Choosing the best Canon lens is tricky – it’s a brilliantly mature system, with great lenses available from a wide range of manufacturers at different price tags, from double-digit impulse buys to multi-thousand-pound investments. Luckily, we're here to cut through the confusion and help you choose the right lens for you.
The sheer choice on offer means some tough decisions. For example, just how good does your next lens to be? At what point are you happy to trade weight for image quality? How important is weather-sealing? And that’s before you get into the question of using Canon’s own-brand lenses versus an increasingly high-quality range of options from third party manufacturers, who are taking the fight to Canon at both the budget and professional end.
Of course, choosing the best Canon lens is further complicated by the existence of its new high-end mirrorless cameras, which use the new RF mount. We've added a new section on the best choices for RF cameras so far, ranging from the affordable to the decidedly pricey, which you can find on the third page.
But for now, it's time focus on the best lenses for Canon DSLRs. We've split this into two sections, which you can find over the next two pages. In the first, we'll be looking at the best Canon lenses for APS-C format DSLRs like the Canon EOS 90D and Canon EOS Rebel SL3 / EOS 250D.
Jargon buster: lens types
It’s certainly worth getting the designations of lenses clear at this point.
Canon’s EF (Electro-Focus) lens mount dates back to 1987 and the 35mm film era. The EF-S variant was launched in 2003, to suit Canon DSLRs with smaller, APS-C image sensors (such as the 90D).
There are no problems using EF lenses on APS-C format cameras, but you can’t use an EF-S lens on a full-frame DSLR. The classifications used by Sigma are DC (APS-C) and DG (full-frame) and for Tamron it’s Di-II (APS-C) and Di (full-frame).
Canon or third party?
If you’ve got a Canon camera, it might seem sensible to use Canon lenses. However, third-party lenses from the likes of Sigma and Tamron often give similar or even better performance than own-brand Canon lenses, and at more competitive prices.
If you own a Canon camera, using a Canon lens might seem like the obvious choice. However, third-party lenses from the likes of Sigma and Tamron often give similar and even sometimes better performances than the own-brand options. Even better, they're often available at more competitive prices.
For this piece, we put all of the main contenders in the various categories through their paces with rigorous lab testing and shooting in a variety of different 'real-world' scenarios.
From those results, here's the best ten lenses we think you can buy for your Canon APS-C camera body. We've also included outright winners for each category, as well as identifying the best-value alternatives if you've got a tighter budget.
Best Canon lenses for APS-C DSLRs in 2021:
A major upgrade from Tamron’s original 10-24mm lens, the ‘VC HLD’ edition adds image stabilization and a new autofocus system, which is quicker and quieter. Handling is also improved, because the focus ring no longer rotates during autofocus. The good-quality build includes weather seals and a keep-clean fluorine coating on the front element. Image quality benefits from good sharpness and contrast, along with well-contained distortions for an ultra-wide zoom lens, and fairly minimal color fringing.
Great-value option: Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM
Around half the price of the price of the Tamron 10-24mm, this is a top-value buy. It matches the Tamron’s maximum viewing angle, includes image stabilization and has a compact, lightweight build that’s well matched to bodies like the EOS Rebel T6 / 1300D and EOS Rebel SL3/250D.
When you're 100% used to autofocus, going back to manual focus might feel like a backwards step. However, a lens like this gives you such a huge depth field and a short focal length that accurate focusing is less critical. Better yet, the Samyang's distance scale gives you the option to try traditional focusing methods for subjects such as landscape and street photography, such as setting the hyperfocal distance and 'zone focusing'. In terms of image quality, a smart design and high-quality glass helps ensure lovely sharpness, while nano-structure coatings help to keep ghosting and flare to a minimum.
Great-value option: N/A
Samyang's wide-angle prime is a bit of an anomaly, making wide-angle prime lenses for APS-C format cameras almost non-existent. You could try the Canon EF-S 24mm pancake lens, but by the time you take the crop factor into account, it's less 'wide-angle' and more 'standard'.
