Review Canon 55-250 IS STM Lens

This is the newest version of Canon’s 55-250 lens, it replaces the 55-250 IS II which replaced an  even old 55-250 IS. I want to just touch on the highlights of the 55-250 IS STM lens and answer the question - is it worth the extra money versus the 55-250 IS or are you better off saving a little more and getting the 70-300 IS USM?  So this is partly a review and partly a Canon EF 55-250 IS STM vs Canon EF 70-300 IS USM vs Canon EF-S 55-250 IS II Battle. Very light emphasis on battle.

Quick Glossary of Terms.

  • IS: Image Stabilization - internal gyroscopes stabilize the lens when you are hand holding and allow you to shoot at slower shutter speeds without handshake causing blur in your images.

  • USM: Ultra Sonic Motor - A focusing system used by many canon lenses that offers quick focus and with some lenses full time manual focus.  This isn’t true of the 70-300 IS USM - it is not full time manual focus.

  • EF-S: Lens mount sized for Canon’s crop sensor cameras (APS-C) Examples include Canon T5i and Canon 70D.

  • EF: Lens mount appropriate for Canon’s full frame cameras like the 6D and 5D Mark III. Will also work on APS-C cameras

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The highlights -

  • Arguably the headline feature of this lens is now that this is an STM lens it means silent autofocus - this is a big deal if you are using it with a camera that allows continuous auto focus during video like the T5i or 70D it also makes a difference in smoothness of autofocus during video with T5i - The T5i really needs those STM lenses to achieve smooth focus and you can see a large difference in focus capabilities. The 70D is more capable in focusing, it is less dependent on the STM lenses but you still see an improvement and smoothness and speed and of course noise of focus.   The Verdict? The lens is completely silent - No sounds from focusing or the IS system.  The old 55-250 IS II does make noise and in quieter conditions the IS system of the 55-250 IS and the 70-300 IS is recorded by the cameras mic making them less desirable to use for video work, at least with IS on.

  • So the STM version is smoother and quieter in focus. Do photographers (not videographers) care?  I took all three lenses 55-250 IS II, 55-250 STM and the 70-300 IS USM to a recent cycling race and was really pleased with the speed of the STM in focusing on faster moving subjects,  noticeable improvement over the 55-250 IS II.  I was photographing some of these riders in servo mode as they were headed right toward me and the lens was quick enough to keep them in focus for more sharp shots than I expected.  Compared to the 70-300 IS USM the number of in focus shots was about the same.  One difference and this may be due to the slightly longer range provided by the 70-300, when that lens, the 70-300 loses focus it can really struggle to get it back.  I see less delay and struggle from the 55-250 STM. Verdict - the 55-250 STM is as capable as the more expensive 70-300 IS USM and yes, photographers (not videographers) should care.

  • Image Quality- The STM is sharper across the board - nothing amazing but a noticeable improvement across the range and these improvements bring it in line with the 70-300 and in some cases beats the 70-300. I was especially surprised by the results out at 250 and 300. The 55-250 STM was sharp enough that you could compensate for the decreased range by cropping the image/increasing the image size and you in many shots I still had a sharper image from the 55-250 even after that increase. Verdict - The 55-250 STM beats the 70-300 IS USM often enough that I see very few reasons to continue to recommend the 70-300 IS USM.

  • Build quality - The new version feels solid in the hand - offers full time manual focus if you half press the shutter, neither the older 55-250 IS II or the 70-300 IS USM offer full time manual focus. And compared to the 55-250 IS II the focusing is now internal, the older version had some rotation during focusing which made it difficult to use a circular polarizer. The new version solves that frustrating issue. Verdict: It is a budget lens and build quality reflects that but it does feel solid in hand and well constructed - focus ring is larger. 70-300 IS USM does offer two versions of IS - standard and a version for panning with action. 70-300 IS USM is also an EF lens, useable by full frame cameras, it also has a metal mount vs plastic with the 55-250 STM.

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In Summary you have a lens that has improved enough it makes the more expensive 70-300 IS USM obsolete - obsolete might be a strong word as the 70-300 does give you slightly wider apertures at those longer focal lengths and is still the cheapest/longest option from Canon that works on a full frame but ultimately I think this new 55-250 IS STM is a better value and it is a no brainer purchase if you want more zoom when buying a T5i or 70D because of the current $150 discount.  And it certainly is worth the small increase in price over the earlier 55-250 models. Videographers that use autofocus and want zoom - this is a no-brainer purchase - it does the job very well.

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