Buying a Canon full-frame DSLR is a very exciting prospect, but deciding on the right EF-format lenses can be downright challenging. To help you wade through the masses of Canon EF (full frame) lens models, we’ve picked our 10 favorites below as well as 5 that just missed the cut. You’ll find a wide range of options on this list including zooms and primes from wide angle to telephoto. Canon’s lens offerings are immense, not to mention the third-party models from brands like Sigma and Tokina, but there are plenty of excellent options across the price spectrum.
Category: Travel/portrait Weight: 28.4 oz. Image stabilization: No What we like: Superb image quality and versatility. What we don’t: A bit on the bulky side.
The 24-70mm f/2.8 is the quintessential all-purpose lens for professionals, enthusiasts, and anyone else who prioritizes image quality and versatility. This EF lens pretty much does it all: it’s wide enough for landscape photography yet covers a healthy focal length range for portraits and travel. And with impressive sharpness and optical performance throughout, many people find that once they put the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 on their camera, there aren’t a whole of lot situations where it needs to come off.
In terms of options at this popular focal length range, we heartily recommend the pricier f/2.8 version over the f/4 below. We don’t always go this route—see the 16-35mm and 70-200mm below—but this is one of Canon’s premier lenses and the f/2.8 maximum aperture gives you the low light performance, bokeh, and depth of field that you just won’t get from the f/4. For indoor and nighttime photos, which are common with this type of lens, the upgrade in image quality is worth the price.
Category: Travel/portrait Weight: 20.8 oz. Image stabilization: No What we like: Unparalleled bokeh and depth of field. What we don’t: Very pricey for a prime lens.
Sometimes the world is a far better place through an f/1.2 lens. Expensive, yes, but the Canon 50mm f/1.2 is the premier portrait option for high-end DSLRs including the 5D Mark IV and 5DS R. With this lens you get superb low light performance, bokeh, depth of field, and sharpness. If you specialize in people photos and want the best in terms of image quality, this 50mm f/1.2 likely will not disappoint.
The downsides of the Canon 50mm f/1.2 are clear: a very high price for a prime lens along with a relatively high weight. You can save with 50mm f/1.4 versions from either Canon or Sigma, but the step up in image quality is pretty substantial across the board. If you frequently shoot portraits and plan on having a 50mm on your camera a good chunk of the time, the cost of this lens is worth it. If not, the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art and Canon 50mm f/1.4 are viable and cheaper alternatives.
Category: Wide angle Weight: 21.7 oz. Image stabilization: Yes What we like: Lighter and considerably less expensive than the 16-35mm f/2.8 III below. What we don’t: Not as good in low light.
For those who spend a lot of time outdoors, a quality wide-angle zoom can open up a world of possibilities. In this category we like the 16-35mm f/4 best, which isn’t as strong in low light as the uber expensive f/2.8 III below but comparable on most other fronts. With this lens you get great sharpness, reasonable levels of distortion, and a high quality “L” series build that Canon is known for. And at around $1,000, it’s a great value for a wide-angle zoom.
At the 16-35mm focal length range, the f/4 vs. f/2.8 debate is an interesting one. A healthy percentage of people shoot wide-angle photos in daylight, not to mention bokeh is less relevant than with a portrait lens like a 24-70mm. Given the Canon 16-35mm f/4 is less than half of the price of the 16-35mm f/2.8 III below, considerably smaller and lighter, and comes with image stabilization, we give the nod to the f/4 version. If you specialize in things like sunsets or event photography at night, the f/2.8 may be worth the extra cost and weight. For most other people, we prefer to save with the 16-35mm f/4.
Category: Travel/portrait Weight: 23.5 oz. Image stabilization: No What we like: $800 less than the Canon 35mm f/1.4. What we don’t: Autofocus can be slower.
Sigma currently is our favorite manufacturer of third-party lenses, offering up unique options that generally are faster and cheaper than Canon’s native offerings. And the company has been hitting it out of the park of late with the Art series, which features fast f/1.4 lenses at focal lengths like 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm, among others. For those who shoot street photography, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art is our top EF lens choice at this focal length and considerably cheaper than the Canon 35mm f/1.4 ($1,699).
What do you sacrifice by going with Sigma? Auto-focus can be slightly slower than with a native Canon lens (you may want to calibrate the lens upon receiving it, which isn’t optimal for some people). And you don’t get quite the same build quality as Canon either, although this Sigma lens is pretty well made. We still like the Canon 35mm f/1.4, but at nearly double the price, we recommend the Sigma instead.
Category: Travel/portrait Weight: 21.2 oz. Image stabilization: Yes What we like: Better optical performance than the 24-105mm f/4. What we don’t: Lacking the bokeh of the 24-70mm f/2.8.
If you want the coveted 24-70mm focal length range without breaking $1,000, the Canon 24-70mm f/4 is the way to go. Yes, this lens is not as good as the f/2.8 for portraits or indoor photography in low light, but it’s a great option for the outdoors and travel photography in normal light. Simply put, if you don’t need a ton of bokeh but still want Canon “L” series build and image quality, the 24-70mm f/4 is a great option.
