Last Updated on 11/22/2018 by Mark Beckenbach
There are some truly amazing budget lenses for Canon cameras that are wallet friendly, and produce amazing images.
If you’re a Canon DSLR user and want to build your lens collection without breaking the bank this article is for you. Don’t believe everything you read about image quality being great from extremely expensive lenses only. You really don’t have to spend a fortune to get good lenses these days, and these budget lenses are some of the best on the Canon platform.
Sure, it’s nice to think about using Canon L series glass or Sigma Art lenses exclusively, but honestly it’s not needed unless you’re a professional who demands the very best. For the rest of us you can get great results from much cheaper glass. If you know how to use your camera properly, understand the exposure triangle, and know how to compose a shot, you’re in business.
The only people who may be able to tell the difference in glass used will be other pixel peeping photographers (which we definitely don’t condone here). Nobody else will know and nobody else will care about what lens was used; all they will see is the image as a whole, and the story you as a photographer were trying to tell. The average person or client doesn’t care about how creamy the bokeh is. No, really: it’s true.
We as photographers get so caught up on the latest and greatest things, and so wound up in the status effect we think expensive lenses have that we often overlook cheaper glass that can produce great images. Here’s a look at four budget lenses for Canon cameras that prove you don’t have to sell body parts to get good glass and nice clean images.
Canon 40mm F2.8
If you’re looking for a small, lightweight lens that you can slap on the front of your camera and comfortably roam the streets with all day, the Canon 40mm f2.8 pancake lens is the one for you. This little gem of a lens is perfect for those who want to travel light, or who want an inexpensive, great performing lens for street photography or documentary work.
In our review we said:
“…I was extremely surprised with the Canon EF 40mm f2.8 STM lens, the image quality delivered was beyond what I expected from a lens at this price point.”
The Canon 40mm f2.8 weighs in at just 0.2lbs. You’ll barely even know it’s on the front of your camera. It’s small enough to be able to slip in a pocket too so you can take it with you and switch out lenses easily without having to reach into a bag for it. Inside the slim form factor you’ll find six elements in four groups, and seven aperture blades.
There is one switch on the side to control manual and autofocus modes, and the slim focus ring. The autofocus motor is a stepping motor so focus speeds are fast, and the motor is quiet. The lens is made from good quality plastic and has a metal mount which is a nice feature.
Image quality from the 40mm f2.8 is superb. At f2.8 the lens is tack sharp in the center with just a little bit of softening towards the edges, but stop this pancake lens down just a hair and it becomes a razor sharp monster. Colors rendered are nice and have a natural tone to them, and there is little to worry about when it comes to color fringing and distortion. (If you can find any it is easily fixed in CaptureOne or Lightroom.)
For under $130 you’re getting one great lens here. Small, lightweight, and great image quality. This is one of the best budget lenses on the Canon platform for sure.
Buy now ($129): Amazon
Canon 40mm F2.8 Image Samples
Pro Tip: Keep in mind that not all lenses are weather sealed. Keep a few weather proof camera and lens covers in your camera bag or pocket at all times, just in case you run into some less-than-pleasant weather when you are out and about.
Canon 50mm F1.8 STM
The Canon 50mm f1.8 is the stuff legends are made of. This lens represents one of the greatest values in the whole photography world, and we’re really not just saying that. This 50mm lens is one of the most essential lenses to own for any Canon photographer because of it’s bang for your buck ratio. It’s really off the charts. The best part, it costs under $130!
In our review we said:
“Canon’s 50mm f1.8 STM is a great lens for the beginner, hobbyist, enthusiast, or even the professional who likes to rough and tumble their equipment.”
Don’t let that super low price fool you. When I said, “you really don’t have to spend a fortune to get good lenses these days,” I really meant it, and this lens is a prime example!
The 50mm f1.8 has six elements in five groups, and seven rounded aperture blades. Some might think images produced with this lens would be less than stellar, but they would be incredibly wrong. Images are excellent for a lens that costs under $130. They’re sharp from edge to edge when stopped down to f2.8, colors are nicely rendered, and the bokeh produced is pleasing to the eye. Autofocus performance is great too, even in low light. Like the 40mm pancake lens above, the STM motor is quiet.
Build quality is good. The plastic housing is tough, and the metal mount is again a nice touch on a lens that is this affordable. I have found this lens will survive pretty much anything you can throw at it. I certainly never treated mine with kid gloves and it just kept on going and going with no complaints.
The Canon 50mm f1.8 is one of the best budget lenses. Period. Many other lens manufacturers have tried to emulate the price point and performance of this lens, but have failed. It’s small enough to put on your camera and walk around all day with. It’s a great portrait lens, and it’s a great street photography lens. The 50mm f1.8 from Canon is the perfect way for anyone to get into the world of primes without spending a fortune.
