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  1. #1
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    One Lens "Quiver" for DSLR Mountain Bike Photography?

    I asked this on a couple other forums, and for some reason the MTBR sub-forum escaped me.

    Here's my deal- I finally got a photo-specific pack (LowePro Flipside Sport) to use for a bunch of rides this summer, and I plan on packing my 50D more often. I normally shoot full-frame with a 5D Mark II, so I don't have a good lens for the 50D and mountain biking. I want to get a "budget" ($200 or less) wide-angle zoom for the 50D that is relatively light. Right now I'm thinking about the Canon 17-85mm IS, the Canon 18-135mm IS, or even the Sigma 18-125mm OS.

    For those of you that shoot with a DSLR on the trail, what's your go-to lens?


  2. #2
    cowbell
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    Hmm. If I could only pick one lens, it would be a prime, but you've specified zoom, so I'll say this. My current zoom lens, which works fine when there's enough light, is a Canon EFS 18-55 IS model.

    Now, if I was where you are, getting ready to spend up to $200 on a lens, and I wanted a single zoom lens to carry mountain biking all the time, I'd pick up a Tamron 18-200. It has a zoom lock to keep the lens from creeping while you carry it, etc. Link to everyone's favorite photoporn site:
    Tamron 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di-II LD Asph. (IF) Macro

  3. #3
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    Figuring out a good rig to take on the trail with me has been difficult. I have a full frame outfit, 5D2, 17-40, 50, 24-70, 80-200, Flash, TC, etc. My crop rig has dropped back to a T2i (7D sensor, light weight rebel body) and a super zoom (Canon 18-200). My P&S is a G12. My issue is that I like to shoot at the ends of the focal length ranges. More drama there. The Rebel and G12 just don't go wide enough to crate dramatic images. I usually fall back to the G12 for convenience on the trail, but I would love to have the full frame at 17mm sometimes. Another factor is durability of the mirror assemblies in the SLR's. I just don't know how much bouncing around they can take. On a side note, I took a nasty spill on rocky terrain last fall. My G12 was in my pocket and got between me and something hard. A switch assembly on the back was broken. I was pleasantly surprised to find used parts selling on Ebay and was able to spend $30 on parts to get it back 100%. For a P&S it is very serviceable and parts are available. Yet another reason to reach for the little guy when I hit the trail.

  4. #4
    saddlemeat
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    OP- Any of the lenses you mentioned would be fine. As long as you have the wide end (17-18mm), the long end is about how big of a lens you want to carry.
    I ride with the best people.




  5. #5
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    Also, though you likely know this already, compared to your 5D, the 17mm wide end of an EF-S lens will be like a 27mm lens on your 5D. In other words, it will be sort of wide, but not really all that wide.

    If you like really wide angle shots (I know I do), the 17mm and 18mm EF-S lenses aren't quite that wide, so I don't think you'll be able to get it all in a one lens solution. If you can make do with a 17mm wide end of the focal length range, then any of the Canon EF-S lenses will perform adequately in good light (even the original "dog-toy" 18-55mm kit lens). Any of the lenses with a relatively wide focal length range will start no higher than f/3.5 and go up to as much as f/5.6 at the telephoto end of the range. If you will require f/2.8, then the telephoto end of the focal length range doesn't go beyond 55mm AFIK.

    One other thing to consider: If you are shooting action in tricky conditions, the AF system on third party and/or lower tier Canon lenses, will not perform as well as the ring type Ultrasonic AF systems found on higher end Canon lenses. In good lighting, and relatively static conditions, things like this are not as critical, but if you want a true do-it-all solution that delivers quality in a wide range of conditions, it will cost $$$, and the focal length range will not be as wide as less expensive choices. JMHO.

    Regards,
    Jeff

  6. #6
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    Thanks Jeff, I'm certainly aware of the crop factor with lenses... and I'm perfectly happy with 17-18mm on the wide end for my 50D. I'd love to have the 15-85mm lens (which is one of my favorite lenses), but it's not in the budget considering I'll only use it a handful of times a year. I think I'm leaning towards the 18-135mm or the 17-85mm, but I'm still holding out hope to find a good, cheap copy of the Sigma 18-125mm OS HSM lens. I've used that in the past for skiing and it's a great budget option... I just can't find a used one!

