Monday, November 3, 2014

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

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

My first DSLR was the Canon 450D with the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens. Which was adequate to learn on. As my photography progressed I upgraded to a Canon 50D and a Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens. The 17-85mm is a good lens, but after I got the Canon 70-200mm 2.8 L, I found that it wasn't in the same league as the L lens, so I wanted a wide angle zoom that could match it.

While researching and looking for a replacement, this is the criteria I used:

1. A lens which could match the 70-200 in image quality.
2. A practical zoom range to use as a walkabout lens.
3. Constant F2.8 max aperture. I do a lot of flash photography, so needing to change flash settings every time I changed the zoom was a nuisance.
After reading many reviews I settled on the EF-S 17-55m f/2.8 USM IS. The specifications and review are below.



Lens Type

Zoom lens

Maximum Sensor Size Compatibility


Maximum Aperture Range


Minimum Aperture



7 blades

Filter Thread Size

77 mm


19 elements, 12 groups (three aspherical elements and two of UD glass)

Minimum Focus Distance

35 cm (14")


1.4 pounds


84.0 x 111.0 x 3.0 inches


EW-83J (Not included)


  • Sharp even at F/2.8.
  • Great zoom ring location and size.
  • Good bokeh.
  • Auto focus is fast and quiet.
  • Less distortion than other midrange zooms.
  • f/2.8 for use in low light.
  • Three-stop Image Stabilization.
  • USM (Ultra-Sonic Motor) for silent focusing.
  • UD glass that reduces color fringing.


  • Cheap plastic construction.
  • Not well sealed.
  • Some Chromatic Aberration at 17mm.
  • Lens hood not included.
  • Front of lens extends inward and outward when zooming in and out.
  • Expensive.

The Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM is Canon's most expensive EF-S mount midrange zoom and one of the best general purpose lenses available. Since it is an EF-S mount, it only works on crop frame cameras, such as the Canon T5i, 70D, and 7D. On a crop-frame camera (1.6x crop factor) the 17–55mm focal length is equivalent to a 28–89mm lens on a full-frame camera.
It has a fast, fixed f/2.8 aperture, great image quality, three-stop Image Stabilization, a USM motor for smooth and quiet and fast auto-focusing, and a useful focal length range.


The 17-55mm focus is excellent. Auto-focusing speed is almost instantaneous when mounted on my Canon 7D due to the USM motor. The lens doesn't spend too much time hunting for focus, except in really dark environments. It is also incredibly quiet when focusing. I did have some issues with back-focusing at first, but that is relatively common and not a problem specific to this lens.

A great feature of USM lenses like this is that you can use manual focus and at any time without switching to MF.

The 77mm filter thread is on a non-rotating front element, so it doesn't rotate on focus or focal length changes, which is great for when you are using polarizers or graduated ND filters.


Wide open, the 17-55 produces very pleasing bokeh. It has an iris diaphragm with a 7-blade aperture barrel which helps produce the a great background blur even when stopped down. Note that since this is a wide-angle lens, you need to be close to your subject to create a good blurred background.

Chromatic Aberration

The lens has quite severe chromatic aberration at its widest focal length of 17mm, but decreases at longer focal lengths. There is still a mild degree of CA from 28mm to 55mm, but it is not too bad. The CA is most apparent in the edges and corners of the frame. Overall, it is much better than my previous Canon 17-85mm IS lens.


Wide aperture, wide angle lens are generally prone to vignetting. The 17-55 does have vignetting, but it is acceptable and easily fixed in Lightroom.

Construction Quality

The exterior is made mainly of plastic with a metal mount and both plastic and metal internals. It's a solid-feeling, quality lens, but this is the one thing about it that isn't quite the same as Canon's L glass. Having had another three EF-S lenses which were all small, lightweight, and rather cheap feeling, the size, weight, and overall solid feeling of the 17-55 was quite surprising.


The 17-55 is pretty sharp wide open and gets incredibly sharp once stopped down to f/4 and beyond.

IS (Image Stabilization)

The IS is wonderful. It allows me to get sharp images at two stops lower than I usually could.

The image stabilizer provides an equivalent effect of a 3 f-stops gain in shutter speed for hand-held photography (at cost of slower shutter speeds). The IS mechanism can detect the lack of motion so it can remain activated on a tripod.

Zoom Ring Scale

The zoom range is reasonably well distributed. The wide end is much easier to use than the very-cramped-together wide end of the Canon 17-85mm IS. This is important: this cramping is the biggest reason I dislike the 17-85mm IS.

Zoom Creep

My pet hate with this lens is the zoom creep. It happens often at angles over 45 degrees, which becomes a hassle.

Constant Aperture

My favorite feature is the fixed fast f/2.8 aperture means that the widest aperture,f/2.8 , can be used throughout the entire focal length range, so exposure settings do not change when zooming. F/2.8 is fast enough to stop most action.


The 17–55mm focal length is probably the most useful range for a general purpose lens. It can be used for everything from landscapes to portraits. There are many other lenses that include this focal length. The most common are:

The closest in focal length is the Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 lens, the standard Rebel series kit lens. These two should not be confused. They are completely different lenses. I had an 18-55 that came with my first camera, the Canon 450D. The 18-55 is OK for a starter lens, but it doesn't come close to the construction and optical quality of the 17-55. It also lacks the IS and USM features.

A step up from the 18-55 is the Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM. I owned one for a few years and it wasn't a bad lens. It has a better build, image quality, and features (USM and IS) than the 18-55. When I decided I wanted to get a better quality lens, I went for the 17-55, which gave me even better image quality, a fixed f/2.8 aperture, and L-Series grade UD (Ultra-Low Dispersion glass) lens elements. The extra weight and reduced focal range were definitely a worthy tradeoff for the improved image quality and sharpness, fast (and constant) aperture, and lower barrel distortion.

The EF-S 17-55m f/2.8 USM IS is on par with L series lenses in many ways. The main differences are the build quality and the lack of weather sealing (although I have shot with this lens in typhoons without any hassles.)

I highly recommend the 17-55.  It has excellent features, specs, and image quality, that will be suitable for both amateurs and professionals. This is the lens I shoot the most with on my crop sensor Canon 7D.



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