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Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS
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Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

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Canon 17-55mm

Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS (23.0 oz./652g, 77mm filters, 1.2'/0.35m close focus, about $1,060). Move your mouse over it to see it zoom! enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to it at Adorama, at Amazon or at Ritz, when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. Thank you! Ken.

 

February 2012, December 2006   Canon Reviews   Canon Lenses   All Reviews

 

Introduction         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

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The 17-55mm IS is Canon's most expensive midrange zoom designed exclusively for the 1.6x sensor cameras. Forget it for 35mm cameras, full-frame and 1.3x digital cameras.

 

Good News:

1.) Instant autofocus.

2.) Less distortion than other midrange digital zooms.

3.) f/2.8 for use in lower light than other midrange digital zooms.

4.) Image Stabilization for use without a tripod.

 

Bad News:

1.) Expensive.

2.) Same nominal zoom range and performance as the $100 18-55mm. Sorry, but looking at the images from my 8MP and 10MP bodies I don't see any more sharpness, and I got more consistent autofocus accuracy with the 18-55mm.

3.) Doesn't focus as close as the $100 18-55mm.

3.) Big lens; feels heavy on Digital Rebels.

 

Specifications         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Name

Canon calls this the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM.

   EF: Electronic Focus. All modern Canon lenses do this.

   -S: Only works on newer, small (1.6x factor) DSLRs, which are the Rebels, 30D and 20D.

   IS: Image Stabilization. See Why IS Matters.

   USM: Ultra-Sonic Motor: The focus motor operates silently.

 

Focal Length

17-55mm.

On a 1.6x camera it gives angles of view similar to what a 28-89mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera. See Crop Factor.

 

Optics

19 elements, 12 groups including three aspherical elements and two of UD glass.

UD glass is the same as Nikon's ED glass, which helps reduce color fringing.

 

Diaphragm

7 blades.

Stops down to f/22.

 

Filter Size

77mm.

 

Close Focus

14" or 35cm from the image plane (the back of the camera).

 

Maximum Reproduction Ratio

1:5.9.

 

Size

3.284" diameter x 4.358 " extension from flange (83.41 x 110.68mm) at 17mm.

5.413" (137.48mm) extension at 55mm, all as measured by me.

 

Weight

22.985 oz. (651.65 g), as measured by me, naked (the lens, not me).

 

Hood

EW-83J, not included.

 

Case

LP1219, not included.

 

Introduced

May 2006.

 

 

Performance         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Autofocus   Bokeh   Color   Color Fringes   Construction   Distortion   Falloff

Film   Filters   Flare   Flash   Macro   Serial #   Sharpness   Smell   IS   Zooming

 

OVERALL

The 17-55mm IS does what's it's supposed to. It's fast, easy to use, and very competent at everything. It has no sore spots, even if it leaves one in your wallet, except for autofocus inconsistency.

 

FOCUSING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

This 17-55mm focuses as well as any Canon I've used. Lenses with this level of autofocus performance are why pro sports photographers changed to Canon in the 1990s and have never returned to Nikon.

 

Speed

AF speed is almost instantaneous on my XTi.

 

Sound and Noise

It's almost silent.

Manual Focus: Plastic on plastic.

Autofocus: About the same.

 

Ease of Manual Focusing

Excellent: just move the ring with the tip of one finger at anytime for instant manual override. I can do this while holding my XTi in one hand.

 

Autofocus Accuracy and Repeatability

Reasonable. At f/2.8 I usually get dead-on autofocus on my XTi.

"Usually" means it's not unusual to get out-of focus shots shooting in daylight at f/2.8, so practice with your own camera to make sure you're happy with it. Mine was worst at the wide end.

 

Autofocus Offset

At infinity at f/2.8 it tends to focus a little closer than the subject, but so slightly that I wouldn't notice it except shooting deliberate tests. When I'm at f/2.8 in real shooting it's because I'm out of light and things are in motion, during which conditions I can't see the minute science-lab errors I can when shooting tests. This is an overall slight offset; different from the occasional shots with missed focus.

Be careful and try yours to make sure you're happy with it. The reason you're paying for this lens is to use it at f/2.8. I don't always get perfect results, even shooting still subjects, at f/2.8.

For normal images, which means stopped down to f/5.6 or smaller in decent light, the results were always excellent, but for that, the 18-55mm kit lens works as well.

 

Focus Breathing

This 17-55mm changes magnification a little as it focuses. This is only important if you're using the 17-55mm IS on a video camera for professional production. If you've never heard of a focus puller, then don't worry.

 

BOKEH   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Bokeh is good. It's quite neutral, a pleasant surprise since most other advanced aspherical optics of this class usually have hideous bokeh.

