Fixed focal lenth

Launched 2007
Weight 645g
Filter size NA
Recommended price $2,099 or £1,500 or R24,995

 Canon EF 14mm f2,8 USMThe pros

This super wide-angle lens is both beautiful and a lot of fun. It is heavy for its size, and very solidly constructed. For an ultra-wide, image quality is incredible, and it was the best available for a while. Reportedly, Canon’s new ultra wide 11-24mm f/4 zoom lens beats it, but the new lens is even more expensive, huge (nearly twice the weight) and unwieldy for travel. The 14mm is a much more convenient size and has the advantage of letting in more light at f/2.8. This lens has amazingly low distortion and controls flare well (although you will get some when shooting towards the sun). Make sure to stop down to get the sharpest images possible, but it’s surprising good at f/2.8 for low light scenarios.

This lens is fantastic for providing an interesting perspective on travel shots, showing interiors and creating dramatic landscapes and seascapes. It is an incredible creative tool.

The cons

This lens has a bulbous front element, which is prone to damage because it can’t take a protective UV filter—it’s nerve-wracking with such a pricey piece of glass. It also can’t take normal screw in filters for creative effects. However, one of its big advantages over other lenses others in its class is that you can use rear-mount gelatin filters. This works reasonably well for neutral density filters but not, for example, for circular polarizers.

Ultra wide lenses take lots of practice to use properly—cramming more into the scene doesn’t in itself make a good photo and often makes for a worse image! Ultra wides require ample consideration for composition, foreground interest, subject placement in the frame, etc. This wide focal length is generally not flattering for human faces.

Launched 2009
Weight 625g
Filter size 67mm
Recommended price $899 or £579 or R10,395

 Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USMThe pros

This lens is one of Canon’s top-of-the-line macro options, and it doesn’t disappoint. The image quality is fantastic, and it offers 1:1 magnification. Build quality is great and the modest size makes it portable and good for travel. This lens offers amazing image quality for macro shots, and it can also be used to take beautiful portraits—the wide aperture (f/2.8) offers great subject isolation at this focal length. The wide aperture isn’t as useful for most macro work because of the razor-thin depth of field at close distances, but it does allow for some interesting creative options. This 100mm lens can also replace a heavy 70-200mm zoom in the telephoto range to keep weight down.

AF is fast, quiet, and accurate. The new image stabilisation feature is great and allows better hand-held shots in lower light. For macro, it’s not really that necessary because, to get the best results, you’ll likely be using a tripod and flash setup anyway. However, for general photography, the IS is helpful.

The cons

The IS makes this 100mm macro lens more expensive and bigger than its predecessor, while IS is not all that helpful for true close-up work.

The fixed 100mm focal length can be a little short for macro work on wild subjects; but on the other hand, this one is more portable in the field than longer focal length macros.

Launched 2010
Weight 2400g
Filter size 52 drop in
Recommended price $6099 or £4799 or R64,995

Canon 300mmThe pros

Canon’s 300mm f/2.8L IS lens is in many ways the ultimate wildlife lens, but it is a niche lens for passionate and dedicated photographers. Image quality is incredible, and if you are upgrading from a cheaper zoom lens, you will be astounded at the detail and beautiful blurred backgrounds this lens produces. The magic of this lens is in the wide f/2.8 maximum aperture, which is also why the lens is so big, and the lens is extremely sharp, even wide open. Autofocus is so fast and quiet as to be unnoticeable.

This new version II improves significantly over the version I lens, which was already amazing. Version II is slightly smaller and lighter while improving on the already superb image quality of the older version. The image stabilisation feature has also been improved. Furthermore, this version II lens was specially designed to pair well with the 1.4x version III converter. It’s also surprisingly good with the 2x III converter in good light.

The fixed 300mm lens is a great focal length for general wildlife photography—you will be able to capture animal portraits and can even fill the frame with specific features for close-up animals. Often, this lens will actually be too long! You can get away with using it for bird photography with a 1.4x converter. A longer lens is definitely better for birds, but this one is easier to travel with and more portable in the field. Unlike longer lenses, you can hand-hold this one reasonably well, at least for short periods of time. You can also shoot full-body portraits and some specialised landscape shots with this lens.

The cons

As with all top-of-the-line, fast, fixed wildlife lenses, this one is heavy and bulky but image quality is the best available. For the best photo quality, that’s a compromise photographers will take. The biggest downside of this lens over other options in the range is its hefty price. Version I of this lens is much cheaper on the used market, while being a bit heavier with only very slightly lower image quality. Non-IS 300mm f/2.8 lenses are even cheaper.

Using large, fast primes like this 300mm lens is a real commitment due to the expense, size and specialised nature of the lens, but if image quality for wildlife photography is the top priority, this is a fantastic lens. Be warned, the image quality from long, fast primes is addictive, and you may find it hard to go back to lesser lenses after trying one of these.

Launched 2011
Weight 3190g
Filter size 52mm drop in
Recommended price $8999 or £6899 or R93,495

 500mmThe pros

Canon’s 500mm f/4L IS II lens is a top class lens for the serious wildlife and bird photographer. It is definitely a niche product—it is huge, heavy and expensive. Image quality is incredible and the detail this lens produces will amaze you. The maximum aperture of f/4 allows for reasonable speed and the lens is plenty sharp, even wide open. Autofocus is quick and quiet.

