the question to specifically ask for best image quality in a non-prime lens.

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This is essentially the same question as What lenses would best comprise a travel photography kit?; although that one asks for 1-3 lenses rather than just one, the principle is basically the same — minimal lens kit for crop sensor Canon, money is no object. –  mattdm Mar 12 '12 at 12:47
    
Thanks for pointing out that question (i was actually just considering asking the same sort of question!), very similar i agree, however in this case i am asking for a single lens option - if i went with the answer from that question which single lens of the 3 would i get? the 10-22, 35 or 70-300? –  mundeep Mar 12 '12 at 13:01
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This one, of course. :) –  mattdm Mar 12 '12 at 13:27
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Part of the problem is that this is too generic. In that, without more details, the range of options are probably too broad. That is why the example that mattdm gave above might work better here. As this question stands now, you are asking "what is the best walkaround lens that Canon makes?", and the answer is, we have about a dozen of them because one perfect one doesn't quite exist, you must take into account what compromises you are willing to make. Eg - would you prefer a wide aperture, image stabilization, or range(versatility)? You can't have all three :) –  dpollitt Mar 12 '12 at 13:48
    
What are your primary needs for the lens? Obviously price is not a concern, however are you mostly interested in focal range, regardless or weight/size, or something with a more manageable size for carrying around? What about focal length versus aperture size for broader range of lighting conditions? Don't worry about L lenses vs EF-S lenses, there are a few EF-S lenses that are fantastic and a few L lenses that have noticeable flaws. Don't limit yourself based on the series the lens is in. –  cadmium Mar 12 '12 at 17:24
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

I would highly recommend the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. I used this on my 350D and 7D for a couple of years before selling it on. My reason for getting rid of it was simply because I preferred primes to zooms. The optical quality of this lens is stunning, and should be an L series lens in many peoples opinions. It has aspherical elements and coatings like the L series, though the body of the lens is not metal like an L series and is not weather sealed. Otherwise it's great. The fast f/2.8 aperture through the whole zoom range is also fantastic, allowing you to get some great indoor or low-light photos at lower ISO's than would otherwise be necessary.

In full-frame terms, 17mm is equivalent to 27mm and 55 is equivalent to 88mm, so you're getting a 27-88mm lens (equivalent) with constant f/2.8 aperture AND image stabiliser too.

It should be noted that EF-S lenses are designed specifically for crop sensor cameras, and I read somewhere (perhaps here) that ON a crop-sensor body, an EF-S lens would be sharper than the equivalent EF lens, which is designed with full-frame sensors in mind. Obviously the downside of an EF-S lens is that should you decide to go full-frame in the future, you will not be able to use the EF-S lens on a full frame body.

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This might be the reference you describe for EF-S lenses perhaps being sharper on an APS-C camera: photo.stackexchange.com/a/18904/4892 –  dpollitt Mar 12 '12 at 13:42
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I agree that this is probably the best option for general purpose use on a 7D. If IQ is paramount over versatility, the EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM as suggested here would be a better option. Others might prefer the 24-70mm f/2.8 IS MkI or MkII as well. –  dpollitt Mar 12 '12 at 13:49
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That is exactly the post I was thinking of. Well spotted! :) I should add I also own the EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM lens, and use it with my 7D, and it is spectactularly good :-) I didn't mention it before because it wouldn't have fit to answer the question I didn't think as it's a fixed prime, and so not what I would call an "all round" lens. –  Mike Mar 12 '12 at 14:11
    
17mm on a canon crop-frame is equivalent to 27mm, not 24mm as you state. –  Pete Mar 12 '12 at 16:01
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@mundeep Not sure that's entirely true... I'd happily use just a 50mm all day for everything! If I couldn't get close enough, or far away enough from my subject to frame it how I wanted, I'd relish the challenge of looking at things in a different way to make an interesting image nevertheless. –  Mike Mar 13 '12 at 11:43
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I myself own the 15-85, and highly recommend it. Fantastic build quality, extremely sharp, etc.. It's my general purpose lens when I'm not using my 50mm 1.4 prime. For a long time I only had a 50mm prime on my cropped sensor EOS 500D, and far more often than not I wished I had something wider than something more zoomed-in.

So, because of that, I'd also highly recommend the 17-55 f/2.8, and the 18-55 f/3.5-5.6. I don't own them myself but have used them quite a bit, and particularly the latter is a tremendous value and it's quite small and portable. It's a little bit of a bummer that they don't zoom past 55mm, but the range is still perfect for most general-purpose/travel shots.

Edit: Of course it's worth saying the 15-85 and 18-55 will need the assistance of a good flash particularly for low-light indoor environments. The IS is quite good, but of course it doesn't help too much with moving targets.

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I would recommend the 15-85 IS USM. It have build quality that's close to the L line up, and very good optical quality. It covers a very usable "focus" area, from quit wide up to tele end (from 24mm to 136mm full frame equivalent). The main drawback with this lens is the relatively small aperture, which will limit the bokeh effect.

Overall a very nice lens, but lacking in the bokeh-area. Maybe pair this with a cheap 50mm f1.8 for portraits.

