We’ve assembled a list of the best Canon EF lenses for DSLR users to buy, including a range of focal lengths and with options for all budgets.
Users of the best Canon EOS DSLRs have one of photography’s most extensive lens systems available to them. The Canon EF mount has been in use since the 1980s, and today still boasts some of the most popular professional lenses ever made, as well as loads of fantastic budget options for beginners. Just as with the Canon’s DSLR cameras, it’s a broad, rich system that offers something for every type of photographer or videographer.
Of course, the EF-mount is no longer Canon’s flagship system. Since the introduction of the EOS R mirrorless range in 2018 (see the best Canon mirrorless cameras), Canon has shifted its focus to its newer RF lens mount. All new Canon-made lenses released over the past few years have been Canon RF-mount lenses, and this is not a trend that’s likely to reverse.
Still, just as Canon DSLRs still have a place, so do their lenses, and there are still millions of photographers out there using the Canon EF system, some of whom will be picking it up for the first time. This guide is for you, whether you’re looking to buy your first Canon EF-mount lens, or your third, or your tenth. We’ve picked out a host of different options for all genres of photography, not to mention all budgets. We’ve recommended lenses you can buy new, and some that are available for a great price on the second-hand market (see our ultimate buying guide to the best second-hand DSLR lenses for more here).
Don’t worry if you’re new to all this; below we’ve put an explainer on how to choose the right Canon EF-mount lens for you, and at the bottom of the page we’ve added an FAQ section where we provide quick, bite-size answers to some of the most common questions about the system
How to choose a Canon EF / EF-S lens
When picking the right lens for your Canon DSLR, there are a few key criteria it pays to hone in on. In brief, here are the key specs to keep in.
Focal length / range – This is the first decision you need to make when buying a lens, and it will likely be dictated by what subjects you want to shoot. Those capturing architecture and landscape photography will likely opt for a wide-angle, in order to get as much of their expansive subjects in the frame as possible. For action, wildlife and animal photography, a telephoto is your best bet, as you’ll be limited in how close you can get to your subject. And for general-purpose or documentary photographer, a good standard zoom lens will fit the bill; see our guide to the best EF-mount zoom lenses for some suggestions.
Maximum aperture – How wide a maximum aperture a lens can offer affects both how much light it can let in and how shallow a depth of field (delineation between subject and background) it can provide. Those who are shooting portraits will want a large-aperture lens (at least f/2, ideally f/1.4) in order to get that portrait ‘look’ of a sharp subject and an artfully blurred background.
Sharpness – Quite a simple prospect here – how sharply does a lens render an image? Does detail extend all the way to the edges and corners of images, and how consistent is it throughout the aperture range, or the zoom range if there is one. There’s no way to know this for sure without testing out a lens, so you can click through to our reviews throughout the guide for sample images and resolution test results.
Optical Image Stabilisation – Newer Canon EF lenses will come equipped with image stabilisation (look for the acronym ‘IS’ in the lens name, meaning ‘Image Stabilizer). This is a system that compensates for unintentional camera movement, making it possible to use slower shutter speeds or greater zoom lengths while hand-holding the camera.
Autofocus system – Canon employs a variety of speedy and accurate autofocus systems on its lenses, including the Stepping Motor (STM) and the more sophisticated Ultra Sonic Motor (USM). Better autofocus means you’ll stand a better chance of capturing sharp images of fast-moving subjects; but, of course, they come at a price. If you’re planning on shooting video, you may also want to check whether a lens has a silent AF system.
Macro capabilities – For shooting close-ups and macro photography, then you’ll need to look for a lens with “Macro” in the name, as this will allow you to get closer to your subject. This means a lens that can reproduce a subject at life-size – or close to – on the sensor, meaning you can fill the frame with the tiniest of things.
Want to cut to the chase? Here is the quick list of our picks of the best Canon EF lenses, along with the best prices:
And our picks of the best third-party Canon EF lenses:
Read on for full details of these lenses, including how they performed in our tests:
Best wide-angle APS-C lens: Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM
At a glance:
Slim and lightweight, offering a wide-angle perspective, the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM is an ideal choice for any APS-C Canon DSLR. You might be using the beginner-friendly Canon EOS 2000D / Rebel T7 (same camera, just named differently in different territories) or the enthusiast-focused Canon EOS 90D – either way, you’ve got a lens that will balance well and deliver all the features you might need. Autofocus is nice and speedy, and also very quiet, which is useful for video work, and there’s also a four-stop image stabilisation system on board.
