Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM - Upgrade Your Kit Lens


When buying a new APS-C DSLR, it's a good idea to get a kit lens with it. They're great for resale value and are usually quite decent for the price. But when it's time to upgrade your "everyday zoom," what are your best options?

For Canon 60D and 7D owners, I recommend the Canon EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM zoom. Here are the key reasons why I favor this zoom over the other models in the EF-S line up.

  • Wide 24mm equivalent, yet zooms out to 135mm equivalent
  • USM makes for quiet, fast focusing
  • 4 stops image stabilization
  • Very sharp at all focal lengths
  • Relatively compact for such a wide zoom range

You may have noticed that I didn't specify this lens for the Canon Rebel T2i or T3i. That's only because it feels a bit heavy on those camera bodies. I think the zoom has better balance on the 50D, 60D, and 7D models. It's not a particularly light lens, weighing in about 1.25 pounds (575 g). But is is relatively short at 3.4" (8.64 cm). It would certainly provide great images on a Rebel, just try it first to make sure it's comfortable to hold.

On the downside, it isn't a very fast zoom. Some of this is offset by the 4 stop image stabilizer. You do have f/3.5 at the widest setting, but as soon as you begin to zoom it works its way up to f/4, then f/5.6 at the tele end. I usually carry the Canon 85mm f/1.8 in my 60D kit, just in case I need a fast aperture at the short telephoto focal length.

I also noticed some vignetting at the wide and tele focal lengths. For those situations where you notice it, it's easily controlled by using lens corrections in Lightroom and Adobe Camera Raw, or devignette in Aperture.

Those nits aside, when it comes to performance, this lens outshines the non-USM models (such as the 18-135mm and 18-200mm) and has a broader zoom range than the 17-55mm or the 17-85mm alternatives. At $795, it is an investment in your DSLR system. But for my everyday lens that stays on the 60D, I feel the same way about the EF-S 15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM on that body, as I do about the 24-105mm L on the Canon 5D Mark II... confident.

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Yeah, my only problem with that is the aperture. I've been a 17-85 user for a long time (with a 30D and 7D) and recently got the 24-70 2.8L, despite the rumors and the crop factor. (Now I have one lens for each body—the 24-70 is for the 7D.)

I definitely miss the wider angle of the 17-85, but I do have the lens still so it's not as if it's not an option. Someday, I'm thinking about maybe getting the 10-22mm EF-S lens. I keep thinking that eventually I'll move up to a FF system (and I likely will after college and after I get a job) and want my lenses to be there. I might have gotten the 17-55 2.8, but it's EF-S and quite honestly - my dad decided to pick up the 24-70 rather randomly because he wanted to use it, so I can't complain. The weight also doesn't bother me, because I'm used to handholding a 70-200+extender+Gripped 7D (in good light, of course) - so everything else is just down right Light!

That said: from playing with the 15-85 in stores: It is an excellent lens! 15mm is an excellent wide setting even for APS-C cameras. And for those who don't realize until you use it: 2mm makes a LOT more difference at the wide setting than at the medium or tele range. One thing I will ask though: does it suffer from zoom creep? The 17-85 has a huge problem with this, and from the bit I've used the 15-85, it didn't seem like it, but you never know. Between the IS and improved optics, and extra couple mm, there's really no contest between this and the 17-85, especially if it doesn't creep. It would be worth the cost difference if someone was considering upgrading. (Selling the 17-85 for this; it depends on who you are.)

Michael, the 15-85 I'm using doesn't have lens creep. The zooming ring is fairly stiff, which is the way I like it, and it stays put. I hear you about the max aperture, but it isn't a problem for me 80 percent of the time. And when I do need speed, I like going with a prime lens anyway. I also agree that the 28-70 2.8 is a terrific lens. It's just not wide enough for the work I do.

Good to hear! Stiff zoom rings are the way to go. :)

In the month and a half I've had the 24-70, I wondered why I didn't have it sooner. For now, I'm good with the 2.8 but I definitely agree that winder is necessary, and why I'll still use both lenses.

Of course, if Canon made the 14-24 f2.8 that Nikon does, we'd have a perfect kit 14-200 2.8, all for a small fortune. Maybe the 10-22 will be in my distant future. I must rent one sometime.

But that's why there's so many lens options - always have the right tools for the job! :)

Have you looked at the Tokina 11-16MM F/2.8 ATX 116 Lens for Canon? It is getting good reviews.

Maybe the 10-22 will be in my distant future. I must rent one sometime.

Sorry to say, but unfortunately my 15-85 suffers from zoom creep. The glass seems to be too heavy. Both facing upwards and downwards. I like the lens, but the creep is annoying me. Haven't got back, but the issues started already after a week's use :(

When you mention lenscreep, do you mean that while hanging the camera over your shoulder, the lens is moving down in full maximum zoomposition? That would be very bad design. In this position the lens can get easily damaged since you don't have a constant eye on it. What happened with a lenslock like for example Sigma uses on the Sigma 17-70?