It’s an interesting exercise to present you with a list of the Canon lenses that I have owned since I bought my first digital SLR in 2006.
Like all photographers, I’ve made buying decisions that I later came to regret (or at least realized that I could have approached differently).
I’ve also been through two system changes.
Regular readers will know that I recently made the switch from Canon EOS to Fujifilm cameras. That’s the most recent change.
But before that I made the switch from APS-C Canon to full-frame Canon when I bought an EOS 5D Mark II in 2010. I realize now that was essentially a system change, although I only changed the format of the camera, not the make.
I owned two lenses that only worked with APS-C cameras (Canon’s EF-S mount). I kept my APS-C camera (the EOS 40D) as a backup, but in practice I never used it. Why use an EOS 40D when you have a 5D Mark II? There’s no reason too, so I also ended up with lenses that weren’t being used.
That’s another reason I like Fujifilm cameras. There is only one sensor size in the range, so there is no need to take the possibility of buying a full-frame camera into account when buying lenses. It’s a nice feeling and simplifies the buying process.
My experiences will hopefully help you make lens buying choices that are right for you.
This article is the first of two. This one lists the Canon system lenses that I have owned. The next one will look at Fujinon lenses.
Note: You can read the new article here – Fujinon Lenses I Own.
Above: Photo taken with Canon 18-55mm kit lens.
Reasons for buying a new lens
There are two reasons to buy a new lens.
To overcome a practical problem. For example, a sports photographer may need a long telephoto lens with good autofocus to photograph sporting events from the sidelines (that’s why sports photographers buy super telephoto lenses).
For aesthetic and creative reasons. For example, you may buy a short telephoto prime so that you can create portraits with shallow depth of field. In this case, the image quality and autofocus performance are probably not as important as the creative potential.
These are the Canon EOS system lenses that I have owned.
Canon EOS mount lenses for APS-C cameras
My first digital SLR was a Digital Rebel XT (purchased in the United States, named the EOS 350D in Europe). Shortly afterwards I bought an EOS 40D. I bought the following lenses to use with these APS-C cameras.
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 kit lens
When I bought the Digital Rebel XT I didn’t know which lens to buy for it. I liked using wide-angle primes with my film cameras, but these lenses didn’t exist for the crop sensor Canon. So I went for the kit lens at first, with the intention of buying more lenses as I worked out which would be most useful to me.
I soon realized that the image quality of this lens wasn’t much good. I’m serious about that. Canon’s newer kit lenses are much better, but this one was really bad. Eventually the aperture blades started sticking and I threw it away.
This lens is discontinued. Canon has replaced it with the much improved EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS II kit lens.
Above: This photo was taken with the Canon 18-55mm kit lens.
Canon EF 17-40mm f4L USM lens
I bought this lens to replace my defective 18-55mm kit lens. The intention was to use it as a standard zoom on my EOS 350D.
It worked well on that camera but I never realized just how good this lens was until I started using it on the full-frame EOS 5D Mark II. On a full-frame camera it’s a wide-angle zoom perfect for landscape photography.
In general I prefer prime lenses, but this lens is extremely useful for precise framing if I find myself in situations where I can’t move closer to the subject (if I’m standing on the edge of a cliff for example).
Canon’s L series lenses are high quality optics. The build quality, balance and feel of this lens are beautiful.
But it does have limitations. It’s a relatively large, heavy lens. The petal lens hood that comes with it makes it even bigger. Now that I use a mirrorless system I find it hard to believe that I ever used a lens this big. I wish I had a photo to show you how big this lens looked on my Digital Rebel XT.
Although I bought it for an APS-C camera, it’s really a full-frame lens and I would have been better off looking at a smaller wide-angle zoom designed for crop sensor cameras.
Above: Portrait taken with the 17-40mm wide-angle zoom (full-frame camera).
Sigma 10-20mm f4-5.6 EX DC HSM lens
I felt the 17mm end of my EF 17-40mm zoom wasn’t wide enough on an APS-C camera, so I bought this Sigma lens to complement it.
I liked the Sigma lens and used it a lot – until I bought an EOS 5D Mark II. After that I found that I used my 17-40mm zoom on the 5D Mark II whenever I needed a wide-angle zoom. The Sigma 10-20mm wasn’t used again.
