It’s often said that you should invest in glass rather than camera bodies, but that doesn’t mean you need to spend a small fortune to get a high-quality lens. In fact, you can get a range of top lenses for less than £300, from simple primes, macros and all-in-one superzoom options to more exotic fisheye and pancake flavours. So, whether you fancy supplementing your own existing kit or giving the Canon user in your life a pleasant surprise, here are ten great affordable options.
1. Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM
At just 22.8mm deep this pancake lens barely adds anything to your camera’s overall size and, as one of Canon’s most affordable lenses, doesn’t put too much of a dent in your wallet either.
It’s compatible with Canon’s full range of full-frame and APS-C DSLR bodies, with an effective focal length of 64mm when used on the latter. With a relatively standard focal length, you can use it for all manner of subjects, from portraits and reportage to landscapes and more.
Its f/2.8 aperture is wide enough for shallow depth of field on both formats, while the inclusion of STM technology facilitates smooth and quiet focusing in movie recording. Overall, a great versatile option that’s useful for capturing both stills and video.
2. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM
Thanks to compact proportions, a low price and excellent optical qualities, a 50mm f/1.8 lens is often said to be something everyone should have in their kit bag, and Canon has been refining its EF 50mm f/1.8 lens formula for decades to deliver this latest version.
It arrives with a wealth of improvements over its predecessor, such as a sturdy metal lens mount in place of the previous plastic one, together with a wide focusing ring and a seven-bladed diaphragm on the inside to keep bokeh nice and round.
The STM suffix indicates the lens employs a ‘Smooth Transition for Motion’ stepping motor, which delivers fast and smooth focusing for stills and near-silent focusing when recording movies. Meanwhile, Super Spectra Coatings on the elements work to combat flare and ghosting.
3. Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM Lens
Alternatively, if you can afford to spend a little more, why not try Canon’s EF 50mm f1.4 USM lens? It’s as compact and sturdy as the f/1.8 version, but thanks to its larger maximum aperture it can create a shallower depth of field in images and is more capable in low light.
New Gaussian optics in the lens eliminate astigmatism and suppress astigmatic difference, while the ultrasonic motor (the ‘USM’ of the title) ensures fast, accurate focusing, with full-time manual focus override available if you prefer to make precise adjustments yourself.
Versatile and durable, at a size you can take everywhere, the 50mm f/1.4 lens can swiftly become so reliable a companion that you wonder how you ever did without it.
4. Canon EF-S 24mm f2.8 STM Pancake Lens
Another ultra-compact pancake prime that’s perfect to throw into a travel bag, the wide EF-S 24mm f2.8 STM mounts to APS-C Canon DSLRs and offers the same angle of view as a 38mm on a full-frame camera. This makes it a good option for street and travel photography, as it’s offering roughly the same field of view as the human eye.
Elsewhere on the lens you’ve got the STM focusing system that works well for stills and video, as well as a generous maximum aperture of f/2.8 and an impressive minimum focusing distance of just 16cm, letting you get up close and personal with your subjects.
This is a lens with many applications, at a great price too, and given that it weighs just 125g, there’s no excuse not to have it in your bag on your next photo adventure.
5. Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM Lens – Canon Fit
This super-wide zoom is a powerful tool for many different types of photography, especially architecture and landscape. Its internal make-up contains several ELD (Extraordinary Low Dispersion) and SLD (Special Low Dispersion) glass elements that are designed to correct optical aberrations and produce smooth, consistent images.
There’s also a Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) powering the autofocus, and the minimum focusing distance remains at 24cm throughout the entirety of the zoom range.
Ultra-wide zooms such as these can often be costly when produced by major manufacturers, and it’s great to see Sigma come out with this affordable version.
6. Canon EF-S 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM
A fine choice for when you want to get as much into the frame as possible, this lightweight wide-angle lens provides an effective focal length of around 16-29mm on the APS-C bodies for which it’s designed, suiting it to landscapes, architecture and interiors among other subjects.
The fact that it’s designed specifically for APS-C bodies allows it to be relatively compact and light, and, as a relatively recent addition to Canon’s line-up, it benefits from the company’s STM technology for fast focusing and quiet operation during movie recording.
The four-stop image stabilisation system lends a hand when capturing images handheld at slower shutter speeds, while a 22cm minimum focusing distance means you can get close up to subjects and still maintain a wide-angle field of view. If you don’t need a lens that’s also compatible with full-frame cameras, this wide zoom is well worth adding to your shortlist.
7. Sigma 105mm f2.8 Macro EX DG OS HSM – Canon Fit
With a 1:1 magnification factor, this Sigma lens qualifies as a ‘true’ macro lens, and is suitable for full-frame and APS-C Canon DSLRs. Its SLD glass controls aberration, while the Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor also provides high-speed autofocus. If you prefer to do things manually (as you likely will when shooting macro), there is also full-time manual focus override.
With a generous f/2.8 maximum aperture, especially considering the telelphoto focal length, the Sigma 105mm f2.8 Macro EX DG OS HSM allows users to pick out their main subject in pin-sharp focus with a stylishly blurred background. Also on board is Sigma’s Optical Stabilizer, which provides correction worth up to about four stops.
Creating a true macro telephoto with a large maximum aperture for a price like this is an amazing achievement – hats well and truly off to Sigma for this one.
8. Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di-II LD ASP IF
A fine contender for a kit-lens upgrade, this lens’s main highlight is its constant aperture of f/2.8. This means it can offer this wide aperture at any focal length, which allows you to capture images in darker conditions and utilise shallow depth of field more successfully than with the standard kit lenses that come with most cameras.
It’s designed exclusively for APS-C format cameras, and on a Canon EOS body will deliver an equivalent focal range of around 27-80mm, which is ideal for general-purpose use.
The internal focusing system ensures the barrel conveniently stays the same length while you’re focusing, while Extra Refractive (XR) and aspherical optical elements on the inside help to keep optical distortions low. Furthermore, Tamron also generously provides a five-year warranty for peace of mind.
9. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM
This short telephoto lens has been around for a while, and the fact that Canon hasn’t upgraded it yet speaks volumes about its performance.
Compatible with both full-frame and APS-C bodies and ideal for portraiture, it delivers an effective focal length equivalent to 136mm on APS-C-based EOS cameras. Despite its age it offers an Ultrasonic motor for swift and silent focusing, with a manual override option for fine-tuning focus, as well as a small focused-distance window so you can check exactly where the lens is focusing.
There are also Super Spectra coatings to minimise ghosting and flare, which helps when shooting portraits on sunnier days, while its eight-bladed diaphragm keeps bokeh pleasingly round for exquisite background blur.
10. Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM A
A compact and relatively recent addition to Sigma’s ‘Art’ stable of lenses, using this optic on a Canon APS-C body gives an effective focal length of around 48mm in 35mm terms. This, together with its wide f/1.4 aperture makes it an obvious candidate for portraits, although the aperture also makes it suitable for a broader range of low-light photography and anything where depth of field needs to be shallow.
As the name implies, the lens takes advantage of Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor for quiet and snappy focusing, while two SLD elements help to keep chromatic aberration low. The minimum focusing distance of 40cm means that it’s also likely to suit appeal to those shooting nature.
If you’re tempted by a 50mm-type focal length but use a Canon APS-C body (where such a lens would be closer to 80mm), this is an obvious choice.