I killed a Canon, the EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM lens

It is almost the perfect lens: sharp, fast f2.8, constant aperture, wide to medium telephoto and it has Image Stabilisation (IS). But it was never built like a professional L series lens and after some months of travelling it seemed to fall apart. I bought my lens in July 2007 and it gave up in March 2009. I never dropped it and I wouldn’t say it has been abused. Yes, I do travel rough and like bush walking but I do my best to look after my gear. What use is a camera if you can’t take it with you?

My Canon EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM.

Product description

For Canon digital SLR cameras with the smaller APS-C sized sensor, the EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 is a Godsend. With a 35mm equivalent focal length of 27-88mm and constant f2.8 aperture, it is similar to the classic 28-70 f2.8 lenses, even better because it has IS. The main sticking point has been price, the EF-S costs nearly USD1000. It’s too expensive for consumers and they may not appreciate it’s utility, (i.e. the f2.8 aperture). The build quality is not good enough for professionals and most of them would be using full frame bodies anyway. Canon still do not make any professional lenses in the EF-S mount.

Mini-review

Optically, the EF-S 17-55 is very sharp and delivers very nice results. Its only weak point is flare, this is not a good lens for street photography at night. I bought the optional lens hood, another expense, but this is optimised for the 17 mm focal length, ie the lens extends as one zooms in. I don’t use any protective filters and it still flares so just keep bright lights out of the frame.

Flare with my Canon EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM. Check the spots below the bright, central street light. Shot in Mumbai, India.

Build quality of the EF-S 17-55mm is just average. It feels a bit clunky, there’s some wobble in the focus ring and some friction in the zoom. I upgraded from the EF-S 17-85mm f4-5.6 IS USM and I think that lens felt more solid. I got my hands on a EF 24-105mm f4 L IS USM at a photo show, it looks similar but feels like quaLity (capital “L” intended). The EF-S 17-55mm lens is not sealed and dust finds its way inside, annoying but a little dust does not noticeably affect the optical performance. Humidity is a typical problem and I fogged my 17-55mm twice. A short time in the sun dries out the moisture and my lens didn’t get any fungus growing inside.

For some time everything was going well and I was happy. The EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM is a very handy lens, from landscapes to portraits. IS is great for street photography, I love a slow shutter and motion blur. I bought a 77 mm B+W polarizing filter, more fun. And then things started going wrong. First the IS started causing problems. Sometimes the camera would give an error, reading aperture 00 when the IS kicked in. This problem was intermittent although sometimes I had to give up and shoot without IS. In March 2009 the lens really failed and this time on top of a volcano! Now the lens works only at f2.8 from about 20-55mm. At smaller apertures the camera gives Err 99 when the shutter is depressed, ie when the lens is supposed to stop down to the selected aperture. Otherwise it seems to work OK.

Conclusion

I sent my EF-S 17-55mm off to Canon last week (April 2009). They be interested to see what went wrong. As for me, I am pretty keen to try a different lens. The EF 17-40mm f4 L USM lens is a solid lens and good value for money plus it is a great ultra wide angle zoom on full frame bodies. But I’m not thinking to upgrade to a full frame body yet. I travel heaps and small size and light weight are important to me. So it has to be a Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 next, my first non-Canon lens. Reviews are mixed although it’s generally accepted to be a good lens, if one can get a good copy. I can live without USM, in fact I use manual focus more and more these days. Only thing missing is IS.

Should you buy a Canon EF-S 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM? If you can afford it, I would say yes. With IS, it’s a fun lens to use. My only reservation is build quality, mine did not last two years.

Aftermath

My lens was out of warranty and Canon Australia charged me A$566 for the repair. They replaced the Lens Assembly, Third Group and Image Stabilizer Assembly. The repair was excellent. I then sold it for A$970 on Ebay. The lens retails for about A$1700 in Australia, versus about US$990 in the U.S.A.

Ebay is an excellent place to sell lenses but I would not buy a lens on Ebay. Overbidding is common on second-hand lenses. New lenses are rather expensive and from no-name Asian Ebay retailers. I prefer to buy lenses new from established stores in the U.S.A., they have competitive prices.

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