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+1 for 15-85MM. I had the same lens, the only lens I have to travel with. Advantage: 1. wide angel in 15, and can zoom in up to 85 which give you a big range; 2. awesome image quality. 3 superfast and quiet. –  rvpals Mar 12 '12 at 17:10
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The 15-85 is a very good all round lens (based on the reviews I have read, I haven't tried it myself). It is not that fast, but when shopping for an all round lens there are typically some trade offs.

You worry about the lens not being full-frame, but since your camera is not a full frame, that is not really a major concern (unless you are thinking about going full-frame later). What matters is the image quality it produces on the camera you have.

It is neither an L-series lens, not because of lack of image quality, but simply because the L-designation is reserved for full-frame lenses. It has the image quality to match the L-series lenses. In fact, AFAIK, this lens was produced as a natural kit lens for the 7D to match the enhanced resolution of the sensor when it was launched, and to meet the high demands of the type of user who would choose the 7D.

If you want to go for a full-frame L-series lens, two options come to mind: 24-70mm f/2.8, and 24-105 f/4 IS. I have the latter and I am extremely happy with it. But it is not as wide which I miss sometimes (the 10-22mm is on my wish list as a supplement). And if you want to go wider on the L-Series lens lineup, you have to go to a dedicated wide angle lens, which is not really what you are looking for.

So all in all, the 15-85 is probably one of the best all-round lens for the 7D. If you don't require that wide a shooting range, and you want the best possible quality, I can recommend the 24-105. If you require a faster lens, and want to go wider than 24mm, then the 17-55mm f/2.8 would be a good bet, as suggested by others. But that has a more limited focal range on the long end.

So to sum up the contenders:

  • 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM - The wides of the bunch, but not that fast, particularly on the long end.
  • 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM - Fast, but more limited zoom range.
  • 24-70mm f/2.8L USM - Fast, but no IS.
  • 24-105mm f/4L IS USM - Faster than the 15-85 in most of the zoom range, but slower than the other two, but with IS, and the longest focal length.

So which to choose, depends on your shooting style and requirements.

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My only concern with this lens is that it's slow by comparison to the L's or the 17-55. f/3.5 at 15mm, dropping to f/5.6 at 85mm. Compared to the 17-55 f/2.8, 24-70 f/2.8L, or 24-105 f/4L. Otherwise I agree - it is also of L grade quality optically and you are right was a kit option for the 7D. A superb lens by most standards, just a shame about the max aperture.... –  Mike Mar 12 '12 at 12:52
    
@Mike - good point, I revised the answer somewhat to include this fact. –  Pete Mar 12 '12 at 16:25
    
15-85mm is very fast. I disagreed with the poster that it's not fast. It's fast and quiet. Takes not even a second to focus. –  rvpals Mar 12 '12 at 17:13
    
Sorry, I thought you meant focus quickness. 15-85 is not fast for aperture, but does ok in good lightning condition. –  rvpals Mar 12 '12 at 17:16
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@j-g-faustus - My answer is based on that the person asking is looking for the best possible quality. Super-zoom lenses suffer in quality. They often show significant barrel/pincussion distortion at the ends of their focal range, and they have significant amount of chromatic aberration, etc. And they are not as sharp. So for someone who values a large zoom range more than the image quality, then it is a great option, in fact I know a couple of people who have it and are happy with it. –  Pete Mar 12 '12 at 20:57
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You say money is no object, but you don't say how much weight or size of zoom range or maximum aperture matter to you.

For a lens that scores well on the first 3 of the 4 above points, ignore the howls of rage and derision that the following suggestion will engender and just try the following. It is not the best lens in ANY category that are likely to be suggested by others, but if you want an incredibly useful walk-around lens then just try the Tamron 18-270. I have the Sony 18-250 f3.5-6.3 which is a lightly breathed on version of its predecessor, and I am extremely happy with the relatively modest compromises that it offers in exchange for the vast zoom range. While any lens with such a wide range of focal lengths is necessraily going to be a compromise, this lens is head and shoulders above the previous generation of such lenses. I had the opportunity at one stage to compare it side by side with Sony's best offerings (largely Minolta designs rebadged) and was agreeably surprised at how close this low cost workhorse came to their much more expensive, much heavier and lower zoom range G lenses. Travesty? Of course. But, go and try one. You may be surprised.


User evaluations of Minolta version - here - I've referenced the 18-250 as it has 34 reviews, while the 18-270 is newer and has only 2 reviews (with 4.45 average rating).
Overall user rating is 4.36/5.

Sharpness 4.46/5
Color ....... 4.62/5
Flare ........4.38/5
Distortion 4.03/5
Build ....... 4.32/5

The Minolta G lenses rate typically 4.9+. But the Tamron is still amazingly good for what it can do for you.
Try one :-)

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I have updated the question slightly to clarify that image quality would be a preference over a massive zoom range. I have used the Tamron lens in the past and agree it is a good all round lens for travelling (and a great first lens) because of the small size & large focal range however it does fall down in terms of image quality compared to some of the other lens mentioned. –  mundeep Mar 14 '12 at 11:39
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