The affordable price tag of this lens makes it a bargain for any crop-sensor Canon DSLR user, as long as they’re aware that low prices come with compromises. For instance, the lens body is constructed from plastic rather than metal, making it rather more fragile than premium lenses. Also, while the maximum aperture of the lens is f/4.5, it can actually only shoot at f/4.5 when locked at its widest setting of 10mm (16mm equivalent); the maximum aperture drops very sharply to f/5 as soon as you start zooming.
Still, for an affordable, portable lens for architecture photography, the Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM is a prime choice.
Best Canon lens for macro: Canon EF 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM
At a glance:
Planning on getting into macro photography? Shooting frame-filling close-ups of minuscule subjects can be one of the most technically demanding photographic disciplines out there – as well as one of the most rewarding. One of the most important aspect of macro is getting the right lens, and the Canon EF 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM is most certainly the right lens.
For starters, it’s one of Canon’s ‘L’ lenses, a designation the firm reserves only for its top-of-the-line lenses, built to exacting quality standards both inside and out. Next, it’s a ‘true’ macro lens. This means it has a reproduction ratio of 1:1, i.e. the size of the subject as rendered on your sensor plane is the same as its actual real-life size, meaning you can show the tiniest things in glorious, close-up detail. You’ll want to get good and close to these subjects, which is why the EF 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM’s 30cm minimum focusing distance and telephoto focal length come in handy.
Like many macro lenses, the EF 100mm f2.8L Macro IS USM doubles up well as a portrait lens, helped by its maximum aperture of f/2.8. This is where you might get more use out of one of its additional features – image stabilisation, which tends to be of limited use in macro photography where tripods are near-ubiquitous.
Best second-hand Canon lens: Canon EF 17-35mm f/2.8L USM
At a glance:
An older L-series lens, the Canon EF 17-35mm f/2.8L USM has been discontinued, but is still available on the second-hand market at a significantly discounted price. Many similar EF lenses have arrived since, such as the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM and the cheaper Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM. However, the good old EF 17-35mm f/2.8L USM still holds a place in plenty of photographers’ hearts.
A hardy, rugged jack-of-all-trades, the Canon EF 17-35mm f/2.8L USM is built to last. The relatively wide focal range makes it useful for documentary and street photography, and indeed, until sharper successors came along it was a favourite among the press pack. Nowadays it’s probably not quite sharp enough to meet the demands of digital newsrooms and press agencies, but for the enthusiast photographer, it’ll deliver solid images while withstanding basically any conditions you care to throw at it. The constant f/2.8 aperture also makes it useful in broad-ranging light conditions.
Weighing 545g, it balances pretty nicely on Canon DSLRs without making any of them too front-heavy. At current second-hand prices, the Canon EF 17-35mm f/2.8L USM is a terrific lens to pick up. It’ll work brilliantly well for travel and street photography.
Read our Canon EF 17-35mm f/2.8L USM field test by professional photojournalist Andy Blackmore.
Best Canon lens for wildlife: Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM
At a glance:
One of the most common questions we get regarding the Canon lens range is which one is best for wildlife. While in terms of absolute best you’d probably be talking about a telephoto prime in the ‘L’ series, such as the Canon EF 800mm f5.6 L IS USM. However, that lens retails at £13,549 and as such is for high-end professionals only. For most people, the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is going to deliver exceptional results for wildlife photography.
We tested this lens out by taking it for a challenging day photographing birds of prey in flight. Bird-in-flight images (often shortened to ‘BIF’) is a huge priority for many wildlife photographers, and the Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM does a commendable job of nailing the shot, time and again. Its image quality is top-notch too – when we took our bird images back to the computer for inspection, we were hugely impressed with the sharpness on display. Having the image stabiliser functionality was also massively helpful for getting those tricky wildlife shots, and the ‘L’ tag on the body means that the construction is rock-solid.
The only drawback with this lens is its price, which may be too much for some users. If you want something cheaper for wildlife photography, try the Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sports or the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD, both of which are featured further down this list.
Read our Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM field test
Best Canon EF street lens: Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
At a glance:
Canon went back to the drawing board when it came time to update its popular wide-aperture wide-angle prime, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L. Competition had been increasing thanks to Sigma’s introduction of its Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art lens, a much cheaper alternative that still delivered the goods optically. Canon needed to pull something out of the big to figure out a way to hit back.
