Choosing Your Lens Arsenal
It’s not an overstatement to say that Canon has built its reputation on its expertise in lenses. Since the company began producing its own optics for Canon cameras in mid-1947, it has pioneered many innovations, including the world’s first 10X zoom lens, the first lenses to include optical image stabilization, and the first super-telephoto lens to include a built-in tele-extender.
Indeed, it’s not widely known that Canon was one of the very first companies to offer autofocus lenses, even before the EOS system was introduced. The company produced a total of four AF lenses for its FD-mount cameras. Only one, the FD 35-70mm f/4 AF, worked on all Canon FD cameras; the other three (a 50mm f/1.8, a 35-70mm f/3.5-4.5, and a 75-200mm f/4.5) were compatible only with the Canon T80 camera.
Of course, in the ensuing years Canon has also developed even more advanced camera technology, too, combining its proficiency in both optical and digital arenas to produce the R-series mirrorless cameras and their expanding lineup of RF lenses. Because of the quality of Canon optics, photographers who started out using Canon camera bodies and lenses have tended to hang onto their lenses for many years, even as they upgraded to newer camera bodies with more features. Indeed, many of us have stuck with the Canon brand at least partially because we were able to use our existing kit of lenses with our latest and greatest camera. After all, an enthusiast’s optics collection can easily have cost many times the price of the body itself.
Potential compatibility with older EF and EF-S lenses is part of what makes the RF mount so interesting and exciting. In early 2021, Canon announced it had sold its 150 millionth lens in RF or EF mount, and millions more are available from third parties like Laowa, Tamron, Sigma, Tokina, and other companies. A large number of them are compatible with your new camera, thanks to the mount adapters I’ll be discussing later in this chapter.
So, introducing the brand-new RF-mount for Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless cameras could have been a risky proposition. After all, there was the possibility that current Canon owners might migrate instead to a different mirrorless platform, including current industry leader Sony and full-frame rivals Nikon, Leica, Panasonic, and Sigma. Fortunately, Canon anticipated this possibility, and announced EF-to-RF-mount adapters at the same time as the first two R-series cameras, the original EOS R and EOS RP. The availability of these adapters was essential to the success of the new series of cameras for these reasons:
- Dearth of native lenses. The adapters compensate for the limited number of native RF-mount lenses available for R-series cameras at the original introduction. Only four lenses were announced along with the original EOS R in 2018: the RF 28-70mm f/2L, RF 24-105mm f/4L, RF 50mm f/1.2L, and RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM. (I’ll decipher Canon’s lens nomenclature alphabet soup for you later in this chapter.) By February 2019, after the unveiling of the EOS RP, six additional lenses were announced: the RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM, RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM, RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM, RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, RF 85mm f/1.2 USM DS (“defocus smoothing”), and RF 85mm f/1.2L USM.
Note that 8 of the first 10 lenses have L (Luxe) designations, showing that Canon was serious about producing highest quality lenses for the new RF mount. However, even though native-mount lenses were initially scarce, the huge number of legacy EF-/EF-S-mount lenses—which many early R-series adopters already possessed—allowed Canon to introduce its additional RF-mount optics at a reasonable pace. As I write this, 20 RF lenses are available with more than a dozen more in the pipeline. Meanwhile, those of us who can’t find—or afford—a suitable RF-mount lens in the focal length/aperture speed range we need, can use existing EF/EF-S lenses.
- Current owner loyalty. Many current Canon dSLR owners have been coveting the lighter weight, compact size, and other advantages of mirrorless cameras, and while there have been some defections, a large number of us had been waiting for an alternative from Canon more suited to the enthusiast’s needs than the amateur-oriented EOS M line. Indeed, Canon expects current Canon dSLR fans to continue to make up the bulk of purchases for the EOS R5 and R6. The adapter options make the adoption of either of these new RF-mount camera much more seamless and less painful.
- Technical innovations. Canon could have, perhaps, provided the EOS R-series cameras with a lens mount that would accept EF- or EF-S-mount lenses without an adapter. However, that would have meant larger lenses, and the submitting to the technical restrictions imposed by the 1987-era legacy lens system. The EF-mount, designed for film cameras, has a 54mm “throat” and a flange-to-focal-plane (registration) distance of 44mm. These dimensions impose severe restrictions on lens design, including the maximum size of the largest aperture, and the angles at which photons can approach the sensor.
The RF-mount’s diameter is also 54mm, and the flange/registration distance a mere 20mm. The reduced flange dimension means there is plenty of room between the sensor and the rear mount of many lenses designed for other camera platforms to be accommodated by additional adapters.
- EF-S lenses on a full-frame Canon! Until the introduction of the EOS R cameras, it was impossible to use an EF-S lens (designed for the smaller APS-C format) on any full-frame Canon model. Although EF-S lenses use the same bayonet lens mount as EF optics, the rear elements of some lenses extend backward into the mirror box. All Canon’s APS-C cameras use a “half” mirror that accommodates this, but its full-frame dSLR cameras do not.
Since the EOS R5 and R6 have no mirror, the mount adapters allow safely attaching an EF-S lens. The camera automatically switches into 1.6X “crop” mode that captures only an APS-C-sized area of the sensor, as no EF-S lens will cover the full frame at all focal lengths. (See Figure 7.1.)
As a bonus (at least for R5 users), this automatic crop means your EF-S lens gets a 1.6X magnification boost, extending your telephoto “reach” (while reducing your wide-angle perspective, too). R5 owners end up with a 5088 × 3392–pixel image with a respectable 17.3MP of resolution. However, the R6’s 20MP sensor is cropped to a less-useful 3408 × 2272 resolution, yielding 7.7MP images.
Figure 7.1 A 1.6X crop yields a magnification boost but reduces the resolution of the final image.
Because so many owners of the R5 and R6 will be current or past owners of Canon dSLRs, this chapter is something of a hybrid. For this book, at least, I’m going to embrace both RF-mount and EF-/EF-S-mount products, so that I can explain the real-world options—especially to those who may be new to the Canon world. After all, even if you did not own any Canon lenses when you purchased your camera, you probably will consider both types as you expand your optical horizons, because RF-mount and legacy lenses work seamlessly with your camera. A vast number of affordable pre-owned EF-/EF-S-mount lenses are available from sources like www.keh.com.
Later in this chapter, I’ll have more details on how adapted lenses work with the mount adapters. It’s true that there is a mind-bending assortment of high-quality lenses available to enhance the capabilities of your camera. These lenses can give you a wider view, bring distant subjects closer, let you focus closer, shoot under lower-light conditions, or provide a more detailed, sharper image for critical work. Other than the sensor itself, the lenses you choose are the most important components in determining image quality and perspective of your images. This chapter explains how to select the best lenses for the kinds of photography you want to do.
Your First Lenses
Back in ancient times (the pre-zoom, pre-autofocus era before the mid-1980s), choosing the first lens for your camera was a no-brainer: you had few or no options. Canon cameras (which used a different lens mount in those days) were sold with a 50mm f/1.4, a 50mm f/1.8, or, if you had deeper pockets, a super-fast 50mm f/1.2 lens. It was also possible to buy a camera as a body alone, which didn’t save much money back when a film SLR like the Canon A-1 sold for $435—with lens. This explains why, during my photojournalist days, I owned 12 film camera bodies and eight 50mm f/1.4 lenses. When I bought a new film camera—new or used—a 50mm lens more or less came with it.
Today, your choices are more complicated, and Canon lenses, which now include zoom, autofocus, and, more often than not, built-in image stabilization (IS) features, tend to cost a lot more compared to the price of a camera. (Adjusted for inflation, that $435 A-1 cost more than $1,000 in today’s dollars.)
