Maybe this question should be on meta. I've just come across the Canon EF-S 15-85mm. It's been available since 2009. I'm just wondering why it has never been mentioned on photo_se_com or any of the other photo sites that I read. Granted, I've since found it on dpreview announced (not reviewed) and a few other places and it is available at Amazon. But it never comes up in lists of "what lenses should I buy".

To me, this seems like the perfect walk-about lens (I like wide) for the casual photog and yes, it is a bit slow, and yes it is a bit expensive. My question is, are there any major problems with this lens that would justify its relative anonymity. As I said it's never been mentioned on photo_se_com, which seems odd for such a versatile range.

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    Here's a detailed review of the lens in question: the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/… Mar 14 '11 at 7:45
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    It is actually very popular, and many people love this lens. It is not perfect, it is not a professional grade lens, but it is very capable. If you want the best in this range, you would be looking at a much more expensive kit full of lenses. The 17-55 f/2.8 would be the main lens, with maybe a 10-22 and a 70-200.
    – dpollitt
    Jun 6 '11 at 16:01

12 Answers 12


It doesn't provide too much advantage over a standard 17/18-55 kit lens: small, variable aperture (3.5-5.6), an only slightly wider wide end, and an only slightly longer tele end.

Unless you really need both "just a little bit wider" and "just a little bit longer", you might as well spend your $700 on a lens that fits your needs better: perhaps a 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 or an 18-200 f/3.5-5.6, which would provide a faster aperture at 85mm than the 15-85 listed.

Personally, I'd rather sacrifice the 15-17mm range, crop if I need 85, and get a faster standard zoom like the 17-55 f/2.8.

In short, it doesn't really fill any role (wide/long/fast) well; it's just a kit zoom lens with a little bit more zoom capability.

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    The EFS 10-22mm is one of my favorite lenses, even compared to my Ls. The 17-55mm f/2.8 is often compared to L lenses, and is praised a lot for it's sharpness and overall quality Jan 21 '11 at 0:36
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    I agree, EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 is only approx. 30% more expensive than EF-S 15-85, and f/2.8 makes it truly versatile. Sure, it isn't a perfect lens, it is a bit bulky (especially with the lens hood attached) and there is noticeable vignetting wide open, but it is sharp. Mar 14 '11 at 0:08
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    @Jukka the 17-55 is closer to 50% more than the 15-85. About 750 vs 1100 USD.
    – rm999
    Mar 15 '11 at 20:52
  • @rm999: Ok, I see; it was 730 vs. 970 EUR here, and 642 vs. 842 EUR at amazon.de. Mar 15 '11 at 22:52
  • @EvanKrall re: first paragraph - actually the 15-85mm is significantly sharper than the 18-55mm and 17-85mm lenses, only lagging a bit behind the 17-55mm f/2.8 "pro kit lens".
    – Nayuki
    Sep 20 '15 at 23:07

This is not a proper answer but my mum has this lens and the barrel distortion is (to me at least) pretty objectionable at 15mm. It just seems like a bit of a nowhere lens, it's not a superzoom, nor is it a fast normal zoom, nor is it a dirt cheap kit lens, it's a compromise of all of the above. Maybe that's why I don't find it too exciting.

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    It's certainly not a rectilinear wide-angle; at the 15mm end it's almost a crop from a full-frame fisheye. "Barrel distortion" just isn't a strong enough phrase.
    – user2719
    Jan 21 '11 at 0:07
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    but it is 15mm; there are far too few general purpose zooms which go that wide. For the average Joe, I think wide is more important than anything else; how else are you going to get everyone at the christmas table (at least this side of the atlantic where room sizes are 'cozy'?
    – Ken
    Jan 21 '11 at 0:11
  • The kit lens goes to 18mm, which is fairly wide.
    – rm999
    Jan 21 '11 at 0:15
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    @Matt Grum: "Those two millimetres just seem a bit expensive", its not only those two mms, 15-85 is much much better in sharpness than 17-85, build quality is solid and IS works better. You can compare its sharpness with any L optics. Too bad Canon has not declared and EF-S L glass yet. Mar 14 '11 at 3:46
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    @cabbey: This comment is rather late to the party, but I want to point out that the term "full-frame fisheye" has nothing to do with full-frame (as opposed to crop) sensors. An ordinary fisheye lens produces a round image, usually showing a complete 180° field of view in all directions. The image looks like what you'd see looking up at the surface from deep underwater, thus giving a fish-eye view. A full-frame fisheye shows its widest field of view into the diagonals of the frame; the rest of the image is cropped away. Confusingly, they do make full-frame fisheyes for crop-frame sensors.
    – user2719
    Mar 14 '11 at 6:55

