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How does the quality and sharpness of image compare between the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS and the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM ?

I currently have the 35mm Prime, but was thinking of getting the 17-55mm as the f/2.8 is really attractive especially at 17mm for low light photography.

However cost is a concern, and if the image quality cannot compare to the 35mm prime, then I will have to rethink my decision.

I just got my APS-C EOS 70D 6 months ago and I love it so I definitely won't be changing that anytime soon. I'm still an amateur anyway.

Now I spoke to amazon customer service and my 35mm f/2 IS is barely 2 months old and they are willing to refund me the full cost which means I need to top about about 100Euros to get the 17-55mm f/2.8. Now this is definitely very attractive to me.

I also have a Canon 10-18mm which I got recently.

To be fair I like the idea of not having to change my lenses with the 17-55mm while having the f/2.8 at all focal lengths. But it's really costly.

I use my camera 95% for vacations and 5% for pictures of my 1/6 figures and hobby modelling i.e. Macro work.

I just don't know if I will regret giving back the prime and going for the 17-55mm f/2.8 but losing image quality in the process...

P.S. I tend to only buy Canon because I really like the in-camera lens correction profiles. I don't shoot RAW and never post-process my photos.

marked as duplicate by dpollitt, chuqui, mattdm, MikeW, Hugo Feb 12 '15 at 23:11

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    Hey are both great. This is just a prime vs zoom question, and the answer is very personal and the ultimate decision is up to you. – dpollitt Feb 11 '15 at 20:33
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    @dpollitt Not sure it's a duplicate, as that one's asking if having both would be redundant, while this is about the suitability of replacing one with the other. – inkista Feb 11 '15 at 21:49
  • I agree inkista that it isn't an exact duplicate but I think it answers the question here anyways. – dpollitt Feb 11 '15 at 21:55

The EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS is a very good constant aperture zoom that is optimized for the APS-C sized sensor of your 70D. In terms of field of view, it shoots much like a 28-90mm zoom would on a full frame camera.This gives you a wide range of focal lengths from just at the edge of wide angle to just into the edge of telephoto. In terms of cost it is more affordable than a comparable lens designed for full frame cameras, such as the EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II, would be. But it is a zoom and as such there are some design compromises that had to be made to cover such a range of focal lengths.

The EF 35mm f/2 IS is a very different lens. It can only shoot at one focal length, but it is one stop faster at f/2 and the image quality can be optimized for the single focal length.

If you compare the two at 35mm and comparable apertures, you see that the 17-55mm zoom approaches and sometimes may match the 35mm in terms of center sharpness. But at the mid-frame and edges the prime shows significantly better optical performance than the zoom does. In fact, at f/2, the prime is sharper on the edges than the zoom is at f/2.8! That is not to say the performance of the zoom is bad. It isn't. But it is also not quite as good as the performance of the prime. As you narrow the apertures of each lens, the difference gets smaller and smaller. By f/8 the prime is only marginally better on the edges than the zoom.

So which lens is better for you becomes a question of how you shoot and what image quality is good enough for your purposes.

If you stay near 35mm most of the time, then the prime is probably a better fit.

If you want to shoot all the way from 17mm to 55mm at wide apertures, then the zoom is probably a better fit.

If you shoot in low light and need every photon you can coax onto your sensor, the prime is a better choice. Especially if you want to display your photos at larger sizes.

If you shoot in bright light and can't always reposition yourself quickly enough to keep up with the action and frame everything the way you would like, the zoom is more your style.


Nobody can make this decision for you. Because everybody's preferences as to what and how they shoot and therefore which equipment is going to work better for them is going to differ. Not to mention that budgets vary and what's "worth it" in dollar amounts is also going to vary person to person.

You can peer at test charts. You can read reviews. You could (better yet) actually rent the lens you think is the better purchase, and try it first hand for a week or so to see if it really is what you want. But in the end, this is your decision. You can ask people online for their opinions, but if the decision were objectively easy and simple with one lens being far superior to the other, then one of the two lenses you're considering probably wouldn't exist in the first place.

You are comparing apples to oranges. The 17-55 is a walkaround zoom. A very good one. But it cannot shoot at f/2. The 35/2 IS is a great fast prime, but it doesn't shoot @17mm. The 17-55 is a zoom and will probably encompass some compromises across the focal length range that a prime lens, which can be optimized for a single focal length, will not have. These are two different kinds of lenses, so which one will work better for you depends a great deal on what you prefer, what you shoot, and how you plan to shoot it. The 35/2, imho, would probably be a great deal better for low light shooting, although not as nice as a 35/1.4. Given what you state you shoot, however, a 17-55 may come in handier as a travel lens, but the 10-18+18-55 kit or an 18-135 STM would be cheaper and therefore less of a worry that they could be lost/damaged/stolen while traveling. And it also sounds like your money might actually be better spent on a macro lens, since that's something you know you want to shoot.

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    The 17-55mm is one of the most handholdable zoom lenses ever created by Canon. What it isn't is f/2.0. I've shot the 17-55mm in extremely low light with high success rates of static subjects. I don't imagine you would need much better performance unless shooting movement, but it is all personal preference of course. – dpollitt Feb 11 '15 at 23:19

I do not own either of the two lenses. From experience, I'd say the zoom is the better choice for traveling.

The versatility of a single lens providing multiple focal lengths is a key advantage.

I'd get a dedicated macro lens for the macro work.

Here's a comparison of both lenses:http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/ISO-12233-Sample-Crops.aspx?Lens=398&Camera=736&FLI=0&API=0&LensComp=824&Sample=0&CameraComp=736&FLIComp=0&APIComp=0

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