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SALE: Canon 17-85mm IS: $299.
INTRODUCTION back to top.
This is Canon's best basic midrange digital zoom.
It's got great IS for sharp shots without a tripod.
It's super sharp, has great Image Stabilization, focuses almost instantly and is easy to use and carry. It's a great lens!
As an EF-S series lens it only works on the recent small sensor (1.6x or APS-C) cameras, like the Rebels (Rebel, XT and XTi [300D, 350D and 400D]), 20D and 30D. It won't even fit on the older D30, D60 and 10D.
SPECIFICATIONS back to intro and index.
Canon calls this the Canon Zoom Lens EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM.
EF: Electronic Focus. All modern Canon lenses do this.
IS: Image Stabilization. See Why IS Matters.
USM: Ultra-Sonic Motor: It focuses silently.
17-85mm. It gives a field-of-view similar to the view a 28 - 135mm lens gives on a 35mm camera.
17 elements in 12 groups.
Six blades, reasonably rounded for the first two widest stops. Stops down to f/22 - 32.
67mm, plastic thread.
EW-73B, not included (not needed, either).
LP1116, not included.
16.545 oz (469.0 g), as measured by me, without filters or caps.
3.078 diameter x 3.606" extension from mount (78.11 x 91.68mm) at 17mm.
4.656" (118.33mm) extension from mount at 85mm, all as measured by me.
Plastic exterior and switches.
Metal mount. Internals unknown, looks mostly plastic.
June 2015: $299 on sale.
2006 ~ 2011: $500 - 600.
PERFORMANCE back to intro and index.
OVERALL back to intro and index.
It's precisely made of good, solid plastic. It's made to tight tolerances and there is very little mechanical play.
It's a handy lens for walking around.
It has instantaneous focus, great image stabilization, and gives sharp images.
It feels like the precise, quality product it is.
Except for the wide angles being crammed together on the zoom ring, making them hard to select, this is pretty much a perfect lens.
This 17-85mm never gets in your way. It focuses fast and close at every focal length, is easy to zoom, has great IS, and just works as it ought to. Bravo!
MAXIMUM APERTURE back to intro and index.
DISTORTION back to intro and index.
It has a lot of barrel distortion (bulging out) at the wide end, which goes away in the mid and tele range.
These figures 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.
17 mm: Strong barrel distortion. Corrects best with +4.5, but remains wavy.
24 mm: Pincushion distortion. Corrects best with -2.0, but remains a little bit wavy.
35 mm: Pincushion distortion. Corrects well with -3.0.
50 mm: Pincushion distortion. Corrects with -2.2.
70 mm: Pincushion distortion. Corrects with -2.0.
85 mm: Pincushion distortion. Corrects with -1.5.
FOCUS back to intro and index.
AF is silent and almost instantaneous. This is spectacular: it's faster than my own eyes!
It has instant manual focus override: just grab the focus ring. Manual focus works great at every focal length. It's very well cammed.
Almost instantaneous on a 30D and 20D! It snaps into focus faster than I can measure. It focuses faster than my own eyes.
On a 30D, the focus was always dead-on, wide-open at every focal length.
Easy: just move the ring with the tip of one finger. You don't need to bother with any switches. Want AF again? Just tap the shutter halfway again.
Focus moves in the opposite direction from Nikon. Don't try to do this if you use both systems.
17-85mm IS at closest focus at 85mm, full image.
100% crop from above, no extra sharpening. Looks great!
It looks great at close distances. The close focus distance doesn't vary with focal length.
The less expensive 18-55mm EF-S II gets closer.
IS, IMAGE STABILIZATION back to intro and index.
Read Why IS is Important to understand what these ratings mean.
I fired 65 shots, casually (not match-grade) hand held, at each focal length, or about 3 - 5 rounds at each shutter speed and focal length. I used a 30D and looked at the results at 100%, which is a very high magnification.
Holding more carefully I could have gotten better results.
Viewed at lower resolution, like what you'd see in a 4x6" print, you'd get much, much better results.
As you read at Why IS is Important, some of my shots at 1/2 second were perfectly sharp, too. These are averages.
TIP: In dim light, fire several shots and pick the sharpest. It's a random event, so if you fire enough shots, you'll eventually get a sharp one even ar speeds of 1 second!
17 mm: Always sharp at 1/8, not sharp at 1/4
35 mm: sharp 50% of the time at 1/8 and 1/4. not sharp at 1/2.
80 mm: Always sharp at 1/8, not sharp at 1/4.
17mm: Moderate. You'll see it if you look for it. The 18-55mm EF-S II is much better.
24mm: Minor. You have to look hard to see it.
85mm: Almost none. You really have to look for it, and then it's just on the verge of your imagination.
SHARPNESS back to intro and index.
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 an 8 MP 20D. Letters correspond to center - edge. Possible ratings are E - VG - G - F - P. These are subjective. Don't fret over differences between adjacent grades.
SOUND and NOISE back to intro and index.
It's reasonably quiet.
Auto and manual focusing sounds like plastic sliding on plastic.
Zooming sounds like plastic sliding on plastic.
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 intro and index.
17-85mm IS Zoom Ring. 17mm, 24mm and 35mm are crunched together.
The zooming is a pain. It's my only complaint with this lens.
The wide angles are crammed together, and the telephoto settings are spread far apart. The 17mm position isn't where it says 17mm. It's at the end of the mark. It's so crammed that Canon couldn't fit the lettering!
This makes it annoying and difficult to set an exact wide angle. It also requires a lot of rotation to select among similar focal lengths in the telephoto range.
Note how I have the zoom set in the middle of its travel, 50mm. 85mm is only 70% more than 50mm, but 50mm is 294% of 17mm! The middle of this zoom range should be 38mm, not 50mm.
When I compliment other lenses, like the Nikon 18-200mm or 80-400mm for "linear" zooming, I mean that equal rotation causes an equal percentage change in focal length. (Actually I mean to say log, but that would confuse people.) This 17-85mm unfortunately changes equal number of millimeters per degree of zoom ring rotation, which means big percentage changes at the wide and end small ones at the tele end for the same amount of zoom ring rotation.
It zooms well, and doesn't creep, at any orientation including straight up or down.
With the lens horizontal, you can zoom with one finger.
Canon and Nikon rotate in different directions, so stick to one system.
Focus Drift while Zooming
Focus drifts a little at infinity as you change focal lengths. Be sure to focus after zooming.
Focus stays put when zooming at macro and moderate distances.
RECOMMENDATIONS back to intro and index.
This is a great mid-range zoom for Canon. If you're on a budget, the 18-55mm works as well, but without IS or easy manual focus.
You can get this lens as part of a kit with most Canon bodies.
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