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(Happy to keep the question general, but personally interested in Canon fit)

I've got a Sigma 18-125 that's served me well, but the image quality isn't stellar, it's unstabilised, max f3.5, and focus is slow and noisy. It does, however, cover an excellent range, from decently wide to close enough to catch details from some way off. I've seen lenses that go longer (up to 200, or even higher), but have heard bad reports of general quality, and e.g. pronounced vignetting. I have a better 17-55, but that doesn't seem long enough. The current version of my Sigma is stabilised, so that's an option, but I'm spoilt by my other lenses with IS and Ultrasonic focusing, and want it all - is there such a lens?

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13 Answers 13

up vote 14 down vote accepted

I guess it depends on what your cost range is, what camera you use, and what your goals are. I myself am a canon user, so I can give you options that would serve a canon camera particularly well. I can't say that I can help much for other brands.

If you need a cheaper, middle-grade, middle-range lens that will cover most common situations, a lens in the range of 20-130mm will probably suffice. Canon makes two lenses in this range, of different grades: the EF 24-105mm f/4 IS USM L, and the EF 28-135 f/3.5-5.6 IS USM.

The 24-105 lens is a higher end L-series pro lens. Its an excellent quality lens and a good performer. It has an f/4 aperture, which while ok for general lighting, will not perform as well in more fringe lighting scenarios like indoor sports, morning/evening, or night shooting. The 28-135 lens is very similar, but is one of Canon's middle-grade lines. Its quality is not quite as good as an L-series. It does offer a slightly larger aperture at f/3.5, but it is not constant, and closes down to f/5.6 as you zoom. It does offer slightly greater zoom range, however, which may be useful.

If you are looking for a single lens that is truly multi-purpose, and will cover any situation you may find yourself in, then there is also a large zoom range lens for that as well. The EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM L lens is one of the ultimate multi-purpose lenses I've ever encountered. It has one of the largest zoom ranges in existence at 11x zoom. This lens, at the short end of 28mm, is not particularly wide with an f/3.5 aperture. However, as it extends towars the 300mm long end, an f/5.6 aperture is not too bad. The quality of this lens is pretty good throughout its range, although it certainly is not as good as a 300mm or 28mm prime. Given that it is a single lens, it is highly adaptable for a broad range of situations, allowing you to take one lens and leave the rest at home.

Canon lenses usually come with a price premium, and there are some other brands that offer similar lenses at similar quality, and cheaper cost. You might also look into the following:

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+1 wow you're answers are thorough! :) –  Marc Jul 16 '10 at 18:25
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@Marc: Thanks. :) I love photography, and while my artistic skill may be a bit lacking, my technical skill is pretty solid. I like sharing it. :D –  jrista Jul 16 '10 at 19:05
    
Yes, this is very thorough! So I'm accepting it, thanks all for some good answers, plenty of food for thought. –  frumious Jul 23 '10 at 14:34

Might be seen as a slightly contraversial answer, but I really enjoy using my 50mm f/1.8 as a walkaround lens. Its light, which is great. It's incredibly fast, so I don't normally have issues with low light.

Obviously it's a fixed focal length, but I think the weight and the amount of light it lets in makes up for that. I usually use it on my Canon 50D, so it's on a cropped sensor, but I often put it on a 35mm film body, and I never have trouble framing my shots.

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I like a prime for walking too, except that my 50mm + 1.5x D90 is way too tight for most purposes. Nikon makes a nice 35mm prime that I'd like to try instead. Even wider might be nicer. –  Craig Walker Jul 15 '10 at 22:17
    
+1 , I use the same lens. I also carry a 35mm of the same speed. –  Tim Post Jul 16 '10 at 4:13
    
+1, for some reason my 50mm f/1.4 always turns out the one lens I walk out of the house with. –  Bossykena Jul 16 '10 at 17:48

I have the Nikon 18-200 which I like a lot, and I've used the Pentax (Tamron) 18-250 which I did not like at all. I realize this is not directly applicable to your Canon - the point is that yes the superzoom can be done well, but it can also be done badly. It will cost you, though; I believe the Nikon is up to $800 or so new.

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I've got a Nikon 24-85 f3.5/4/5 that I use a lot. $800 is more than some cameras these days, so buying lenses second-hand is a good way to go if you've got a seller you trust in your area. –  Scott A. Lawrence Jul 15 '10 at 21:46
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I love the 18-200! –  Bryan Denny Jul 16 '10 at 16:05
    
+1 for the 18-200, it is a great lens! –  Josh Goldshlag Jul 19 '10 at 17:20
    
+1 from me too, only downside is the tendency to zoom-creep when hanging from your neck. –  Alb Jan 20 '11 at 23:36

I've always been a fan of Canon's 28-135 IS as a good carry-round lens.

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My personal walkabout lens is the Canon 24-70mm f2.8L. But really it depends on what type of photos you are taking most often. If you focus of landscape type scenes you will want a different walkabout than someone who focuses on close up details or portraits. If you are a general photo hobbyist and want a wide range then something like in the 20ish to 100ish range is a good choice. Also, the amount of money you are willing to part with is a big factor...

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You're going to get a million "it works for me" answers to this one. :)

My answer: the Sigma 17-70mm (Canon). The focal range has been just about perfect for walk-around use on an APS-C camera (although there's a bit of distortion at 17mm, and vignetting is an issue with my Cokin filters), IQ is "good enough" for me, and the price was very attractive at the time. There's an f/2.8 version of the lens (vs. my f/2.8-4) that I'd get today, if I were buying it again.

I'd like more reach from time to time, but that's why I have a longer lens in my bag. There's no such thing as a perfect lens for all situations, IMHO, which is why we have SLRs.

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A standard prime. Canon 28/1.8 or Sigma 30/1.4 for aps-c, 50/1.4 for full-frame.

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My everyday lens is Canon's 18-200 IS.

It's a bit weighty and unwieldy, but has good range. And whenever I carry my camera, I have a backpack along as well, and do not really mind the bulk.

The aperture could be better. While 3.5-5.6 is decent, it's by no means stellar.

Focus, on the other hand, is rapid.

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I read in a review that it has very bad barrel distortions in wideangle and superzoom focal length. Do you agree with this? It seems that it also has big Color Aberration at 200mm but which can be fixed in post processing if you shoot in RAW. There is an alternative from Sigma (18-250mm) which is better at this but bad in sharpness. –  Gregor Müllegger Sep 17 '10 at 11:08

I love my Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD; I can't imagine that there's anything better in that price range. It has no macro capabilities, but apart from that it does everything I ever need...

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I really like my Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens. I almost never take it off my camera these days. I use is on a cropped sensor body and it provides a nice range from pretty wide to telephoto.

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My everyday lens is the Nikon 18-70mm, mounted on my D50. Great combination, useful focal range, handles a lot of types of shots rather well. I only bring the camera bag if I expect to need one of the other lenses (e.g. wide, telephoto, macro).

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Have a look at the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens, seems like the perfect zoom range for an ef-s camera. To my taste, the wider the better. I read try to keep up with new lenses from canon, but this on escaped me entirely until tonight.

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I always suggest a prime for a 'walkabout' lens because it forces you to ... well ... walkabout the subject. Something like 35/1.4 or 50/1.4 are ideal. They force you to move and capture the subjects with a photojournalistic feel.

If you are more of an abstract shooter, consider the 100/2.8 macro, which would let you get close to textures and details.

If you are keen on candids and street, a longer inconspicuous lens would do well, like the 200/2.8. It's hard to be inconspicuous with white L series.

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