Canon EF-S 17-85mm verdict
On paper, the Canon EF-S 17-85mm promises to be the perfect general-purpose lens for
owners of Canon DSLRs with compatible mounts. The longer 5x optical range is far more
useful than the 3x range of the popularly bundled EF-S 18-55mm kit lens, especially
at the telephoto end, and the Image Stabilisation features are genuinely useful.
As such the 17-85mm seems ideal for anyone who wants to upgrade from a bundled 18-55mm,
or who needs a versatile option for a new EF-S body alone.
In practice though, the Canon EF-S 17-85mm is a slightly mixed bag. On the upside,
the range is considerably more useful than the basic 3x of the 18-55mm, squeezing
in fractionally more at the wide angle end, and offering far more scope at the
telephoto. Now you really can get closer to subjects and produce decent-looking
portraits with a nice small depth of field.
The Image Stabilisation facility is also very welcome, allowing you to genuinely
handhold exposures at far slower shutter speeds than normal. The effectiveness
will vary between different people, but we found IS allowed us to confidently
shoot at 1/30th when fully zoomed-in and at just one quarter of a second at
wide angle. IS may drain your batteries faster, but is a genuinely useful feature.
On the downside though there are several optical issues to be aware of, at
least on the version we tested. Vignetting / light fall off is always going
to be an issue with very wide lenses, but rarely have we actually seen it so
obviously through the viewfinder and on images. Stopping down the aperture hardly
made any difference at the 17mm end, and the only way to truly eliminate the
dark corners was to zoom-in slightly. See our Gallery for
Revealingly the humble EF-S 18-55mm also out-performed it in some of our tests,
delivering sharper corner results at wide angle and open apertures, not to mention
more useful macro close-up facilities.
Then there's the fact it's an EF-S lens which will never work on a full-frame
body, which could prove to be a limited investment if you have your eye on a
serious upgrade in the future. We also feel it could have been optically faster
for the price, and that Canon's continued practice of not including the lens
hood on non-L lenses is just plain tight.
Indeed one surprising outcome of this test is just how good value
the 18-55mm looks compared to the 17-85mm. This popularly bundled kit lens may have basic build
quality and specification, but it's small, light, performs surprisingly well
and best of all is cheap, cheap, cheap.
But then the 18-55mm has a short zoom ratio, not to mention a slow and quite
audible focusing mechanism which rotates the front element, thereby infuriating
users of polarising filters. In contrast the EF-S 17-85mm has fast and quiet
internal USM focusing, superior build quality, Image Stabilisation and of course,
a far more useful zoom range.
Ultimately if you can accept its optical issues and the fact it will only ever
work on EF-S compatible bodies, there's a lot going for the Canon 17-85mm. It's
far from perfect and arguably over-priced, but none-the-less remains one of the best general purpose lenses for owners
of Canon EF-S compatible bodies; as such it misses out on our top rating, but still comes Recommended.
UPDATE: we have now tested the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens and compared it against the three lenses here using our latest charts. Visit our Canon EF-S 17-55mm review for the latest results. To see how these lenses also compare on an EOS 400D / XTi body, see our latest Canon lens group test.
NEW: For an overview of the headline features of this lens, check out our Canon EF-S 17-85mm video tour.
Useful 5x optical zoom ratio
Effective Image Stabilisation
Fast USM focussing motor
Polariser-friendly internal focusing
Visible light fall-off at wide and tele
Relatively expensive for specification
Lens hood not included
Only compatible with EF-S bodies
(relative to wide zooms)
20 / 25
17 / 25
20 / 25
17 / 25