My Canon general purpose lens recommendations …
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens (optically excellent, EF-S mount only)
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens (optically excellent)
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens (optically excellent)
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens (EF-S mount only)
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens (EF-S mount only)
Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 USM Lens
Some excellent additional general purpose lenses include …
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens (EF-S mount only)
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L IS USM Lens
Canon EF 70-200mm f/4.0 L USM Lens (great value)
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM Lens (not as good on full frame bodies)
And many more …
Most people are looking for at least one general purpose lens when they buy a Canon DSLR. The heart of the focal length range targeted by Canon for lenses with this purpose is around 28-70mm. The DSLR FOVCF (Field of View Crop Factor) comes into play here, effectively requiring a shorter focal length range for 1.3x and 1.6x FOVCF DSLR bodies to yield the same subject framing.
When selecting a lens, I generally look for the highest image quality I can get in the most versatile and highest quality package I can get it in. My personal highest recommendations for general purpose lenses are the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L USM Lens and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens.
Prior to the introduction of the EF-S 17-55 and 24-105 L, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens was what I considered the ultimate general purpose lens. I personally find the 1.3x field of view crop factor to be just about perfect with this lens. I take a lot of people pictures and the slightly tighter framing provided by 1.3x and 1.6x FOVCF bodies works well for this purpose. I use the Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8 L IS USM Lens with more frequency on a full frame body, but still recommend the 24-70 as a one-lens-does-everything selection.
The 24-70’s 24mm end is wide enough for environmental portraits and wide landscapes while 70mm makes a reasonable head/shoulders portrait focal length. Group pictures, birthday parties, weddings, photojournalism, travel pictures … the uses are endless. The image quality from this lens is unsurpassed by any Canon EF lens containing this focal length range with the 24-105 L (next) being the only possible exception. And with a fixed f/2.8 aperture, this lens is as fast as any zoom lens. Build quality is excellent. Read the review for more information.
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lensjoined my most-recommended list after the 24-70 L. The Image Stabilization and additional focal length on the 24-105 offset (and for many situations surpass) the benefits of the fixed f/2.8 aperture on the 24-70 L. Especially when shooting with a full-frame body, I find the extra 35mm of focal length a very valuable in a general purpose lens – and especially for portraits. Image, build and mechanical qualities of this lens are top of the line. The 24-105 L’s size and weight make it a very nice handling lens.
When using a 1.6x FOVCF body, we often want wider focal lengths from our general purpose Canon lenses. The Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens (EF-S mount only) delivers very high image quality, a wider aperture and an excellent implementation of image stabilization.
Not everyone wants to spend as much as the above lenses cost. For these people, I recommend the Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens (EF-S mount only) and Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens. Both lenses are very good values with excellent image quality and relatively small size/light weight.
Some additional good Canon general purpose lens choices include the Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Lens and the Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens (for EF-S capable DSLRs only). Both offer one of my favorite features – Image Stabilization.
Check my full reviews to see which lens(es) are best for you.