Buy now ($125): Amazon
Canon 50mm F1.8 Image Samples
Pro Tip: Whether you spend $100 on a lens or $1,000, the fact is they will all get dirty at some point. Be sure to pack a basic lens cleaning kit in your camera bag so that you can clean off any smudges, fingerprints, dirt, or grease easily without damaging the glass.
Canon 85mm F1.8
Canon has another winner on their hands when it comes to budget lenses with the 85mm f1.8. While it may have a budget price, there is nothing cheap about its build and image quality. The 85mm focal length with this wide of an aperture is perfect for many different genre’s of photography, but it really lends itself well to portrait, event, and concert photography. Like it’s smaller brother (the 50mm), this 85mm lens has a maximum aperture of f1.8 which means you can shoot in any lighting scenario
In our review we said:
“…I’ve used the Canon 85mm f1.8 for weddings, concerts, portraits, studio work, event photography, pet photography, and street photography. When I purchased the lens, I wondered if it was really a purchase that was worth making. Then I put it on my cameras and kept it on my 5D Mk II for a week and then my 7D for the week after. I didn’t look back.”
The 85mm f1.8 features nine elements in seven groups, and has eight rounded aperture blades. Build quality is outstanding on this lens. It certainly doesn’t feel like other budget lenses thanks to the premium plastic it’s constructed from. At f1.8 bokeh is beautiful, the image overall is a little soft wide open, but stop down to f2.8 and this lens becomes a monster that produces razor sharp images with beautiful color rendition, no distortion, and with just a hint of purple fringing that is easily fixed in post.
The lens is quite small and light. Weighing in at 0.94lbs, you can use the 85mm f1.8 for long long sessions and not have to worry about becoming uncomfortable. Unlike the other two lenses listed above, the 85mm uses an ultrasonic motor. Focusing with this USM motor is lightning fast and completely silent. In low light the lens doesn’t hesitate or hunt at all. It works perfectly.
This lens is another one of the must have budget lenses on the Canon platform. The quality of the images that this lens can produce shouldn’t be possible on a lens this cheap, but somehow Canon pulled it off. If you have been on the fence about this lens, just jump down and go get it: you will not be disappointed.
Buy now ($299): Amazon
Canon 85mm F1.8 Image Samples
Pro Tip: It doesn’t matter how expensive your gear is, an investment is an investment and it needs to be protected. Make sure you have a quality camera bag that can protect the gear you put inside it, is comfortable to carry around for long periods, and looks good too. This one from Tenba is one of our faves here at The Phoblographer. It checks all the boxes when it comes to things we look for in camera bags, and it won’t draw any unwanted attention to you at all.
Sigma 18-300mm F3.5-6.3 Contemporary
We’re stepping away from Canon branded lenses for just a second because this APS-C, 18-300mm f3.5-6.3 lens from Sigma is another budget lens you should consider. This wide to super telephoto lens is ideal for those who want to only carry around one lens while traveling, or who just don’t like the idea of having a lot of lenses in general. This lens ins incredibly versatile, and produces really nice images.
In our review we said:
“The Sigma 18-300mm f3.5-6.3 DC MACRO OS HSM Contemporary is a lens that many of us reading this site will find very basic and with very little pizzazz at first glance. But we’d be incredibly wrong.”
Like many other budget lenses, this 18-300mm lens from Sigma looks like another run of the mill lens. But as they say, never judge a book by its cover.
Inside this lens you will find 17 elements in 13 groups, and seven rounded aperture blades. When placed on a Canon crop sensor camera you will have an equivalent focal range of 28.8-480mm which is perfect for everything from street photography and landscapes on the wide end, to nice up tight shots and wildlife photography on the long end.
The build quality is really nice and it feels great in the hands. The large zoom ring is easy to use and is nicely dampened, and autofocus performance is excellent in both good and low light. We had no problems with this lens at all and we used it on both near and far objects, and fast moving targets. It nailed focus very well.
Image quality is exceptional from this lens. In fact, in the right conditions, the sharpness from this lens rivals that of much more expensive lenses from Sigma. The bokeh produced is just okay, but you’re not buying a lens like this for bokeh. Colors rendered are just what we would expect from a Sigma lens, which means they are incredibly nice. Colors aren’t overly saturated and have a nice tone to them, and we found no color fringing to speak of at all.
If you want a do-it-all lens for your crop sensor Canon camera, the Sigma 18-300mm f3.5-6.3 is one of the best budget lenses around in this class. At under $400 it’s affordable, and it’s image quality and overall build quality will please you to no end.
Buy now ($399): Amazon
Sigma 18-300mm Image Samples