These cameras are frequently purchased with a lens, even now, often the Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens introduced in 2018 (about $1,100 if purchased separately) (see Figure 7.2), or the more affordable Canon RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS (about $399). Although they share a focal length range, the two lenses are quite different:
- Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. One key difference is that this L lens has a constant f/4 maximum aperture that does not change as you zoom in and out. It offers quick, accurate, and almost silent autofocusing that’s almost noise-free when shooting video. Canon’s so-called “Nano USM” AF system includes both ring-type and STM focusing motors. (I’ll explain different AF motors later in this chapter.) The optical image stabilization system provides up to five stops of anti-shake compensation. A rounded 9-blade circular aperture produces incredible bokeh (creamy background blur), and Canon’s Super Spectra coating that does a superior job of reducing flare and ghost images. This lens compares favorably with Canon’s legendary EF-mount version with roughly the same optical specifications but is significantly smaller and lighter.
- Canon RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS. This budget lens has a variable maximum aperture, effectively an f/4 at the 24mm setting, but providing almost two stops less light at 105mm. Like most lenses, it performs best when closed down an f/stop or two, meaning you might be shooting indoor portraits at f/11 when zooming in. It also has a five-stop image stabilizer, so you may be able to compensate with slower shutter speeds. A single STM motor is reasonably fast and quiet, and the rounded 7-blade diaphragm does offer pleasing bokeh. If you’re on a tight budget, this optic makes a versatile first lens.
TIP Throughout this chapter, I’m going to use the current Canon manufacturer-suggested list price (MSRP) when it’s available. (I’ll use the Canon store price if it’s not.) You should know that many lenses are available for less at the Canon store for your country or at retailers, and that prices can (and will) change throughout the life of this book.
Figure 7.2 The Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens is often packaged with the camera in a kit.
If you are switching platforms and don’t already own a lens compatible with your R5 or R6, you can’t go wrong with either 24-105mm optic. Many photographers, especially old-school film shooters, prefer working with prime (fixed focal length) lenses as much as they can, and may prefer a “normal” lens, like the RF 50mm f/1.2L USM ($2,299 MSRP) or the Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens ($199).
So, depending on which category you fall into, you’ll need to make a decision about what lens to buy, or decide what other kind of lenses you need to fill out your complement of Canon optics. This section will cover “first lens” concerns, while later in the chapter we’ll look at “add-on lens” considerations. When deciding on your initial lens purchases, there are several factors you’ll want to consider:
- Cost. You might have stretched your budget a bit to purchase your camera, so you might want to keep the cost of your add-on lenses fairly low. Even if you already own many EF/EF-S optics, I don’t recommend buying only a body and trying to work only with legacy lenses and a mount adapter, even though that would be the lowest-cost way of building a fledgling system. The RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM lens will set you back only $499, and some retailers are packaging it in a kit. But if you need multiple focal lengths and want to cut costs, one of the 24-105mm lenses is the best way to go.
- Zoom range. If you have only one lens, you’ll want a fairly long zoom range to provide as much flexibility as possible. Again, I think the two 24-105mm lenses are your best bet, but the awesome RF 28-70mm f/2L has a useful, but much more limited zoom range, and is saddled with a $3,000 price tag. The RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM ($899) has the longest zoom range among announced lenses.
- Adequate maximum aperture. You’ll want an f/stop of at least f/3.5 to f/4 in any lens you buy to allow shooting under fairly low-light conditions. The thing to watch for is the maximum aperture when the lens is zoomed to its telephoto end. With lenses that have a variable rather than constant maximum aperture, you may end up with no better than an f/6.3 or f/7.1 as your largest f/stop. That’s indeed the case with the budget 24-105mm lens and RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 optic. That’s not great, but you can often live with it.
- Image quality. Your starter lens should have good image quality because that’s one of the primary factors that will be used to judge your photos.
- Size matters. A good walking-around lens is compact in size and light in weight. My favorite, the 24-105mm f/4 isn’t tiny, but having it mounted on the camera most of the time isn’t a burden, either. Considering its image quality and zoom range, I think it’s worth every ounce.
- Fast/close focusing. Your first lens should have a speedy autofocus system (which is where the ultrasonic motor/USM or STM found in nearly all moderately priced lenses is an advantage). Close focusing (to 12 inches or closer) will let you use your basic lens for some types of macro photography.
Canon RF-Mount Lenses
If you don’t own many EF/EF-S lenses or want to use RF-mount optics as much as possible, you should pay attention to Canon’s RF “lens road map,” and its periodic updates, which lists current and announced lenses that are available or in development (and expected for delivery between now and 2022). I’m going to provide a quick overview, based on what we know now.
Zooms are the most popular choice for most; they cover a range of focal lengths and reduce the need to change to a different lens or move closer or farther from your subject. While zoom lenses often don’t equal their fixed-focal length (“prime”) counterparts in sharpness, the difference is often not obvious for many applications, or when the lenses are stopped down to their optimum apertures. Although some zoom lenses may seem expensive, keep in mind that a single $2,000 lens may replace four or five (or more) prime lenses that would cost much more and take up more space in your camera bag.
- RF 15-35mm f/2.8L IS USM. As the wide-angle anchor of Canon’s trinity of f/2.8 RF lenses, this $2,300 lens is suitable for everything from landscape photography to architecture to street shooting. It has its own built-in image stabilization system for better control of camera shake, making it the perfect tool for low-light conditions under which longer shutter speeds may be necessary. The lens includes Canon’s Nano USM system that combines USM and STM motors (mentioned earlier) for fast and quiet focusing. Like all L lenses it has a weather-resistant design that keeps dust and moisture out in challenging environments. When combined with the 24-70mm f/2.8L and 70-200mm f/2.8L lenses, you have an awesome trio of (not-cheap) optics that can cover most photo opportunities.
- RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM. Next up is another premium lens with a $2,300 price tag. It overlaps the 15-35mm zoom slightly in the 24-35mm range but extends all the way to short telephoto at 70mm. If you don’t need an ultra-wide viewpoint, this lens can do a lot of what its wider cousin can handle, plus provide a flattering perspective for full-length or head-and-shoulders single or group portraits. It includes the hybrid Nano USM AF system, weather resistance, and image-stabilization features found in the other members of the Canon “trinity.”
- RF 28-70mm f/2L USM. If you need even more speed, this $3,000 lens has a useful focal length from modest wide-angle to short telephoto and a fast f/2 constant aperture, which means you can use it for everything from architecture and street photography to indoor sports and portraiture. It focuses down to about 1.28 feet and has nine rounded diaphragm blades for excellent bokeh (defocused highlights). Like other RF lenses, this optic’s customizable Control Ring lets you adjust exposure settings, including shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and exposure compensation without removing your hands from the lens. It’s hefty at more than three pounds, and that wide aperture calls for expensive 95mm filters. There’s no image stabilization, which can be a drawback in low-light situations where you’ll be using longer shutter speeds.
- RF 24-105mm f/4L. I described this lens earlier. There’s not much more to add. It features full-time manual focus adjustments in One-Shot AF mode. It focuses down to roughly 18 inches for close-up work, uses “standard” 77mm filters, and has the configurable Control Ring.
- RF 24-105mm f/4-7.1 IS. This lens was also detailed above. It’s simpler in construction (16 elements in 14 groups), which helps account for its modest cost, but can function well as a walk-around lens.
- RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS USM. I’m always wary of extreme zooms, which tend to embrace a broad range of focal lengths, while being a master of none. But given the optical design flexibility the new RF mount offers, this lens could be a winner, especially at its $899 price. It’s heavy at 1.65 pounds and obviously is quite slow (f/6.3) at the 240mm zoom setting. The built-in IS is valuable even though the R5 and R6 have in-body stabilization, because lenses typically do a better job at handling pitch movement (lens tilting up or down) and yaw (rotations from side to side). I’ll explain image stabilization in more detail later in this chapter.
