I’ve had my trusty Canon Rebel XSi for more than five years, and it’s served me well. I originally bought it because it was one of the smallest DSLRs available at the time. With the advent of mirrorless cameras, that’s probably the way to go now for portable travel photography. I don’t want to invest in a new body. But it is time to upgrade the 18-55mm kit lens that came with my camera.

I agonized over this decision for days. There’s no perfect lens, and they all involve serious compromises. I have always been satisfied with the maximum 55mm zoom. At the low end 18mm is not wide enough on my crop sensor camera. The crop means you have to multiply the lens focal length by 1.6 to get the true focal length. Thus my 18-55mm is really 29-88mm. That’s nice for zooming, but bad for wide angle shots. I plan to work around this buy buying an ultra-wide angle lens too.

Because I’ll be adding a second wide angle lens, and I don’t need extra zoom, I wanted a faster lens that would work in low light conditions over the same zoom range. I never use a flash, because it washes out the subject and takes up extra space. Those requirements led me to the Canon 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM. It has a constant aperture of 2.8 throughout the zoom range. This lets a ton of light in, which is good in dark conditions. It will also be good for experimenting with background blur.

The compromises are lack of zoom, which I’m OK with, and size/weight. In order to let so much light in, this is a big lens.

2014-08-08 14.56.34
17-55 vs 18-55

 

My little Rebel is front-heavy with this big lens
My little Rebel is front-heavy with this big lens

I did a quick test walking around the neighborhood with both my new 17-55mm and my kit 18-55mm. I accidentaly had the image stabilization turned off on the 17-55, so it’s not a true test. Here are a couple comparison, with no post-processing applied. I think under bright conditions, there’s not much of a difference.

17-55 @ 17mm
17-55 @ 17mm
18-55mm @18mm
18-55mm @18mm

But look at the detail that comes out in the shade.

17-55 @17mm
17-55 @17mm
18-55mm @18mm
18-55mm @18mm

I’ll be using the new lens more extensively this weekend in Provincetown. I hope I get used to carrying it around, because I think it offers a lot of potential.

Terry
I'm Terry, former cubicle-dweller, and now traveler, photographer, writer, and entrepreneur. I quit my job in 2014 to travel to US national parks, then to South East Asia. I write about independent, flexible, long-term, budget travel. Sign up to my newsletter to get the latest news on what I'm up to. I hope you join me on my trek around the world.

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