The Canon EF-S 18-55mm IS lens adds image stabilization to the company's older kit lens, though otherwise it and its predecessor are basically the same. It's compatible with all Canon EF-S digital camera bodies, such as the EOS Rebel XSi and EOS 40D, but it won't fit on the EOS 5D or any cameras in the EOS 1D or 1Ds series. For less than $200, it's a very affordable image-stabilized lens, particularly when you consider that Canon's EF-S 17-55mm F2.8 IS lens sells for more than $900. While this model is currently shipping as a kit lens for the EOS Digital Rebel XSi, you can also buy it separately. Its wide to medium zoom range, compact size, light weight, and image stabilization make it great for travel, and general purpose photography.
• While the plastic construction of the lens barrel and lens mount make the lens lightweight (7.1 ounces), better-built lenses have a metal lens mount and even a metal lens barrel for durability.
• Has a working focal length of 29-88mm on a Canon EF-S body such as the EOS Rebel XSi or the EOS 40D (because of the camera's smaller sensor size there's a 1.6x magnification factor).
• Offers a variable maximum aperture from f3.5 to f5.6, and a variable minimum aperture from f22 to f38.
• Measures 3 inches long with a 2.7 inch diameter, and accepts 58mm screw-on filters.
• Knurled wide rubber zoom ring, with a small focus ring at the very front of the lens barrel.
• 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. There's just one stabilization mode, where more advanced lenses have two.
• Canon ships it with front and rear lens caps. There's an optional lens hood, the EW-60c ($29.00), which would be a good investment.
• Large, easy-to-read zoom markings at 18mm, 24mm, 35mm, and 55mm.
• Designed specially for Canon digital camera bodies, it has Canon's Super Spectra Coatings to reduce glare and ghosting, and improve contrast.
Performance and image quality
In our lab tests, the lens displayed considerable barrel distortion (where objects appear to curve toward the outside of the image) at 18mm, although it was on par for a lens that wide in this price range. Beyond that, distortion is well controlled for a lens in this class, with minimal barrel distortion at 35mm and minimal pincushion distortion (where objects appear to curve towards the center of the image) at 55mm. It delivered very good sharpness at the center of the image at 18mm, 35mm, and 55mm--with 35mm slightly sharper. It also maintained good corner sharpness at 35mm and 55mm, with corner sharpness at 18mm suffering slightly. While zooming, the lens maintains its maximum aperture of f3.5 from 18mm to 24mm. At 35mm, it shifts to f4.5 and turns to f5.6 at about 45mm. Flare was fairly well controlled, but noticeable sometimes. We would recommend the optional lens hood for shooting in bright sunlight.
We shot with the lens on a Canon EOS Rebel XSi body, and its light weight made it a pleasure to carry for a long afternoon. Since there's no performance or image-quality penalty for leaving it on, we left the IS enabled the whole time. The wide zoom ring is easy to grip, and the zooming action is smooth and tight and well damped. However, the small manual focus ring feels a bit loose. It lacks a distance scale, although that's common for entry-level lenses. That, along with its location at the very front of the lens, made using the manual focus imprecise, so we suggest using the manual focus only if you really have to. Autofocus feels responsive and accurate, and seems fairly quiet. It uses internal focusing, so the front lens element does not rotate during focus, which is helpful if you use a circular polarizing filter. We found the 9.8-inch closest focusing distance a great point of the lens, allowing almost macro-like capability.
For the entry-level Canon shooter, the EF-S 18-55mm IS f3.5-5.6 IS provides an affordable way to gain image stabilization, which is built into the bodies of entry-level dSLR systems from companies such as Sony, Pentax, and Olympus. Its strong image quality makes it a good option for more advanced Canon shooters who desire image stabilization at an affordable price. While we found the wide end of the zoom range great for scenic shots and being creative with perspective, the 55mm maximum focal length (88mm equivalent) left us wanting more much of the time. The step-up option in Canon's medium zoom EF-S line is the 17-55mm IS EF-S f2.8 aperture, which can run you about $800 more, so unless you have to have the faster f2.8 through the whole zoom range, this lens is an excellent value for the price. Coupled with Canon's sub-$300 55-250mm f4-5.6 IS EF-S lens, you'd have effective coverage from 29mm to 400mm with image stabilization in two lightweight, compact lenses for less than the price of some other image-stabilized lenses alone.