- RF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. This is the third member of the RF trinity, a fast, versatile short-to-medium telephoto lens with a fast f/2.8 constant aperture and that innovative dual-motor Nana USM autofocus mechanism. Like other lenses in the trinity you can make manual focus corrections at all time. There are three IS modes: standard single-shot mode, panning-optimized (which compensates for up-and-down motion as you pan from side to side), and a mode that activates stabilization only during the exposure itself (avoiding the disconcerting effect of the lens making corrections while you’re framing a shot). A rotating tripod collar helps sports photographers (in particular) who may be using a monopod or tripod. This advanced lens comes at a price, and that price is about $2,700.
- RF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM. Since the lenses in Canon’s top-line trinity will set you back $7,300, you may be tempted to cut some corners. In that case, if you can live with an f/4 maximum aperture, this $1,600 lens can save you $1,100. Fortunately, you’re not giving up a lot more than the f/stop, as this optic is still an L lens, has the dual Nano USM autofocus system, and 5-stop image stabilization that can coordinate with the in-body image stabilizer to up the anti-shake ante to what Canon claims is 7.5 stops.
- RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS. While other vendors of mirrorless cameras lagged a bit in providing super-telephoto lenses for their offerings, Canon has stepped up to the plate quickly with this impressive $2,700 lens. It’s compatible with Canon’s Extender RF 1.4x and RF 2x teleconverters, too, giving you 140-700mm and 200-1000mm equivalent zooms with a loss of one and two f/stops, respectively. The zoom ring has “torque” adjustments to fine-tune the handling of the lens for those who want to zoom fast, slow, somewhere in between, or to lock the focus ring completely. A window in the lens hood gives you access to your polarizer or split/graduated neutral-density filter so they can be adjusted with the hood attached. This lens is a hefty three pounds and measures eight inches in length.
Prime lenses are designed to be especially sharp at their fixed focal length, and many are even superb wide-open. Such lenses are typically faster, too. While zoom lenses may have an f/2.8 (or smaller) maximum aperture, prime lenses are often more than one or two stops faster at f/1.8 or f/1.4. Indeed, Canon is famed for its excellent f/1.2 optics. Prime lenses also offer some optical design tradeoffs: those willing to accept relatively slow f/11 fixed apertures can buy Canon’s remarkably compact and affordable RF 600mm f/11 ($699) and RF 800mm F/11 ($899) lenses.
Here are some of your options:
- RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM. This inexpensive lens ($500) is not an L lens, but it has a lot to offer, including a fast maximum aperture which, combined with image stabilization, makes it a great lens for low-light street photography. You’ll find the Control Ring especially useful for changing exposure settings on-the-fly in stealth shooting situations. As a macro lens, it has close focusing down to about 6.7 inches for half life-size reproduction. The quiet STM motor is smooth and accurate, making it especially suitable for video. It’s a lightweight lens, too, at about 11 ounces and measuring about 3 × 2.5 inches when mounted. (See Figure 7.3.)
- RF 50mm f/1.2L USM. At $2,300, this lens is pricey for a fixed focal length (“prime”) lens, but it has exquisite image quality, even wide open at f/1.2. It has the customizable control ring and weather-resistant sealing found in typical Canon L-series lenses. While this normal lens has no image stabilization of its own, your camera’s in-body stabilization works fine and the fast f/1.2 maximum aperture allows you to use faster shutter speeds in many situations. It weighs about 2 pounds and uses the standard 77 filter size.
- RF 50mm f/1.8. You’ve probably heard the term “nifty fifty” to describe 50mm lenses, generally applied to direct appreciation to a versatile, often under-used focal length prime. Priced at around $200, this lens has a lot going for it in addition to a low price. It’s f/1.8 maximum aperture is fast enough for available light work, and it’s a compact 2.7 × 1.6 inches and 5.6 ounces. This lens makes a good macro lens, focusing down to less than a foot, and will give great close-up results when mounted on extension tubes offered by third-party vendors. While you’re building your collection of zoom lenses, you should consider having this lens in your bag as a backup.
- RF 85mm f/2 Macro IS. At $600, this lens has excellent image quality and built-in optical image stabilization, which combines with the camera’s in-body IS to provide optimal anti-shake correction that is especially useful for close-up photography. It has the customizable control ring and a minimum focus distance of 1.15 feet.
Figure 7.3 Canon’s RF 35mm f/1.8 lens is an affordable “normal” lens.
- RF 85mm f/1.2L USM. Every Canon photographer I come in contact with who does fashion or portrait photography owns the EF-mount 85mm f/1.2 lens. This RF version is a virtual cream machine in terms of background bokeh, is sharp enough wide open to allow stunning selective focus effects and can focus close enough for tight face-only portraiture. The price is $2,700.
- RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS. The $3,000 price is likely to be no barrier for those seeking the ultimate portrait lens. It includes Canon’s defocus smoothing technology, a coating technology which provides even better bokeh, and, possibly, the ability to adjust the effect as you shoot. While the soft look in the out-of-focus regions in an image is gorgeous, this lens retains sharpness in the in-focus areas of the frame, giving you unmatched subject separation with the background. Sharpness is still retained on the in-focus portions for noticeable subject separation from the background.
The three-dimensional quality and improved bokeh is strongest at f/1.2. With apertures of f/3.2 or smaller, however, this lens’s performance is similar to that of the non-DS version. So, to get your money’s worth for the extra $700, you should be planning on working at wide apertures with this lens. The only drawback is that the special coating reduces transmission of light by about 1.3 stops.
- RF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro. Announced early in 2021, the longer focal length of this lens, compared with that of the 85mm f/2 Macro IS, lets you put a little extra distance between you and your close-up subject. It has a greater than life-size magnification of 1.4X and features a spherical aberration dial that over- or under-corrects spherical aberration to adjust bokeh. This short telephoto is priced at $1400.
- RF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM. This lens fit an enormous hole in Canon’s super-telephoto lineup, which lacked a fast pro-level sports and wildlife lens. Expect it to leave a massive $12,000 hole in your wallet.
- RF 600mm f/11 IS STM. What do you have to give up to acquire a super-telephoto lens for $699? Only a variable aperture and a great deal of weight. Yes, this compact long lens has a fixed f/11 aperture, so all your exposure adjustments must be made using shutter speed and ISO settings. It includes a control ring so you can make these adjustments by rotating a control on the lens itself. If you need even more telephoto, Canon’s optional RF 1.4x and RF 2x teleconverters give you a boost to 840mm f/16 and 1200mm f/22, respectively.
Optical image stabilization in the lens is almost mandatory for a lens of this length, and is included, along with a fast STM stepping motor for speedy autofocus. Weighing about two pounds and less than 11 inches long when extended and 7.9 inches when collapsed.
- RF 600mm f/4L IS USM. How much are three extra stops of speed—and a variable aperture—worth? My best estimate is about $12,300, which is the difference between the MSRP of the RF 600mm f/11 described above, and Canon’s EF-mount 600mm f/4L IS USM optic. This lens should be a mainstay among well-heeled landscape and sports photographers, prized for its extra speed and impressive image quality. Add a 1.4X tele-converter and you have an 840mm f/5.6 super-telephoto that easily outperforms Canon’s “budget” option, described next.
- RF 800mm f/11. Priced $200 higher than the 600mm f/11 at $899, this lens big brother has the same fixed f/11 aperture, image stabilization, and STM autofocus motor. With teleconverters, you can achieve focal lengths of 1120mm and 1600mm, almost certainly with the camera mounted on a tripod. Hand-held use is practical at fast shutter speeds. I recommend using at least 1/2000th second, which means you’ll need a sensitivity setting of ISO 1000 in bright daylight.
Like its 600mm sibling, the lens is collapsible and surprisingly compact for an 800mm lens. It weighs in at 2.77 pounds and is less than 11 inches in length when collapsed and a tad less than 14 inches when extended to its full length. The lens hood for both the 600mm and 800mm lenses is optional.