I'm not sure I really understand the "it's a nowhere lens" argument — you could say the same of something like the Canon 24-105mm L, which when you take the 1.6 crop factor into account, is actually a good deal less tele than the 15-85mm (24-128mm equivalent).

Obviously you lose out in some areas such as build quality (still likely the best EF-s lens in that department though) and not having a fixed aperture. For many people that's not really a big consideration. In terms of image quality though, both seem very similar going from most of the reviews I've read.

It's a similar situation to the 17-55mm f/2.8 if you ask me — 2.8 isn't fast enough for everything, just as 15-85 isn't enough range for everything, but does cover a great number of uses. It just comes down to what you intend to do with each one, the 17-55 makes a great portrait/indoor walkabout lens while the 15-85 makes a great outdoor walkabout lens (landscape especially). It will cover many people's ultra-wide angle and tele needs, and even if it doesn't, it will greatly reduce the number of lens changes they need to make.

  • It's an excellent lens, but I think it's a tad too expensive for what it is. It's over £550 in the UK and that's just too much to spend on a lens if you're a Canon shooter as most Canikon shooters have aspirations of going full frame. Jun 6 '11 at 16:06
  • You could make the same arguement for all of the EF-s lineup though.
    – J L Newman
    Jun 6 '11 at 21:33
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    I just think that unless you've got real plans to move to FF fairly quickly its a mistake to let it effect your choice of lenses. Most Canon users will never make the switch and the EF-S(or third party crop only) lens provide much more useful focal lenghts.
    – J L Newman
    Jun 6 '11 at 21:50
  • The 24-105L is both an L lens and a constant aperture zoom, both of which are desirable. While the 15-85 will certainly reduce the number of lens changes you'd need to make, but I think "greatly" is an exaggeration.
    – Evan Krall
    Jun 7 '11 at 3:18
  • ..and you pay more for both of those features on the 24-105 L just as you do on the 24-70 2.8 L compaired to the 17-55 2.8 EFS. The 10-22 is really the only one of the EFS prenium lenses that looks overpriced to me compaired to the 17-40 L.
    – J L Newman
    Jun 7 '11 at 9:25

Canon makes a lot of lenses, and I doubt all of them are discussed frequently. Why are you asking about this lens specifically?

My guess is that in this case is that the lens is fairly new so it doesn't have many owners yet. It overlaps with the kit lens quite a bit, so many people probably don't feel the need to buy it. It's sort of on the pricier side, not exactly a lens I would casually purchase without some research. Basically, I don't know many people who demand a lens with these specs and price.

edit: I ended up buying this lens as a walk-around vacation lens because it is so versatile. While I believe it isn't truly great in any single respect, the fact that it is good at almost everything is what drew me to it. It has a very useful range, is very sharp, is not too heavy, has excellent technology including the best IS I have seen and very fast/silent USM focusing. The cons are variable aperture and price (I paid 700 USD, which is overpriced but justified because it will be for vacations).

I would argue this may be the useful and versatile EF-S lens out there right now. The 17-55mm may be worth the additional money if you don't need the 56-85 and want a larger aperture.

  • mainly what caught my eye was 15mm, very few lenses that wide, especially if it goes to 85.
    – Ken
    Jan 21 '11 at 0:21

I have the 15-85. I previously had the Sigma 18-50 F/2.8 and have also used the standard Canon kit 18-55, both with and without IS. Compared to both these I really like the 15-85.

The main benefit is of course the range, 15mm is much wider than 18mm and 85mm is actually quite usable thanks to the IS. Optically I think it is quite nice as well, given the zoom range. There are the usual distortions for wide shots but it's surprisingly sharp and I like the image quality overall. Also the build quality feels like a huge step up from all EF-S lenses I have used, it's big, heavy and feels very solid.