These experiments are at ISO 400 on my XTi. Sorry about my hand; the 27-year-old nude hardbody Japanese model with the waterfall comes immediately after it.

Here are complete images of my hand at the close focus distance, with LEDs under my desk at 10 feet (3m):

Bokeh at 17mm
Bokeh at 17mm
Full image, XTi, 17mm at f/2.8
Full image, XTi, 55mm at f/2.8

And here are 100% crops at two apertures:

 

bokeh 17mm

55m bokeh

100% crop, XTi, 17mm at f/2.8
100% crop, XTi, 55mm at f/2.8

 

bokeh 17mm
55m bokeh
100% crop, XTi, 17mm at f/4
100% crop, XTi, 55mm at f/4

 

Here's that 27-year-old Japanese hardbody. The waterfall is back in the greenery, invisible in this shot. Sorry, I don't get paid anything to do this website. My Nikon F2AS is further away than my hand was:

 

Bokeh at 17mm
Bokeh at 17mm
Full image, XTi, 17mm at f/2.8
Full image, XTi, 55mm at f/2.8
bokeh 17mm

55m bokeh

100% crop, XTi, 17mm at f/2.8
100% crop, XTi, 55mm at f/2.8

 

bokeh 17mm
55m bokeh
100% crop, XTi, 17mm at f/4
100% crop, XTi, 55mm at f/4

 

The 17-55mm is very sharp at 100% at f/2.8; these crops are not including the front of the lens of my Nikon which was the focal point.

 

COLOR FRINGES
(Lateral Chromatic Aberration or LCA)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It is very good at the wide end and perfect at the long end.

This lens is approved by the PPLFPA, Professional Patio and Lawn Furniture Photographers' Association, with a grade of "B."

Here are the full guide images from which the crops are taken:

full image 17mm 55mm
Full Image, 17mm
Full Image, 55mm

 

17mm LCA

24mm LCA
100% crop from XTi at 17mm
100% crop from XTi at 24mm

 

35mm LCA
55mm LCA
100% crop from XTi at 35mm
100% crop from XTi at 55mm

This is much better than the 17-85mm IS and about the same as the Canon 18-55mm EF-S II .

 

COLOR RENDITION

I see no differences from my other Canon lenses, which is as I expect for almost any multicoated lens made since the 1970s.

 

CONSTRUCTION QUALITY

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

It's well made, mostly of plastic. Any metal is in the mount or inside.

 

Exterior

Plastic.

 

Filter Threads

Plastic.

 

Focus Ring

Ribbed hard plastic.

You get traction through pressure against the ribbing of the hard plastic, there's no rubber against which to get friction.

 

Markings

Paint.

 

Switches

Plastic.

 

Mount

Metal.

Rubber bumper protrudes through rear.

 

Internals

Plastic and metal.

 

Noises when shaken

A lot of clunking and clanging, like spare change and glass. This is normal.

 

Quality

Made in Japan. (marked on box, not found on lens.)

 

DISTORTION   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Distortion is the best I've seen in the EF-S midrange zooms at 17mm. It's several times better at the wide end, but worse at 55mm where the $100 18-55mm has less than one-tenth the distortion.

Here's the proverbial Bad Photographers' Wall of Shame:

Wall-of-Shame at 17mm. Roll over to see after correction.

17mm distortion
24mm distortion
At 17mm, XTi
At 24mm, XTi

 

35mm distortion
55mm distortion
At 35mm, XTi
At 55mm, XTi

Wall-of-Shame at 55mm. Roll over to see after correction.

Plug these figures into Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter to correct the distortion as seen above. These figures, the result of hours of research, are for you to enjoy in your photography. This is all © and registered, so you'll need permission to use these figures for anything else. Thanks! Ken.

7' (2m)
50' (15m)
17mm
+ 1.5*
+ 1.0*
20mm
- 0.1
- 0.5*
24mm
~ 0.0
- 1.5
28mm
- 1.0
- 2.4
35mm
- 2.0
- 2.5
55mm
- 2.0
- 2.0

* Some waviness remains, if you're looking for it, after correction. You'll need a higher-order tool, like Panorama Tools, to eradicate it.

 

FALLOFF (Darkened Corners)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The 17-55mm is very good. There is some falloff at f/2.8 which goes away at f/4. These tests below are extremely devious and show even the slightest falloff. The level of falloff seen at f/4 below will be invisible in real photos.

Here are shots of my Expodisc. Ignore the minor exposure variations between frames.

 

 
f/2.8
f/4
f/5.6

f/8

17mm
20mm
28mm
35mm
55mm

 

 

USE ON 35mm CAMERAS   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Forget it. It won't mount on them.