The Road Ahead
Canon’s roadmap of planned lenses includes the following optics that are expected to be introduced within the next year or two:
- Canon TS-R 14mm f/4L
- Canon TS-R 24mm f/3.5L
- Canon RF 10-24mm f/4L USM
- Canon RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM
- Canon RF 18-45mm f/4-5.6 IS STM
- Canon RF 100-400mm f/5.6-7.1 IS USM
- Canon RF 35mm f/1.2L USM
- Canon RF 135mm f/1.4L USM
- Canon RF 24mm f/1.8 IS STM Macro
Canon RF Super Telephoto Lenses:
- Canon RF 500mm f/4L IS USM
- Canon RF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM
- Canon RF 1200mm f/8L IS USM
Using Adapted Lenses
As I noted at the beginning of the chapter, Canon wisely elected to provide the ability to use legacy EF and EF-S lenses with full compatibility with image stabilization, autofocus, and autoexposure. The keys to using your existing lenses (or new EF-mount optics you decide to purchase because no RF equivalent is available) are three mount adapters, which I’ll describe shortly.
The adapters are your entry to relatively inexpensive, high-quality EF lenses, which have been in production since 1987 and are easily found in excellent condition on the used market. (I own a large number of EF lenses that I bought from keh.com in Smyrna, Georgia.) Perhaps you need a fast 50mm lens and aren’t ready to pay the $2,000 tariff on the RF model. The 50mm f/1.8 II EF lens is available in Excellent-Plus condition at keh.com for less than $100. I purchased the 100-300mm f/5.6 Macro EF lens seen in Figure 7.4 for only a few hundred bucks. Lenses that don’t date back to the EOS dark ages, like the current model 75-300mm f/4-5.6 III lens pictured (at the 75mm zoom position at left and extended to 300mm at right) in Figure 7.5 are available brand new for less than $200. Usable lenses don’t have to empty your wallet.
Even if you currently own no Canon lenses at present, you can’t ignore the value of using adapted lenses. It’s certain that lenses that some photographers absolutely must have will be slow in coming to the RF system or may be prohibitively expensive. So, you may want to purchase an EF lens to get the features you need, or because the EF equivalent can be had for much, much less in the used equipment market. For example, Canon’s array of perspective control (TS-E) tilt-shift lenses may be moderately easy to release in RF-mount configurations, because those lenses are manual focus and would not require re-engineering to incorporate AF features. However, demand for such specialized optics is likely to be low enough that any RF perspective control optics may be very slow in coming. While TS-E lenses are not cheap, they are available from time to time in excellent condition, used.
Figure 7.4 A legacy lens like this 100-300mm zoom can offer an affordable telephoto option.
Figure 7.5 Canon offers affordable current telephoto zooms like this 75-300mm lens, shown in retracted (left) and extended (right) positions.
Another example might be Canon’s EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM zoom lens. This autofocus lens would be more difficult to convert to RF-mount, would probably enjoy only modest popularity, and is readily available as an EF lens for $1,250 or less (used). If you need one of these, why wait for an RF version—just grab the EF fisheye zoom, mount it with an adapter, and start shooting.
As I mentioned earlier, the mount adapters also let you, for the first time, safely attach an EF-S lens to a full-frame model. The rationale is partially flawed—while you end up with a decent 17MP image using the R5, the R6 produces a lower-resolution 7MP image. So, owners of the R5 who also have a large collection of EF-S lenses, you can use them with that camera for as long as you decide to keep them. Because the registration distance is a scant 20mm, there is plenty of room to insert other third-party adapters aft of other vendors’ zoom and prime lenses, too.
Canon RF-Mount Adapters
Canon announced three mount adapters at the same time as the original EOS R model, each with different attributes. Your choices are as follows:
- Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. This bare-bones adapter costs just $99, and it has several useful characteristics. It’s lightweight (four ounces) but made of metal and its exterior design matches that of EF lenses. (Third-party adapters may include plastic or poorly machined parts and look ugly.) It’s dust- and water-resistant, and like the other mount adapters, has all the electrical contacts you need for smooth operation of your EF and EF-S lenses.
- Control Ring Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. Priced at a modest $199, this version is the one you should definitely opt for, as it includes a Control Ring like that found on RF-mount lenses. Once you use the Control Ring, you won’t want to do without it. It’s only a fraction heavier than the basic adapter at 4.6 ounces.
- Drop-in Filter Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. You can purchase this adapter with either a circular polarizing filter ($299) or a variable neutral-density (ND) filter ($399). A thumb wheel on the filter holder allows rotating the filter to achieve the desired amount of polarization or neutral density. The ND filter can reduce light reaching the sensor by 1.5 to 9 f/stops (ND3 to ND500), although, like all the variable neutral-density filters I’ve used, color tinges and density irregularities can be a problem. Canon says these effects are noticeable at ND250 settings or higher. The advantage of using drop-in filters is clear (so to speak): while a large number of EF lenses take standard 77mm filters, some require 82mm or 95mm filters (or larger) or may not accept filters at all. With this adapter every legacy-mount lens you use can work with the same polarizer or ND filter.
- Mount Adapter EF-EOS R 0.71x. This newer adapter is intended for Canon video cameras, like the EOS C70 Cinema Camera. Like the other three adapters, this $599 version allows mounting EF lenses, but includes optical elements that reduce the effective focal length by 0.71x and increase the effective maximum aperture by one stop. That is, an EF 50mm f/1.2 lens “becomes” a 35mm f/0.95 lens in terms of field of view and exposure settings. For R5 and R6 owners, that’s not generally a feature that is much-needed, because both EF and RF wide-angle lenses are readily available.
However, Canon’s cinema models with the RF mount use the Super 35 format, which is virtually identical to your camera’s APS-C mode. To achieve a super-wide view, such cameras would need a 10mm lens to produce the same perspective as a full-frame camera’s 16mm lens. With this adapter, roughly the same field of view is provided by 24mm focal length. Canon recommends video shooters use the adapter with lenses like the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM (resulting in an 11-25mm f/2 zoom) or EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM (producing a 17-85mm f/2 lens).
Ingredients of Canon’s Alphanumeric Soup
The actual product names of individual Canon lenses are fairly easy to decipher; they’ll include the RF, EF, or EF-S designation, the focal length or focal length range of the lens, its maximum aperture, and some other information. Additional data may be engraved or painted on the barrel or ring surrounding the front element of the lens, as shown in Figure 7.6.
Figure 7.6 Most of the key specifications of the lens are marked on the ring around the front element.
Here’s a decoding of what the individual designations mean:
- EF/EF-S/RF. RF lenses are those designed for the R-series cameras. They cannot be mounted on any other models, other than future mirrorless models not yet announced. If the lens is marked EF, it can safely be used on any Canon EOS camera, film or digital, but requires a mount adapter to use with the R-series. If it is an EF-S lens, it should be used only on an EF-S-compatible camera, or an EOS mirrorless model with a mount adapter.
- Focal length. Given in millimeters or a millimeter range, such as 60mm in the case of a popular Canon macro lens, or 24-105mm, used to describe a medium-wide to short-telephoto zoom.
- Maximum aperture. The largest f/stop available with a particular lens is given in a string of numbers that might seem confusing at first glance. For example, you might see 1:1.8 for a fixed-focal length (prime) lens, and 1:4.5–5.6 for a zoom. The initial 1: signifies that the f/stop given is actually a ratio or fraction (in regular notation, f/replaces the 1:), which is why a 1:2 (or f/2) aperture is larger than a 1:4 (or f/4) aperture—just as 1/2 is larger than 1/4. With most zoom lenses, the maximum aperture changes as the lens is zoomed to the telephoto position, so a range is given instead: 1:4.5–5.6. (Some zooms, called constant aperture lenses, keep the same maximum aperture throughout their range.)
