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Home > Reviews > Cameras > Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM

Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Review
05/27/2006 - Updated 07/03/2006

This was a "kit" lens when I purchased Canon's Digital Rebel XT/EOS 350D. It was $20 USD less than if I were to purchase the items separately. As attractive as the price was for the 18-55mm lens "kit", after several visits to stores, such as Best Buy, Circuit City and etc., I've determined that the 18-55mm was not for me. So I bought Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM hoping that the construction quality and focal length zoom range (5X) would be more towards my liking.

Note that the "S" in the EF-S stands for "short back focus" and will only fit on cameras with APS-C size sensors such as the Digital Rebel XT.

What's in the box
1 - Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens
1 - E-67U Front lens cap
1 - Rear lens cap
1 - Instruction pamphlet (in different languages)
1 - 1 year Warranty/Registration

Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Specifications
Image size APS-C
Focal length   17-85mm
35 mm FOV (Digital Rebel XT)   27-136mm equivalent
Construction   17 elments in 12 groups
Diaphragm   6 blades
Maximum aperture   f/4 - f/5.6
Minimum aperture   f/22 - f/32
Closest focus   13.8" (0.35m)
Max magnification   0.20x (at 85mm)
Distance information   Yes
Image stabilizer   3-steps
AF actuator   Ring USM with full-time manual focus
Filter diameter   67mm
Dimensions (diameter x length)   3.1" (78.5mm) x 3.6" (92mm)
Weight   16.8 oz (475g)
Other Information
Angle of view (Digital Rebel XT)   66.3º, 47º, 76.2º (17mm)
14.9º, 10º, 17.8º (85mm), (horiz, vert, diag)
Front element extends (focusing)   No
Front element rotates (focusing)   No
Front element extends (zooming)   Yes, +1" (25.4mm) at 85mm
Optional (Canon) Accessories
Lens hood   EW-37B
Soft lens case   LP1116

A close up view of Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
Front At 17mm At 85mm
Stabilizer and
focusing switch
10-22mm (lt)
17-85mm (rt)
FD 28-85 (lt)
The body construction of Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM appears to be all plastic, but the quality is drastically better than the 18-55mm "kit" lens and feels much more solid. It appears that the 17-85mm is much larger than the 18-55mm that I saw and when compared to a 12 oz. soda can, it's about the same size and slightly heavier, about 2 1/2 oz. more.

The focus ring has a smooth feel to it, but the zoom ring seems to bind at the wider angles, from 17mm to 35mm. Hopefully that will loosen up over time. There's also a very slight sloppiness in the zoom ring.

Unlike the 18-55mm, the 17-85mm has a sturdy metal base. Already, I'm feeling much better about the purchase, although at quite an expense. Also the 67mm filter size for the 17-85mm, compared to the 58mm for the 18-55mm, adds to the expense.

Using Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM, as I've noted before, does feel more solid than the 18-55mm "kit" lens. It has IS (image stabilizer) that the 18-55mm does not have. It is also noticeably heavier than the 18-55mm by about 10 oz (6.7 oz compared to 16.8 oz for the 17-85mm).

There are two switches, AF/MF (auto focus/manual focus) and image STABILIZER ON/OFF that are accessible from the left hand. When set to AF (auto focus), the motor is very silent, quick and accurate. However, and I'm learning this as I go along, it fails to focus on non-textured surfaces such as a smooth wall, solid colored clothing, clear blue sky, etc. When it fails to focus, there's a blinking green light in the camera's viewfinder letting you know that there's a problem and, it will not let you take the picture. In these cases, it's just a matter of centering on some detail (for example the edge of the subject), lightly pressing and holding the shutter button, then centering on the subject and take the picture.

At 17mm At 85mm
The front element of Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM does entend when zooming, contrary to what I've read at some places. From 17mm (shortest) to 85mm, the lens will extend 1". Focusing involves the rear elements so it doesn't affect the length of the lens. While zooming and/or focusing, the front element does not rotate.

There appears to be a slight wobble in the focusing elements when manual focusing. When rotating the focus ring slowly in one direction, then rotating in the other direction, the image in the viewfinder shifts. It's a very slight shift and, if you're looking for it, it is noticeable.

In my limited experience, Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM exhibits one of the worst barrel distortion I've seen. At 17mm, you can't help but notice it in the viewfinder. Once you reach 24mm, it all but disappears. Maybe Canon should have limited the wide angle at 22mm but, in doing so, it may lose the attractiveness of the wider zoom range this lens now possesses. Vignetting is also an issue at 17mm with the lens wide open at f/4, but reduces dramatically at f/4.5.
Photographs using Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM
Desert plants
Subject:   Desert plants
Shutter Speed:   1/250 sec
F-Stop:   f/13.0
ISO Speed:   400
Focal Length:   33.0 mm
Notes:   Notice the purple fringing on the background trees.
Subject:   Flags
Shutter Speed:   1/400 sec
F-Stop:   f/11.0
ISO Speed:   400
Focal Length:   85.0 mm
Notes:   This lens is pretty sharp thoughout the entire zoom range.
Riverside Memorial
Subject:   Memorial
Shutter Speed:   1/400 sec
F-Stop:   f/14.0
ISO Speed:   400
Focal Length:   17.0 mm
Notes:   Here is barrel distortion at it's finest. It is quite noticeable at 17.0 mm.
Teddy Bears
Subject:   Teddy Bears
Shutter Speed:   1/15 sec
F-Stop:   f/5.0
ISO Speed:   400
Focal Length:   38.0 mm
Notes:   Handheld, IS (image stabilizer) really does work at slower shutter speeds.
Subject:   Fireworks
Shutter Speed:   6 sec (bulb using RS-60E3 Remote Switch)
F-Stop:   f/8.0
ISO Speed:   100
Focal Length:   85.0 mm
Notes:   Use of tripod, bulb exposure, manual focus. Fireworks display was about 1/2 mile away.
Subject:   Staircase
Shutter Speed:   1/50 sec
F-Stop:   f/4.5
ISO Speed:   400
Focal Length:   17.0 mm
Notes:   Again, you will notice the barrel distortion in this photograph and slight vignetting, although both can be corrected in Photoshop CS2.
All the photographs above have been taken in jpeg mode, and reduced 50% in Photoshop with moderate jpeg compression to conserve disk space and bandwidth. Camera was handheld using auto focus and image stabilizer (unless otherwise noted). No color corrections, level adjustments, sharpening or croppings were made.

Even though Canon's EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM may have some faults, it happens to be the lens I use about 80% (or more) of the time on my Digital Rebel XT. With a 5X zoom range, it covers the very wide to moderate telephoto. For general photography with the Digital Rebel XT, it happens to be the ideal all around lens for me.

I have the IS (image stabilizer) set on ON most of the time. When activated, it is silent. Focusing is nearly instant and quiet. Hand holding the camera in moderately lit indoors, or when outdoors in cloudy, dawn/dusk conditions, without flash, where shutter speeds drop to 1/60 sec (at 85mm) all the way down to 1/15 sec (at 17mm), I'm able to capture surprisingly clear shots, without the usual motion blur (camera shake) that you'll get without the image stabilizer. I feel that the image stabilizer alone is well worth the additional cost for this lens.


Gary Kawamura
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