It won't work or mount on full-frame or 1.3x sensor digital cameras either.

 

USE WITH FILTERS    back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The 17-55mm IS works great with regular old filters. There is no need for expensive thin mount filters.

Canon cautions only to use the Canon PL-C 77mm II filter. I find it works great with my conventional, old-fashioned Hoya 77mm Circular Polarizer.

I can use two fat, rotating-mount filters (13.7mm thick combined, excluding threads) as wide as 28mm. This includes my conventional Hoya 77mm Circular Polarizer and my Tiffen 0.6 ND rotating grad. There isn't much change as you zoom wider than 28mm; you can zoom out to 17mm and merely crop a little, even with these two stacked filters.

There isn't any change with focused distance.

Here's what you get at 17mm with both a 7mm thick Tiffen 0.9 ND and my 17mm thick Hoya 77mm Circular Polarizer (13.9mm thick combined, excluding threads):

Filter vignetting at 17mm at f/11. Roll mouse over to see it at f/2.8.

Like many lenses, filter vignetting seems worse at larger apertures as the effective image of the black edge of the filter is defocused more and blends further into the image.

This effect doesn't change much until you zoom to 28mm, at which point it goes away.

 

FLARE AND GHOSTS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

If I point it directly into the blinding (literally) California sun I can get some ghosts. Only an idiot would do what I did to excite these.

17mm distortion
24mm distortion
At 17mm, XTi
At 43mm, XTi

These are made with +2/3 exposure compensation to exaggerate the ghosts. The 17mm shot is 1/125 at f/11 and the 43mm shot is 1/250 at f/7.1, all program auto at ISO 100.

If left to its usual exposure setting these would have been much darker, and if I wasn't so stupid as to have pointed the camera directly into the midday sun, these would be invisible.

I doubt these are a problem with sunsets into which you can look comfortably. The sun here was so bright that it was solarizing (going dark) on my retina.

These are with a naked (no filter) lens.

 

USE with FLASH   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Built-in flashes are often so close to the camera that ultrawide lenses can see far enough down to see their shadow cast by a built-in flash.

Using this lens 17mm with a built-in flash will give you a shadow on the floor at normal indoor distances. You need to shoot at 20mm or longer.

These are examples from my XTi used incorrectly. Zoom in and the dark shadows at the bottom go away.

Canon 17-35mm distortion at 17mm
Canon 17-35mm distortion at 20mm
With built-in flash at 17mm.
Camera at 18" (50cm), zoom at 17mm.

If you get closer, you'll have to shoot at even longer settings. At three feet (1m), stay at 24mm or longer.

At the close focus distance (14" or 35cm) you'll always get the dark moon at the bottom with built-in flash, even at the 55mm setting.

If this becomes a problem, hold the camera upside-down so the shadow goes into the top of the picture where it's less likely to be a problem.

Shoe-mount flashes are far enough forward that the shadows aren't seen by wide lenses.

 

MACRO   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Canon 17-55mm Macro

At closest focus at 55mm, full image.

Cropped Macro

100% crop from above, no extra sharpening.

It doesn't get very close. The 18-55mm EF-S II, for less than one-tenth the price, gets much closer.

 

SERIAL NUMBER  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The serial number is laser engraved into the plastic (black-on-black) on the outside bottom of the barrel near the mount.

 

SMELL  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The one I borrowed smelled a little like skanky old grease, if you sniffed its mount and zoomed it to pump out the odor.

This is weird, I've never noticed any other lens smelling. I only noticed it when mounting and unmounting it.

It's not annoying at all, just a little weird, and being a fan of the weird, I figured I'd point it out.

 

SHARPNESS  back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Sharpness for normal use is great. It's hard to evaluate at the largest apertures because focus accuracy issues cloud (literally) the results.

So long as you stop down a stop or two, your technique will be your biggest barrier to sharp photos. I have a page on How to Get Sharp Photos.

Here are my observations on my 10 MP XTi. Letters correspond to center - side - corner. Possible ratings are E - VG - G - F - P. These are subjective. Don't fret over differences between adjacent grades.

Diffraction is usually the sharpness-limiting factor for all lenses, especially digital SLRs, at about f/11 and above. See also How Sharpness Varies with Aperture.

f/2.8
f/4
f/5.6
f/8
17 mm
E* - VG - F
E* - VG - F
E - VG - F
E - VG - G
24 mm
E - VG - F
E - VG - F
E - VG - F
E - VG - F
35 mm
VG* - VG - G
E - VG - G
E - E - VG
E - VG - VG
55 mm
VG* - VG - G
E - VG - G
E - E - VG
E - E - VG

* Be careful of your autofocus system. If a shot is off, you'll get poor results.