- DS (Defocus Smoothing). This is Canon’s terminology for technology that allows improved bokeh (out-of-focus highlights), described earlier.
- Autofocus type. Most newer Canon lenses that aren’t of the bargain-basement type use Canon’s ultrasonic motor autofocus system (more on that later) and are given the USM designation. If USM does not appear on the lens or its model name, the lens may use the less-sophisticated AFD (arc-form drive) autofocus system or the micromotor (MM) drive mechanism. The newer STM designation indicates a stepper-motor drive, which is quieter and especially useful for video. The latest Nano USM systems use an ultrasonic ring motor and an STM motor for smoother, even quieter autofocus.
- Series. Canon adds a Roman numeral to many of its products to represent an updated model with the same focal length or focal length range, so some lenses will have a II or III added to their name. The revamped EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens is an example of a series update.
- Pro quality. Canon’s more expensive lenses with more rugged construction and higher optical quality, intended for professional use, include the letter L (for “luxe” or “luxury”) in their product name. You can further differentiate these lenses visually by a red ring around the lens barrel and the off-white color of the metal barrel itself in virtually all telephoto L-series lenses. (Some L-series lenses have shiny or textured black plastic exterior barrels.) Internally, every L lens includes at least one lens element that is built of ultra-low dispersion glass, is constructed of expensive fluorite crystal, or uses an expensive ground (not molded) aspheric (non-spherical) lens component.
- Filter size. You’ll find the front lens filter thread diameter in millimeters included on the lens, preceded by a Ø symbol, as in Ø67 or Ø77. One advantage of Canon’s L lenses is that many of them use 77mm filters, so you don’t have to purchase a new set (or step-up/step-down adapter rings) each time you buy a lens.
- Special-purpose lenses. Some Canon lenses are designed for specific types of work, and they include appropriate designations in their names. For example, close-focusing lenses incorporate the word Macro into their name. Lenses with perspective control features preface the lens name with T-S (for tilt-shift). Lenses with built-in image-stabilization features include IS in their product names.
Any of the mount adapters will allow you to use the EF or EF-S lenses you already own, so you can shoot now and expand later. I’m going to devote some space to summarizing some of your options.
One important thing to re-emphasize is that Canon has been producing EF lenses for a very long time, and some excellent lenses have been replaced with newer models or dropped from the Canon lineup entirely. If you want to choose from the broadest variety of lenses at reduced prices, you definitely should consider buying gently used optics.
As I mentioned earlier, I highly recommend KEH Camera in Smyrna, Georgia, as a source for affordable used gear. I’ve purchased many lenses from their website (www.keh.com). Their prices may not be the lowest available, but you’ll save significantly from the new price for the same lens, and the company is famous for exceeding their own lens grading standards: the lenses I’ve purchased from them listed as Excellent were difficult to tell from new, and their “Bargain” optics often show only minor wear and near-perfect glass. For each lens you’re considering, you can usually select from three or more different grades, plus choose lenses with or without hoods and/or front and rear caps. Because of the ready availability of used and discontinued lenses for Canon full-frame models, I’m going to cast a broad net when making my recommendations for lenses you should consider. Canon’s best-bet affordable lenses are as follows:
SORTING THE MOTOR DRIVES
Incorporating the autofocus motor inside the lens was an innovative move by Canon, and this allowed the company to produce better and more sophisticated lenses as technology became available to upgrade the focusing system. As a result, you’ll find four different types of motors in Canon-designed lenses, each with cost and practical considerations. Some RF lenses are hybrids, incorporating both USM and STM technology.
- AFD (Arc-form drive) and Micromotor (MM) drives are built around tiny versions of electromagnetic motors, which generally use gear trains to produce the motion needed to adjust the focus of the lens. Both are slow, noisy, and not particularly effective with larger lenses. Manual focus adjustments are possible only when the motor drive is disengaged.
- Micromotor ultrasonic motor (USM) drives use high-frequency vibration to produce the motion used to drive the gear train, resulting in a quieter operating system at a cost that’s not much more than that of electromagnetic motor drives. With the exception of a couple lenses that have a slipping clutch mechanism, manual focus with this kind of system is possible only when the motor drive is switched off and the lens is set in Manual mode. This is the kind of USM system you’ll find in lower-cost lenses.
- Ring ultrasonic motor (USM) drives, available in two different types (electronic focus ring USM and ring USM), also use high-frequency movement, but generate motion using a pair of vibrating metal rings held together by spring pressure to adjust focus. One ring is smooth, while the other, the stator ring, has teeth. That ring vibrates in response to electrical signals from the camera to flex in a way that causes the other ring to rotate at a controlled speed in the other direction, moving lens elements to achieve focus.
Both variations allow a feature called Full Time Manual (FTM) focus, which lets you make manual adjustments to the lens’s focus even when the autofocus mechanism is engaged. With electronic focus ring USM, manual focus is possible only when the lens is mounted on the camera and the camera is turned on; the focus ring of lenses with ring USM can be turned at any time.
- Stepper motor (STM) drives. In autofocus mode, the precision motor of STM lenses, along with a new aperture mechanism, allows lenses equipped with this technology to focus quickly, accurately, silently, and with smooth continuous increments. If you think about video capture, you can see how these advantages pay off. Silent operation is a plus, especially when noise from autofocusing can easily be transferred to the camera’s built-in microphones through the air or transmitted through the body itself. In addition, because autofocus is often done during capture, it’s important that the focus increments are continuous. USM motors are not as smooth but are better at jumping quickly to the exact focus point. You can adjust focus manually, using a focus-by-wire process. As you rotate the focus ring, that action doesn’t move the lens elements; instead, your rotation of the ring sends a signal to the motor to change the focus.
- Nano USM drives. This most recent technology used for both RF and new EF-mount lenses has dual motors, pairing a ring ultrasonic drive with a stepper motor. Two different types of precise vibrations are created in two distinct directions, producing very fast, very accurate, and quiet auto-focus action.
- Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM lens. Not everyone needs a wide-angle to medium-telephoto lens, and this $799 optic is perfect for those who tend to see the world from a wide-angle perspective. It provides a broader 104-degree field of view than your typical walk-around lens (which usually starts at around 24mm) and zooms only to a near-normal 40mm. Its f/4 constant maximum aperture (it delivers f/4 at every zoom position) is large enough for much low-light shooting, particularly since it is sharp wide open. It focuses down to about 11 inches.
- Canon Zoom Wide-Angle-Telephoto EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens. I couldn’t leave the latest version of this premium lens out of the mix, even though it costs $1,899. As part of Canon’s L-series line, it offers better sharpness over its focal range than many of the other lenses in this list. Best of all, it’s fast (for a zoom), with an f/2.8 maximum aperture that doesn’t change as you zoom out. Unlike some other lenses, which may offer only an f/5.6 maximum f/stop at their longest zoom setting, this is another constant aperture lens, which retains its maximum f/stop. The added sharpness, constant aperture, and ultra-smooth USM motor are what you’re paying for with this lens.
- Canon EF 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Autofocus Wide-Angle Telephoto Zoom lens. If you can get by with wide-angle to short telephoto range, this older (“classic”) consumer-grade lens might suit you. It can often be found used in the $300 price range and offers a useful range of focal lengths.
- Canon EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM Autofocus Wide-Angle Telephoto Zoom lens. Discontinued only a few years ago, this lens is a little slower than its 28-105mm L-class counterpart, but it’s priced roughly in the range of the 24-85mm lens mentioned earlier and offers more reach.
- Canon EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM Image-Stabilized Autofocus Wide-Angle Telephoto Zoom lens. Image stabilization is especially useful at longer focal lengths, which makes this lens worth its $479 price tag.
