Nathan Griffin Photographs

canon efs 17-55 f2.8 IS USM lens review

flower at zilker park botanical garden

This lens drove my decision on what digital SLR camera body I wanted to purchase. For anyone purchasing a digital SLR, there are several decisions - Nikon vs. Canon, full frame sensor vs. reduced frame sensor. I considered all the options, but I have always felt that a system should be built on the lenses that will work best for you.

I knew starting out with one lens that a mid-range zoom would be the best all-around choice for me. Both Nikon and Canon make mid-range zooms specific to reduced-frame sensors. Nikon's 17-55 was at a bit of a disadvantage for me. It is more expensive and lacks image stabilization (IS). I really wanted a lens with IS, so that ruled out Nikon. In general, Nikon's lenses are more expensive and I could not justify the extra cost.

The only debate left was to go with the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 with a reduced frame body like the 40D / 50D, or to jump up to the full-frame Canon 5D with the equivalent 24-105mm. I tried both out in the store and took sample shots from each lens. In the end, the pictures from the 17-55 and crop sensor were actually more sharp, at least to my eye. The lower cost make the 17-55 f2.8 my choice.

This lens is a real gem to use for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • Fast (for a zoom) maximum aperture of f2.8. Most other zooms have at least 1 if not 2 stops less of aperture, which is to say they let in 1/2 to 1/4 the light. This makes a big difference in capturing images in low light. If you use your camera inside without a flash, being able to open the lens up to f2.8 helps greatly!

  • It is a sharp lens! You would not expect a zoom lens, especially an EF-S zoom made for Canon's lower line of cameras, to be so sharp. It is amazing at any focal length and aperture, even wide open!


  • Image Stabilization - this is optical stabilization that allows you to shoot up to 2 stops slower than without. Great for architecture or city pictures at night without a tripod. Also helps out for indoor pictures.

caprock canyon state park

Any lens is a series of compromises between available focal length, speed, size, sharpness, and cost. You simply can't have everything and you need to decide what is important. There are a few disadvantages to using the 17-55:

  • Cost - the lens is expensive, pushing $1,000 at the time of purchase. It is tough to spend almost as much on a single lens as an entire camera body, especially just starting out.

  • Size / Weight - The lens is not the largest mid-range zoom out there, but it's dimensions are close to even full-frame equivalent lenses like the 24-105 or the 24.70 f2.8. It's bulk actually balances nicely with a 40D / 50D series camera. My biggest issue is with trying to take pictures inconspicuously. The lens, especially with the Canon EW-83J lens hood attached , is very noticeable to people around you. This can be a disadvantage when trying to take candids of people. Sometimes, like at a wedding, it is an advantage as people tend to get out of your way with this bad boy.

  • EF-S Compatible Only. The lens can not be used on a full frame camera like the Canon 5D. Again, you have to choose what series of bodies you want to go with. The resolution and image quality of the crop sensor Canon's are so good, I don't have a problem with the limitation.


  • Zoom Range. A 17-55mm lens on a 1.6 crop body is equivalent to around 27mm - 88mm. It is a very usable range; however, I do a lot of landscape photography and if it went down to an equivalent of 24mm (15-55) that would make quite a big difference. Again, you can't have everything. If they did increase the zoom range, the lens would be even bigger, heavier, and more expensive.

grain dune

If you read online reviews of this lens, you will see complaints over and over about the build quality of the lens. Some people feel that for the money, the lens body should be entirely metal instead of the plastic barrel that is used on the 17-55 EF-S. Also, there are many reports that the lens collects dust inside.

Honestly, I never look in the end of my lens. I just checked out the lens for this review. I see a couple of tiny specs of dust, no more than what I have seen in any other lens I have owned. I have never bothered to keep a filter on the end of the lens, which some people claim will help stop the dust problem. On top of that, the lens has been used and stored about 90% of the time without even a lens cap. And yes, I do use the lens outdoors. If this lens was ever going to have a dust problem, I would have seen it by now.

I purchased this copy in the summer of 2007. I would bet that Canon has improved the seals at the front of this zoom so that dust does not get sucked inside. Basically, it is only an issue for people who worry too much about their possessions and not enough about their images. I have shot with a few lenses with major dust issues and it just doesn't make a difference in 99% of your pictures.

The bottom line is that despite the disadvantages and compromises of using the 17-55, it is a great lens that takes fantastic pictures. I don't regret my decision to go with it and the direction of choosing a crop sensor camera body to compliment its strengths.