I currently own a Canon 60D, and I am perfectly happy with the camera. It is going to be years until I move to a better (most likely full-frame) body.

My main, walk-around lens is the 15-85. I am also very happy with this lens, although I also know its shortcomings, like the variable aperture (3.5-5.6).

But this morning, as a "what if" exercise, I started thinking about upgrading this lens.

Since my 60D is a crop sensor body, the closest and cheapest upgrade I can do is the 17-55 EF-S USM IS. It has a constant aperture of 2.8, and people say that it produces the best picture quality of all EF-S lenses. The upgrade would probably cost me $300-$500, depending on the price I sell my 15-85 at, and whether I want a used or new 17-55.

But 'upgrading' from an EF-S lens to another EF-S lens is not really upgrading, is it? It is more like switching between two similar quality products. Is it worth it?

A TRUE upgrade would be to get an L lens. So, assuming that price is no object (one can only dream :(), what L lens would you recommend to replace my 15-85?

EDIT: What I would look for in the ideal replacement lens.

Thanks for all the answers so far. One conclusion I came to after reading them is that there is no point for me to invest in L glass if I care about wide angle on my crop sensor body. And I do.

I like my 15-85 because it offers me the flexibility of being able to capture moments like a few snapshots in a restaurant with friends, or my 2 years old daughter who won't sit in one place for long - definitely not long enough for me to switch lenses.

I could give up the 2mm difference on the wide end of the spectrum, if the 17-55 offered me much higher IQ than the 15-85 does.

Hence the followup question - Please let me know if you upgraded from 15-85 to 17-55 and if that was a right decision.. I know it is all personal - and that is what I am asking about - what was your experience with such upgrade if you did it?

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    Good question that many many people have. But the "what if" scenarios will kill you! Don't worry about your potential upgrade to full frame in a few years. It sounds like you really like the 60D AND the 15-85! The upgrade options are endless, so don't worry too much!
    – dpollitt
    Sep 7, 2012 at 17:23
  • You are right. I have done it several times - I dwell on whether or not to upgrade, or switch and end up staying with my current choices. It is good to know what other people think about it though. Sep 7, 2012 at 17:53
  • Except the current answers aren't out of date. No significant lenses in this market space have been introduced in the past four years that materially changes any of the answers.
    – Michael C
    Feb 21, 2017 at 6:44
  • " if the 17-55 offered me much higher IQ than the 15-85 does." You won't see a much higher IQ going from 15-85 lens to 17-55. As most of the technical reviewer points out (do a search on lab test on the lens). That IQ on 15-85 is very high that it's very close to an L series IQ. Like you, I've been using my 15-85 for a long time now and still could not find a replacement for it.
    – rvpals
    Feb 21, 2017 at 15:59
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    I actually switched from 15-85 to 17-55 myself couple years back and like it. I shoot landscapes a lot and so mostly stay at the wide end of the zoom range. When I do zoom, the constant aperture saves me from the hassle of re-metering the scene that I had to do on 15-85.
    – Andrei LED
    Feb 27, 2017 at 0:27

4 Answers 4


The EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 isn't an "L" lens -- that's absolutely true. Before dismissing it, though, I think it's important to remember that Canon won't label any EF-S lens an "L" since it wouldn't work on their pro bodies. The performance of the lens, though, is considered to be excellent -- definitely competitive with "L" offerings, and very possibly even better than something like the 17-40 f/4 L, which is highly-regarded on full-frame bodies, but isn't universally loved on crop-sensor bodies. In this instance, the EF-S lens only has to serve one master, which seems to give it a bit of an advantage.

The 17-55 can't offer a couple of benefits that are reserved only for "real" L lenses -- the red ring on the lens and "real" weather sealing. The red ring is cosmetic, of course, but if that sort of thing's important to you, you'd have to paint on your own ring if you got the 17-55. Weather sealing is another matter, though. Canon's pretty wishy-washy in terms of claiming weather sealing capabilities for anything short of its pro bodies and L lenses, but the 17-55 will be better than entry-level, even if it's not up to L standards.

Since you mentioned a possible full-frame upgrade at some point, that might also be a factor for you. You wouldn't be able to use any EF-S lens with a full-frame body, but quality glass tends to hold its value very well, which mitigates this inconvenience a bit.

While you're considering options, don't forget that you'd be giving up some zoom range moving to the 17-55. That may or may not be important to you, but the zoom range of the 15-85 is one of the things I love about that lens.

