Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM – Image Quality test and full review

photo 2 (9)

Having recently retired my old EF-S 55-250mm STM lens after purchasing a set of telephoto “L” glass, I feel like it’s about time to write a review for it. While I am happy to have upgraded to a better lens, the EF-S 55-250mm STM has served me well and I’m somewhat sad to let it go. The image quality and design of this lens is more than acceptable given it’s affordable price.

photo 1 (10)

Despite the all-plastic construction (including the mount), the build quality of this lens is not bad at all. The lens feels solid and sturdy, yet light and not a burden to carry. The focus and zoom rings are smooth, athough they do make soft noises when turned. I’ll be mounting this lens on my trusty Canon 70D APS-C camera to test the results. The image quality of this lens is quite impressive, as can be seen in the sample image below. It defnitely gives quite a bit of bang for the buck compared to similar lenses that Canon offers.

IMG_5552

Wide open at its maximum aperture this lens produces images that are somewhat soft and slightly lacking in contrast, however the difference is barely noticeable and definitely excusable. Shown below are two cutouts of images taken with this lens at 200mm focal distance, ISO1600, and f/8 and f/5.6 respectively

EF-S 55-250mm STM at f/8, 200mm, ISO 1600

EF-S 55-250mm STM at f/8, 200mm, ISO 1600

EF-S 55-250mm STM at f/5.6, 200mm, ISO 1600

EF-S 55-250mm STM at f/5.6, 200mm, ISO 1600

As you can see, the sharpness and contrast at f/5.6 is quite bad. Stop down the f/8 and the issue is virtually gone. I definitely would not recommend shooting with any lens wide open, especially not with this one. The image stabilizer on this lens is able to compensate for around 2-3 stops of light, so chances are you won’t be needing to shoot wide open. While this lens is quite sharp at the center beyond f/8 or so, the corners do suffer in terms of sharpness and image quality in general. Here I’ve compared it to an image shot with my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM.

EF-S 55-250mm STM at f/8, 200mm, ISO 1600

EF-S 55-250mm STM at f/8, 200mm, ISO 1600

EF 70-200mm f/4L USM at f/8, 200mm, ISO 1600

EF 70-200mm f/4L USM at f/8, 200mm, ISO 1600

Aside from the poor image quality in the corners, I’m also unhappy with the lack of full time manual focusing (FTM). The STM focusing motor that this lens has is fast and silent, althought it’s not rare for it to focus on the wrong place, and having to switch to manual focus to correct it can be very annoying. I also wish they had made it so that you can see what focus distance the lens is set to, either through the use of a little window or distance markings on the focusing ring. I do appreciate the image stabilizer that this lens has, however it’s not exactly necessary for plane spotting as you’ll be using a decently fast shutter speed to freeze the moving planes. In addition, you won’t really notice much difference with or without image stabilizer provided that you have decently steady hands, except for handheld video work.

My final verdict is that while this lens does give you an acceptable amount of bang for the buck, it’s still lagging behind in many areas. For just a bit more you can get a significantly better lens such the EF 70-200mm f/4L USM that I currently use and highly recommend. While Airliners.net quality photos are possible with this lens, you’re going to need vastly superior lighting conditions, plenty of skill and experience, and a lot of luck on your side.

How to get into aviation photography

As excited as you may be to charge up the camera and head for the airport for your first experience with plane spotting, I highly recommend first obtaining some background knowledge on aviation photography. Trust me in that plane spotting is not a lot of fun when you’re just staring at planes without a clue as to what’s going on.

The first and probably most important skill is knowing how to recognize aircraft. Almost every dedicated plane-spotter is able to determine the manufacturer and model of an airplane just by looking at its characteristics. Some are even able to distinguish between different variants of a model, for example the 777-200 and 777-300. While this sounds like a pretty hard skill to master, it becomes second nature after a bit of practice, and will make your plane-spotting experience much more interesting. It’s not much fun going to the airport to look at planes when all of them appear to be the same. To help you master aircraft recognition, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of Jane’s Aircraft Recognition Guide. This is essentially how I learned to distinguish between planes. You can also check out my basic aircraft recognition guide on my blog (coming soon).

Next, I highly recommend reading up on basic knowledge regarding airliner operations. Know what I mean when I use the terms APU, anti-collision lights, landing lights, ILS, or apron? If the answer to that question is yes, then you’re all good to go!. If not, I suggest you take a look at AeroSavvy, a blog written by 767 captain Ken Hoke. It’s an informative and entertaining blog that will definitely teach you all you need to know.

Finally, take a look at your camera. Is your camera type and/or lens suitable for aviation photography? If your only lens is a wide-angle prime or your only camera is the one on the back of your phone, then chances are you’re missing the right equipment for aviation photography. Don’t get me wrong, you don’t need a $1000 high-end DSLR to take decent photos. Even a low-end point and shoot will do fine. For aviation photography, your camera or lens (spending on if you’re using a point and shoot or DSLR) should have a decent zoom capability. My experience plane spotting in Hong Kong tells me that a 300mm focal length on a full frame and 200mm on APS-C cameras is enough, although the more the better. If you want to take airliners.net quality photos, then a high quality lens is very important, in fact much more important than the camera body itself. Next time you’re camera shopping, save some money on the camera body and don’t go cheap on the lens. Once your equipment is ready, you’re all set to go plane spotting!

Be sure to plan out your spotting location and time spent at the airport very carefully the day before. You can use apps like FlightRadar24 to see all arrivals and departures for the day, so you can plan out which planes you want to catch. You can also use it to see the flight number, aircraft type, and registration of any flights near you, which is really helpful when you want to know more about the plane that’s taking off or coming in to land. It’s a good strategy to keep a journal of each plane that you’ve shot to help match up aircraft registrations and flight numbers when you’re back at home. Good luck, and happy spotting!

Hello!

Hi there, and welcome to my blog. This is my first post, so I’ll introduce myself. My name is Houston, I live in Hong Kong, I’m a student, amateur photographer, and aviation enthusiast. This blog is dedicated to aviation photography, a fascinating and growing hobby. Here you’ll find a gallery of my photos, as well as blog posts on aviation news, photography tips, and equipment reviews. My hope is that you’ll be able to learn something new, and be inspired. Enjoy!

If you would like to contact me, send an email to houston@alienatealiens.com – I look forward to hearing from you!