Let me start out by saying that this review will be practical, not technical. There are a host of technical reviews on the internet (Rockwell, Digital-Picture, CameraLabs, etc.) so if you are driven by the techy/geeky stuff, you would be better served reading those. If you have more of a desire to know how the lens handles in the field and ultimately, how good its image quality is, then read on.
I’ve never really liked the idea of the ef-s lens and swore I wouldn’t own one because I wouldn’t be able to use it on a full frame camera body. Then one day, I sold my Canon 1Ds MkII and was left with just my 7D. My former ef 24-70mm lens was great, but just not wide enough on the 7D so I started considering the ef-s 15-85mm lens and yes, read all of the techy/geeky reviews. They all raved about it and these reviews were helpful for me to read, but all I really wanted to know was a user’s perspective of what was good or bad. Of course, I also wanted to see images from the field. So after owning this lens a little over 6 months, I’m going to give you my list (no particular order) of Pros/Cons, followed by examples of images taken with this lens on my Canon 7D.
Focal Length – The 15-85mm range is equivalent to a 24-136mm range on a full frame body and that makes this lens a great General Purpose/Walk Around lens that has a variety of uses from landscapes to portraits. I’ve read others say you can use it for macro work as well since it is a close focusing lens, but I have a dedicated macro as well as a 70-200/2.8 lens that fill that niche so I really don’t feel the need to test its macro capabilities.
CLICK ON ALL IMAGES FOR A BETTER VIEW.
Build & Handling – Considering I used to own the ef 24-70/2.8, the ef-s 15-85mm lens is not built quite as solid. In fact, it’s mostly plastic with a metal mount. Yet, it still has a solid feel and it handles great. The zoom ring is very smooth and I’ve experienced no zoom creep. On the plus side, it’s a much lighter lens to carry around than my former 24-70 lens.
Filter Size– It accepts a 72mm filter and with its internal focus design, the front filter ring does not rotate while zooming. This is particularly important when shooting with a circular polarizer. I own a couple of 72 mm filters but can easily use my 77mm filters with a 72-77mm step-up ring.
Image Stabilization- This is the only lens in my bag that has Image Stabilization. It’s not that I do not like IS, it’s just that the lenses I have acquired to this point simply do not have it. I really do like having IS but because I am not used to it, I have to remember to turn off the IS when mounted on a tripod. I forgot to do that one night and I was frustrated by soft images until someone I was shooting with asked if I had IS on. Once I turned that off, my images were sharp. Canon reports up to 4 stops gained with the IS. Whatever the number, it seems to work. I handheld the nighttime shot of Cinderella’s castle below and was surprised at how many sharp images I was able to attain.
Price- I purchased this lens used (near mint) for $500 and given the many sharp images I’ve captured with it, I think it was a great value.
Image Quality– This lens is pleasingly sharp with good contrast and color. Bokeh is good but if you are used to a f/2.8 or f/1.4 lens, you will notice its shortcoming here. Still, if you use it wide open at its longer focal length and keep the background at a distance roughly twice that of camera to subject, the background will be pleasantly blurred. Overall, I think the image quality is great. Is it as good as my former 24-70/2.8? No, and given that the latter is a much pricier “L” lens, I would not expect it to perform as well. I also think my 50/1.8 is sharper. Nevertheless, image quality is still very good from this lens and again, the focal length is a good choice as a general purpose lens.
No Use on FF or 1.3x Crop Cameras- I do not currently own a full frame camera but at some point, I’ll own another. I’ll be limited to using it on a 1.6x crop body. Hopefully, that will be a 7D MarkII…Come On Canon!
No Lens Hood– If you are purchasing this lens new, you’ll have to spend a little more for a lens hood. I bought mine used with the lens hood.
Vignetting- The lens does vignette slightly at 15mm and wide open, but stopping down, which is nearly always done on landscape images, helps reduce or eliminate it. This issue has not been a real problem for me, but it can be an issue for some. For what it’s worth, this issue is easily corrected in post processing.
Overall, a very good purchase. Will I be keeping this lens in my bag? Yes. Below are a few more samples. I hope you have found this review helpful.
As you can see from the eclectic samples included in this review, the ef-s 15-85mm lens can produce quality images under various scenarios, giving further support to many claims about this being a great general purpose lens.
Until next time, good light and keep shooting. — KEVIN