This lens is now more than a decade old, but don't let that stop you from considering it. While the camera bodies of 10 years ago might look outdated nowadays, that's less of a problem with lenses where designs don't change quite so rapidly. This classic zoom lens is the only one on the list to feature a fast and constant (meaning that it's available through the whole zoom range) f/2.8 aperture, making it great for creating shallow depth of field effects and shooting in low light. There's also a range of enthusiast-friendly features such as ring-type ultrasonic autofocus and a focus distance scale beneath a viewing window. You pay a price for these great specs though, with it being the most expensive standard zoom for APS-C format Canon cameras - still if you need something versatile for everyday usage, it's a great option.
Great-value option: Sigma 17-70mm f/2.8-4 DC Macro OS HSM | C
This third-party option is fairly compact and lightweight. While it doesn't have the f/2.8 constant option of the Canon, f/2.8-4 is still fairly wide. It delivers impressive image quality and comes at a bargain price.
Canon's 1.6x crop factor makes this Sigma 30mm equivalent to around 48mm - that's pretty close to the classic 50mm focal length beloved by many. It's also one of Sigma's 'Art' class lenses, meaning that you get a beautiful construction, as well as a fast f/1.4 aperture. You get fast shutter speeds in low light without needing to boost your ISO settings, but you also get a nice and tight depth of field. Sharpness is impressively good, even at the widest available aperture. Meanwhile, autofocusing is fast due to the rear-focusing mechanism that drives the smaller, rear elements of the lens via a ring-type ultrasonic system. Further good news is that the front element neither extends nor rotates during focusing.
Great-value option: Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM
Teeny tiny and extremely lightweight, this 'pancake' lens is less than an inch in length and only weighs 125g. Although f/2.8 isn't a super fast aperture, image quality is excellent and it's a charming little prime lens for travelling light. What's more, it's super cheap, too.
The only proprietary 'superzoom' lens available for Canon APS-C DSLRs is the EF-S 18-200mm, which is over a decade old and features a basic autofocus system which makes it somewhat disappointing. An alternative is this very appealing Tamron lens, not least because it starts at a wider 16mm, compared to the usual 18mm. You might think that a couple of millimeters doesn't sound like much, but in practice, that extra wide-angle potential is very noticeable. At the other end of the range, the 300mm far outstrips the Canon. The only major downside here is that - like most superzoom lenses - sharpness isn't the best at the long end of the zoom, while barrel distortion is fairly pronounced at the short end. There's always a compromise to be made with superzoom lenses, but if you only want to carry one optic - this is a great choice.
Great-value option: Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC
Remarkably compact and lightweight for a superzoom, the new edition of Tamron’s 18-200mm makes an excellent all-in-one ‘travel lens’, and is unbeatable value at the price.
Ask any Canon user what their first prime lens was and they’ll probably tell you it was the 50mm f/1.8. Small, affordable and a great way to get to grips with the demands of large-aperture photography, it’s long been a go-to for those looking to spice up their photography for cheap.
The good bits first: it’s not unusual to find this 160g beauty for fantastically low prices, and it’s great. In our tests, chromatic aberration was well-controlled, even when shooting wide open. It’s sharp, too – it isn’t magnificent at f/1.8, but if you can close down as little as two stops you’ll be rewarded with an f/4 lens that makes a great job of any image you manage to catch focus on. Because it’s virtually weightless, it handles really nicely and feels like a natural fit whether you use it on a low-end APS-C body or a high-end body with a vertical grip.
Of course, it’s not perfect. One of the changes between this version of the 50mm f/1.8 and the previous model is the addition of the STM (Stepper Motor) focus system. This means that even in manual focus, the focus ring is a fly-by-wire system that drives the focussing elements of the lens.
