Best Canon General Purpose Lenses

General-purpose zooms are designed to handle most day-to-day shots, offering wide-angle to telephoto coverage. Unless you’re a specialist photographer, you’ll probably keep a general-purpose zoom fitted to your DSLR more than any other lens. Indeed if you bought a DSLR kit, you’ll already have a general-purpose lens, so why buy another one?

The answer is to upgrade to a superior model. Better quality zooms may offer superior optics, an extended focal range, tougher construction, quicker and quieter focusing, image stabilisation to reduce camera-shake, or brighter apertures for low-light work and blurred backgrounds.

Remember since this lens will probably be used for most of your shots, it makes sense to use a good quality model. Below you’ll find a selection of ideal models. I’ve also added a couple of prime lenses for general-purpose use if you fancy something smaller, lighter, brighter and better quality.

Best Canon General Purpose Lenses

Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM review

Canon's EF 50mm f1.8 STM finally upgrades the 24 year old EF 50mm f1.8 II with smoother focusing, more rounded aperture blades, closer focusing and a tougher lens mount. Like its predecessor, it'll gather over eight times more light than a typical kit zoom, making it great in low-light, deliver a shallower depth-of-field for attractive blurred backgrounds, and capture sharper results too. Meanwhile the low price makes it the most affordable lens in Canon's catalogue and the closest you'll find to a no-brainer, whether you own a budget DSLR, a mid-range model or even a high-end full-framer. Bottom line? It should be in every Canon DSLR owner's collection.

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Tamron 45mm f1.8 VC review

The new Tamron 45/1.8 VC is a very versatile and interesting lens: It offers a fast f/1.8 aperture combined with image-stabilization that is good for two stops in my tests. Both allow the lens to hold out longer in dimly lit situations. It produces very sharp images with very little coma right into the corner of a full-frame sensor. And it's relatively small and light. But it does not produce the same Bokeh as a 50/1.4 or 55/1.4 lens and it has color aberrations which show up although not as prominent as with Tamron's 35/1.8 VC. But with a sharpness / resolution that it is better than any other lens in this comparison apart from the Zeiss Otus the Tamron 45/1.8 VC clearly earns a Highly Recommended. Regarding this performance the price of the new Tamron seems OK.

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Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art review

If you want a truly high-end 50mm lens with autofocus, forget about Canon's own EF 50mm f1.2. For me, the best choice is Sigma's 50mm f1.4 ART lens. In my tests it delivers better contrast and crisper details across the entire frame, especially in the corners. And while the 'bokeh blobs' on the f1.2 are larger, I actually prefer the out-of-focus rendering on the Sigma. Admittedly the Sigma is bigger and heavier than any of the Canon 50mm lenses, but it costs only two thirds of the f1.2 making it a no-brainer in comparison, and that's before you even factor in the ability to switch its mount (at a cost) to a different system should you move from Canon in the future. For me it's the best 50mm with autofocus around.

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Zeiss Otus 55mm f1.4 review

Good points: Outstanding performance across the frame of a high-resolution full-frame sensor even wide open; excellent build quality. Bad points: Extremely high price; no auto-focus; large and heavy; light fall-off at apertures larger than f2.8; not weather-sealed at the lens mount.

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Canon EF-S 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 STM

Canon’s EF-S 18-135mm may not have the reach of the EF-S 18-200mm, but still delivers a respectable general-purpose range of 29-216mm on cropped-frame bodies (again it’s not compatible with full-frame models). It’s a more affordable model, often supplied as an optional kit lens on some newer bodies, and like the EF-S 18-200mm, includes Image Stabilisation to iron-out any wobbles.

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Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM review

Canon's EF 40mm f2.8 STM is the smallest EF lens in the catalogue. It matches the weight of the EF 50mm f1.8 to become the joint lightest, but at just 23mm thick, is easily the thinnest, earning its nickname as a pancake prime. The 40mm focal length is useful as a general-purpose lens on both cropped-frame and especially full-frame models and it'll make your DSLR look and feel much smaller. Meanwhile the Stepper Motor AF allows quieter focusing for movies especially with models like the EOS T4i / 650D. The f2.8 aperture may be slower than the 50mm options (which coupled with the shorter focal length rules it out for serious portraits), but it's the size of the 40mm which is behind its ultimate charm. It's a fun, practical, extremely compact and surprisingly good quality lens to have in your collection.

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Canon EF-S 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 IS

Canon's EF-S 18-200mm boasts a massive super-zoom range, although as an EF-S model it's not compatible with full-frame cameras. On a cropped body it delivers an equivalent focal length of 29-320mm, from wide-angle to powerful telephoto, covering almost any situation without having to change lenses. There’s no USM focusing and the quality is not as good as zooms with shorter ranges, but the sheer convenience will outweigh the downsides for many.

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Canon EF-S 15-85mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM

Canon's EF-S 15-85mm is the replacement for its popular EF-S 17-85mm, and designed for anyone wanting a quality general-purpose lens for cropped-bodies; note as an EF-S model, it's not compatible with full-frame cameras. Like its predecessor there's quick and quiet USM focusing, Image Stabilisation and decent manual focusing, but it now features slightly wider coverage, equivalent to 24-136mm. Like other non-L lenses though, you'll still need to buy your own lens hood.

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Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM review

Canon's EF 24-105mm f4L is the ideal general-purpose zoom for owners of full-frame bodies, covering wide-angle to short telephoto with quick and quiet USM focusing, Image Stabilisation, decent manual focusing and 'L' quality; and as an L lens you also get a lens hood. Mounted on a cropped-body, it misses out on true wide-angle coverage, but remains a popular choice and a perfect partner for the excellent EF-S 10-22mm ultra-wide zoom.

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

Canon's EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 is the general-purpose zoom for anyone who loves to shoot portraits or work in low light; note as an EF-S model, it's not compatible with full-frame cameras. The constant f2.8 aperture doesn't come cheap, but it allows the lens to gather plenty of light and deliver nice blurred backgrounds. There's also quick and quiet USM focusing, along with Image Stabilisation. An ideal wedding and portrait lens for cropped bodies. It's also interesting to note the equivalent lens for full-framers, the 24-70mm f2.8, remains an unstabilised model, so this is one range where cropped-frame owners enjoy an advantage.

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