The one thing it did not do, perhaps inevitably, was cut the price. While Sigma Art f/1.4 lenses tended to be around the £700-800 mark, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM arrived on the scene with an eye-watering £1,799 price tag. Fortunately it’s much cheaper these days – nope, just kidding. It’s currently retailing new for around £2,199. Inflation, baby. Isn’t it great?
But the thing is, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is a beautiful, razor-sharp lens that really does justify its price tag. Earning the full five stars in our full review, the lens is super sharp at the edges and centre of images, and it is highly effective at controlling chromatic aberration thanks to its new BR (Blue Spectrum Refractive) optic. It makes for a heavy lens, though not one that’s too difficult to handle.
As we said at the time, if you want the best, you do have to be prepared to pay for it. For wedding photographers, events photographers and other professionals, we’d say this lens is more than worth the investment.
Read our full Canon EF 35mm f1.4L II USM review
Best cheap Canon lens: Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
At a glance:
This small ‘nifty fifty’ improves upon Canon’s older designs and has been brought up to date by incorporating a Stepper Motor (STM) for smoother and quieter AF. Compatible with full-frame and APS-C DSLRs, it becomes a highly practical and creative short telephoto lens that’s equivalent to 80mm when it’s attached to the latter.
If you enjoy shooting portraits or any subject where you’d like to create attractive background blur, this lens allows you to do it without breaking the bank. It has a smaller 49mm filter thread and improved build quality over Canon’s older EF 50mm f/1.8 II, but produces results of similar quality. Stopping down from f/1.8 to f/2.8 improves sharpness and all trace of corner shading disappears by f/4. It’s one of the most popular lenses for those who feel they’ve outgrown a kit zoom.
Read the full Canon EF 50mm f1.8 STM review
Best Canon lens for portraits: Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM
At a glance:
This new L-series telephoto prime will have great appeal with portrait and wedding photographers who desire superior image quality to the aging EF 85mm f/1.8 USM and those who don’t want to splash out £1,765 for the larger and heavier EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM.
The big attraction is its optical image stabilisation, which is effective to four stops and will be a godsend in low-light venues such as churches and dimly lit interiors. It has a 77mm filter thread, 0.85m minimum focusing distance and weather sealing that’ll provide reassurance when it’s used in variable weather conditions.
Hands-on Canon EF 85mm f1.4L IS USM review
Best Canon lens for zoom: Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS II USM
At a glance:
This mid-range telephoto zoom incorporates four-stop image stabilisation and a new, Nano USM motor for fast and silent autofocus. It weighs 720g, has a nine-bladed diaphragm and is equivalent to 112-480mm on an APS-C DSLR.
An interesting idea is the lens’s LCD panel, which can be used to cycle through three modes: focal length, a camera shake meter, and the current focus distance complete with depth-of-field scale. It’s a great match to mid-range DSLRs, offering a great balance between portability and image quality.
Full Canon EF 70-300mm f4-5.6 IS II USM review
Best Canon pancake lens: Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM
At a glance:
This ultra-slim pancake prime is one of the least expensive lenses on the market, and measuring just 22.8mm thick, it’s one that can easily be carried around all day without any inconvenience. It’s a marvellous little optic for travel and street photography, providing a 38mm equivalent angle of view on the Canon APS-C DSLRs for which it’s made.
The lens does exhibit vignetting at wide apertures, as well as distortion, but both are easily remedied in software. Most importantly, the lens focuses accurately and gives consistently sharp, detailed images. With its bargain price, carry-everywhere size and highly competent imaging performance, this lens deserves to be high on the wish list of many a Canon APS-C DSLR user.
Read our full Canon EF-S 24mm f2.8 STM review
Best Canon walk-around lens: Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM
At a glance:
This lens is the replacement for one of Canon’s best-selling full-frame optics for the past 10 years – the EF 24-105mm f/4L USM. It features a revised optical design that has made it a little sharper towards the edges with less barrel distortion at the wide end.
Vignetting isn’t quite as severe either and it features a new electronic aperture diaphragm system (EDM) that provides smoother and quieter aperture changes during movie capture. It’s the best 24-105mm full-frame zoom Canon makes, but isn’t quite as razor sharp as the stunning EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM.