  7. #7
    saddlemeat
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffj View Post
    Also, though you likely know this already, compared to your 5D, the 17mm wide end of an EF-S lens will be like a 27mm lens on your 5D. In other words, it will be sort of wide, but not really all that wide.

    If you like really wide angle shots (I know I do), the 17mm and 18mm EF-S lenses aren't quite that wide, so I don't think you'll be able to get it all in a one lens solution. If you can make do with a 17mm wide end of the focal length range, then any of the Canon EF-S lenses will perform adequately in good light (even the original "dog-toy" 18-55mm kit lens). Any of the lenses with a relatively wide focal length range will start no higher than f/3.5 and go up to as much as f/5.6 at the telephoto end of the range. If you will require f/2.8, then the telephoto end of the focal length range doesn't go beyond 55mm AFIK.

    One other thing to consider: If you are shooting action in tricky conditions, the AF system on third party and/or lower tier Canon lenses, will not perform as well as the ring type Ultrasonic AF systems found on higher end Canon lenses. In good lighting, and relatively static conditions, things like this are not as critical, but if you want a true do-it-all solution that delivers quality in a wide range of conditions, it will cost $$$, and the focal length range will not be as wide as less expensive choices. JMHO.

    Regards,
    Jeff
    You can get wider with the 18mm by shooting two exposures and then stitching them, I do it all the time. You will have a higher res image too, and a lot of room to crop. Shooting raw can substitue for larger apertures to a degree. Just saying...
    I ride with the best people.




  8. #8
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    I've been using the Canon 18-200mm IS for years now and I love it. I bought it in a kit with the EOS 50D, which was sold long ago. I never expected to keep the 18-200mm but it's been so good that I wouldn't want to live without it. I actually own the 17-55mm f/2.8 as well but I will happily trade the fast aperture for the reach of the 18-200mm IS for everyday trail riding.
    Back of the camera, back of the pack.

  9. #9
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    I like getting close for action, so the wide end is all I care about. The bushes we ride don't even have much visibility to make tele shots possible. For the occasional shot further away I don't mind cropping a bit.

    A large aperture is not necessary in my opinion, depending on your camera of course. Sensors today have so little noise that you certainly don't need a fast lens because of light. With wide lenses the DoF is so deep anyways that I don't care if the aperture is a bit bigger or smaller. Panning is a far more effective way of getting background blur in MTB shots. With large apertures out of the equation, you can easily choose cheaper and lighter lenses.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Photo-John View Post
    I've been using the Canon 18-200mm IS for years now and I love it. I bought it in a kit with the EOS 50D, which was sold long ago. I never expected to keep the 18-200mm but it's been so good that I wouldn't want to live without it. I actually own the 17-55mm f/2.8 as well but I will happily trade the fast aperture for the reach of the 18-200mm IS for everyday trail riding.
    Same here. I bought mine for a trip a few years ago with the intent of selling it right after. I ended up keeping it and selling off the rest of my EF-S lenses. I know there are some that bag on this lens, but my copy is golden, and paired with the high iso capability of the newer rebels it is a real gem.

  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by friz View Post
    Same here. I bought mine for a trip a few years ago with the intent of selling it right after. I ended up keeping it and selling off the rest of my EF-S lenses. I know there are some that bag on this lens, but my copy is golden, and paired with the high iso capability of the newer rebels it is a real gem.
    Yup. My expectations were very low. But the image quality is honestly more than good enough for outdoor stuff, the AF performance is excellent and the versatility just can't be beat. A year or so ago, I checked my Lightroom stats and even though I have much better lenses, I take the vast majority of my photos with the 18-200mm IS. I also end up making a pretty good amount of money with it - even though it's not a "pro" lens
    Back of the camera, back of the pack.

  12. #12
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    Yeah, I'm still shooting with a 20D (and have a 300D as well), so noise is a factor above 400 ISO, hence the love of large apertures for action in less than stellar light. If I could get clean images at 800 ISO or even 1600 ISO, I would likely not be so attracted to f/2.8 in those situations.

  13. #13
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffj View Post
    Yeah, I'm still shooting with a 20D (and have a 300D as well), so noise is a factor above 400 ISO, hence the love of large apertures for action in less than stellar light. If I could get clean images at 800 ISO or even 1600 ISO, I would likely not be so attracted to f/2.8 in those situations.
    Do you know about Canon Loyalty Program? You can get a refurb canon for 20% off the refurb price. Sweet deal. Got my rebel this way. Here is the address of the thread about it over at POTN.