Lens purchases are always incredibly individualized decisions, and there's no single right answer for everyone when it comes to choosing a lens. The factors that make a lens right for you include your intended usage and the body you'll use for it, as well. When looking at wide-angle lenses on crop bodies, don't rule out an EF-S lens just because it's not an L.

  • I completely agree that lens purchases are very individual. When I was getting the 15-85, the deciding factors in its favor (over the 17-55) were price and the additional 2mm on the wide end that actually make a lot of difference - to me. Sep 7, 2012 at 17:52

I'm going to step around the discussion of the 17-55 EF-S lens and its comparison to an L lens as thats a loaded question that has lots of heated debate surrounding it. To address the meat of your question which I take as 'I want to upgrade to an L lens, which one?' that depends on what you're looking for in a lens. Unfortunately there isn't a single L lens that will cover the same range as the 15-85, if you're looking on the wide end of a zoom lens there is the 16-35 f2.8L and 17-40 f4L, if you're looking for a mid zoom that covers a wide range then look at the 24-105 f4L.

But I bet you already knew your options and you're looking for a nudge in one direction or another and in this case it really comes down to how much do you use the 15-23mm range of your current lens?. If its 'not so much and I wish I had more reach' then certainly go for the 24-105L, however if you primarily shoot on the wide end then perhaps you should strongly consider the 16-35L, 17-40L or even the 17-55.

  • 2
    If you really shoot on the wide end of the 15-85, try the 10-22mm EF-S!
    – dpollitt
    Sep 7, 2012 at 17:21
  • Good point - I actually do enjoy the wide-angle capabilities of 15-85, so if I had the money to upgrade to an L lens, this would have been the 16-35L. Sep 7, 2012 at 17:51

A very nice upgrade is the 17-55 f2.8 Canon lens, one of the best EF-S lenes, and incredible optics. But, as you said, this is a crop lens. One thing to remember is that crop sensors can utilize much wider lens options that full frame sensors, and must in order to get similar field of view. Therefore you find many crop lenses are very wide, such as the 15-85, or 10-20.

On a full frame, the equivalent range lens to your 15-85 is a 24-136, which means either the 28-135 f/3.5 5.6 IS, or the 24-105 f/4 IS L. Therefore either of these lenses would be equivalent to the field of view of your current lens. I believe the 28-135 is a step up slightly, but of course the 24-105 is a great leap.

So a 28-135 gives you less on the wide end, but a bit more on the long end. The 24-105 gives you neither, but you get constant f/4, IS and L quality.

  • SO if I wanted to get an L lens which would give me a comparable wide-end experience on my 60D, it would have to be the fisheye 8-15. Otherwise, there's no point to upgrade my lens unless I also upgrade my body. Sep 7, 2012 at 17:58
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    No. the 15 on your current camera is the equivalent view to 24mm on a full frame. Going much wider on full frame brings distortion and crazy expensive lenses. 24 is wide on full frame
    – cmason
    Sep 7, 2012 at 18:58
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    "On a full frame, the equivalent range lens to your 15-85 is a 24-136, which means either the 28-135 f/3.5 5.6 IS, or the 24-105 f/4 IS L." - I think this only adds confusion since Jakub is looking for a lens to use with his 60D. If he gets EF 28-135, then in terms if field of view he'll effectively be shooting at 45-219.
    – Andrei LED
    Feb 27, 2017 at 0:25

The EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens is a perfect example of a lens that attempts to be too much of too many different things and as a result doesn't do much of anything as well as a more limited lens can. For a detailed look at the lens, please see: What's wrong with the Canon EF-S 15-85mm?

That being the case, it's not likely anyone will come up with anything anytime soon that has even longer reach and wider maximum apertures and higher image quality. To improve in any of these areas one must be willing to compromise in the others.

  • If you want better image quality and/or faster apertures one must be willing to give up such a wide zoom ratio (5.67:1). Examples: EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L III, EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS, EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II, EF 24-70mm f/4 L, EF 24mm f/4 L IS. None of these lenses have more than a 3:1 zoom ratio.
  • If you want even more reach one must be willing to give up image quality: Examples: EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS (two versions), EF-s 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS.
  • The Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro does give closer focusing capability in exchange for reach on both ends but image quality is only comparable to the EF-S 15-85, not better.

There really are no better options available now than there were when this question was asked over four years ago.

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