There is a newer version of this lens available now with a fixed aperture of f3.5 throughout the focal length range.
Above: I took this photo of a Vespa with the Sigma 10-20mm wide-angle zoom.
Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 EX DC APO lens
I also bought this lens with my EOS 40D. I thought about buying a Canon 70-200 f2.8 telephoto zoom but chose the less expensive Sigma.
I took plenty of good photos with this lens but I found the size and weight a bit frustrating. It was difficult to hand-hold, especially with the lens set to 150mm. I’ve also used a Canon EF 70-200mm lens since then and I prefer the Canon lens. The autofocus and build quality are much better.
Sigma has discontinued this lens and replaced it with the more expensive Sigma 50-150mm f2.8 EX DC APO OS lens. The extra OS in the title stands for Optical Stabilizer.
There are times when I miss having longer telephoto lenses in my kit. But would I use it often enough to justify the expenditure of buying one? Probably not. It’s not worth the expense and the bother just for the occasional times I might use it.
Above: Two candid portraits taken with the Sigma 50-150mm lens.
Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM lens
I bought this lens as I had the idea that a 50mm lens would be a very useful focal length to have. Initially, I intended to use it as a short telephoto lens for portraits with my EOS 40D. But then I bought a full-frame camera and an 85mm lens. After that I didn’t use the 50mm lens much.
Out of the lenses I used with my Canon cameras it’s easily the one that I would miss the least. But perhaps I just needed to make a conscious effort to use it more.
Above: A portrait taken with the Canon 50mm f1.4 lens (full-frame). Taken during twilight with an aperture of f1.4 and ISO 6400.
Canon EOS mount lenses for full-frame cameras
The only lens from the list so far that I used regularly after buying the 5D Mark II was the 17-40mm zoom. I also bought these lenses to use with it.
Canon EF 85mm f1.8 USM lens
I purchased this lens to use as a portrait lens and general walk-around short telephoto. It became my favorite Canon lens and I used it a lot. I took the majority of my portraits with this lens, and also used it for close-up photography. The minimum focusing distance of this lens (the closest distance it can focus on) is only 85cm, so I used a 500D close-up filter to enable the lens to get closer to the subject.
The only negative thing about this lens is the weight. It’s not so heavy by itself (especially compared to the much bigger and heavier Canon 85mm f1.2 lens) but paired with the EOS 5D Mark II just became too heavy to carry around for long.
Above: Portrait taken with the Canon 85mm f1.8 lens.
Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM pancake lens
I like the small size and portability of pancake lenses. This lens is also amazingly inexpensive yet the image quality is very good. I bought it because I liked the idea of having a small prime lens to use on my EOS 5D Mark II. It changed the balance of the camera and shifted the centre of gravity back to the camera body. I was no longer fighting gravity pulling down on the lens. It was a joy to use.
This lens confirmed my preference for small, light primes and made me realize that my other lenses that I used regularly were quite large and heavy by comparison. You have probably guessed that this lens started me thinking seriously about looking at a mirrorless camera system.
Above: Portrait taken with Canon 40mm f2.8 pancake lens.
Canon EF 24mm f2.8 IS USM lens
My final Canon lens and the only one that I could say was a mistake to buy. In theory it seemed good – I had the idea that the 24mm wide-angle and 40mm pancake lens could replace the enormous (although much loved) 17-40mm zoom. I used this lens a little but was frustrated by the lack of an available lens hood.
Shortly afterwards I purchased a Fujifilm X-Pro 1 and that confirmed that mirrorless was the way to go for me.
Above: Photo taken with Canon 24mm f2.8 lens.
It’s interesting that as I moved from APS-C cameras (the Rebel XT and EOS 40D) to full-frame that some of the lenses I used became smaller. This was the start of my move from zooms to primes, and eventually the desire for a smaller camera system that led to the eventual switch to the Fujifilm system.
Some photographers talk about owning lenses for ten years or more. But my experience shows that this only applies if you stick with the same camera system and sensor size. Gear acquisition syndrome aside, it is natural to find that your lens needs change as your style and skills evolve. You may find yourself periodically buying new lenses and selling older ones you don’t use any more.
What to read next
My ebook Mastering Lenses shows you how to use your lenses to create better images.