Photographers have had the option to buy the best third-party lenses for Canon cameras for many years. However, now has never been a better time to own one of these lenses, with the ever increasing levels of quality and optics. It’s true that third-party lenses used to be the poor second cousin to same brand lenses, but now it’s more of an even playing field.
Third-party lenses are essentially everything but same-camera-make versions, with a huge variety of high-quality prime and zoom lenses being available. It’s also common to see certain third-party makers popping up as recommendations and for good reason. Some provide excellent optics for the money, while other makers produce no-holds-barred, price-doesn’t-matter offerings.
A third-party lens can provide features not found on native-brand lenses. These can include out of the ordinary focal lengths, unique apertures, or simply features you cannot find elsewhere.
In the list below we will provide a selection which covers both prime and zoom lenses, value for money offerings, along with lenses for those with the deepest pockets.
1. Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport (Overall Winner)
I really wanted to put some form of 24-70mm lens in this category, as it has such a useful focal range. However, Canon’s own offerings in this department are arguably the best you can get. Equally as versatile is the 70-200mm range, thus we’re recommending the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport.
A 70-200mm lens is so useful, not just for things like sports, wildlife, and event photography, but also for areas such as portraits or even landscapes and architecture with a narrow angle-of-view. The Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport is a worthy adversary to Canon’s own version, as it features a wide f/2.8 aperture, 11-blade rounded diaphragm, optical image stabilization, and fantastic optics.
Equally useful on both full-frame and crop sensor cameras (with an equivalent focal length of 112-320mm), the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 features one Special Low Dispersion (SLD) and nine F Low Dispersion (FLD) elements, with a Super Multi-Layer, and oil and water repellent coatings.
Images are fantastically sharp throughout the aperture and focal range, providing all the crisp detail you could ever need. Plus, the Sigma is far cheaper than its Canon counterpart. It falls into the heavyweight category at 1.8kg, but the refined optics more than makes up for its overall heft.
If you can’t quite stretch to the cost of Canon’s own 70-200mm, then the Sigma 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport is an excellent choice.
The 50mm focal length is arguably the most popular for all-round usefulness, so your not short of choices. The Tokina opera 50mm f/1.4 FF stands as a great third-party choice as it has fantastic optics, a fast f/1.4 aperture, and full weather-proofing.
The lens is wrapped around an optical design of three Super-Low Dispersion elements, one aspherical element, and an ELR Coating (Extremely Low Reflection). Autofocusing is handled by a ring-shaped ultrasonic motor with a rounded nine-blade diaphragm helping to achieve nice bokeh effects.
This lens is quick to focus and provides wonderfully sharp images, with a good degree of detail. It may not be the obvious choice as a high-quality 50mm prime, but once you’ve given it a test drive, there’s no looking back.
ZEISS provides a good range of prime lenses for the Canon platform and to cover the relatively wide angle range of the market, we have the ZEISS Milvus 25mm f/1.4.
The ZEISS provides a wide f/1.4 aperture, through seven anomalous partial dispersion elements, two aspherical elements, and the highly respected ZEISS T* anti-reflective coating. This is a manual focusing only lens, with a very simple barrel design, fully weather-proofed construction, and an 82mm filter thread.
This is a heavyweight lens coming in at 1.2kg and what it does supply is incredible resolving power and sumptuous detail. As per usual with a ZEISS lens, it has a very high price tag, but for those who don’t mind a manual only focusing lens at this focal length, you’ll never be disappointed with the end results.
The usual one-stop-shop for a 24-70mm zoom is the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM or now the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM. But, the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 has added features such as image stabilization.
Two XR (extra refractive), three LD (low dispersion), and three glass-molded aspherical elements make up the optical arrangement, along with eBAND and BBAR coatings to reduce general lens anomalies. The VC image stabilization system offers up to five stops of compensation, with two modes of operation.
Although the autofocus system is a touch less refined than the one found on the Canon, image quality is wonderful throughout the range. Images are produced in fine detail, definitely snapping at the heels of Canon’s own version.
The image stabilization and price point are the appealing factors here, but as Canon’s own offering has dropped dramatically in price these days, the gap is even smaller.
An 85mm lens is a popular choice for portrait shooters, which means lenses in this department need to be sharp, detailed, and also flattering to the subject. The Samyang Premium MF 85mm f/1.2, almost won here for its price point and optics, but the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art edges forward for overall quality. Plus, it has autofocus.
First off, this is a big bulky lens, weighing in at 1.13 kg. To give perspective on this point, Canon’s latest 70-200mm lens weighs in at 1.4 kg. But, what you get with the Sigma is fantastic image quality, which is only pipped by prime lenses costing more than twice the amount.
The Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art features two SLD elements, one anomalous partial dispersion/high-refractive index, and one aspherical element. A Super Multi-Layer Coating has also been added to reduce flaring and ghosting, along with increased contrast and color.
The f/1.4 aperture is wonderful in low-light conditions and produces excellent bokeh renditions. When you nail the focus on this lens, images are extremely sharp, with a very professional neutral look. The only real downside with this lens is that it can display chromatic aberration at f/1.4. In all other respects, this is a fantastic lens, but only if you own big biceps.
6. Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4 Di OSD (Budget Winner)
A wide-angle zoom lens is always a handy asset to have at your disposal. The Tamron 17-35mm f/2.8-4 Di OSD covers this area, with a fine performance at a reasonable price point.
The lens features 15 elements arranged in 10 groups, with Tamron’s Broad-Band Anti-Reflection coating and a fluorine front element coating to repel dirt and moisture. The bright f/2.8-f/4 aperture is wide enough for most applications and while the lens doesn’t have full-time manual focus or image stabilization, image quality is excellent for this price point.
Concluding the Best Third-Party Lenses for Canon
We could’ve easily featured a whole host of obscure or niche lenses on this list, but we prefered to focus on the most commonly used zooms and focal lengths. Basically, lenses that are the most useful in the real world.
For every Canon lens currently on the market, there is a third-party alternative that should fit your budget. But, third-party lenses aren’t just about saving costs, in some cases, they offer even more refined optics, such as with lenses from ZEISS; that’s if you don’t mind the price.