Perhaps the biggest competition to the 24-70mm f/4 is the 24-105mm f/4 below. We like both lenses, and the 24-105mm does offer an extra 35mm of coverage at the telephoto end of the spectrum. But the 24-70mm is sharper, focuses better, and lighter. If people photos are a central part of your photography and you can afford the 24-70mm f/2.8, go for it. Otherwise, our second favorite mid-range zoom for Canon EF is the 24-70mm f/4.
Category: Telephoto Weight: 26.8 oz. Image stabilization: Yes What we like: Long reach, image stabilization, and reasonable price. What we don’t: Photos in dim light still can be challenging.
To complete your camera bag, a 70-200mm is the most popular telephoto option and compliments a lens like a 24-70mm nicely. Canon has two 70-200mm versions to choose from: an f/4 and an f/2.8. Both are “L” series lenses with excellent optics and both have image stabilization, but the f/2.8 is nearly twice the price and twice the weight. If you absolutely need the extra low light capability—think serious wildlife photographers who shoot at dawn and dusk—go with the f/2.8. Otherwise, the Canon 70-200mm f/4 is a better value and much easier to carry. We’ve used the f/4 version on a number of trips, and despite the image stabilization being rather loud, it works surprisingly well when shooting hand held photography in low light.
Category: Portrait Weight: 36.2 oz. Image stabilization: No What we like: Super fast and sharp. What we don’t: Heavy and expensive.
For those who shoot close-up portraits, the Canon 85mm f/1.2 is the finest EF lens on the market. Similar to the 50mm above, f/1.2 is a special place to be and offers bokeh that just isn’t possible from f/1.4 and f/1.8 lenses, which themselves are considered fast by normal standards. In addition, the 85mm f/1.2 is tack sharp even when wide open and has a no-nonsense “L” build that should last as long as you take care of it.
Interestingly, the Canon 85mm f/1.2 is not known for focusing quickly. This usually isn’t a requirement for this type of lens, however, as portrait shooters need bokeh and more light entering the lens over speed. Another downside is it’s extremely heavy for a prime lens at well over 2 pounds. These issues aside, the image quality produced by this Canon 85mm f/1.2 is superb and should not disappoint even the most discerning of photographers. For another quality option at this focal length, try the Sigma 85mm f/1.4.
Category: Wide angle Weight: 27.9 oz. Image stabilization: No What we like: Excellent sharpness all the way to the corners. What we don’t: More than double the price of the f/4 version.
If serious wide-angle photography is the name of your game, it’s worth investing in the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 III over the 16-35mm f/4 above (or previous versions of the 16-35mm f/2.8, for that matter). This lens pretty much does it all: it’s extremely sharp all the way to the corners (corner sharpness was an issue with the Mark II), has minimal distortion, and offers superior depth of field and bokeh compared to the 16-35mm f/4. All things considered, you won’t find a better wide-angle zoom from any brand.
The biggest hurdles in choosing the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 III are its cost and size. Nearly $2,200 is a hefty price to pay—this is the most expensive wide-angle zoom that we know of—and the lens weighs a whopping 27.9 ounces. Neither of these should matter much to wide-angle professionals, but for those who only plan on dabbling in this area of photography, the 16-35mm f/4 above still is a fine option.
Category: Travel/portrait Weight: 28.7 oz. Image stabilization: No What we like: Premium image quality. What we don’t: It still can’t beat the Canon 50mm f/1.2.
Without repeating ourselves too much, we really like Sigma’s Art series. The lenses are fast, well built, and less expensive than Canon’s comparable native offerings. At the popular 50mm focal length, the image quality of the Canon 50mm f/1.2 above is the cream of the crop, but over $1,300 is a lot to spend on one prime lens. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 isn’t cheap by any means, but it is a more economical alternative that doesn’t sacrifice a ton in terms of image quality.
The third and least desirable option at this focal length is the Canon 50mm f/1.4, which is considerably cheaper than either the Canon f/1.2 or Sigma f/1.4. That lens, however, isn’t nearly as sharp as the Sigma (sharpness is key with a 50mm prime on a full-frame camera), and many people use it instead on Canon crop-frame cameras with an 80mm equivalent. But given that most amateur photographers cover 50mm with a zoom like the 24-70mm or 24-105mm, a 50mm prime must be serious to be considered. The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 Art certainly
Category: Travel/portrait Weight: 23.6 oz. Image stabilization: Yes What we like: A quality walk-around travel lens at a reasonable price. What we don’t: Some distortion and softness.
Travel zooms have become increasingly popular in recent years, offering maximum versatility for less money than multiple primes. If you can’t afford the 24-70mm f/2.8, but want even more reach than the 24-70mm f/4, the 24-105mm is a solid option at a reasonable price point. This lens is decently sharp throughout its zoom range, focuses well, and has image stabilization. But perhaps its biggest selling point is the focal length range, which covers everything from landscape shots to close-up portraits (it has an additional 35mm over the popular 24-70mm).
Where does the Canon 24-105mm f/4 fall short? You can expect some distortion, and particularly toward the ends. More, the maximum aperture of f/4 isn’t ideal for low light and won’t give you that creamy bokeh of an f/2.8 lens. But at just under $1,000, the 24-105mm f/4 is one of the better values on this list. Keep an eye out for the Mark II version of this lens, which hits the market in early 2017.