This new version II improves significantly over version I, which was already amazing. The biggest improvement is that version II is substantially smaller and lighter thanks to magnesium and titanium used in construction. Version II is a whopping 18% lighter. The new design reduces chromatic aberration for better image quality. Importantly, the image stabilisation has also been improved and is now rated to correct camera shake up to four stops of shutter speed. This version II lens also provides better image quality when coupled with the 1.4x version III converter. It’s also good with the 2x III converter in very good light.

The fixed 500mm lens is a great focal length for bird and small animal photography. On general game drives, this lens will often be too long, but you can use it to fill the frame with a particular feature. Build quality is outstanding—these lenses are made to withstand daily abuse from professional sports and nature photographers.

 The cons

The downsides of this lens are its extreme cost and size. As with all top-of-the-line, fast, fixed wildlife lenses, this one is heavy and bulky, but that’s a compromise photographers will make to for top-tier image quality. This lens is so big, it comes with its own suitcase. It can be a real drag to fly with this lens, and you will have to compromise on what other equipment to bring.

Now that the version II is so much lighter, it is much more hand-holdable for short periods. However, to get the most out of this 500mm lens, you need a sturdy tripod and a gimbal head, especially for photographing moving subjects.

Using large, fast primes like this 500mm lens is a serious commitment due to the expense, size and specialised nature. Nobody thinks it’s fun to lug one of these around, but if image quality for bird photography is the top priority, this is a fantastic lens. The new 600mm f/4 IS version II is also much smaller than its predecessor and, at 3920g, is now nearly the same weight as version 1 of the 500mm f/4, so it is a good alternative if you are looking for maximum reach and don’t mind added cost and weight.

Zoom lenses

Launched 2004
Weight 385g
Filter size 77mm
Recommended price $599 or £377 or R6795

Canon 10-22The pros

The “EF-S” designation means this 10-22mm lens is only for crop sensor, APS-C cameras, and it yields a 35mm film equivalent of about 16-35mm—a great focal range for travel and landscapes. Super wide-angle lens are a lot of fun, offering interesting perspectives on travel shots and the potential for great, expansive landscapes. For such a wide lens, image quality is good, price is fair, and it’s relatively lightweight while still feeling solid. It has a sturdy metal mounting ring and nice manual focus. Stopped down, it’s reasonably sharp.

The cons

This lens cannot be mounted to full-frame or 1.3x crop sensor cameras, so many people will have no use for it. Additionally, though this lens was the best wide angle option for many years for APS-C users, in 2014 Canon released a new 10-18mm EF-S f/4.5-5.6 lens, which is reported to be optically superior while also being smaller, cheaper and offering image stabilisation. The new lens is slower aperture-wise, doesn’t cover as large a focal range and has a lesser build quality—plastic instead of metal mounting ring and less pleasant electronic rather than mechanical manual focusing ring. Nonetheless, the new lens will likely be more attractive for many users looking for great image quality on the super-wide end of the spectrum. On the other hand, the older 10-22mm offers a wider aperture for low-light enthusiasts.

Though fun, ultra wide lenses require a lot of practice and thought to use properly. Composition needs to be even more carefully considered rather than just jamming more into the frame.

Launched 2012
Weight 805g
Recommended price $1,899 or £1,432 or R22,795

Canon 24 - 70 f/2.8L II USM
The pros

For a standard zoom, this lens offers perhaps the best image quality around. It’s said to be the world’s sharpest mid-range zoom. It delivers amazing quality and detail, even wide open at f/2.8. Colours and contrast are also excellent. The focal length of 24-70mm is fantastic on a full-frame camera, and it’s great for travel. If you want the best image quality without compromise, this is the lens to get.

At a maximum aperture of f/2.8, this lens lets in plenty of light. It doesn’t have built in image stabilisation, but the added bulk would probably not be worth it.

The cons

To get the best image quality and fastest aperture, as always, the trade-off is size, weight and cost. This version II lens is lighter than its predecessor, but it’s still hefty and it has a price tag to match.

On an APS-C crop sensor, you might find yourself wanting something wider for landscapes and general snapshots, but at an equivalent of 38-112mm, this lens would still have its uses.

Build quality lives up to the “L” series name, but this lens is a little plasticky.

Launched 2010
Weight 1490g
Recommended price $2,099 or £1,540 or R23,395

 Canon 70 - 200 f/2.8L IS II USMThe pros

This is a great focal length for general travel and safaris and is one of Canon’s workhorse lenses. At top photo destinations, you’ll often be closer to the wildlife than you expect, so it’s important to have a zoom in this range whether you have a full-frame or crop-sensor camera. It’s also great for portraits. The build quality is robust, as with all Canon “L” lenses.

This lens delivers incredible image quality and the focus is so fast and accurate that you’ll hardly notice it. The lens plays very well with Canon’s 1.4x III converter. The 2x III converter also works, but you’ll be better off choosing a longer lens when it comes to image quality and speed.

The cons

Canon makes a variety of 70-200mm lenses in different flavours—they have different maximum apertures and come with or without image stabilisation. If you’re after the best image quality available, this is the lens for you.

The trade-off of the wide f/2.8 aperture and the helpful IS feature is that this lens is expensive, big and heavy! If you’ll be shooting mostly from a vehicle, go for this one, it’s the best. If you plan to be on foot, check out the cheaper and lighter 70-200 f/4.