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Gear Reviews

Canon’s New 18-135mm ‘Kit Lens’ Could Be The Best I Have Used Yet

By Anthony Thurston on November 8th 2014

Kit lenses are usually synonymous with cheap optics, plastic parts, and an overall “meh” in terms of performance. In my testing of the 7D Mark II, which came with Canon’s new 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 IS STM ‘Kit Lens’, I must say, this could be the best Canon EF-S Kit lens that I have used yet.

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Canon 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Mini-Review

Generally, like most of you, I don’t expect much out of the kit lenses that come bundled with any given camera body that I am reviewing (or buying). In general, especially from Canon, these lenses are made almost entirely of plastic, and performance ranges from ok to average. That is not the case with their new EFS 18-135mm F/3.5-5.6 IS STM, which comes as the kit companion to the new 7D Mark II.

I had the Sigma 24-105mm F/4 waiting to stick on the 7D Mark II almost immediately after taking it out of the box. But given that the body was kitted with this new lens, I decided to give the lens a go and see how it performed. I am happy to report that I was pleasantly surprised.

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Move Mouse Over Image To See Lens Fully Extended

The lens barrel extends and retracts smoothly. The focus ring moves like a knife through butter: smooth and creamy. I am generally not a fan of small focus rings in combination with larger zoom rings, but on this lens, I did not mind it so much. The construction of the lens, while plastic, feels a little bit higher quality than your average Canon kit lens, and the addition of a metal lens mount gives the lens a sort of ‘premium kit lens’ sort of feel.

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The lens focuses quickly and quietly, thanks to the STM motor, and the Image Stabilization is a life saver in low light situations where a lens like this would normally require the use of a tripod or some sort of rest.

[REWIND: Initial Impressions on Canon’s 7D Mark II]

As far as optical performance, the lens is actually pretty good throughout the range. There is a bit of vignetting when the lens is being shot wide open, but that is easily correctable in post or by stopping the lens down a little bit. While I was walking around at PhotoPlus Expo 2014, I took this shot with the kit lens. I have had several people not believe me after telling them that.

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ISO 100, F/5.6, 1/125th @ 62mm

Now, will this lens replace any of your pro F/2.8 or better lenses? Of course not, it is not meant to. But for a kit lens – and the sort of people who buy camera kits (aka newer photographers) – this is actually a pretty awesome starter lens. For those of you who are advanced amateurs or pro, this could also make a great walk around lens or ‘family time’ lens.

So is it worth getting the 7D in the kit for this lens? That all depends on your situation and if you see yourself needing/using a lens like this. For newer photographers, who may have no lenses or a small lens collection, this makes a lot of sense. The lens by itself retails for $549. If you buy the 7D Kit, you get the camera and the lens for $2149. The 7D by itself is $1799, so if you do the math, you are getting the kit lens for only $350, or ~$200 in savings.

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At $549, I’m not as sold on this lens. There are other great options for similar prices, lenses like Sigma’s new 18-300mm, which also offers great AF performance and Image Stabilization, along with the obvious extra 200mm in focal range. But for $350, this lens is almost a no brainer.

This is by far the best EF-S kit lens that I have ever used. So if you are trying to decide whether or not to get the kit, be assured you can still get some amazing imagery from this guy. If the 7D Mark II is your first DSLR, or you have a limited lens selection, I say go for it. You can get the 7D Mark II in the Kit from B&H here.

Anthony Thurston is a photographer based in the Salem, Oregon area specializing in Boudoir. He recently started a new project, Fiercely Boudoir to help support the growing boudoir community. Find him over on Instagram. You may also connect with him via Email.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Scottie Nguyen

    Dave, that’s what I’m talking about !!! Don’t get me wrong, I’m a Canon user. Not meant to bash Canon ask I hope they up their game with the 5D Mark IV but right now, I have no confidence in Canon !!! The 7D mark 2 is just what I had thought, same DR as the rest of their other sensors. They’ve been sleeping too long because they have been the king. But Sony has pass them, and now that Samsung has entered the arena with the NX1 or something like that, with 28 mp, 15 frames per second and does 4k. Canon’s only leg up is the lens lineup. If the others get the lens lineup up, the fall of an empire will begin. Canon is the equivalent of the Roman empire, but even the mighty Roman empire failed. I just hope that the 5D mark IV either up their game, or give up like Nikon and just use a Sony sensor !!!

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  2. Scottie Nguyen

    My badd, I thought it was about the 7D2.

