Getting a Pro Lens: Is It Worth It?

Getting a Pro Lens: Is It Worth It?

Written 13 years ago by Mark Evans

I’ve hit the big time. Well not really, but it kinda feels like it. Getting your first professional lens is a bit like getting your first bike, except without the wobbles. It’s pretty exciting really.

After a few failed attempts on Ebay, I finally managed to snag myself a Canon 17-40mm f/4 L lens for £400, then eagerly awaited its first class arrival at my door. Ripping the paper off the box like an over-excited boy at Christmas, I opened it to reveal the lens in all its glory. My first impression of the lens was ‘wow, its huge!’ Compared to your normal, run-of-the-mill kit lens (my 28-90mm) this thing is a monster. I naively thought that it was only longer zooms that were this big. Big is good in this case though, because after picking it up like a baby in a Bob 2016 Revolution Flex stroller, you soon realise that this is actually a really well made, solidly built piece of kit and before long, I was using it like any other lens, I literally felt as delicate as a maternity photographer. I guess you get used to the fact that it cost so much. Having said that, I still wouldn’t want to drop it!

Up against my Canon 28-90mm there really is no comparison. I suppose you could liken it to comparing apples and pears. The build quality of the 17-40mm really stands out, being metal construction, whereas the 28-90mm is made pretty much entirely of plastic and feels very cheap in comparison, and that’s because it is. Being an entry level lens, the 28-90mm is ten times cheaper, but perfectly suited to someone starting out in photography.

HDR taken with Canon 17-40mm F/4 L

HDR taken with Canon 17-40mm F/4 L

Trying the 17-40mm out for the first time I was amazed at just how wide the field of view is. Not quite as wide as the Canon 16-35mm, but still considered an ‘ultra wide-angle’ so you can fit an awful lot in the frame. That can cause troubles too though. Being that wide, it’s perfect for landscape shots, fitting everything you want, and more into the frame but you need to pay particular attention to the edges to make sure any unwanted objects haven’t crept into the picture.

Scanning over the first pictures, the colours seem pretty vivid and the sharpness is fantastic. Although this lens does exhibit some funky characteristics. If you point this lens up or down you get some pretty cool distortion going on, so if you’re keen to keep walls straight etc, then you’d best keep it nice and level, otherwise the effect is quite novel. When you do keep it level, I did notice you get some slight barrel distortion but this can be easily corrected in Photoshop. It also exhibits some fairly major vignetting at 17mm (darkening at the corners) but this can also add to the framing of an object (at least that’s what I tell myself!)

All in all I’m really happy with this lens. It suits my needs perfectly; its great for wide angle landscape photography and really good for shooting interiors too. Being the cheapest of the Canon ‘L’ series lenses, its not hard to see why this lens is a best seller, so if you’re in the market for a wide angle zoom lens and your budget allows, the Canon 17-40mm L might be worth checking out.

P.S – If you’re just starting out in photography or your budget won’t quite stretch that far, it may be worth checking out Canons EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, sure its not an ultra wide angle, but its a versatile lens, is of medium build quality and won’t break the bank. Even cheaper is the Canon 28-90mm, check it out if you’re looking for a budget lens.

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Mike Gove  13 years ago

Hi Mark,

Welcome to the L world :) Terribly addictive!

You might also look to a decent circular polariser for this but make darn sure it is a super-thin type (Hoya Pro etc.) else the vignetting issue multiples ten fold.

The other fun lens is the 15mm fisheye. A terrible creative lens that makes you look at the world in a really different way.


Vu  13 years ago

I’ll probably not buy another consumer grade lens again. Once you go L, its hard to go back. The downside is the increased weight, but the build/image quality is fantastic. After having spent so much money buying and then eventually selling the cheaper lenses, I could have just saved up and bought the L lenses to begin with…would have been cheaper in the long run :)

Mark Evans  13 years ago

Hi Guys, cheers for the good tips, I’ll definitely have to get the slim version filters for this lens, and I totally agree, its would be very hard to go back to a non ‘L’ lens!

Jason  13 years ago

To me it sounds pretty expensive for a lens that is only f/4. Reading along I was expecting to see f/2.8 and if this is barrel distortion and vignetting at its widest focal length, how can it be considered a pro lens?

Don’t want to rain on your parade, but I sold a lens I had in the past because it had vignetting, but it wasn’t a pro lens.

Mark Evans  13 years ago

Hi Jason, cheers for the comments! I guess with this lens, for me it came down to affordability and what I intended to use it for, as I said, its perfect for me because I do landscapes and interior photos, so don’t really use anything less than f/16. Price-wise the 17-40mm is nearly half price compared to the 16-35mm L, so I’m happy with that! And I agree with you, on a pro lens, you shouldn’t get vignetting, but seems to be a fact of life on ultra wide-angle lenses (even the 16-35mm L exhibits vignetting at 16mm).

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