    Canon Digital Photography Forums

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by friz View Post
    Do you know about Canon Loyalty Program? You can get a refurb canon for 20% off the refurb price. Sweet deal. Got my rebel this way. Here is the address of the thread about it over at POTN.

    Canon Digital Photography Forums
    Friz, thanks for the heads up!

  15. #15
    cowbell
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    Good info there, thanks. My old Rebel XT has abismal noise levels above 400 as well, and this just might be my ticket to a 7D.

  16. #16
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    I have a Nikon so its not the same brand. However the most important part of lens imo is sharpness. I have the nikon kit lens 18-55mm second gen and its one of the sharpest lenses ever made. I love it. Then i got the 16-85 lens, this one is a semipro lens, all carbon fiber and on paper it should be almost as sharp, and it has advanced image stabilization. that being said I have never ever managed to take a single shot as sharp with the 16-85 as the cheap-ass kitlens. even though the difference should be minimal. Tried all settings with the IS including off. It just aint happening.

    this is beacvuse the 16-85 is a 5x zoom lens and the 18-55 is a 3x zoom lens. so it has more glass, more non spherical ground elements, and more surfaces needed to be perfectly AR coated. Its easier to fuk up a compliced lens than a simple one.

    Also the kitlens is very tiny and light, and does not block the flash (i have the smallest size camera house), while the 16-85 gets really really long, and is much larger diameter, so it blocks the flash, and you can see this in the pics. Also the kitlens has extremely good/short minimum focus distance (to sensor plane) at all focal lenghts, the 16-85 need like double the distance.

    Mechanically the 16-85 is in a whole nother league, no play, just rock solid, and all rings are, perfectly smooth without feeling cheap at all. And the 18-55 is more like toy. It sucks in all mechanical departments.

    I ended up giving the 16-85 to my father, its good enough for him.

    My nexty lens will be a non zoom lens, a prime, 28mm is a normal for aspc sensors so thats what i'm getting or maybe a 24.


    I also have a katzeye split ring microprism focusing screen installed (their best coated one) on my camera so i seldom use AF unless shooting one handed. And a magnifying loupe on the viewfinder. the katzeye works just like cameras did back in the good old days when you could actually focus manually. It gets very blurry and the images are offset (split in the middle) when objets are not in focus. Really love that little piece of glass.
    Custom Focusing Screens - KatzEye Optics

    If you want good image quality, durablility, low weight, compactness check out a prime or stick with the kitlens imo.

    good sites Camera lens tests, user reviews, camera accessory reviews - SLRgear.com!
    All Tests / Reviews
    DxOMark - Camera Sensor Ratings

    good luck
    Rule #9 // If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

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  17. #17
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    I can't recommend the 17-85 under any circumstances. It was the first lens I had on the 50d. I hated it. I loved the 24-85 I had on the 20d and I thought it was a similar build. It wasn't. It just felt cheap. It had the slowest autofocus on any Canon lens that I have ever had, and that was when it worked at all. I now have the 15-85 and it rarely comes off the camera. I know you said it was over your budget for this instance so this is not really that helpful. Read the reviews for the 17-85 anywhere and you will not choose this lens. Good luck.

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by Bluechip View Post
    I can't recommend the 17-85 under any circumstances. It was the first lens I had on the 50d. I hated it. I loved the 24-85 I had on the 20d and I thought it was a similar build. It wasn't. It just felt cheap. It had the slowest autofocus on any Canon lens that I have ever had, and that was when it worked at all. I now have the 15-85 and it rarely comes off the camera. I know you said it was over your budget for this instance so this is not really that helpful. Read the reviews for the 17-85 anywhere and you will not choose this lens. Good luck.
    I can second this, espesically since you said you'll be using the wide end of the focal length alot. The 17-85 performs poorly at the wide end.
    This lens has bad corner sharpness, exhibits terrible CA at all focal lengths, and is prone to a number of mechanical failures that I'm confident you'll experience taking it out biking.
    (aperture control cable coming loose, aperture blades stuck, zoom creep very badly if allowed any movement at all in a case)

    The 15-85mm is a much better choice, and worth the increased cost.

