Boasting an impressive 5x zoom range this is a versatile lens.....
With so much packed inside you would expect this to be a sizable and fairly expensive item, which indeed it is. The lens feels solid and its handling is good, though the forward-mounted zoom ring, with the manual-focusing ring behind, takes a bit of getting used to. There is some barrel distortion at the shortest focal lengths and, though the amount is relatively small, with a price-tag over £500 any noticeable distortion is cause for concern. When buying lenses it’s important to check them through a viewfinder before handing over any money, as in this price band, distortion should be almost invisible to the eye (even if measurable on the test bench).
Finally, before committing to any purchase do ensure that you have not been swayed by the ‘macro’ label on the lens barrel. The fact is that Canon’s more modest (and considerably less expensive) 18 -55mm zoom delivers a better close-range magnification even without the fancy label. More justified are the image stabilisation (IS) and ultrasonic motor (USM) labels, but even these cannot really compensate for the 17-85mm’s lacklustre wide-aperture resolution at all but the longest focal length settings.
Maximum-aperture performance is definitely a bit weak: best results are obtained in the very useful f/8 to f/11 range with a slight and very gradual loss of resolution at smaller apertures.
Overall, the Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens doesn’t really live up to its promises. The zoom range is excellent but in all other respects there are better alternatives in the Canon stable.