 

IS (Image Stabilization)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

The first figure is the percentage of sharp shots I got, hand-held, without IS. The second figure is the percentage of sharp shots I get, hand-held, with IS. "Sharp" means sharp at 100% on my monitor, which is equivalent to a 39" (1m) wide print. For most normal uses you can get away with even slower speeds.

1 sec
1/2
1/4
1/8
1/15
1/30
17mm
0 / 60%
0 / 60%
50 / 100%
90 / 100%
90 / 100%
100 / 100%
28mm
0 / 0%
0 / 66%
0 / 80%
10 / 80%
80 / 100%
100 / 100%
55mm
0 / 0%
0 / 0%
0 / 50%
0 / 50%
40 / 80%
60 / 100%

As always, IS is great. It lets me make sharp images at 17mm with one-second exposures most of the time! At 28mm I get that at 1/2 second, and at 55mm I get sharp images most of the time at 1/4 second. Canon may have its ways of testing, and my actual use shows I get two real stops of improvement, Your results will vary.

Read Why IS is Important to understand more about what these ratings mean.

TIP: In dim light, fire several shots and pick the sharpest. Blur is a random event, so if you fire enough shots, you'll eventually get a sharp one even at speeds of over 1 second!

TIP: Let the IS stop, which goes on for 2 seconds after releasing shutter, before removing the lens from the camera. .

TIP: Turn IS OFF on a tripod to save power. I didn't see any difference in sharpness.

TIP: Leave IS ON on a monopod.

Canon says IS works even with the EF12-II and EF25-II extension tubes.

Sound

When IS is active, you'll hear a slight hissing if you put your ear to the lens or are in a quiet location.

 

ZOOMING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

You need to use at least two fingers to rotate the zoom ring. It is difficult to impossible to zoom with only one finger. It's easiest while level, and pointing directly up or down doesn't make it that much more difficult to zoom.

The zoom ring is the front half of the lens. You can't miss it.

Canon 17-55mm Zoom Ring

Zoom Ring Scale, Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS.

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

I had no zoom creep, but with age it may start to creep pointed directly up or down. No big deal, this isn't a lens bought for use on a copy stand.

 

Focus Shift while Zooming

Focus shifts very little. You can get away with the TV cameraman's trick of zooming in to see focus more easily, focusing manually, and zooming out to where you need it.

 

Focal Length Encoding Accuracy

The EXIF data agrees exactly at the marked settings of 17, 20, 28 and 55mm. At a marked setting of 35mm the EXIF data reads 33mm.

I have not correlated the accuracy of the markings to the actual focal lengths.

 

Recommendations         top

Intro   Specs   Performance   Recommendations

Is it worth it? See Is It Worth It.

The 18-55mm II lens does 90% of what this 17-55mm IS lens does, for less than 10% of the cost.

Personally I don't use midrange zooms. I use a wide and a tele and forget about the middle, except for party shots. I prefer lightweight zooms when I do use a midrange zoom.

If you're a full-time pro and use this all day, every day, of course it's worth it.

If you're a student for whom cash is tight, then no, it's absolutely not worth it. You'll make the same images with the 18-55mm II kit lens, and have enough cash left over to go on some great trips to make photos you otherwise wouldn't. For you, the less expensive lens will make much better images.

Some lenses, like the 100mm Macro and 17-40mm, autofocus almost perfectly on all my Canons. Others, like this 17-55mm, miss occasionally. I'd suggest checking this carefully before your return period expires to ensure you're happy, since if you can't get good focus at f/2.8 you miss some of the value of this lens.

I'd prefer the 17-85mm IS, for half the price as the 17-55mm IS, for the longer zoom range. The disadvantages of the 17-85mm are much more distortion, and crammed together zoom settings at the wide end.

Personally, I'd stick with the $100 kit lens and save my money if cost is a concern. I'd rather put limited funds into other lenses, like the 10-22mm EF-S. If cost isn't a concern, this is your lens.

But wait! If you want the best images regardless of cost, with the deep rebates as of December 2006 on the full-frame 5D body, you'd be better off going for a 5D and the 24-105mm f/4 IS (untested yet by me, but same price as this 17-55 IS) or any other midrange zoom, like the 28-135mm IS.

This 17-55mm IS fits a niche for folks with some coin to burn, but not enough cash for a 5D, or those who simply prefer the lighter, faster frame rate cameras like the 20D, 30D and upcoming 40D. Just don't sell the farm for this lens, because it isn't as good as spending the same money stepping up to a 5D.

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Thanks for reading!

 

 

Mr. & Mrs. Ken Rockwell, Ryan and Katie.

 

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