Full Canon EF 24-105mm f4L IS II USM review
Best ultra wide-angle zoom: Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM
At a glance:
Canon and its engineers must be praised for constructing one of their finest L-series lenses, and for the way they’ve created the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM lens, one of, if not the best, rectilinear wideangle zooms ever made.
If you’re a full-frame user who specialises in landscape, architectural or interior photography, and demand a lens that’s not only capable of squeezing as much of your surroundings as possible into the frame, but does so with exceptional optical performance, this is one to add to your wish list. You may also be able to find it second-hand, saving you money. A used model in good condition will cost around $1,800/ £1,500.
Read our Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L USM review
Best ultra-wide-angle zoom with IS: Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
At a glance:
This ultra-wide-angle zoom lens is ideal for landscape, architecture, and interior shots where you need to get as much as possible into the frame. The built-in image stabilisation (IS) will help when slower shutter speeds are needed, such as when shooting in low-light conditions.
With an f/4 aperture, this lens is best suited to landscapes and detailed images, and the best results are found when shooting at f8. We were impressed by the image quality produced by the lens in our review. As a Canon L series lens, the lens is fully weather-sealed so should survive use in all conditions.
Read our Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM review
Best third party EF-mount lenses
If you’re looking for high-quality lenses at lower prices, or want to find slightly more unusual or specialist lenses, then have a look at some of these options.
Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sports
At a glance:
Sigma produce some impressive and interesting lens options, as well as offering similar alternatives to Canon’s own brand lenses. This 70-200mm f2.8 lens offers optical image stabilisation, with 4-stops of stabilisation, and delivers impressively sharp results, with low levels of distortion.
As well as being weather-sealed, it also benefits from being noticeably cheaper than Canon’s 70-200mm f2.8 lens, saving you some serious money.
Find out more in our Sigma 70-200mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Sports review
Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD
At a glance:
Tamron has been on something of a discontinuation spree with its DSLR lenses lately, but there are still some excellent lenses from the manufacturer available for Canon EF mount. Case in point: the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD.
A relatively cheap lens that punches above its weight, this optic arrived a few months after Sigma’s own Contemporary version, at a price designed to undercut it. If you want a Canon own-brand 100-400mm lens, your only options are the hugely expensive ones like the L lens listed earlier in our guide. So this Tamron optic fills a good niche.
It’s a great performer for the price, too. Sharpness is great at all focal lengths, especially in the centre of the frame, and the USD (Ultra-sonic Silent Drive) autofocus system delivers the goods. The Canon L lens is built to last a lifetime, and is generally better in all categories, but it’s also almost four times the price. Tamron’s 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD lens offers tremendous value for money.
Very good centre sharpness
Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art
At a glance:
Another alternative to Canon’s own brand lens, the 24-70mm f2.8 DG OS HSM Art lens offers the a bright f2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range, plus with the added benefit of optical image stabilisation, which is missing from Canon’s more expensive 24-70mm f2.8L II USM lens, at £2109. It’s also a compact lens, so a good choice for those looking for something smaller.
Read our Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art review
Sigma 40mm F1.4 DG HSM Art
At a glance:
The Sigma 40mm F1.4 DG HSM Art lens is designed for optimum image quality, with minimal distortion. If you’re looking for a bright prime lens, then the Sigma 40mm F1.4 is a great choice, slightly wider than the typical 50mm lens, this gives a good choice for those wanting something different. It offers exceptional image quality and beautiful background blur (bokeh), however, it is a large lens, and quite weighty at 1.2kg.
Read our full Sigma 40mm F1.4 DG HSM Art review
Canon EF lenses: Frequently asked questions
FAQ: Which Canon EF lenses have image stabilisation?
Image stabilisation is a popular feature on modern digital cameras and lenses. It improves sharpness at by compensating for unintentional camera movement incurred when a camera is used hand-held (i.e. without a tripod). Effective optical stabilisation systems allow the user to capture sharper images at slower shutter speeds. This is useful in low light, as a slower shutter speed means more light to the sensor, which could mean a useable image in light conditions where one wouldn’t have otherwise been obtainable.
Some Canon EF lenses have built-in stabilisation, others do not. The easy way to tell is to look at the full name of the lens as given by Canon. The acronym ‘IS’ denotes image stabilisation, so if you see that in the name, such as with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM, you’re looking at a stabilised lens.
