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Best Budget Zoom Lens for Canon DSLR

18 Sep Posted by Matt in Guides, Reviews |
Best Budget Zoom Lens for Canon DSLR

A zoom lens with a longer focal length than the kit lens is one of the most popular upgrades for new DSLR owners.

Canon EOS 600D

The exact options available to you will depend on which brand of camera you have, with this guide being tailored towards Canon DSLR users.

There are many options available when choosing a DSLR lens. Firstly, you don’t necessarily need to buy new. Well looked after lenses can last a very long time, so a secondhand lens may allow you to get something better for your money.

Similarly, you don’t have to buy Canon lenses to go on your Canon body. Several third party lens manufacturers make quality lenses, with Sigma and Tamron being the most popular. Third party lenses are usually less expensive than their OEM equivalents. Naturally, the exact best lens for you will depend on your budget and intended use.

Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II

The Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS II is an obvious starting point. It’s inexpensive by lens standards, and designed especially for the enthusiastic newbie who wants a longer zoom.  The focal range starts exactly where the standard kit lens finishes, and goes to a generous 250mm.

Pros:

  • Cheap to buy new
  • Image Stabilisation
  • Original Canon equipment
  • Good zoom range
  • Light, compact design

Cons:

  • Image quality not especially high
  • Can suffer from softness anywhere off-centre
  • Poor maximum aperture values especially at the long end
  • Canon EF-S fit so not compatible with full frame DSLRs or film SLR cameras

Verdict: A reasonable lens that won’t break the bank.  Image Stabilisation goes some way to help combat the poor maximum aperture at the telephoto end.

Cost: Expect to pay around £180/$200 online.

Tamron AF 55-200mm f/4-5.6 Di II LD Macro

The Tamron 55-200mm f/4-5.6 Macro lens is very inexpensive and offers similar specs to the Canon above, albeit with a slightly shorter focal length range. Whilst the added bonus of macro capability may interest some, critically this lens doesn’t feature image stabilisation.

Pros:

  • Cheap to buy new
  • Good zoom range
  • Arguably better optical quality than the Canon above
  • Macro function
  • Lens hood included

Cons:

  • Poor maximum aperture values especially at the long end
  • No Image Stabilisation
  • Canon EF-S fit so not compatible with full frame DSLRs or film SLR cameras

Verdict: This Tamron is the cheapest entry-level zoom that we would consider, but the low price is reflected in the lack of Image Stabilisation.  If you don’t mind carrying a tripod or don’t anticipate using it at the long end often, then this lens won’t be a bad choice.

Cost: Expect to pay around £100/$140 online.

Sigma 50-200mm f4-5.6 DC OS HSM

Sigma-50-200mmThe Sigma 50-200mm f4-5.6 OS is, sadly, rather underwhelming. The build quality is on par with the Canon 55-250mm lens above, and it is marginally cheaper, but it doesn’t go as long at the telephoto end.

Pros

  • Compact design makes it good for travelling
  • Inexpensive to buy new
  • Image Stabilisation
  • Lens hood included

Cons

  • Shorter focal length range than the Canon
  • Canon EF-S fit so not compatible with full frame DSLRs or film SLR cameras
  • Image quality suffers at long focal lengths, especially at the widest apertures

Verdict: The Sigma is a bit of a miss in our book.  Optical performance is mediocre, and whilst it does offer Image Stabilisation (or Optical Stabilisation as Sigma call it) the focal length is slightly less useful than that of the Canon 55-250mm.

Cost: Expect to pay around £150/$170 online.

Canon EF 70-210mm f/4.0

Canon-EF-70-210mm-f4The Canon EF 70-210mm f/4.0 is an old (and long discontinued) lens introduced in the late 80′s, but don’t be scared off by its age. Good copies are plentiful and prices tend to be low. In real world shooting this lens performs nearly identically to the much pricier Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM.

Pros

  • Excellent optics & image quality
  • Fast and accurate autofocus
  • Constant f/4.0 aperture
  • Canon EF fit means lens is compatible with full frame DSLRs and film SLR cameras

Cons

  • Zoom can creep if pointed up or down
  • No Image Stabilisation

Verdict: The retro Canon may be getting on, but it’s definitely ageing gracefully.  Autofocus and optical performance are both the best of the lenses here, whilst a constant f/4.0 aperture outperforms other lenses at this price point.  The push-pull zoom is a bit of a love it or hate it feature, but not a deal breaker either way for us.  Lack of Image Stabilisation is the only gripe we have, but if you can live without it then this lens is a bargain.

Cost: Expect to pay in the region of £80/$100 for a good used copy.

Our verdict

Of course there are many more zoom lenses you could choose for your Canon DSLR, though price rises become significant as the quality of glass, maximum aperture, and build quality increase.

Whilst it doesn’t offer Image Stabilisation, a used Canon EF 70-210mm f/4.0 would be our recommendation for most people. It’s the least expensive of any lens here, and in terms of optical quality and autofocus performance it is superior to the newer Canon, Tamron, and Sigma offerings.

If you must buy new, the Canon EF-S 55-210mm IS would be the best choice for most people. The extra focal length and included Image Stabilisation give it the edge over the bargain-bin Tamron and the underwhelming Sigma.

Canon-70-200-f2.8Often the big limiting factor for a this type of zoom is getting an exposure with a fast enough shutter speed to avoid blur when shooting handheld.  Sadly this is one area that is always a compromise, with the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM offering the closest to perfection, albeit at a hefty price and weight (this thing is big and heavy!).

A final thought

One thing to consider is that, chosen well, your lenses should outlast any camera body you currently own.  Money spent on lenses can be seen as a sound investment, and quality glass should retain its value well.

We would always recommend a good used lens over a cheap new one.

Other lenses to consider

Keeping at the cheap end of the market means all of the lenses above are a compromise. If you decide to spend a bit more money, other options include:

  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM (approx £900/$1200)
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM (approx £1800/$2200)
  • Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM (approx £800/$1300)

 

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