Do you have a Canon mirrorless camera? Our Best Canon Mirrorless Camera General-Purpose Lens recommendations page has your answer.
Nearly everyone needs a general-purpose zoom lens — also referred to as a standard/normal zoom lens or a walk-around lens.
Typically, this is the most important lens in your kit. You leave this lens on your camera for everyday needs. With this lens, you photograph your family and all of life. You capture events with this lens. You travel with this lens. You hike with this lens. This lens is responsible for the preservation of your most precious memories.
Because this lens will probably be your most-used, because this lens will capture what is most important to you, and because the quality of the lens makes a huge difference in your photographs, I highly recommend buying the highest quality standard zoom lens you can afford.
A critical factor in lens selection is the focal length range, and I consider the heart of the general-purpose focal length range to the angles of view provided by the approximately 28-70mm focal length range on a full-frame camera or 18-45mm for an APS-C format DSLR camera with the 1.6x FOVCF involved. Since these two focal length ranges are quite different, and because some APS-C lenses are not compatible with full-frame format cameras, the recommendations are separated below. Read on for the APS-C recommendations or go directly to the Canon full-frame general-purpose DSLR lens recommendations.
APS-C General-Purpose Focal Length Range
1. Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Fast Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization
If I were forced to pick only one APS-C lens, this would be the one. The EF-S 17-55 gives you the best Canon zoom lens image quality available along with a wide, constant-over-the-entire-zoom-range, max f/2.8 aperture (vs. a variable max aperture) that is useful for stopping action in low light and for creating background blur. This lens has fast and accurate Ring USM-driven autofocus, the image stabilization systems adds great versatility.
2. Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
Wide Focal Length Range, Great Value, Small, Light, Image Stabilization, Great Choice for Video
The EF-S 18-135 STM IS packs a very long range of focal lengths into a small, light, image-stabilized body. This lens provides decent image quality and performs especially well when recording video using Movie Servo AF. When purchase in a kit with a DSRL camera, this lens is an especially great value.
3. Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Wide Focal Length Range, Excellent Value, High-Precision & Fast Autofocus, Image Stabilization
The EF-S 15-85 does not have the wide f/2.8 aperture that the EF-S 17-55 has, but it retains excellent image quality and has a wider range of focal lengths in a more compact size. This lens is an especially good choice for landscape and travel photography. Like the EF-S 17-55, this lens features fast and accurate Ring USM-driven autofocus and versatility-increasing image stabilization.
4. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Excellent Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing
The 24-105's focal length range slides toward the long end of the general-purpose range for APS-C body users, but it is still very well-loved by this group. The fixed f/4 max aperture falls between the f/2.8 and variable max aperture general-purpose lens options. If you are not photographing low light action without flash, f/4 is often adequately wide.
5. Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens
The World's First f/1.8 Zoom Lens, Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality
While this lens does not have optical stabilization or a wide range of focal lengths (falling short of my recommended range), it makes up for its shortcomings with the widest aperture available on a zoom lens. This lens will stop low light action and create background blur as no other zoom lens can at comparable focal lengths on an APS-C format camera. Sigma delivers very impressive physical features to accompany the excellent image quality you can expect from this lens.
6. Buy the Best Kit Lens You Can Afford
If the recommended lenses are still over your budget, your best option is probably to buy the best kit lens you can afford. Canon APS-C DSLR camera kit lens options typically include an EF-S 18-55mm IS lens or and EF-S 18-135mm IS. These lenses are usually an especially good value when purchased with a camera.
Here is the 24-105mm focal length range illustrated by a full-frame camera:
The Best Canon Full-Frame General-Purpose DSLR Zoom Lenses
1. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens
Ultimate Image Quality, Excellent Build Quality, Wide f/2.8 Aperture, Very Fast Autofocus Speed with Precision Accuracy, Weather Sealing
If I could have only one lens, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens would be my choice.
The 24-70L II is all about performance and reliability. This L lens delivers impressive as-good-as-it-gets standard zoom lens image quality. Impressive autofocus performance combined with the wide f/2.8 max aperture makes this the lens of choice for photographing sports and other low light action and events. The f/2.8 aperture is useful for stopping action in low light, for creating a strong background blur, and for activating the higher precision AF capabilities of some DSLR cameras. This lens's biggest most significant feature is image stabilization,fv and the big price tag will turn away some potential buyers. Professional photographers need look no farther to find their go-to lens.
2. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Great Value, Excellent Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing
The 24-105 L II provides a nice extension to the 24-70mm focal length range, and this lens again includes the much-desired image stabilization feature. This lens' predecessor, the 24-105 f/4L IS Lens version I, was one of my most-used-ever lenses, and this lens improves on the predecessor lens. While the optical improvements are not huge, the II has less distortion at 24mm, has a better IS system, and features a better build quality. This lens is simply a great all-purpose choice.
3. Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM Lens
Excellent Image Quality, Macro Capabilities, Excellent Build Quality, Great Focal Length Range, Great Autofocus Speed & Accuracy, Image Stabilization, Weather Sealing
The 24-70 f/4L IS was introduced soon after the 24-70 f/2.8L II, and it came with the feature that many of us wanted on the II: image stabilization. While the 24-70 f/4L IS lacks the wide f/2.8 aperture, image stabilization far more than makes up for that difference in this lens' ability to be handheld in low light (with stationary subjects). The fixed f/4 max aperture allows only 1/2 as much light to reach the sensor as an f/2.8 aperture, but lighter weight and lower price are two big advantages over the f/2.8 lens. One of this lens's super powers is its close-focusing capability with the 0.70x maximum magnification approaching that of a true macro lens.
4. Sigma 24-105mm f/4.0 DG OS HSM Art Lens
Great General Purpose Focal Length Range, Great Build Quality, Excellent Image Quality, Optical Stabilization, Classy Looks
Unless you need a wider aperture, this lens has the features you want. This lens features top-of-the-line image quality, excellent build quality, and great looks in a fun-to-use lens package. The price makes this lens a very good value.
5. Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
Great Value Choice, Compact, Light, Great Choice for Video
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens is a relatively small, light lens that performs well and doesn't cost a fortune. The STM-driven AF is smooth and quiet, ideal qualities for video recording.
Other Important General-Purpose DSLR Lenses
While the general purpose/normal/standard zoom lens is going to get the most use by the typical photographer, a kit of lenses will work best for most. Here are the most-recommended next-lenses: