The Canon 17-85 mm is from 2003 and because of that, it's an old design in the digital photography era. The small size and low weight of the Canon EF-S 17-85 mm f/4-5.6 IS USM make this lens ideal for walk around or travel photography. This lens can be seen as the successor to the Canon 28-135 mm. The latter has been intended for analogue SLR cameras, while the Canon 17-85 mm is only suitable for a digital camera with an APS-C sensor. Meanwhile, the Canon 17-85 mm has gotten a few competitors, such as the Canon 15-85 mm and the Sigma 17-70 mm. In addition, several lenses with an even greater zoom range have entered the market, such as the Canon 18-200 mm.
Canon 17-85 mm @ 85 mm f/8
Field of view Canon 17-85 mm @17 mm/4.0
Canon 17-85 @85 mm/5.6
The Canon 17-85 mm has a field of view corresponding to the field of view of a 27-136 mm lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. With this, one lens provides the focal lengths of a wide angle lens (28 mm), two standard lenses (35 mm and 50 mm) and two light telephoto lenses or portrait lenses (85 mm and 135 mm), all in one.
Lens aberration correction
On recent Canon SLR cameras, like the Canon 650D, there is a possibility to correct for lens aberrations for jpg files. In this test, the correction of vignetting and chromatic aberration is enabled for the jpg files. For comparison, uncorrected vignetting and chromatic aberration of RAW files are examined too.
Construction and autofocus
The Canon 17-85 mm zoom ring and spacer ring rotate very lightly and the whole feels somewhat 'plastic-like.' The filter does not rotate and the mount is made of metal. The drive is of the USM type and can be adjusted manually at any time without using a switch first. Focusing is quick with a Canon 7D, from 15 meters to 1.5 meters in 0.26 seconds. Focusing is quiet and in low light, the camera rarely commutes.
Image stabilization Canon 17-85 mm
The image stabilization we have tested on a Canon 7D and according to Canon, it compensates for three full stops. This is very nice, because the lens itself does not have a fast aperture, but thanks to the built-in VR, photography from the hand in low light is possible. The effectiveness of the built-in image stabilization is measured at a focal length of 85 mm. The gain is actually about 3 stops, which is not small for such an old design.
Vignetting of the Canon 17-85 mm, expressed in stops, is high at full aperture and (on the Canon 7D) without in-camera correction particularly at focal length 17 mm. At other apertures, you will rarely be bothered by it in practice. With in-camera correction enabled on the Canon 650D, vignetting is less at all focal lengths, but will still be visible occasionally.
Move your mouse over the Imatest chart for the measurement results of the Canon 17-85 on a Canon 7D without in-camera lens aberration correction.
Distortion Canon 17-85 mm
The distortion that the Canon 17-85 mm lens shows, expressed as a percentage, is high at all focal lengths with an extreme peak at 17 mm. The distortion is so great at a focal length of 17 mm that the horizon becomes convex when it is not placed in the center of the image. It is remarkable that with the first copy, we measured a distortion of 1.4% at a focal length of 50 mm, and in the newer one 0.9%. The truth will be in the middle. Photozone has reported a distortion of 1.2% at a focal length of 50 mm. Distortion could be combatted by software (Photoshop, Lightroom, PTLens, DxO).
Move your mouse over the image for the Imatest results, or click the image for a larger image cropping illustrating a convex horizon.
The lens elements of the Canon 17-85 mm are equipped with Super Spectra coatings to suppress reflections and ghosting. This lens is therefore relatively insensitive to flare. In backlight, you will nevertheless sometimes encounter staining, as shown in the example. In such situations, the flare of this Canon 17-85 mm lens is visible too.
Resolution Canon 17-85 mm
The resolution, expressed in lines / sensor height, already reaches a nice value in the center at 17 mm at f/4.0. The corners are then a bit disappointing and f/5.6 can be chosen as work aperture. At 28 mm, the resolution of both the center and the corners is low at f/4.5 and only at f/8.0, this is sufficient both in the center and in the corners. At 50 mm and 85 mm, this lens performs better at f/5.6 than at f/8.0.
When you click on the graph, you will also get to see the charts for the other focal lengths.
The chromatic aberration of the Canon 17-85 mm is on the high side without lens correction with the Canon 7D and will sometimes have to be corrected with software. If you use the Canon 650D with in-camera correction enabled, this lens performs significantly better and visible chromatic aberration is no longer present. Below is a practice image without lens correction, to the right is the visible chromatic aberration at the edges of the image. In the corners, chromatic aberration is even more visible.
When you click on the chart, you will get to see the other graphs too. Move your mouse over the image below right for an image cropping of the following image in the corner top left.
The slow aperture makes playing with depth of field limited possible. A circular aperture does ensure a circular bokeh of light sources in the background, especially when one photographs with full aperture at a focal length of 85 mm. That in itself is suited to make the subject or model to stand out from the background. But compared to lens with a faster aperture on a camera with a full frame sensor, this bokeh is still restless.
With sparkles on the water surface, the Canon 17-85 mm shows diffraction bokeh, where the pointed lights change into stars.
Conclusion Canon EF-S 17-85 mm 4.0-5.6 IS USM review
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you store the files in the camera as jpg, where you have all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Relatively insensitive to backlight
Effective image stabilization
Convenient zoom range
Strong distortion at 17 mm
High vignetting at 17 mm
Low resolution in the corners
The Canon EF-S 17-85 mm 4.0-5.6 has effective image stabilization and is practical due to the large zoom range. The luminosity is limited and in terms of vignetting and distortion, this lens performs only very moderately with the Canon 7D. The chromatic aberration is visible too then. The resolution is high especially at the center and this lens is fairly insensitive to light. The Canon 15-85 mm performed better on a Canon 7D than the Canon 17-85 mm on a Canon 7D, but has a higher retail price.
If you use the Canon 17-85 mm on a Canon 650D with enabled lens aberration correction, this lens performs much better in terms of resolution, chromatic aberration, and vignetting.
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