The Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM Brings Professional Results to Crop Body Cameras.
The most important element in getting a good photo is the person behind the camera. Next would be the lighting and the lens. The camera body itself would probably come next, but the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM from Canon makes it easy to get professional results from a Canon crop sensor body. The low light performance of the lens is very impressive, with the fixed aperture throughout the zoom and Image Stabilization (IS) making it possible to get nice shots even while the camera is not strapped to a tripod. If you are looking for a way to step up your image quality for shooting events in low light without going all the way to the vastly more expensive L series lenses and full frame bodies, this is the lens for you (especially if you rent it for the event).
Fixed Aperture f/2.8
This lens is very fast with an aperture of 2.8 available from it's widest focal length of 17mm (28mm on crop sensor) all the way through to 55mm (88mm on crop sensor), making it ideal for shooting low light events. In fact, DxO rates it as having the best overall image quality when shooting the lens at 35mm and f/2.8. I recently rented the lens to shoot a wedding reception and was blown away with how well it performed on my Canon 60D crop body. The reception was held indoors, with the lighting purposefully very low so that everyone could enjoy the Christmas light decorations used throughout the space. With the combination of the wide focal length and the crop sensor, the depth of field at 2.8 is still large enough to have everyone in a group shot stay in focus. I used it all night at 2.8 and was so pleased with the results. Better than that, my client was very happy with the shots as well!
IS Makes a HUGE Difference
I have seen the question be asked over and over about whether it is worth paying for Image Stabilization (IS) in a lens. Of course the answer depends upon what you want to shoot, but if is low light event shooting, there is no choice here – it is a MUST. As an advanced amateur photographer just getting started I haven't yet invested in the “professional” level of equipment. I am shooting a Canon 60D crop sensor body, and up until shooting this wedding reception I had relied pretty exclusively on the awesome Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens for shooting in low light. The EF 50mm f/1.8 II is a wonderful lens, especially for the price, but after having shot the Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 with IS there really is no comparison. In fact, my wife shot the wedding reception with me using the EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens, and a good portion of the shots she got were so much softer than what I got with the Canon EF-S 17-155 f/2.8 that we deliver many of the shots she got to the client. The IS made it possible to get a lot of hand held shots of the wedding reception that looked great, allowing me to be a photo ninja and not bother everyone with a flash – which makes people change what they are doing and clam up. Not that I would never use a flash, that is also a must to get those good formal shots at a low light event, but it was so nice to have a great option to capture some of the more informal events without a flash.
Close Second Choice: Sigma 17-50mm F2.8 EX DC OS HSM
I loved using the Canon EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM lens that I rented for the wedding reception. It was well worth the cost of the rental. In fact, I think it saved my shoot of the wedding reception. So the real testament to the impressiveness of the lens would be if an advanced amateur like me on a pretty small photography budget is going to fork over the money to buy the lens. While a price tag of nearly $900 isn't all that much for a professional photographer, that is just a lot for me. Combine that with the fact that this lens won't work on a full frame body, even though I would love to have it permanently in my camera bag, I don't think I will be buying it. Now that I have seen the difference the lens can make, I am sure I will rent it again when I shoot another low light event, but I would rather spend that kind of money on an EF lens that will go forward with me into the full frame sensor world someday.
That said, there may be another very viable alternative, the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM. I don't yet have any personal experience with the Sigma, but DxO rates it very favorably against the Canon EF-S 17-55. In fact, it rates the overall “Perceived Mega Pixels” as being slightly higher than the Canon. You can check out a head to head comparison from DxO here. As I read reviews of the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM before I rented it, the Sigma was almost always mentioned as a very close second and always as one with bigger bang for the buck. At about $520 new, it is much easier for me to consider buying.