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Canon EOS 400D / Digital Rebel XTi kit lens upgrade group test Gordon Laing, September 2006 / updated July 2007
 

Canon EOS 400D / Digital Rebel XTi lens group test verdict

Each of the three lenses we tested as upgrades for the EF-S 18-55mm have their pros and cons. We’ll discuss each in turn before making our final recommendations.

 

Upgrading to the EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

   
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
   

The most popular general-purpose Canon lens upgrade for 400D / XTi owners will undoubtedly be the EF-S 17-85mm. This lens primarily delivers a longer, more useful focal range than the kit lens while additionally boasting Image Stabilisation along with fast and quiet USM internal focusing.

In terms of optical performance, it resolves comfortably greater detail and exhibits higher contrast than the kit lens, although light-fall off and geometric distortion are measurably worse. Light fall-off can be particularly noticeable in the corners of shots with blue skies and is the biggest issue with this lens. We also feel it’s priced a little high, especially considering its average focal ratio.

That said, the EF-S 17-85mm still remains the best general-purpose upgrade lens from Canon for the 400D / XTi, with the key advantages of longer range, effective Image Stabilisation, higher resolution and superior focusing over the kit EF-S 18-55mm. See our Canon 17-85mm review for more information.

Upgrading to the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

   
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
 

The Canon EF-S 17-55mm will greatly appeal to anyone who’s into portraiture or low light photography. Its focal range may essentially match the kit lens, but the constant f2.8 aperture gathers considerably more light, allowing it to work under much darker conditions while also delivering very shallow depths-of-field if desired. Upgrading to it from the kit lens will also get you effective Image Stabilisation and fast and quiet USM internal focusing.

In terms of optical performance, it resolves slightly more detail than the kit lens, although not quite as much as the EF-S 17-85mm or EF 17-40mm models. Light fall-off is the worst in this group test, although not surprising considering the fast f2.8 aperture. Geometric distortion though is low and corner sharpness very impressive, even with the aperture fully open.

Ultimately the EF-S 17-55mm is a specialist lens, which while capable of great everyday shots, only justifies its much higher price (and heftier dimensions) to those who are really into portraiture or low light work. If you’re seriously into either, then the EF-S 17-55mm is a great option, but the EF-S 17-85mm remains a more practical, not to mention affordable general purpose choice for most people. See our Canon 17-55mm review for more information.


Upgrading to the EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

   
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM  
   
   

The Canon EF 17-40mm represents a unique proposition for 400D / XTi owners as it’s the only lens here which will also work on a full-frame body should you decide to upgrade in the future.

It’s also the only L lens in our group test, boasting superior mechanical performance and build quality to the others. The aperture is a constant f4 throughout the range, and as an L lens, Canon throws in a lens hood and carrying pouch – annoyingly these are optional extras for EF-S lenses.

In terms of optical performance, it matches the EF-S 17-85mm by getting the most resolution from the 400D / XTi’s sensor while also delivering sharp, high contrast results. Since it’s corrected for use on a larger full-frame body, the 17-40mm also unsurprisingly delivers very good corner sharpness, geometric distortion and light fall-off results on the smaller sensor of the 400D / XTi.

So upgrading to the EF 17-40mm gives you great optical performance, fast and quiet USM internal focusing, a constant f4 aperture, ‘L’ build quality, and the opportunity to re-use it on a full-frame body should you upgrade in the future. On the downside, the focal range is noticeably lower than the kit lens and it’s missing the Image Stabilisation of the other upgrades – although this isn’t particularly important given the short and wide focal range.

The EF 17-40mm represents great value for an L lens, but its shorter focal range means its not a practical single lens upgrade from the kit EF-S 18-55mm. Consequently we can only recommend it to 400D / XTi owners who have at least one other lens and are seriously considering a full-frame body in the future. Otherwise the other EF-S models are more flexible upgrade choices. See our Canon 17-40mm review for more information.


Final verdict

There are many compelling reasons to upgrade from the kit lens supplied with the 400D / XTi. If you choose one of the three models tested here you’ll enjoy higher resolution and superior build quality along with faster and quieter internal focusing. Depending on the particular model, you could also enjoy Image Stabilisation, a longer focal range, brighter focal ratio, or compatibility with full-frame bodies should you wish to upgrade. It's also interesting to note the two highest resolution zooms tested here resolved the same level of detail on the 400D / XTi as a fixed focal length EF 85mm f/1.8 lens.

There’s no perfect lens for everyone as specific requirements vary between photographers, but the Canon EF-S 17-85mm remains the most flexible choice overall for general purpose use, and if you’re buying the 400D / XTi body new, look out for premium bundles which include it. We can also recommend the EF-S 17-55mm and EF 17-40mm for more specialist photographers according to the caveats above.

Click here for the Canon 400D / Xti lens group test
 

Of course there are also many other upgrade options including affordable models from Sigma and Tamron. Their 18-200mm models, while lacking anti-shake facilities and the ultimate resolving power or focusing performance of the Canon lenses tested here, are none-the-less amazingly flexible lenses for the money. See our Sigma 18-200mm and Tamron 18-200mm reviews for more information; note while these were tested with a Nikon D2X, most of the results are applicable to use on a Canon body, and their slightly longer focal ranges on Canon bodies are also described in each review.

The bottom line is while the EF-S 18-55mm kit lens delivers surprisingly good results for the money, if you want the best from your 400D / XTi (or indeed any DSLR), you should invest in better glass. If you’re new to SLR photography though, its worth using the kit lens for a while to identify where – if indeed at all – it’s lacking for your particular style of photography. It’s only then you’ll know if you truly need that longer range or faster focal ratio.

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Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

Good points

Flexible 5x optical zoom ratio
Effective Image Stabilisation
Fast and quiet USM focussing motor
Polariser-friendly internal focussing

Bad points
Visible light fall-off and softening in corners
Relatively expensive for specification
Lens hood not included
Only compatible with EF-S bodies


Scores
(relative to 18-55mm kit lens)
 

Build quality:
Optical quality:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

20 / 25
19 / 25
20 / 25
20 / 25

79%
 

Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM

Good points

Bright f2.8 aperture throughout zoom range
Effective Image Stabilisation
Fast and quiet USM focusing motor
Superb low-light performance

Bad points
Relatively expensive
Construction not 'L' standard despite price
Range shorter than cheaper EF-S 17-85mm
Lens hood not included


Scores
(relative to 18-55mm kit lens)
 

Build quality:
Optical quality:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

20 / 25
20 / 25
22 / 25
15 / 25

77%
 

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

Good points

Canon 'L' build and optical quality
Fast and quiet USM focusing motor
Constant f4 aperture throughout range
Will also work on full-frame body

Bad points
Shorter zoom range than kit lens
No IS (although not particularly necessary)
Overkill if not considering full-frame in future


Scores
(relative to 18-55mm kit lens)
 

Build quality:
Optical quality:
Specification:
Value:

Overall:

22 / 25
21 / 25
18 / 25
16 / 25

77%
 


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Canon EF-S 17-85 IS USM


 



 



All words, images, videos and layout, copyright 2005-2014 Gordon Laing. May not be used without permission.

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