- Canon EF 28-200mm f/3.5-5.6 USM Autofocus Wide-Angle Telephoto Zoom lens. If you want one affordable lens to do everything except ultra-wide-angle photography, this discontinued 7X zoom lens can be found used for around $250.
- Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM Telephoto Zoom lens. This one goes from normal to medium-long focal lengths. It features a desirable ultrasonic motor. Best of all, it’s very affordable at an MSRP of $349.
- Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM lens. This fairly fast prime lens (less than $200) has the quiet STM motor, making it perfect as a wide/normal lens for video. It’s cheap enough to keep around as a “pancake” walk-around lens for street photography.
- Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens. If a “normal” lens is not your cup of tea for everyday use, you can skip Canon’s f/1.4 and f/1.2 options and add this $125 lens to your kit for less than you might pay for a high-quality 77mm polarizing filter.
Image Stabilization and You
One criticism leveled at the original EOS R and RP was that neither had the in-body image stabilization (IBIS) offered in mirrorless cameras from other vendors. Anti-shake capabilities were available only when built into individual lenses. While there are pros to lens-based IS—Canon has long used that system exclusively in many of its dSLR lenses—IBIS has advantages of its own. In-body stabilization provides IS with virtually any lens—even those that lack the built-in variety.
Canon responded to the challenge by not only matching the other vendors but surpassing them with what is the best image stabilization system available, coordinating lens-based and in-body IS to produce a system that is touted at providing up to 8 stops of anti-shake! That translates into giving you the camera-motion stopping power of 1/8000th second with a 1/30th second exposure. You shouldn’t expect that level of performance in everyday use, and it’s available only with a select few lenses, but Canon’s claim shows just how far the technology has advanced.
I decided to include this book’s image stabilization discussion in my chapter covering lenses because so many RF lenses do include internal IS to complement, enhance, or replace the stabilization built into the camera body. After all, even the highest resolution lenses and sensors can do nothing to correct image sharpness lost due to movement. And while higher shutter speeds can counter most subject movement, when it’s the camera that’s causing blur due to vibration, other approaches may need to be taken. Your camera has improved technology that can help avoid blur caused by shutter movement and bounce, but when the entire camera and lens are vibrating, that’s where image stabilization (IS) comes into play.
Image stabilization/vibration reduction can take many forms, and Canon has expertise in all of them. Electronic IS is used in video cameras and involves shifting pixels around from frame to frame so that pixels that are not moving remain in the same position, and portions of the image that are moving don’t stray from their proper path. Optical image stabilization is built into many EF and RF lenses and involves lens elements that shift in response to camera movement, as detected by motion sensors included in the optics. In 2020 Canon introduced a new (at least for its mirrorless lineup) wrinkle: in-body, anti-shake technology commonly referred to by the IBIS acronym, which adjusts the position of the sensor carriage itself along five different axes to counteract movement. If you’re using an IS lens with your camera, you actually have access to two different, complementary image stabilization systems.
The results can be spectacular. You can expect a minimum 4.5-stop improvement from image stabilization technology. That is, a photograph taken at 1/30th second should have the same sharpness (at least in terms of resistance to camera shake) as one shot at 1/750th second. I’ve found this to be true. Figure 7.7 shows two shots of pelicans taken a few minutes apart with a 400mm focal length and 1/125th second hand-held exposure. This older lens has no image stabilization built-in, so the shot at top was taken using only the camera’s in-body IS. For the bottom photo, image stabilization was turned off.
No amount of image stabilization can eliminate blur from moving subjects, but you should find yourself less tied to a tripod when using longer lenses, or when working with wide-angle lenses under dim lighting conditions than in the past. If you’re taking photos in venues where flash or tripods are forbidden, you’ll find the camera’s image stabilization tandem invaluable. Because lens-based and in-body image stabilization work together, it’s appropriate to discuss their use in this lens-oriented chapter.
Figure 7.7 When hand-holding a lens at 400mm (top) and panning slightly to follow the pelican’s movement, I was able to get a blur-free photo at 1/125th second. With image stabilization deactivated, camera movement produced noticeable blurring (bottom).
How It Works
As I mentioned, stabilization uses gyroscope-like motion sensors to detect camera motion, which can occur along one of five different axes, as in Figure 7.8. Shifts in the x and y directions are likely to occur when shooting macro images hand-held but can take place any time. Roll happens when you rotate the camera along the axis passing through the center of the front of the lens, say, to align the horizon while shooting a landscape. There may be a tendency to continue to “correct” for the horizon as you shoot, producing vibration along the roll axis. Roll is especially noticeable in video clips because it’s easy to see straight lines changing their orientation during a shot.
Pitch movements happen when the camera shake is such that the lens moves up or down, often because the lens itself is a front-heavy telephoto lens. The magnification of the tele only serves to exaggerate the changes in pitch. Telephotos are also a major contributor to yaw vibrations, in which the camera pivots slightly as if you were shooting a panorama—even when you’re not. All five of these types of movement can be countered through image stabilization.
IS built into lenses does best in nullifying changes in pitch and yaw. Stabilization in the body can correct for all five types of movement. If both IS and IBIS are active at the same time, the camera use the two in tandem with compatible lenses, allowing the lens to correct for pitch and yaw, while the in-body IS compensates for x, y, and roll movements. That makes a lot of sense, because in correcting for x, y, and roll, the camera is able to keep the sensor in the exact same plane to preserve precise focus and simply move the sensor carriage up, down, or slightly rotated to nullify the movement. If your lens does not have IS, the IBIS technology handles all the image stabilization tasks, in effect bringing IS to every lens you mount on the camera, even EF-mount lenses attached with an adapter. That’s especially important because many of Canon’s best RF-mount lenses do not have IS built in. That includes the RF 50mm f/1.2 L USM, RF 85mm f/1.2 L USM, and extra-fast RF 28-70mm f/2 L USM lens. However, not all non-stabilized lenses benefit in identical ways from Canon’s stabilization technology. For best results, the IBIS system needs to know both focal length and focus distance to provide optimum stabilization. That’s an advantage of IS: stabilization built into the lens always knows exactly what focal length setting and focus distance is being used.
Figure 7.8 The five axes of in-body image stabilization.
Here’s a quick summary of some things you should keep in mind:
- Compatible lenses. I’ll provide a list of compatible lenses shortly. The camera will identify the lens and choose how to apply the in-lens and in-body stabilization. For best results, turn off image stabilization when the camera is mounted on a tripod. However, some lenses do have special IS modes especially for tripod use and panning.
- Image stabilization doesn’t stop action. Unfortunately, no stabilization is a panacea to replace the action-stopping capabilities of a faster shutter speed. If you need to use 1/1000th second to freeze a high jumper in mid-air, neither type of image stabilization achieves the desired effect at a longer shutter speed.
- Image stabilization works best with wider focal lengths. However, IS is most needed at longer focal lengths. The adjustments required to compensate for camera movement are smaller with wide-angle lenses. Even in-body stabilization can detect and correct pitch and yaw movement with great precision. With a lens having, say, a 24-105mm zoom range, you’ll probably discover that your anti-shake results are better at 24mm than at 105mm.
Longer focal lengths require much more correction and, to make things worse, tend to magnify any camera/lens movement. That magnification tends to make IS more useful with telephoto lenses. Longer primes and zooms are thus perfect candidates for lens-based IS, and, because of their physical length, are able to detect pitch and yaw motion better than the camera’s IBIS.
- Stabilization might slow you down. The process of adjusting the lens and/or sensor to counter camera shake takes time, just as autofocus does, so you might find that image stabilization adds to the lag between when you press the shutter and when the picture is actually taken. In a situation where you want to capture a fleeting instant that can happen suddenly, image stabilization might not be your best choice. However, Canon’s implementation is so speedy this will not be a concern most of the time.
