Comparing Two Canon Lenses

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I had the opportunity to try out, compare, and contrast two different lenses a couple of weeks ago: the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens, and the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Lens. Both are considered among the best general purpose lenses available on the market today. With their somewhat similar focal length and identical fixed aperture, I was interested to see if one would out-perform the other. I’d read that both are considered among the best general purpose lenses available, and as I am currently trying to determine the best single lens that can suit a multitude of my needs, I considered this a good opportunity to test drive both lenses during a couple of events I was hired to shoot.

24-70mm lens on the left, 17-55mm lens on the right

Some out-of-the-box comparisons:
- The first thing I noticed right away about both lenses is that they are both a lot heavier than the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 kit lens that came with my Canon Digital Rebel. The 17-55mm weighs in at 22.8 ounces, and the 24-70mm weighs in at 33.6 ounces.
- Next I noticed that the lens hood is in a fixed position (it does not extend/retract) on the 24-70mm, while the 17-55mm lens hood does extend and retract.
- The 17-55mm has Image Stabilization, while the 24-70mm is an “L” (luxury) lens with no IS.

27-70mm lens on the left, 17-55mm lens on the right.

As far as performance is concerned, both are extremely fast, sharp lenses. The image and color quality from both lenses is outstanding. The 24-70mm was happiest outdoors and captured shots of my neighborhood crisply and instantly. The 17-55mm worked very well hand-held, in dim lighting, where the Image Stabilization ensured sharp pictures despite the slightly longer shutter speed required.

Photo taken with the EF-S17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM - 1/200 sec, 55mm, ISO 1600

I liked the fact that both lenses feature the fixed f/2.8 aperture, which meant that exposure settings did not change when zooming in and out on a subject. The wide aperture also activated higher autofocus sensitivity on both lenses, with very little delay even in low light situations between composing the shot and getting it into focus. Both lenses also provided nice background blur when photographing a close subject.

Photo taken with the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM - 1/30 sec, 64mm, ISO 1600

Really, when comparing the two lenses, there was very little to tip me one way or the other on which lens I preferred. I liked the slightly wider field of the 24-70mm lens, and I also liked the fact that the non-moving lens hood allowed me to get in close to a subject and adjust the zoom without worrying about bonking said subject with the lens. I liked the Image Stabilization of the 17-55mm (though I did notice the IS drained my battery more rapidly than normal), and the fact that it was significantly lighter in weight than the 24-70mm.

In my own circumstances and photographic requirements, If I HAD to choose between the two, I would probably purchase the 17-55mm instead of the 24-70mm for two reasons: 1) I take a lot of hand-held shots in low light situations, so the Image Stabilization is key for me; and 2) the 17-55′s lighter weight; the 24-70mm got my wrist aching from carrying it around after a while.

Hand-held with the EF-S17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM - 1/40 sec, 28mm, ISO 1600

(With respect to the image above, I shot this entire set of pictures in a bar, at night, hand-holding the EF-S17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. Check them out if you’re particularly interested in the low light level performance of this lens.)

I would HIGHLY recommend either or both lenses for anyone looking for a Canon product in this focal range – I certainly wouldn’t mind owning both, myself. They’re even closely priced at between $1000 and $1400 USD depending on which retailer you choose.

For much more information on both lenses, I highly recommend that you read The Digital Picture’s in-depth analyses and reviews of the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM and the Canon EFS 17-55mm with Image Stabilization.

The most excellent folks at Pro Photo Rental provided the lenses for the purpose of this review. Their service has always been outstanding and I continue to highly recommend them to anyone with lens rental needs.(*)

Photo credits (all): Tiffany Joyce.

*The Author received complimentary rentals in exchange for mentioning the Provider’s products and/or services on this website. Such compensation received did not and will never influence the content, topics or posts made on this website. We will only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement.

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  • mrfearless47

    One consideration when buying Canon lenses. If you ever want to move to a Full Framer like the 5D MkII, you can't use the EF-S lens. That always tipped the balance for me in favor of the “FX” type lenses such as the “L”. I tried to avoid EF-S lenses wherever possible.

  • bookmephoto


  • Tim

    For the benefit of those of us who don't live in North America it would have been useful to put the weight of the lenses in grams as well as ounces. I had to find a conversion table to work it out. Incidentally, I was shocked at how heavy the larger lens is. I am not surprised it made your wrist hurt!

  • Jay

    Additional info that might be added: The EF-S lenses restricted use to Canon cameras using the smaller sensors. The primary differences between the 17-55 and 24-70, reflected in the price, are build quality, weight (+8oz for the 24-70) and sealing. Neither lens is a lightweight, the 17 @ 645g(1.4 lb), the 24 @ 950g(2 lb). There are complaints of dust infiltrating this lens requiring additional post processing (dust spot removal in photoshop or other), and/or having to send the lens in for a professional cleaning. Having said that, the lens receives excellent reviews.

    Users of less than full frame sensor cameras need consider the 'crop factor' in choosing their lenses. The 35mm equivalent for the 17-55mm @1.6x would approximate a 27-88mm and the 24-70mm @1.6x would be 38-112mm. If your interest is in a wider field of view (landscapes, room interiors, etc.) the 17-55 is the obvious choice. Some upper level cameras have a smaller crop factor of 1.3 and would be an even better choice for wider angles. For a better visual idea of how wide you need, on a full frame sensor you are able to 'see' a normal (12' x 15' approx) sized room with a 24mm lens. The difference between a 28mm and 24mm appears little; however, it really is significant!