This post has been updated and republished to reflect 2019 Canon zoom recommendations.
What is the best zoom lens for Canon? That’s a really big question that quickly overwhelms shoppers. If you’re looking for a versatile lens to use in many shooting situations, a zoom lens is the way to go. Below we’ll provide factors to consider when choosing a lens and a list of our favorites.
Most people think using a zoom lens is a way to photograph far away objects, but that’s not all they’re good for. Technically, a zoom lens has more to do with the ability to change focal lengths. Photographers love zoom lenses for their versatility and ability to capture many scenes and subjects with the twist of a barrel, rather than carrying a several primes (single focal length lenses) with them.
What is the Best Zoom Lens for Canon?
Here are 8 of our favorite zoom lenses for Canon shooters…
- Canon 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye
- Canon 11-24mm f/4L
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III
- Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art
- Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L II
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS III
- Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II
- Canon 70-30mm f/4-5.6 IS II
What to Consider When Choosing a Zoom Lens
How you plan on using your zoom lens will play an important role in helping you determine which one is right for you. Something in the range of a 16-35mm is great for landscapes, real estate, cityscapes, street photography, and events. Longer zooms, such as in the range of 70-200mm, are ideal for sports and wildlife photography as well as some portrait work. If you’re looking for a good all-around lens and only want to own one single lens, most agree that a 24-70mm or a 24-105mm is a great choice. This mid-range lens can cover a wide variety of subjects without being too bulky.
Primes vs Zooms
Unlike prime lenses, which have fixed focal lengths, zoom lenses have a range of focal lengths. This is what makes them versatile but sometimes at the sacrifice of sharpness and speed. Depending on the focal range, a single zoom lens can be used for many different subjects. If you don’t want to constantly change lenses (or just can’t afford a fleet of primes), a zoom lens may be the way to go. Remember, for all their benefits, zoom lenses do have some downsides. They typically don’t have as wide of maximum apertures as their prime counterparts. Zoom lenses also tend to be heavier and more expensive.
Aperture is how wide or narrow the inner ring (or diaphragm) of a lens can open to let light in. Think of the iris of your eye expanding and contracting as light situations change – that is how aperture works. Aperture is expressed as a fraction, which means that an aperture of f/2.8 is actually larger than an aperture of f/18.
The larger your aperture (i.e. the smaller the bottom number of the fraction) the wider your lens opens and the more light it lets in. A wider aperture will allow you to shoot better in low light, with a faster shutter speed, as well as allow you to create more blur to separate your subject from the background.
Zoom lenses typically don’t have as wide of apertures as primes but they can often hit maximum apertures of f/2.8, which is fairly wide – wider than what most folks need. An aperture of f/2.8 on a long lens like a 70-200mm will do a good job of letting you blur the background of your subject, producing a beautiful bokeh effect. Generally speaking, the wider a lens’ maximum aperture, the more expensive it will be.
When using a zoom lens, the farther in you zoom, the more camera shake will impact your images. While some lenses have built-in stabilization, others can benefit from the use of a tripod when shooting at very long focal lengths. Whether built-in stabilization is essential for you will depend on how you plan to use your lens. Stabilization can add to the price and weight of a lens but it can also be very useful.
The sensor size of your camera (e.g. APS-C or full frame) will impact which lenses you can use. Not all lenses work on all sensor types. Something else to keep in mind is that the crop factor of an APS-C sensor (typically 1.6x) will have the effect of “adding” to your zoom. In other words, you will feel like you’re getting more reach out of the same lens on a crop sensor camera and the images you take will be less wide.
Size and Weight
Zoom lenses range widely in size and weight, even within the same focal range. The good news is that some are quite light. The bad news is that the best lenses are often considerably heavier. Consider how much weight you are comfortable carrying around when choosing a zoom lens. Generally, the longer the lens the more it will weigh.
With all that in mind, here are our recommendations for the best Canon zoom lenses, from widest to longest. We’re also considering price variety. All of these lenses are compatible with full frame and APS-C sensors on EF mount Canon cameras (or with Canon RF mount mirrorless cameras when paired with the right adapter).
Summary of our Best Zoom Lenses for Canon
Selected on a combined basis of quality, price range, and customer reviews, here are 8 fantastic Canon zoom lenses to consider:
Canon 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye
At the wide end of the zoom lens spectrum is the Canon 8-15mm f/4L. This fisheye lens captures incredibly wide scenes and provides a unique 180º perspective. This lens produces heavily distorted images – but that is part of its charm. At 8mm, you’ll have a spherical image in the center of a black frame but as you approach 15mm, the subject fills the frame and takes on a dreamy, distorted-reality effect.
This autofocus lens works on every autofocus-supporting Canon camera since 1987, whether it’s a film camera, a digital camera with an APS-C sensor, or one with a full frame sensor. It has a minimum focus distance of 6″ so that you can get up close and personal with your subject. Fisheye lenses are not for everyone but if you’re a photographer who enjoys playing with perspective, this is the lens for you.
Canon 11-24mm f/4L
The Canon 11-24mm f/4L is one of the widest non-fisheye lenses out there. This lens is designed for professional photographers who want an ultra wide, ultra sharp zoom lens. While it will work on an APS-C camera, this lens is ideal for full frame shooters. This lens maintains its sharpness across the frame, even when shooting at 11mm with an f/4 aperture. It’s great for nature and real estate photography, where an ultra wide lens is especially useful.