- Give image stabilization a helping hand. When you simply do not want to carry a tripod all day and you’ll be relying on the IS system, brace the camera or your elbows on something solid, like the roof of a car or a piece of furniture. Remember that an inexpensive monopod can be quite compact when not extended; many camera bags include straps that allow you to attach this accessory. Use a monopod for extra camera-shake compensation. Brace the accessory against a rock, a bridge abutment, or a fence and you might be able to get blur-free photos at surprisingly long shutter speeds. When you’re heading out into the field to photograph wild animals or flowers and want to use longer exposures and think a tripod isn’t practical, at least consider packing a monopod.
At the time I write this, Canon has offered minimal information on how lens-based and body-based image stabilization coordinate but note that performance varies depending on the lens used. Table 7.1 shows the published estimates for the RF-mount lenses available when this book was published.
Canon’s IBIS takes special advantage of the large image circle that can be projected onto the sensor by certain lenses. The larger the circle, the more room the sensor has to move to adjust for camera/lens motion. Because of the way optics are designed, some lenses project a larger circle than others, even when all of them are nominally full-frame lenses. For best results, the imaged area should be sufficiently sharp edge-to-edge to allow the expanded sensor motion. You can infer from the table below that the lenses that offer the most stops of correction are those that have the largest image usable circles. Note that lenses not listed here are still compatible, but their image circles aren’t large enough to offer more than 5 stops of correction.
TABLE 7.1 Image Stabilization
What Lenses Can Do for You
A sane approach to expanding your lens collection is to consider what each of your options can do for you and then choose the type of lens that will really boost your creative opportunities. Here’s a guide to the sort of capabilities you can gain by adding a lens (using an adapter, if necessary) to your repertoire.
- Wider perspective. A 24-70mm or 28-70mm lens can serve you well for moderate wide-angle to medium telephoto shots. Now you find your back is up against a wall and you can’t take a step backward to take in more subject matter. Perhaps you’re standing on the boulevard adjacent to the impressive domed walls of the Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb, Croatia, and you want to show the expanse of the walls, as I did for the photo at top in Figure 7.9, shot with a 16mm focal length. Or, you might find yourself just behind the baseline at a high school basketball game and want an interesting shot with a little perspective distortion tossed in the mix. If you often want to make images with a super wide field of view, a wider lens is in your future.
Figure 7.9 A 16mm view shows a broad expanse of wall outside the Mirogoj Cemetery in Zagreb, Croatia (top). A view at roughly the same distance at 105mm (center). A long telephoto lens at 400mm captured this image (bottom).
Categories of Lenses
Lenses can be categorized by their intended purpose—general photography, macro photography, and so forth—or by their focal length. The range of available focal lengths is usually divided into three main groups: wide-angle, normal, and telephoto. Prime lenses fall neatly into one of these classifications. Zooms can overlap designations, with a significant number falling into the catchall wide-to-telephoto zoom range. This section provides more information about focal length ranges, and how they are used.
Any lens with a focal length of 10mm to 20mm is said to be an ultra-wide-angle lens; from about 20mm to 40mm is said to be a wide-angle lens. Normal lenses have a focal length roughly equivalent to the diagonal of the film or sensor, in millimeters, and so fall into the range of about 45mm to 60mm on a full-frame camera like your camera model. Telephoto lenses usually fall into the 75mm and longer focal lengths, while those with a focal length much beyond 300mm are referred to as super telephotos.
Using Wide-Angle Lenses
To use wide-angle prime lenses and wide zooms, you need to understand how they affect your photography. Here’s a quick summary of the things you need to know.
- More depth-of-field (apparently). Practically speaking, wide-angle lenses seem to produce more extensive depth-of-field at a particular subject distance and aperture. However, the range of acceptable sharpness actually depends on magnification: the size of the subject in the frame. With a wide-angle lens, you usually include a full scene in an image; any single subject is not magnified very much, so the depth-of-field will be quite extensive. When using a telephoto lens however, you tend to fill the frame with a single subject (using high magnification), so the background is more likely to be blurred. (I’ll discuss this in more detail in the sidebar below.)
You’ll find a wide-angle lens helpful when you want to maximize the range of acceptable sharpness in a landscape, for example. On the other hand, it’s very difficult to isolate your subject (against a blurred background) using selective focus unless you move extremely close. Telephoto lenses are better for this purpose and as a bonus, they also include fewer extraneous elements of the scene because of their narrower field of view.
- Stepping back. Wide-angle lenses have the effect of making it seem that you are standing farther from your subject than you really are. They’re helpful when you don’t want to back up—or can’t because of impediments—to include an entire group of people in your photo, for example.
- Wider field of view. While making your subject seem farther away, as implied above, a wide-angle lens also provides a more expansive field of view, including more of the scene in your photos.
- More foreground. As background objects appear further back than they do to the naked eye, more of the foreground is brought into view by a wide-angle lens. That gives you extra emphasis on the area that’s closest to the camera. Photograph your home with a 50mm focal length, for example, and the front yard probably looks fairly conventional in your photo. Switch to a wider lens, such as the 16mm setting of the RF 16-35mm f/2.8 zoom, and you’ll discover that your lawn now makes up much more of the photo. So, wide-angle lenses are great when you want to emphasize that lake in the foreground, but problematic when your intended subject is located farther in the distance.
- Super-sized subjects. The tendency of a wide-angle lens to emphasize objects in the foreground while de-emphasizing objects in the background can lead to a kind of size distortion that may be more objectionable for some types of subjects than others. Shoot a bed of flowers up close with a 16mm or shorter focal length, and you might like the distorted effect of the nearby blossoms looming in the photo. Take a shot of a family member with the same lens from the same distance, and you’re likely to get some complaints about that gigantic nose in the foreground.
- Perspective distortion. This type of distortion occurs when you tilt the camera so the plane of the sensor is no longer perpendicular to the vertical plane of your subject. As a result, some parts of the subject are now closer to the sensor than they were before, while other parts are farther away. This is what makes buildings, flagpoles, or NBA players appear to be leaning over backward (like the building shown in Figure 7.10). While this kind of apparent distortion is actually caused by tilting the camera/lens upward (not by a defect in the lens), it can happen with any lens, but it’s most apparent when a wide angle is used.
- Steady cam. You’ll find that it is easier to get photos without blur from camera shake when you hand-hold a wide-angle lens at slower shutter speeds than it is with a telephoto lens. And, thanks to image stabilization, you can take sharp photos at surprisingly long shutter speeds at a long focal length without using a tripod. That’s because the reduced magnification of the wide-angle lens or wide-zoom setting doesn’t emphasize camera shake like a telephoto lens does.
- Interesting angles. Many of the factors already listed combine to produce more interesting angles when shooting with wide-angle lenses. Raising or lowering a telephoto lens a few feet probably will have little effect on the appearance of a distant subject that fills the frame. The same change in elevation can produce a dramatic effect if you’re using a short focal length and are close to your subject.
DOF IN DEPTH
The depth-of-field advantage of wide-angle lenses disappears when you enlarge your picture. Believe it or not, a wide-angle image enlarged and cropped to provide the same subject size as a telephoto shot will have the same depth-of-field. Try it: take a wide-angle photo of a friend from a fair distance. Then, use a longer (telephoto) zoom setting from the same shooting position to take the same picture; naturally, your friend will appear to be larger in the second because of the greater telephoto magnification.
Download the two photos to your computer. While viewing the wide-angle shot, magnify it with the zoom or magnify tool so your friend is as large as in the telephoto image. You’ll find that the wide-angle photo will have the same depth-of-field as the telephoto image; for example, the background will be equally blurred.
Figure 7.10 Tilting the camera produces this “falling back” look in architectural photos.
