The stock lens on my Canon T2i (18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS) does a good job; as good as the two much more expensive Macro lens I've used. The trouble is that it's very plasticy and flimsy. I have to set up about 500 shots with a polarized filter and every time I move the filter the whole things sort of shifts/ not something I have a problem with on the macro lens.
This is all in regards to shooting artwork. I had some great help on here which advised me to go with a Macro lens for the flat optics. I found a great 35mm one by Tokina that allows me to get closer than most other macros. However I also found the stock lens took great photos too (just as sharp and indistinguishable from the Tokina) from the 35mm to 55mm setting. This I found to be ideal because it meant I didn't have to move the whole camera for every shot. I could just zoom in a bit.
However, zooming out, anything lower than 35mm, I start to notice the distortion (fisheye, or bubble effect). This in itself is correctable, but if there is a lens that can zoom that minimizes this that would be ideal too. I have no idea if this is possible though as I'm sure zoom lenses will always have distortion.
Ideally I'd take all the shots with the 35mm macro. But with the amount of work I have to photograph and the time it takes to adjust the copystand, well it's just not worth the extra effort, when software can easily make some minor adjustments.. I know not all will agree with this, but I'm not unhappy with the results even from the cheap stock lens. So if I can minimize issues then great. Another good lens will be worth the investment for this project. I'm not sure if there is an advantage to going USM. I don't' need quiet, I just need to be able to micro focus from the computer with the Canon utility, and that I can easily do fine now with all the non-usm lenses.
My results have been quite sharp, but if there is a lens that can get even sharper I'd like that too. Plus, my copystand is limited and if I have larger works I have to get on a ladder to check the settings and polarizer filter on the 35mm setting, and this is just not feasible. With the zooming lens I can take photos of all the work from a much closer distance. I don't' need quite as far as the 18mm setting but a lens that starts not much higher than this would be ideal.
A couple other things of note for anyone photographing artwork. I did receive a lot of great help here. I went an got a nice light kit and set it up at 45degree angles, etc... But no matter what I did I could not cut the glare of the light off the canvas and colors were washing out. I had read about cross polarization but frankly in all the help I received no one mentioned it. I can tell you now that if you are photographing oil paintings, or anything with a moderate degree of reflectivity, you have to have cross polarization. This isn't just the filter on the camera, but also the lighting has to be polarized too.
You actually need to block out virtually all other light in the room. You then need linear polarizing filters for the lights (I found some that covered my softboxes entirely) as well as a circular polarizer for the lens. I must say, it's like magic how it makes the light disappear before you very eyes, yet still lights the subject! I actually found a great post on here discussing cross polarization and how it works for artwork, but I can't find it now! However this blog posting by artist Mike Sass has a couple of great examples of the cross polarization results: http://sassart.blogspot.com/2010/08/photographing-artwork.html
On top of that I was put in touch with a photographer from a major auction house who photographs artwork every day. In a nutshell, they go with a wide angle lens and shoot as far away from the subject as possible (I was surprised but that helps keep everything in focus). They shoot at as high an f-stop as possible, with 100 iso and long exposures with strobes, with only polarized lighting on most oils. They always use software to make corrections, from lens distortion to color, as polarizing filters do certain things to certain colors.
They also keep their tripod on a track so it's always centered. In a way I'm glad I didn't' get all their advise ahead of time because I would not have had the studio to make it happen, nor the time. Doing the copystand approach means I can photograph all the various work laid down and easily centered, in the same profile, and I don't have to hang anything. And this means I can do the mass amount of unframed work too.
Also to note for anyone that's doing a similar project, I'm taking pictures with a gray balance card and a color balance card in every shot, so no matter how off the original RAW captures might be for these 1000 or so photos, I'll be able to correct them in the future. You wouldn't normally have to do this for every shot as you can create a profile with just one, but as my lighting sometimes has to change, or with adjustments to the size of the work, whether it's polarized or not, etc... it just is easier to leave the balance cards in each shot next to the subject.
Anyway, sorry to ramble on, but this project is overwhelming my life! I knew there was no way to really learn without doing it, but now I've confirmed it!