    I carry the 40mm pancake lens and the 8mm rokinon in my bag for hiking and biking (with a 40D). very durable, compact kit that can sneak into most packs.

  19. #19
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    Have you thought of using a fisheye, or something close (Sigma 10-20mm?). You can get a Peleng Fisheye for *I think* less than $300. Beware they are manual lenses - no autofocus, but at 8mm the focus marks on the ring get you very close.

    Some people don't care for the distortion and post processing involved to get ride of the black corners, and the Sigma 10-20 is a great alternative. Very wide at the low end, does not have the round fisheye distortion, and is electronic so it talks to your camera. Great lens for throwing in you pack on a ride...
    Airborne Flight Crew

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  20. #20
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    Great thread. So what about one lens for a Canon T2i that gets used almost exclusively in BC's forests? I'm still using the kit lens, but I never have much light to work with so a moving bike is hard to shoot. I'm just a hobbyist so I'd like to avoid setting up flashes and instead get a lens that works well in low light. Cost is a factor, but I'd be willing to spend more than $200 if the solution was good.
    Safe riding,

    Vik
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  21. #21
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    Quote Originally Posted by vikb View Post
    Great thread. So what about one lens for a Canon T2i that gets used almost exclusively in BC's forests? I'm still using the kit lens, but I never have much light to work with so a moving bike is hard to shoot. I'm just a hobbyist so I'd like to avoid setting up flashes and instead get a lens that works well in low light. Cost is a factor, but I'd be willing to spend more than $200 if the solution was good.
    For $200, you won't be able to improve your low light capability. I would suggest bumping your iso. The T2i does well at high iso's and if you do get some noise, there are many options to fix it post process.

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by friz View Post
    For $200, you won't be able to improve your low light capability.
    I said above $200 was not the budget like the OP, but I can't spend $1600 either.
    Safe riding,

    Vik
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  23. #23
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    Quote Originally Posted by vikb View Post
    I said above $200 was not the budget like the OP, but I can't spend $1600 either.
    A significantly faster lens in the Canon line with the same focal length range as the kit lens would be the EF-S 17-55 f2.8. The price of admission on this lens is about a grand. 5 times the amount you stated, but not $1600 either. The larger aperture is not in itself a solution for low light because you may be fighting a reduced depth of field when trying to shoot action with it. Most amateur action shooters will buy a lens with a large aperture then find themselves wanting a body with more advanced auto focus to utilize it. Welcome to the camera gear budget death spiral!

  24. #24
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    Also most lenses are the sharpest at f8-f11 they usually suck really bad wide open, its only for emergencies imo, and as said when shooting wide open you get no DOF. You can use the flash in daylight too. Most pros do that. II would simply get the camra with the best low light sensor there is and play with iso instead of lenses. Its only now in the recent years you can get good quality at high iso. and if the pics only go on the net, rezised you can probably shoot everything at 1-2k iso, no one will notice anyway. Well with a new good sensor that is.
    Rule #9 // If you are out riding in bad weather, it means you are a badass. Period.

    Quote Originally Posted by iheartbicycles View Post
    Specialized sucks ass.

  25. #25
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    Quote Originally Posted by friz View Post
    Welcome to the camera gear budget death spiral!
    Yes
    Airborne Flight Crew

    Jerry Hazard – website

  26. #26
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    Thanks guys... definitely some good recommendations here. For a little background, I used to have the 15-85mm lens and I LOVED it- my favorite lens of all time, actually. But when I moved to full-frame, I had to sell it (for budgetary reasons) in order to get the 24-105mm f/4L. If I only had my 50D, the 15-85mm lens would be the one glued to my camera 95% of the time.

    I think I'm actually going to pull the trigger on the Sigma 18-125mm OS HSM lens. I've had it before- prior to the 15-85mm- and it's a great lens for the money. Fast focus, good IQ, great range, and it's better than the Canon 18-135mm (and cheaper). I'll be sure to post more pictures once I get it and get out on the trails.

  27. #27
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    I would avoid getting anything other than Canon or Nikon glass (Canon for you). I've had friends who went both Sigma and Tamron, and regretted it when they noticed all kinds of issues with the optics.

