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Canon EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM

Review Date: Mar 4, 2008 Recommend? yes | Price paid: Not Indicated | Rating: 8 

Pros: Focal range, IS, exceptional autofocus, really wide (more like 16mm), image quality, resistance to flare, nice bokeh, useability
Zoom action, distortion on wide end, some chromatic aberration on wide end, shade not included, collects some dust inside

This is an underrated lens IMO. I finally bought one after lots of reading and thinking, and after 2000 shots I'm not disappointed.

This is a great all-round lens, and that's exactly why I bought it: to bring less gear while not having too much limitations. I have better, more expensive glass for most of the 17-85mm range, but this is the only Canon lens that fully covers this very useful range. Because of this, it sees a lot of use. I use it on a 30D. It used to be overpriced (like the 17-55 F/2.8), but today the price is okay.

Although it's rather slow, I especially like it for portraits. The 50-85 range is ideal for this, and the 17-85 performs great here. Besides, it's the only large-range zoom which produces nice bokeh.

The max aperture breaks down like this:
17-24mm F/4
24-35mm F/4.5
35-50mm F/5
50-85mm F/5.6

IS works great, and gives you two to three stops extra handholdability. 17mm at 1/7 second is no problem.

This lens performs quite well, and good enough for its price.
I have never seen the vignetting at 17mm other people complain about. Maybe they should try removing a filter (I don't use a UV filter on this lens).

The lens is sharp wide open and doesn't need stopping down. This is great - the rated speed is really useable. Take note of this when you compare this lens against others which seem to be faster.

Autofocus on this lens is spectacular. It's super fast (like the 17-40L) and never misses, at any focal length. In low light it works faster and more accurate than the 17-40L. I have yet to see a faster focusing optic.

On the downside:
This lens collects some dust on the inside over time. Until now, I have not seen any loss of sharpness or other degradation.

The zoom ring is not damped well, it's a little 'sticky', especially when you grip it firmly. The wide range (17-24mm) is very close together, making it hard to make fine adjustments.

At 17mm there's a lot of barrel distortion. Fortunately this is easy to correct. The lens is also a little wider than 17mm, so you won't loose to much angle of view when you 'debarrelize' and then crop your shot. This distortion disappears very quickly when you zoom in. At 20mm it's already gone for the most part. Nevertheless, at 17mm there's severe distortion.

The weakest performance is 17 to about 24mm. Below 20 mm you will see some CA. Up to 24mm there's a little softness in the extreme corners at any aperture, but nothing to be scared of. Of course CA can be corrected. After reading too many reviews the CA on this lens is not half as bad as I expected. It's not much worse than on the 17-40L.
From 24mm up, it's very good without real flaws.

The new 18-55 IS is sharper, but the 17-85 has WAY better autofocus, a better zoom range, better build quality and especially better brilliance and contrast.

I highly recommend this lens. You can find lenses that are tchnically better, but this lens is not bad at all, is reasonably priced, has all the modern bells and whistles and does it all. It will spend a lot of time on your camera.