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  3. Scottie Nguyen

    With their sensors sucking in terms of dynamic range and color bit depth comparing to sensors in Sony and Nikon, they are forced to make everything else better to even out the field. Like faster frame rates, faster autofocus, and now better kit lenses. The 7d mark2 is the newest sensor sensor. They just CANNOT figure out to squeeze DR to 13 eV while Sony and Nikon(since they gave up and started using Sony sensors) have all entered 14 ev. While 12 eV is good enough for portraitures, landscape wise Sony has run away!!! There are certain landscape shots that you are going to “miss” in terms of capturing the full DR. Its so sad and disappointing that 5 years of development that 7d has gone from 18 MP to 20MP with DR of 11.8 to 12.1. And no I am not a Sony or Nikon shooter. Been shooting canon since 1998. Seeing Sony and Nikon run away has been disheartening, but its hard jumping ship with all the L lenses I have. :(

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    • adam sanford

      I agree with you on Canon not upping their low ISO game in recent years on the sensor, but the 7D2 is not a landscape body by any stretch. For the same money, landscapers would be much better rewarded with a 6D (or D610, a7, etc.).

      Further, the impact of such a ‘wretched’ sensor is smaller than most are making it out to be. Pros aren’t leaving Canon in great numbers because of limited DR at low ISO — *enthusiasts are*, who frequently burn their money to claim they have the latest and greatest. Sensors don’t take pictures — an entire camera does, and the sensor is just one part of the equation. If sensors were as important as the DXO/Nikon/Sony folks would have you believe, we’d all be shooting sports and wildlife with a Hasselblad at 1.1 fps. :-P

      In this action/reach segment — where missing the shot due to limited burst rate, poor AF system or a tiny buffer is a bigger deal than how much you can push the shadows — Canon seems to have prioritized the right improvements, IMHO. I think if you asked the non-pro birding/sports/wildlife community if they could have one more stop of noise-free ISO or the 1DX AF system, DPAF and +2 fps, they would overwhelmingly choose the latter.

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    • Raoni Franco

      I logged in just to like your comment Adam. And thanks for the discussion with Antony in the beggining of the section.

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    • Scottie Nguyen

      Yes it’s not a landscape camera thank goodness or it’s an epic failure in terms of dynamic range. It’s a great overall sports and wildlife camera. 6D is ok as landscape. All canon camera DR are horrible and you have to do so much work in post processing to get them to look good. Where as Nikon’s and Sony sensors come out looking great without much post processing so they look more “natural”. Canon images look more “processed” The sensor is not everything but it’s the heart of the camera and in the end, a camera’s sole purpose is to take good images. The sensor play the most key role in that.

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    • adam sanford

      Scottie, first: this is an article about a *lens*. It seems like Canon announces a new lens, flash, accessory, etc. and someone jumps the thread to chat about sensors. I find this curious.

      Second: if you prioritize ‘more natural looking’ results / less post-processing time needed above other factors, and you believe another camera will get you there, go for it! But ask yourself a few questions first:

      Why is Company B leading in Sales? Is the world brainwashed?

      Why is Company B routinely winning photography awards?

      Why do professionals overwhelmingly choose Company B?

      Is a slightly better sensor truly going to improve your photography **in proportion to the money you need to spend to convert your gear**?

      Does Company A have even *half* of the lens options of Company B?

      Is Company A reliable? Does it have a track record of laying eggs on basic quality issues? Do you trust a company that sprays out new camera models constantly, or do you trust one that makes infrequent major releases and completely gets behind them?

      If, after all those questions, switching your gear seems to be the right call, make it happen. That math has never added up for me, but your needs might be different.

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    • Dave Lyons

      the 6d isn’t anymore of a landscape camera than the 7dm2, the dr is about the same.

      pushing shadows is a bigger deal than canon ppl realize. The ability to way underexpose to speed shutter up when needed is incredibly when you actually get to use it.

      Canon hasn’t “prioritized” other things like speed and buffer (the d300s from 5 years ago can do 8fps) it’s blatantly clear they are struggling with their sensors and now they’re stuck as the lower dr sensors do work well for video and i’m telling you they are more concerned with video than stills so I can’t see them going with a sony sensor.

      Adam… how is the sensor not important? That’s nuts!! I have 30d and 5dm2 raw files and they can’t even come remotely close to matching even my d7000. I even straight compared doing an HDR with a 5dm2 with L lens verses a D90 with 18-200 kit lens (which cost about as much as just one of the L lenses for d90 and lens) and the d90 smoked the 5d.. its on video if you want to see lol

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    • Matthew Saville

      Nikon’s about to pass 15 EV, actually, with the D810 at 14.9…

      I do however think that the whole thing is blown a little out of proportion. In testing various Canon DSLRs, I gotta say that most of the shooting conditions that people encounter these days are simply not going to “demand” D810 sensor insanity.