    That being said, my favorite lens is a Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8. Canon has something similar, but for DX you might as well go with a DX specific lens. I prefer full frame like your 5d, since I can get the most depth of field, but for scenic shots like the one you posted, you won't want to be shooting at f/2.8!
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  28. #28
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    Thanks for the rec Connor, but I went with the Sigma 18-125mm OS HSM in the end because I've had it before, and it's better than the comparable Canon options. I wanted a "budget" lens to take with me that will produce solid images, and it should perform well in that manner. For serious pictures I always take my 5DII.

  29. #29
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    So with all this discussion I didn't see anyone really mention the 24-70 2.8 L II. Have any of you used this lense on a crop sensor. I shoot with a 50D and I have the 18-55 kit. I wanted to rent the 24-70 to see how it is in the woods. I know it will be roughly around a 33mm at the wide end. Anyone have any experience with it MTB specific. Seems as though it would still be usable.

  30. #30
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    I've used it (not the new one) for mtb photos, although not with a crop sensor camera. No doubt, it's a great lens. But it's also huge and heavy. For that reason it wouldn't be high on my list of lenses to ride with. Also, 33mm isn't very wide. Have you considered the EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS? I own that lens and love it.

    If you actually want the longer focal length, I'd recommend taking a look at the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 zoom. I wouldn't try to use continuous auto focus with it but the optics are great and it's very small and light for an f/2.8 lens. That was my main mountain bike trail lens for years. Here's a gallery of photos I've taken with the Tamron:

    Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Sample Gallery >>

    Hope that helps.
    Back of the camera, back of the pack.

  31. #31
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    I use a 5D Mkiii and either a 16-35mm 2.8 or 24-70mm 2.8. I also use an Olympus e-p2 with a 20mm 1.7 lens. The e-p2 has major shutter lag so I'm looking to upgrade to an E-M5 soon. Both setups work great.

  32. #32
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    Bumping old thread... So if you had to chose between the Cannon

    EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM ($780)

    and

    EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS ($600)

    Is the USM better? Good, fast, auto-focus seems to be what is lacking from my kit lense, but I can see where the bigger zoom would be super nice too.

  33. #33
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rae6503 View Post
    Bumping old thread... So if you had to chose between the Cannon

    EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM ($780)

    and

    EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS ($600)

    Is the USM better? Good, fast, auto-focus seems to be what is lacking from my kit lense, but I can see where the bigger zoom would be super nice too.
    Autofocus speed and accuracy is very important to me. I had the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8, and sold it in spite it yielding superb image quality solely because the autofocus speed and accuracy were not up to the challenge of shooting action sports to my satisfaction. If you don't need fast accuracy from your autofocus, the Tamron 28-75 f/2.8 is a winner.

    The kit lenses are OK in good lighting conditions, and the speed/accuracy of the autofocus isn't horrible. They are capable of producing very good images. That said, the ring type USM is superior when conditions get challenging.

    The 17-55 has ring type USM autofocus, and IIRC, the 18-200 does not even have the gear driven USM let alone ring type USM. This doesn't mean you can't get great action shots with the 18-200, it just means that it could be noticeably more challenging to get them consistently as conditions get tougher.

    The flipside of this is that the 18-200 has quite the range of focal lengths to choose from, and is relatively compact/lightweight for a variable length telephoto that reaches out to 200mm.

    Lately, I'm kind of attracted to ultra-wide mtb shots, and I regret selling off the Tokina 12-24 f/4 as I wish I could get tighter than my 17-55 f/2.8 allows me too. But, such is life :~)

  34. #34
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rae6503 View Post
    Bumping old thread... So if you had to chose between the Cannon

    EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM ($780)

    and

    EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS ($600)

    Is the USM better? Good, fast, auto-focus seems to be what is lacking from my kit lense, but I can see where the bigger zoom would be super nice too.
    You're comparing two completely different lenses here. I think it all depends on what you value the most. The 17-55mm is going to be the better lens if we're talking about image quality, autofocus and light gathering ability. That said, its neither terribly wide nor terribly long so its not going to have the flexibility of the longer zoom. If all you feel you are missing from your current setup is the AF speed, the 17-55mm would be a good choice because you also get a constant aperture throughout the zoom range, which you lack with the kit lens - that's nice if you want to reframe with the zoom at wider apertures without changing your exposure. You also get an extra two stops at the long end.

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