Be aware that other lens manufacturers use different terms and acronyms for stabilisation, so if you’re looking at third-party lenses, it’ll be different. Tamron, for instance, uses ‘Vibration Compensation’, which is shortened to ‘VC’. This is how you know the Tamron 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 Di VC USD has built-in stabilisation.
Canon DSLRs do not have 5-axis optical stabilisation built in the way that its mirrorless cameras do, so picking up a lens with the feature can provide a real shooting advantage.
FAQ: Can you use Canon EF lenses on mirrorless cameras?
Yes, you can use Canon EF lenses on Canon mirrorless cameras, but only as long as you have the right adapter. Depending on whether you are using a Canon RF mirrorless camera or a Canon EOS M model, you’ll need a specific adapter to make sure the lens fits. They are quite plainly labelled the Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R ($99 / £119) and the Canon EF-EOS M Mount Adapter ($179 / £139), so you shouldn’t have a problem finding the right one.
The good news though is that once you’ve got the adapter (which slots in between camera and lens), the EF lens should work pretty seamlessly on your mirrorless camera body. This means you’ll still be able to enjoy full functionality of features like autofocus and optical stabilisation. It’s especially good news for photographers who have already made a significant investment in their EF-mount lens collection and don’t want to give it up when they make the jump to mirrorless – if, indeed, they make the jump at all. The question of DSLR vs mirrorless: which is better isn’t as clear-cut as you might think.
It’s also possible to adapt Canon EF lenses to other mirrorless systems using third-party adapters. Companies like Urth and Metabones offer a range of adapters that allow you to pair Canon EF lenses with other mounts like Sony E, Fujifilm X and Micro Four Thirds.
This can be a boon if you’re switching from one system to another, though you have to bear in mind that electronic functions such as autofocus and stabilisation may not work as reliably as usual – or, indeed, may not work at all. This can throw up real problems for the unprepared; for instance, you can use an Urth adapter to mount an EF or EF-S lens to a Micro Four Thirds body. However, the adapter is completely manual, meaning there’s no communication between camera and lens. This not only means manual focus only, but also that if your lens doesn’t have an on-body aperture ring, you’ll have no way to adjust the aperture.
Urth and Metabones do offer electronic adapters for certain systems, though these tend to be more expensive. Search on Amazon and you’ll also find plenty of cheap adapter options from manufacturers you’ve never heard of – you can try these out if you want, but bear in mind they may not be of the highest quality.
FAQ: What’s the difference between Canon EF lenses and EF-S?
Canon EF lenses come in two varieties, EF and EF-S. Which ones you can use will depend on the size of sensor inside your Canon DSLR, namely whether it’s full-frame or a smaller APS-C chip. Pro and advanced enthusiast DSLRs like the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV will generally be full-frame, while smaller, cheaper DSLRs like the EOS 250D will generally field an APS-C sensor. All cameras’ sensor sizes are readily available online, so if you’re not sure, a quick Google will sort you out.
The key points to remember are as follows:
Canon EF lenses can be used on both full-frame and APS-C cameras. The majority of Canon DSLR lenses fall into this category. They will fit any Canon DSLR, though when fitted to an APS-C camera, the smaller sensor size will incur what’s called a crop factor, extending the effective focal length of the lens. Canon has a crop factor of 1.6x, meaning that a 50mm lens mounted on a Canon APS-C DSLR will produce an equivalent focal length of 80mm.
Canon EF-S lenses are designed for APS-C cameras only. A Canon EF-S lens cannot be mounted on a full-frame body. They tend to be lighter than EF lenses, meaning they balance better with the smaller APS-C cameras. Also, even though they are designed for crop sensor cameras, the crop factor still applies, meaning a lens like the EF-S 10-18 f/4.5-5.6 IS STM actually produces a focal range of 16-28.8mm.
For more on the differences between sensor sizes, check out our complete guide to APS-C vs full-frame.
FAQ: Is Canon still making EF lenses?
Yes – for the time being, new Canon EF lenses are still rolling off the production line, and DSLR photographers can easily kit themselves out with brand new lenses.
However, what Canon is not doing is developing new EF lenses. The firm is quite clearly devoting all of its R&D budget to its line-up of mirrorless lenses (see our run-down of the best Canon RF-mount lenses), and so the range of EF lenses is only likely to shrink in years to come as models are discontinued without being replaced.
Text by Amy Davies, with contributions from Jon Stapley.
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