Canon EF-S 55-250mm f4.0-5.6 IS lens review: Canon EF-S 55-250mm f4.0-5.6 IS lens

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3.5 stars

CNET Editors' Rating

The Good Lightweight and compact; affordably priced; very usable manual focus capability; optical image stabilization for sharper handheld photos at slow shutter speeds.

The Bad All-plastic construction, which is less durable than metal; sharpness falls off at 250mm where it is likely to see a lot of use.

The Bottom Line A lightweight, compact design coupled with its stabilized 400mm-equivalent focal length zoom and affordable price make the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f4-5.6 IS a versatile lens for entry-level shooters and amateurs on a budget.

7.3 Overall
  • Design 8.0
  • Features 7.0
  • Performance 7.0
  • Image quality 7.0

Available for less than $300, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f4-5.6 IS is a lightweight, affordable first or second lens to complement your entry-level or midrange digital SLR. With its 400mm-equivalent focal length, you get the reach and angle of view desirable for shooting portraits and sports, or just to bring the scenes in closer, with the image stabilization essential to keep those long telephoto shots from blurring from camera shake.

• Measures 4.3 inches long with a 2.8 inch diameter and accepts 58mm screw-on filters.
• The all-plastic construction of the lens barrel and mount make the lens lightweight (13.8 ounces) for its zoom range, but better-built lenses have a metal lens mount and even a metal lens barrel for durability.
• Variable maximum aperture from f4 to f5.6, and a variable minimum aperture from f22 to f32. At 55mm it's from f4 to f22; at 250mm, from f5.6 to f32.
• Closest focus is 43.2 inches, though that remains constant throughout the zoom range.

• Broad zoom range: 35mm-equivalent of 84mm to 400mm.
• Compatible with all Canon EF-S digital camera bodies, such as the EOS Rebel XSi and the EOS 40D, but won't fit on the EOS 1D or 1Ds series.
• Canon's longest EF-S lens.
• Optical image stabilization for sharper handheld photos at slow shutter speeds, especially in low light. The IS system compensates in real time for shake and vibration with no degradation to the image.
• One IS mode with automatic panning detection; this automatically turns off the IS in either the horizontal or vertical direction when following moving subjects.
• Large, easy-to-read zoom markings at 55mm, 70mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm, and 250mm.
• Ships with front and rear lens caps. There's an optional lens hood, the ET-60 ($29.00). We think lens hoods are a sound investment.
• Designed specifically for Canon digital camera bodies, it incorporates one of Canon's UD (ultralow dispersion) lens elements to reduce fringing and improve contrast.

Performance and image quality
In our testing, we found the lens displayed minimal distortion across its entire range, which is excellent for its price class. There's only barely noticeable barrel distortion (where objects appear to curve toward the outside of the image) at 55mm and slight pincushion (where objects appear to curve toward the center of the image) at 135mm and 250mm. The lens exhibits excellent sharpness at 55mm in our lab tests, and slightly less sharpness at 135mm but still very good. However, fully zoomed out to 250mm the sharpness dropped off to just acceptable. While zooming, the lens maintains its maximum aperture of f4 from 55mm to 85mm, at 100mm it narrows to f5, and turns to f5.6 at about 140mm.

Mounted on our Canon Rebel XSi, the lens felt very light given its range, so it was no problem to carry for a day of shooting. The zoom ring is nice and wide, with a quick, fairly well-damped action. There's no lens creep, the unintentional movement of the zoom caused by gravity. The manual focus ring is located at the front of the lens and is very usable and yields a decent amount of control, but it's fairly noisy. We wouldn't buy this lens solely for manual focus; it will work fine when the need arises but doesn't seem to be intended for frequent use. The lens lacks a focus distance scale, although that's common for entry-level lenses. Its front-focusing design, where the front element rotates during focus, should only be an issue with circular polarizing filters. Although some might be tempted, this lens' slow maximum aperture range of f4-5.6 makes it a poor choice for use with a teleconverter.

For the entry-level Canon shooter, the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f4-5.6 IS provides an affordable way to gain image stabilization on a telephoto lens and represents a good option for an entry-level shooter or more advanced users on a budget. When coupled with Canon's EF-S 18-55mm f3.5-5.6 IS lens, you have an effective range of 29mm to 400mm with image stabilization in two lightweight, compact lenses for less than $500, cheaper than the price of some image stabilized lenses alone. Canon's alternatives tend to be pricey: the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens offers a slightly different coverage range, but it's significantly heavier and will cost you at least $150 more, while the far more compact Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 IS USM lens costs well above the $1,000 mark.

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