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Canon EOS rebel T3i. Zoom lens

My partner has a new camera. She Is a beginner she wants. Zoom lens. What do you. Suggest.?


Canon makes quite a range of zooms.


There are a few general purpose zooms -- no extravagent features that drive up the price tag -- and these usually have ranges up to about 200 or 300mm focal length.  They tend to not be too expensive (e.g. $300 give or take.)


But there are some uses for which these general-purpose zooms are not ideal and I'd like to make sure that's not what she needs.


While most people tend to use zoom lenses outdoors...  will this lens be used for either (a) indoor sports games (e.g. basketball) or (b) outdoor games played at night under lights?


Action photography either indoors or under artificial lighting (e.g. sports games that are not playing during the day) struggle with (a) having enough light to use shutter speeds adequate to freeze action and (b) performance of the auto-focus motors which may not keep up.


A general purpose zoom will have a variable focal ratio ranging from f/4 to f/5.6 (when zoomed all the way in, it's almost always f/5.6).  A high-end zoom will be able to provide a constant focal ratio of f/2.8 -- that literally collects FOUR times more light when an f/5.6 lens... so if a consumer grade zoom is trying to shoot... say an indoor basketball game and struggling with the light to use any shutter speed faster than 1/250th sec (not fast enough to freeze action)... the f/2.8 zoom in that same lighting would let you take that shot at 1/1000th sec (easily fast enough to freeze action).  


With this in mind, I'll toss out a few options:


1)  Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM and note that I bolded the letters "STM".  The STM lens is a redesign and refinement of Canon's previous EF-S 55-250mm lens which did not have the STM stepper-motor technology.  The stepper-motors are virtually silent, but they are much faster than the regular focusing motors.  Also, the optics of the lens have been refined and the STM version of the lens scores noticeably better for contrast and resolution (ability to resolve fine amounts of detail).  This lens lists for about $350.  It's a great general-purpose zoom.  It would do fine with outdoor daytime shooting. 


2)  Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM and note that I bolded the number "70".  Canon makes a 75-300mm zoom.  That lens receives perhaps the most mediocre reviews of any lens Canon makes and is probably the least recommended lens in the lineup.  The 70-300mm, on the other hand, is a MUCH better lens both optically and performance-wise.


3)  Canon makes several different white "L" series lenses with the 70-200mm zoom range.  The lens cames in either f/2.8 focal ratio versions (much more expensive) or in the f/4 version (less expensive) and there are versions with IS (image stabilization) and without.  The EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM II is the best of the lot by far... but also costs over $2k.  Going to the f/4 version (only collects half as much light as an f/2.8 lens, but twice as much as an f/5.6 lens -- so you're in the middle) drops the price, and getting the version that does not have image stabilization drops the price even more.  Also, f/2.8 lenses are heavy -- so you reduce weight with an f/4 lens.   The EF 70-200mm f/4L USM (note there's no "IS" on this version) lists for about $700.


4)  Going back to the economically priced lenses... the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II is the least expensive lens I would suggest.  It lists for $300 (all these prices are list -- shop around).  This is similar to the first lens I mentioned, except it doesn't have STM motors.  Focus will be slower.  Most of the time that's not an issue, but if shooting action photography where the focus distance is changing rapidly... it would be an issue (e.g. sports games where the athlete is running toward you, for example.)  Also, the optics on this lens are not as refined as the optics on the STM version.  And then there is one feature which you might think is a nit, but it drives me nuts... I tend to use a polarizing filter when shooting outdoors to cut reflections and enhance color.  This version of the lens rotates as it focuses (the others do not).  That means that each time the focus changes, the polarizer would rotate and I'd have to reach forward and re-tune the polarizer (polarizing filters are rotated to tune them.)    This lens is about $50 less than the STM version...  I personally think having internal focus (focusing element is at the rear, not the front), a much faster focusing motor, and refined optics are all easily worth the $50 extra.


There is an EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 lens (not that it's "75-300" and not "70-300") which does not get very flattering reviews but is only $200.  


If you win the lottery, you want the EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x... at only $11,799!  If you do win the lottery, buy 2 and send one to me!  😉


Tim Campbell
5D III, 5D IV, 60Da


We really can't help very much unless we know more about what she wants to shoot. Lenses are selected to meet a particular purpose. We'd have to suggest something different if she wants just a general walk-around lens, or likes to shoot portraits, or is a wildlife photographer/birder, or enjoys making landscape shots... etc.


Tim has mentioned a few of the zooms that Canon offers (a few out of dozens)... and those might meet certain of the above purposes well, but others not so much.


Also it would be helpful to know if she already has any lenses with the camera.


So please tell us more, so we can make more helpful recommendations.


Alan Myers

San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7D(x2), 50D(x3), some other cameras, various lenses & accessories


She wants to use the zoom lens for wildlife scenery during the day. Going to Alaska in July. Already has the lens that came with camera. EFS 18-55mm lens Thanks

One of the more inexpensive choices would be a Canon EF-S 55-250mm IS STM.  Nice image quality and pretty good performance. STM is an improved type of focus drive that earlier versions of the lens didn't have. STM focus was especially developed for videography, it's very quiet to help preven it showing up no the sound track of videos. (However a T3i can't perform focus during video, anyway). I would recommend the 55-250mm over the sometimes cheaper Canon EF 75-300mm (no IS or USM).  The 55-250 is better performing lens, in pretty much all respects.


The EF 70-300mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM is a more moderate priced option with decent performance and image quality. IS is image stabilization. USM is Canon's best form of focus drive... it's fast, quiet and accurate.   


There is also a premium quality EF 70-300mm "L" series. It's a large lens with top image quality and performance, sturdy build, USM and IS. And there is a more compact Canon EF 70-300mm "DO" IS and USM... another high quality lens. Both the L and DO are considerably more expensive. 


A bit shorter, but a real workhorse of a lens is the Canon EF 70-200/4L IS USM. There are other versions without IS and f2.8 versions of 70-200.... It adds cost, but on telephoto lenses IS is really helpful getting steady shots and I highly recommend it. The 70-200/2.8 lenses are nice, but starting to get rather large and heavy, might feel hard to balance on a smaller T3i camera (if so, adding a battery grip to the camera can help). 


Even a bit larger, the EF 100-400 f4.5-5.6L IS USM is a popular lens for wildlife and birds. Depending upon the size and distance of the subject, 400mm might be needed. 


Those are the core telephoto zooms from Canon.


Often for landscapes and scenery, the wider 18-55mm lens serves well (the STM version of this lens is the latest and best).  There are a couple premium upgrades from this lens possible, too. Most notably there are the EF-S 17-55/2.8 IS USM and the EF-S 15-85mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM.


Hope this helps.


Alan Myers

San Jose, Calif., USA
"Walk softly and carry a big lens."
GEAR: 5DII, 7D(x2), 50D(x3), some other cameras, various lenses & accessories