Lens review

Canon EF-S 15-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM

Canon EF-S 15-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM
25 January 2010
Arkadiusz Olech

1. Introduction

Originally posted 2009-12-10 on Optyczne.pl

The subject of universal zoom lenses made by Canon is very interesting and that’s for a couple of reasons, as it tells us both about the differences between individual manufacturers and the laws governing the market.

At the beginning of the DSLRs for amateur’s era, Canon had two kit lenses: the standard EF-S 18-55 mm f/3.5-5.6 and a much better in every aspect EF-S 17-85 mm f/4.0-5.6 IS USM. The latter is a classic example of a product you put on the market when you don’t have much competition. The lens was quite mediocre, but better than the plastic 18-55 mm, so Canon had no problem asking over 2000 PLN for it on Polish market. And many people did buy it, as there wasn’t much of a choice.

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However, times change quickly. In the meantime lenses like Sigma 17-70 mm f/2.8-4.5 or Tamron 17-50 mm f/2.8 appeared on the market, and they were not only cheaper, but also brighter than Canon’s model. Competitors also started to give better conditions in this category. Sony presented Zeiss 16-80 mm, Olympus the great 12-60 mm, Nikon model 16-85 VR and Pentax 17-70 mm and the situation became quite bad for Canon. Lowering the price of 17-85 to less than 1 000 PLN didn’t help much.

It didn’t help not only because of average optical characteristics of the 17-85 model, but also because of one more cause. It’s the size of the sensor. Nikon, Sony and Pentax have sensors giving focal length factor of 1.5x, slightly larger than Canon’s 1.6x. As an effect, a lens starting at 16 mm gave on Canon’s competitors’ sensors a field of view reaching 83.1 degree. Canon’s 17-85 mm lens gave maximally 77.3 degree. The difference is quite large and if Canon wanted to make up for it, it needed a universal lens whose focal length starts around 15-16 mm, as only at those 15 mm does Canon slightly surpass its competitors giving field of view reaching over 84 degrees.

We had to wait a long, but the most persistent finally got it. On the 1st September, 2009 with the premiere of the EOS 7D camera, the Canon EF-S 15-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens was introduced on the market. On paper it looked much better than the old 17-85 mm. Because of its parameters, it aroused interest among almost every owner of an APS-C sized sensor DSLR. Not only can it serve as a kit lens, but also in many cases it will allow to leave our wide-angle lens in the bag, or even at home. With the Canon EF-S 10-22 mm the new 15-85 mm shares lots of focal length and will also let us take a beautiful landscape, street or architecture photograph.

All this, of course, provided it’s better optically than its predecessor. Because if the optical characteristics aren’t any better, Canon with its price reaching 720 $ has nothing to look for on the market. Let’s check how the situation looks like, then.

We’d like to thank Cyfrowe.pl for lending the lens for tests.

Information about our review method can be read in our article “How do we test lenses?"

Canon EF-S 15-85 mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM - Introduction

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