I think the versatility and quality combined make it extremely useful as a general purpose lens. As far as I know there's nothing else out there that will give you 15-85mm range, and I think the image quality in the very competitive area between 18-50 is above average as well. In order to get better images in this range you'll need at least 2 other lenses.

Now to answer the actual question: what's wrong with it? I think it's simply a little too expensive for an EF-S lens. The people willing to pay this amount of money for only a lens are often already on full-format bodies, or planning to go there soon so they avoid EF-S entirely.


Here's a review: http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Canon-EF-S-15-85mm-f-3.5-5.6-IS-USM-Lens-Review.aspx

Appears to be a decent lens for the price, but for $700+ USD new, I'm sure for many, there are far more exciting lenses to spend their money on.

  • Yep, like EF-S 10-22mm which is so wide compared to 15 or 17mm that it will blow your eyes out
    – che
    Jan 21 '11 at 21:41

Reviews? Here you go...

Here's a detailed review of the lens in question: http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Reviews/Canon-EF-S-15-85mm-f-3.5-5.6-IS-USM-Lens-Review.aspx which also sets it very high in terms of quality and also price/performance rating.

General purpose

The same page also recommends this lens (second place just after 17-55) for everyday walkabout lens: http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Canon-Lenses/Canon-General-Purpose-Lens.aspx


15-85mm is a very good lens for the money but its not popular due to several factors:

  1. It's not cheap as other kit-type lenses
  2. It's not fast (f/3.5-5.6)
  3. It's an EF-S mounts
  4. It's relatively new
  5. It doesn't complement your kit lens, it's just an upgrade if you want better image quality over your kit.
  6. It's neither a super wide, nor a super zoom, it's somewhere in the middle of these. However, 15-85 is one of the most frequently used focal range for many photographers.

But 15-85mm is a very good lens and its image and build quality can be compared with an L optics, if it were f/2.8 it would be priced somewhere down 1500US$. Currently, 17-55mm and 15-85mm are the two most quality lenses for 1.6X body. If you don't need extra focal length reach and want better photo replacing your kit lens, 15-85 is a great choice. I have this lens on my wishlist and hopefully will get one within a week. My planned buildup is Tokina 11-16mm, Canon EF-S 15-85mm, Canon 70-300mm.

  • Did you get the lens? How did it turn out?
    – ab.aditya
    Jun 18 '12 at 16:24
  • No, I did not. As I have become more matured, I have realized that an all purpose lens doesn't necessarily serve all your purposes! I have bought a 70-200mm and planning to buy a 10-22mm/11-16mm. Jun 19 '12 at 4:51

I have this lens and the standard kit 18-55mm and I can tell you its a noticeable step up in quality. Its not in the same league as L lenses (I have a 24-105mm L and a 70-200mm L). The 10-22mm is also a very good lens (in fact the example I have is very sharp). I did have to adjust my Canon 7d to get the best out of the 15-85mm in the custom settings as before it didnt quite bite.


I use this lens as my general purpose lens for my Canon 7D. I bought this camera body only and felt the kit lens which is still on my Canon 500D just doesn't do this camera any justice. I let my wife use the 500D. My other lenses are the Sigma 10 mm-20 mm, Tamron 90 mm Macro lens, Canon 70 mm-200 mm and Canon 400 mm/f5.6 lenses. I am just an amateur and love walking around mother nature. Sofar I found my 15-85 mm great for my landscapes and HDR photography I use an f-stop of 10 for the latter and therefore don't need a fast lens.


I've been using this lens for a few years now and I definitely have not had any problems with it. I like what I get from it.


I have owned this lens for about a year now. Image quality is really good, up near my 24mm and 40mm STM primes, and its image stabilization seems to be quite good also. It's main drawback is that it is ungodly heavy -- about double the weight of my camera body, and macro is dismal. I plan to sell it because I am tired of carrying a lunchbox-sized Pelican case just to house this single lens and my 750D body. I already have a 55-250 IS and I may buy a 10-18 IS to do the things I use my 15-85mm for, and let my primes do the rest. But make no mistake, if you can stand the weight, this lens is good, much better than the 18-55 kit lens IMHO; just try them out side by side and you will see that the IS is really better on the 15-85mm. It has never failed to take outstanding pictures. There are reviewers out there who claim that this may be the best available all-around lens for APS-C in the Canon line.

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