Despite this lens’ impressive qualities, there is one important thing to keep in mind before buying one: ultra wide lenses can be very difficult to use. The more of a scene you are fitting into the frame, the more you need to be concerned with composition and any distracting clutter. Non-professionals who want a wide angle lens would probably be better served by the Canon 16-35mm f/4L. But for pros who need an ultra wide lens? There’s nothing better out there.
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III
The Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L III is one of the most popular ultra wide Canon lenses out there for landscape, event, and architecture photography. This professional-quality lens produces beautiful, sharp images. It’s also incredibly versatile and easy to operate. At 16mm, this lens is wide enough to capture vast landscapes but zoom into 35mm and you have a more standard focal length that’s good for many uses, including even portraits.
Canon also makes an f/4 version of this lens that is not quite as fast but does have built-in image stabilization. If image stabilization is important to you, the f/4 might be a better choice, especially if you don’t often shoot wide-open anyway. If you are looking to do any sort of low-light photography or want the bokeh-y images possible, go with the f/2.8L III.
Sigma 24-35mm f/2 Art
Sigma’s Art lenses are some of the best in the business and their 24-35mm f/2 zoom lens is no exception. This lens has a useful wide-to-moderate zoom range and produces incredibly sharp images. But its most notable feature may be the fact that it has a maximum aperture of f/2, the widest on our list. Using this lens is almost like having multiple fast prime lenses – which is awesome for people who love shooting primes but don’t like having to swap lenses all the time.
This lens is solid, heavy, and well built. It looks and performs like a professional-quality piece of equipment. If there has been one complaint about Sigma’s Art lenses it has been with the focus issues. They will sometimes fall out of calibration with your camera. But this is true of any lens, honestly. Sigma tackled these focus issues with their USB calibration dock, which allows you to fine-tune focusing to your specific camera.
Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L II
The 24-70mm focal range might be the most versatile one out there and the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II is one of the best in this class. This lens is ideal for anyone who wants an excellent, high-performing lens that can be used for everything from landscapes to portraits to sports. Often when people ask what 1 lens they can use for just about anything, it’s this one. While it lacks the image stabilization that is available in some of its competitors, the optics and images it produces are second to none.
The body of this lens is made of very durable plastic, making it slightly lighter than its predecessor, the original Canon 24-70 f/2.8L. A plastic body on a lens this expensive may come as a bit of a surprise but all it takes is picking it up and using it for a while to decide that it is worth the pain in your wallet. This is a versatile professional-level lens that takes incredible images. It remains a customer favorite year after year.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS III
This is one of the best and most popular Canon telephoto lenses on the market. The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS III is a staple in the bags of many professional sports, wedding, and wildlife photographers due to its lightning-fast autofocus and the stunning images it produces. This lens maintains its maximum aperture of f/2.8 throughout its focal range. Shooting at f/2.8 at 200mm allows you to isolate your subject against a beautifully blurred background.
This lens is rugged, weather sealed, and made of heavy-duty metal. This means that it will stand up to most things you can throw its way but it also makes it very heavy. The 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS III may be a bit of a beast to carry around but it just may be the best Canon camera lens on the market for photographers who need a long zoom lens. The earlier versions of this lens stand up to the test of time, so now that there’s this Mark III version, look for good deals on the earlier iterations.
Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II
Canon’s 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens is one of the best on the market for professional photographers who want an ultra long zoom. This lens is ideal for photographers of sports or wildlife. Fun fact: the earlier version of this lens was the first lens I ever rented (for a jousting event).
For most uses, this lens’ maximum aperture of f/4.5 is wide enough but if you are planning on shooting indoor sports you may want to look at the 70-200mm f/2.8 instead. This is also an excellent portrait lens. Shooting portraits at 400mm at f/5.6 will blur your background plenty, isolating your subject and producing stunning bokeh.
The minimum focusing distance is 3.2 feet which, for a lens this long, is incredibly close. If you’ve ever been unable to focus on a subject that’s too close with a long zoom lens, you know how frustrating it can be. This close-focus distance gives you more room to work with and allows you to keep shooting even as your subject fast approaches you.
Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II
If you are a beginner photographer looking for the best budget-friendly zoom lens for Canon, the 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IS II is a good start. While this lens can’t quite match the wide aperture or incredible image quality of its closest competitor in the Canon lineup, it is still worthy of a look. This lens gives you solid image quality, built-in stabilization, and good reach at a very affordable price. The handy mini on-lens LCD screen displays focus distance, focal length, and your stabilization settings.
This is the perfect option for photographers who are just getting started or who want to dabble in the long focal length photography. It is significantly lighter and less bulky than the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8, making it easier to carry around all day.
The biggest downside may be the fact that is maximum aperture is only f/4.5, but for most new photographers, this will not be an issue. The stabilization will help compensate in low-light conditions when you are forced to slow down your shutter for lack of a super wide aperture. Because of the length, you’ll still get lovely bokeh. This is a fantastic lens to learn on and a great way to get started with photography.
The Best Zoom Lens for Canon Depends on Overall Subject Matter
Haven’t landed on a genre yet? The 24-70mm is going to be your best option. Shoot mainly landscapes? Dive into the 16-35mm. Pretty much only into birding, sports, or want to super-splurge for a photo safari? The 70-200mm will not disappoint.
There is a good reason that zoom lenses are so popular: they’re incredibly useful. They also come in a wide range of prices and focal lengths. If you’re having a hard time choosing the right Canon zoom lens for you, consider renting a few before committing.