Canon’s claim that the system is 'near silent' is pretty accurate, but for video work 'near silent' just doesn’t cut it. Manually focussing the lens results in a noise that sounds a bit like a coat being zipped up, so make so mistake about it – there is no silent way to use this lens, which means videographers who capture audio on-board should look elsewhere. If you capture audio externally or are a stills photographer looking to invigorate your photography with a small, fast, affordable lens, this should still be at the top of your list.
Following on from a preceding Tamron 90mm macro lens of the same name, the latest version has higher-grade glass, dual nano-structure coatings, improvements to the weather sealing, plus a fluorine coating on the front elements. The biggest improvement comes in the form of a redesigned autofocus system which has been specifically optimized for close-up shooting, plus a new 'hybrid' optical stabilizer that has been designed for counteracting axial shift (that's up-down or side-to-side movement) as well as the usual angular vibration (aka wobble). It's fairly similar to Canon's flagship EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS lens, but our tests reveal that the Tamronh as the edge for image quality, plus it has the bonus of being less expensive, too.
Great-value option: Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro
Lacking the hybrid stabilization system and the weather-sealing of the Tamron, this Sigma never-the-less has excellent handling and great image quality.
If you're in need of a telephoto zoom, it can make a lot of sense to buy a full-frame compatible optic. They tend to be relatively lightweight and compact, but you'll be getting the best image quality from the centre of the frame when you're using it with your smaller, APS-C image sensor. If you should decide in the future to upgrade to a full-frame body, it'll be one fewer lens you need to ditch too. This Tamron is a fine example of its kind. Build quality is excellent - it includes weather seals for shooting in inclement weather. Meanwhile, image quality is very impressive. Extra bonus points include fast and quiet ring-type ultrasonic autofocus with manual override, plus an effective image stabilizer. Throughout the zoom range you'll notice sharpness and contrast very good, but it does drop off a little bit at the 300mm end of the lens.
Great-value option: Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
For a telephoto zoom lens, this Canon optic designed especially for APS-C cameras is happily compact and lightweight. Some of the weight saving comes from it having a plastic, rather than metal mounting plate, but that's not too bad a compromise to make for the price. As we've seen with other STM lens, the stepping motor autofocus system works well for stills and movie recording. Throughout the zoom range sharpness is good - even when shooting at the widest aperture - while the image stabilizer gives you about three stops.
The problem with 'fast' telephoto zooms, such as the typical 70-200mm f/2.8 lens favored by pros, is that they're big and heavy. Placing these on the front of a fairlyy small camera like the EOS Rebel SL3 / 250D or even the EOS 90D leads to a hefty imbalance. As a compromise, you could go for a lens like this, which is an f/stop slower but offers a constant f/4 throughout the zoom range. There's also all the bonuses that an "L-series" offers, including weather sealing and optical excellence. All of this in a package which is around half the weight of most 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms. On top of all that, sharpness and contrast are superb, while the ring-type ultrasonic autofocus system is super speedy.
Great-value option: Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM
A great bargain buy, the Sigma has the faster, often favored f/2.8 aperture rating and is a very good performer, although it lacks weather seals.
Despite the fact that this lens delivers a ridiculous long effective focal length of 960mm at its longest end of its zoom range when used with an APS-C format body, it's surprisingly not too much of a monster. Coming in at less than 2kg, it's the ideal option for wildlife photographers - indeed it's almost a kilogram lighter than Sigma's 150-600mm Sport lens. You get many of the same features as its bigger sibling, including dual, switchable autofocus modes, dual-mode stabilization and a dual-position autofocus range limiter. You also get the same zoom lock mechanism which lets you lock the lens at any marked (numbered) position. As for performance, that's great too with fantastic autofocus speeds, stabilisation and sharpness. Handling is also great, too.
Great-value option: Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM | C
The maximum focal length is comparatively modest but Sigma’s Contemporary class super-telephoto zoom is nicely compact and lightweight, making prolonged handheld shooting less of a strain.