Zoom lenses are great for giving you maximum flexibility when it comes to shooting at different focal lengths. There can be some compromise though – while prime (fixed focal length) lenses tend to be able to offer a super-wide aperture (f/1.8 or wider), most zoom lenses give you a narrower range.
When choosing a zoom lens, you’ll need to consider first what type of camera you’ve got. If it’s one with a full-frame sensor, such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, then the focal length will be the same as is written on the lens. However, if you’re shooting with an APS-C camera, such as the Canon EOS 7D Mark II, Canon EOS 1300D or the Canon EOS 760D, then you need to take into account the “crop factor.” With Canon cameras, this equates to 1.6x the length written on the lens. That means, for example, the equivalent focal length of the standard 18-55mm kit lens supplied with many entry-level cameras is actually 28-88mm.
Next, think about what kind of zoom lens you want. For this piece, we have separated the options into standard and telephoto zoom lenses. Standard zooms are great as “everyday” options, giving you a range from wide angle to short telephoto, and are useful for a wide range of situations. On the other hand, telephoto lenses are great for sports, action, or wildlife – any subject where you can’t get particularly close to the subject.
Best standard zoom lenses for Canon
Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4
For: APS-C | Equivalent focal length: 27.2-112mm | Street Price: £349
This good value standard zoom lens is designed for APS-C sensor cameras, and gives you a flexible range to work with. It would serve well as a walk around lens, with the wide apertures available at each end of the optic good for creating shallow depth of field effects, or shooting in low light. The wide angle end of the lens is ideal for landscapes, while the mid-ranges could work well for street photography and portraits. At the maximum focal length, the lens is ideal for still life, portraits and picking out details.
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Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM
For: APS-C | Equivalent focal length: 27.2-88mm | Street Price: £750
The constant f/2.8 maximum aperture of this lens make it appealing for APS-C users looking for a high-quality walk around lens. It closely matches the classic 24-70mm focal length usually preferred by full-frame shooters. Great for shooting in low light, the maximum wide aperture is joined by a 3-stop image stabilisation system.
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Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8
For: APS-C | Equivalent focal length: 28.8mm-56mm | Street Price: £649
It’s extremely unusual for a zoom lens to feature a super-wide aperture like f/1.8, so this lens is great news for low-light photographers who can enjoy the benefits of shooting at wide apertures, without having to carry 2-3 prime lenses. With this lens you get classic focal lengths 28mm, 35mm and 50mm in one package, saving you time and hassle when it comes to switching between different optics. It would also make for a great walk around lens for general use, if you don’t need to get too close to your subject.
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Canon 24-105mm f/4 L II USM
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £1,065
Falling in Canon’s professional “L” series, the 24-105mm gives you a lot of flexibility in one package. It’s a great walk around lens for full-frame cameras, as well as being useful for professionals shooting subjects such as wedding and events. At the wide angle end of the lens, you have a focal length suitable for landscapes and so on, while at the 105mm end, portraits, still life and more is within reach. On the downside, the maximum constant aperture of f/4 is not perfectly suited to low-light photography. Still, if you mainly shoot in good light and want the added reach that the 105mm gives you, it might be a better choice than Canon’s other standard telephoto option.
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Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £1,899
Here we have the best compromise for full-frame shooters when it comes to flexibility of focal length and wide aperture. Canon also has a 24-70mm f/4 lens, which is available for less than half the price of the f/2.8 version – which is something to consider if low light isn’t something you find yourself shooting often. The 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM is favoured by professionals and enthusiasts alike, giving you a great option for landscapes, portraits and subjects in between.
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Best telephoto zoom lenses for Canon
Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM A
For: APS-C | Equivalent focal length: 80-160mm | Street price: £949
This lens is from Sigma’s superb “Art” lens category. That means you get super-fine image quality from this telephoto lens, which covers a range of classic focal lengths in one package. What’s more, you get a super wide aperture – which again is very unusual for a zoom lens, especially a telephoto zoom. It’s quite a big lens, but it certainly takes up less room in your bag than three equivalent prime lenses.
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Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM
For: Full-frame | Street price: £1,999
If you need to get closer to the action than a standard zoom lens offers, then something offering a range from 70-200mm is ideal. At the wider end of the lens, you can still use it for relatively close-up work, such as portraits. For that reason, it’s also favoured by events and wedding photographers. The maximum wide aperture throughout the lens range makes it ideal for low light shooting, or subjects such as sport. It’s designed for full-frame cameras, but you could conceivably use it on some APS-C cameras – you may want to use it with the larger models, such as the Canon EOS 7D Mark II though, as the 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM is a large lens that is likely to unbalance an entry-level model.
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Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £1,049
If you can’t quite stretch to the high asking price of the 70-200mm f/2.8 L lens, there is another alternative. The 70-200mm f/4 still falls into Canon’s “professional” L category of cameras, but as a trade-off you get a narrower maximum aperture. An aperture of f/4 is still wide enough for many subjects, though super low light shooting might present a bit of a struggle.
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Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £1,349
Using a third-party lens is a great way to save money when compared to Canon’s proprietary optics. It doesn’t have to mean compromising on image quality either, as this lens from Tamron has proved. Here we’ve got a 4-stop image stabilisation system, and delivers excellent image quality. You get a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8 making it great for low-light shooting, too.
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Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM S
For: Full-frame | Street Price: £2,699
This whopper of a lens gives you a long focal length which would make it great for far subjects, such as sports, action and wildlife. The wider angle also makes it suitable for weddings, events, and possibly even portraits. You will likely find using the lens for long stretches of time is quite a strain, so it’s one that is perhaps best suited to tripod work. For the weight and bulk, you get something which delivers excellent sharpness and a wide maximum aperture throughout the focal range.
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