When initially being tasked to find the best all-rounder camera lenses on the market, I thought there would be straightforward choices. As soon as I thought of one lens, a bunch of others immediately came to mind as well. You could argue that many lenses on the market have a wide range of uses and it’s really down to the individual photographer for how versatile they are in reality.
However, we’re talking about general terms here, which means each lens has to cover things like the most useful focal lengths, feature a wide-ranging aperture, and hopefully include other goodies like image stabilization. Basically, it’s a lens that you’ll be happy to use all day long without the need to carry a kit bag full of optics.
Therefore, let’s have a closer look at possible choices from the prime and zoom lens world, which can serve as a one choice lens.
1. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM (Overall Winner)
Although the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM gets our top spot, it almost lost out to the high-end 24-70mm lenses on this list. While a top-quality 24-70mm may achieve slightly better optical quality, we are talking here about all-rounder camera lenses and you can’t beat the 24-105mm for versatility lens.
The Canon EF 24-105mm is a common choice as it balances great optical quality with an L-series design. It features image stabilization with four stops of compensation.
Inside the lens are 17 elements arranged in 12 groups, with four glass-molded aspherical elements and an Air Sphere coating. Canon’s ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM) covers autofocusing, while a 10-blade rounded diaphragm produces excellent bokeh effects.
Image quality and sharpness are extremely good throughout the zoom range and although the aperture isn’t as fast as a 24-70mm’s f/2.8, the f/4 on the 24-105mm is sharp across the frame from the get-go.
As a lens that produces excellent images and covers the most useful focal lengths, from wide to medium telephoto, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM is a great choice for those who want high-quality glass in an all-in-one lens. It also works extremely well on crop sensor camera bodies, providing an equivalent focal length of 38.4-168mm.
2. Sony FE 50mm f/1.8
It may seem initially counterintuitive to recommend a prime as a great all-rounder camera lens solution. However, the 50mm has been the standard focal length for eons, providing an almost as-your-eye-sees-it view of the world. Sony’s offering in this department, in the form of the Sony FE 50mm f/1.8, brings great optical quality at a reasonable price.
Featuring one aspherical element to control lens anomalies, plus a double-gauss optical configuration for reducing field curvature and lens distortion. Being a prime lens, it can get achieve a faster aperture of f/1.8 than a zoom lens, which means shallower depths of field and more light covering ability.
The Sony FE 50mm f/1.8 will work equally well from portraits to landscapes, providing very sharp detail with plenty of contrast and color. If you only own one prime lens, then a 50mm is a good starting point.
3. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM
Canon has a bunch of 50mm prime lenses in their lineup, but for a balance between cost and quality, you can’t beat the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM. It features a constant aperture of f/1.4, with eight rounded diaphragm blades, and a micro Ultrasonic Motor (USM).
The optics consist of seven elements arranged in six groups, with two high-refraction lens elements and a Gaussian optics design. The f/1.4 aperture produces great background blur, which is ideal for portraits, and sharpness is excellent throughout the range. The lens barrel may feel a bit plasticky, but don’t let that put you off as this lens provides loads of quality at an affordable price.
4. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM
While an 85mm prime lens is more zoomed in than a 50mm, it’s still a good overall focal length. It provides tighter angles which can be useful for portraits, street photography, or even tight landscape shots.
Wrapped around an optical design of nine elements arranged in seven groups with a nine-blade rounded diaphragm, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM lens a good balance between quality and cost.
The lens suffers from slight edge softness at f/1.8, but from f/2.2 upwards, images are rendered extremely sharp across the frame. The ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM) is very quick to snap into focus, while the focal length gets a nice happy medium between compression and overall sharpness.
5. Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
If you’re after a top-quality zoom lens which can cover all the bases, then you can’t go wrong with a 24-70mm. The Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM covers the Sony camp, with excellent optics and worthwhile features.
This lens is centered around an optical design of 18 elements arranged in 13 groups, with three aspherical, one Super ED and one extra-low dispersion element, plus a Nano AR coating. Image quality is exceptional from this lens, with the f/2.8 aperture producing fantastic bokeh that almost rivals prime lenses.
This lens may be large, weighty and come at a premium price, but it delivers in every department. If you don’t particularly need a zoom to go up to 105mm, then a 24-70mm is an excellent choice for an all-rounder camera lens.
6. Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE (Budget Winner)
The Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE has been included here, not just because it balances cost with quality, but also to show the 35mm focal length lens is a good all-rounder camera lens. A 35mm lens provides a slightly wider view than 50mm and is a common choice from street to portrait photography.
The Samyang features two aspherical and two high refractive index elements, plus an Ultra Multi coating, with an integrated Linear Super sonic Motor (LSM) for quick and quiet autofocusing. The nine blade rounded diaphragm and f/1.4 aperture produces very good bokeh quality and the all aluminium alloy body is solid enough to last many years.
A Samyang brand lens may not be an obvious choice in the 35mm department, but it is available for a range of camera mounts and delivers high-end prime lens quality at a reasonable price point.
Choosing the Best All-Rounder Camera Lenses
There’s a lot of variety of lenses to choose from, both prime and zooms if you need a do it all lens. Zoom lenses may be the most obvious choice, but this also depends on your favorite subject matter, which will mostly dictate your focal length choice. Top-quality 24-70mm lenses are an excellent choice, but for fuller rounded abilities, a 24-105mm can cover more range.
In many ways, there is no outright winner, as there are many factors at play. But, if you start with the lenses above, it should provide a good launchpad for your own needs.