      Yes, Canon needs to step up their game, but not as desperately as we on the internet make it sound. All they really have to do is catch up in a small way, and continue to turn out fantastic bodies like the 7D mk2, fantastic lenses such as their new STM lineup… (and less pricey, high-res L glass like the new 16-35 f/4)

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    • Matthew Saville

      Honestly, pair this with an EF-S STM 24mm f/2.8 pancake, and you’ve got pretty much the only kit that 75% of DSLR hobbyists / beginners will ever need. Don’t knock the kit lens, especially when you’ve got an understanding of depth and whatnot to make the most of a situation.

      Maybe Canon will add a 50mm or 60mm EF-S STM “mini-lens” (though not a pancake?) and that would complete the lineup…

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  4. Barry McDonald

    Isn’t this the same sense that was paired with the Rebel T4i?

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  5. Ryan Orcullo

    Indeed canon kit lenses now a days are quite impressive :)

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  6. Barry Cunningham

    The thing I note is that it is an EF-S lens. Not unreasonable as it is a kit lens for an APS-C camera.
    Perhaps I’m just cherishing delusions of grandeur, but so far I just have Canon lenses that will swing both ways,
    full-frame and APS-C, even though I’m shooting just APS-C right now. Guess I’m just not the target demographic, that’s all.

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    • adam sanford

      Barry, you are not alone. I bought a 24-70 and 70-200 for my crop Canon body and as much as the 70-200 is simply money every way I use it, the 24-70 was too damn long as a walkaround on a crop. So I ended up having to bring the 24-70 and EF-S 10-22 everywhere with me to cover basic walkaround needs. When I finally cut over to a 5D3, the 24-70 was *ab-so-lutely perfect* as a walkabout for my needs and I could truly get by with one lens for general use.

      As I stated before, Canon should offer a similarly high quality lens that serves that FF equiv 24-70 so good folks like you don’t have to work around the odd ‘standard’ focal lengths that result from using EF glass. Every time I see someone slap the 17-40 f/4L on their crop bodies to ‘fake’ a FF 24-70, I see a ‘dollars opportunity lost’ for Canon.

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  7. Steven Pellegrino

    I feel the same way about Nikon’s 18-140mm kit lens that came with my D7100. I wouldn’t have bought it at full retail, but as part of the bundle, it was worth it and certainly a nicer lens than the typical 18-55mm kit lens.

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  8. adam sanford

    Good report! Canon’s kit lenses are usually sharp for the dollars you spend, but have a host of ‘non-pro-lens’ issues like chromatic aberrations, flare, distortion, etc. — it’s like they put all their R&D work into sharpness and forgot everything else. In fairness, this particular lens is a ‘mid-level’ EF-S zoom and not an entry level one — it has a metal mount with a non-rotating front element and internal focusing. Folks buying a Rebel won’t see a lens of this quality in their box.

    But what Canon sorely needs is an EF-S standard zoom on the level of their L lenses. Canon has an EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS, but it’s nearly 10 years old and could use an update badly.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      Yeah Adam, rebel shooters likely won’t be seeing this lens as a kit option. As you mention, its more of a upper-mid level EF-S lens, but this was part of my point in talking about the lens specifically. Its not your average Canon EF-S kit lens, and could actually be a great lens for certain shooters.

      Great comment and insight, as always :)

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    • adam sanford

      Thx. I dig the articles you post. It just seems like Canon has saturated the $300-600 lens market for EF-S standard zooms — there’s this kit lens, the 15-85, the 17-55, and the various 18-135 lenses over the years. All are good and none are great.

      I appreciate saving the red ring and all from the EF-S camp (for many reasons, one of them to get folks to buy a few and then naturally want to slide into an FF body), but I think there’s a big opportunity lost in not offering really high end $800-1200 EF-S dialed in standard zoom. Make a 24-70 f/2.8 in the crop form factor and top it out feature-wise: it would be a 15-45 f/2.8 IS USM that wasn’t an EF ultrawide pickle jar. It would be the ultimate EF-S walkaround, and I think many people would buy it.

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    • Anthony Thurston

      I know this isn’t really the range you are talking about. But I have always been a big fan of the 50-150mm range for APS-C cameras, I’m sad that Canikon refuse to release that range for their crop bodies.

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    • adam sanford

      Agree, Anthony. An EF-S 50-150 f/4 with IS would do well as a step-up lens for crop shooters. It would naturally hit the 70-200 sort of window for crop shooters. Good idea.

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  9. Dre Rolle

    Thank you for the insight.

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