Avoiding Potential Wide-Angle Problems
Wide-angle lenses have a few quirks that you’ll want to keep in mind when shooting so you can avoid falling into some common traps. Here’s a checklist of tips for avoiding common problems:
- Symptom: converging lines. Unless you want to use wildly diverging lines as a creative effect, it’s a good idea to keep horizontal and vertical lines in landscapes, architecture, and other subjects carefully aligned with the sides, top, and bottom of the frame. To prevent undesired perspective distortion, you must take care not to tilt the camera. If your subject is very tall, like a building, you may need to shoot from an elevated position (like a high level in a parking garage) so you won’t need to tilt the lens upward. And if your subject is short, like a small child, get down to a lower level so you can get the shot without tilting the lens downward.
- Symptom: lines that bow outward. Some wide-angle lenses cause straight lines to bow outward, an effect called barrel distortion; you’ll see the strongest effect at the edges. Most fisheye (or curvilinear) lenses produce this effect as a feature of the lens; it’s much more obvious than with any other type of lens. (See Figure 7.11.) The mild barrel distortion you get with a conventional lens is rarely obvious except in some types of architectural photography. If you find it objectionable, you’ll need to use a well-corrected lens.
Figure 7.11 Many wide-angle lenses cause lines to bow outward toward the edges of the image. That’s often not noticeable unless you use a fisheye lens; the effect is considered to be interesting and desirable.
Manufacturers like Canon do their best to minimize or eliminate it (producing a rectilinear lens), often using aspherical lens elements (which are not cross-sections of a sphere). You can also minimize barrel distortion simply by framing your photo with some extra space all around, so the edges where the bowing outward is most obvious can be cropped out of the picture. The Lens Correction feature can help reduce this problem, too. Leave it set to Auto to allow the processor to minimize the slight barrel distortion that can occur with the more affordable lenses.
- Symptom: color fringes around objects. Lenses often produce photos that are plagued with fringes of color around backlit objects, produced by chromatic aberration. This common lens flaw comes in two forms: longitudinal/axial, in which all the colors of light don’t focus in the same plane, and lateral/transverse, in which the colors are shifted to one side. Axial chromatic aberration can be reduced by stopping down the lens (to f/8 or f/11, for example), but transverse chromatic aberration cannot.
Better-quality lenses reduce both types of imaging defect; it’s common for reviews to point out these failings, so you can choose the best performing lenses that your budget allows. The Lens Compensation feature in the Camera Settings I-02 menu can help reduce this problem. Leave it set for Auto to get the chromatic aberration reduction processing that the camera can provide.
- Symptom: light and dark areas when using a polarizing filter. You should be aware that polarizers work best when the camera is pointed 90 degrees away from the sun and have the least effect when the camera is oriented 180 degrees from the sun. This is only half the story, however. With lenses like the RF 16-35mm f/2.8L zoom, the range is extensive enough to cause problems.
Think about it: if you use the widest setting of such a zoom and point it at a part of a scene that’s at the proper 90-degree angle from the sun, the areas of the scene that are at the edges of the frame will be oriented at much wider angles from the sun. Only the center of the image area will be at exactly 90 degrees. When the filter is used to darken a blue sky, the sky will be very dark near the center of your photo. Naturally, the polarizing effect will be much milder at the edges so the sky in those areas will be much lighter in tone (less polarized). The solution is to avoid using a polarizing filter in situations where you’ll be including the sky with lenses that have an actual focal length of less than about 28mm.
Using Telephoto and Tele-Zoom Lenses
Telephoto lenses also can have a dramatic effect on your photography. Here are the most important things you need to know. In the next section, I’ll concentrate on telephoto considerations that can be problematic—and how to avoid those problems.
- Selective focus. Long lenses have reduced depth-of-field, a shallow range of acceptably sharp focus, especially at wide apertures (small f/numbers); this is useful for selective focus to isolate your subject. You can set the widest aperture to create shallow depth-of-field or close it down (to a small f/number) to allow more of the scene to appear to be in acceptably sharp focus. The flip side of the coin is that even at f/16, a 300mm and longer lens will not provide much depth-of-field, especially when the subject is large in the frame (magnified). Like fire, the depth-of-field aspects of a telephoto lens can be friend or foe.
- Getting closer. Telephoto lenses allow you to fill the frame with wildlife, sports action, and candid subjects. No one wants to get a reputation as a surreptitious or “sneaky” photographer (except for paparazzi), but when applied to candids in an open and honest way, a long lens can help you capture memorable moments while retaining enough distance to stay out of the way of events as they transpire.
- Reduced foreground/increased compression. Telephoto lenses have the opposite effect of wide angles: they reduce the importance of things in the foreground by squeezing everything together. This so-called compressed perspective makes objects in the scene appear to be closer than they are to the naked eye. You can use this effect as a creative tool. You’ve seen the effect hundreds of times in movies and on television, where the protagonist is shown running in and out of traffic that appears to be much closer to the hero (or heroine) than it really is.
- Accentuates camera shakiness. Telephoto focal lengths hit you with a double whammy in terms of camera/photographer shake. The lenses themselves are bulkier, more difficult to hold steady, and may even produce a barely perceptible seesaw rocking effect when you support them with one hand halfway down the lens barrel. As they magnify the subject, they amplify the effect of any camera shake. As I noted earlier, it’s no wonder that image stabilization is especially popular among those using longer lenses.
- Interesting angles require creativity. Telephoto lenses require more imagination in selecting interesting angles, because the “angle” you do get on your subjects is so narrow. Moving from side to side or a bit higher or lower can make a dramatic difference in a wide-angle shot but raising or lowering a telephoto lens a few feet probably will have little effect on the appearance of the distant subjects you’re shooting.
Avoiding Telephoto Lens Problems
Many of the “problems” that telephoto lenses pose are really just challenges and not that difficult to overcome. Here is a list of the seven most common picture maladies and suggested solutions.
- Symptom: flat faces in portraits. Head-and-shoulders portraits of humans tend to be more flattering when a focal length of 50mm to 85mm is used with a full-frame camera. Longer focal lengths compress the distance between features like the nose and ears, making the face look wider and flat. (Conversely, a wide-angle lens will make the nose look huge and ears tiny if you move close enough for a head-and-shoulders portrait.) So, avoid using a focal length much longer than about 60mm with your camera unless you’re forced to shoot from a greater distance. (Use a wide-angle lens only when shooting three-quarters/full-length portraits, or group shots.)
- Symptom: blur due to camera shake. Because a long focal length amplifies the effects of camera shake, make sure the image stabilization is not turned off (with a menu item). Then, if possible, use a faster shutter speed; that may mean that you’ll need to set a higher ISO to be able to do so. Of course, a firm support like a solid tripod is the most effective tool for eliminating camera shake, especially if you trip the shutter with a remote commander accessory or the self-timer to avoid the risk of jarring the camera. Of course, only the fast shutter speed option will be useful to prevent blur caused by subject motion; image stabilization or a tripod won’t help you freeze a race car in mid-lap.
- Symptom: color fringes. Chromatic aberration is the most pernicious optical problem found in telephoto lenses. There are others, including spherical aberration, astigmatism, coma, curvature of field, and similarly scary-sounding phenomena. The best solution for any of these is to use a better lens that offers the proper degree of correction for aberrations or stop down the lens (to f/8 or f/11) to minimize the problem. But that’s not always possible. Your second-best choice may be to correct the fringing in your favorite RAW conversion tool or image editor. Photoshop’s Lens Correction filter offers sliders that minimize both red/cyan and blue/yellow fringing. A feature such as this (also available with some other software) can be useful in situations where the camera’s Lens Compensation feature doesn’t fully correct for chromatic aberration.
- Symptom: lines that curve inward. Pincushion distortion is common in photos taken with many telephoto lenses; lines, especially those near the edges of the frame, bow inward like the pincushion your grandma might have used. You can take photos of a brick wall at various focal lengths with your zoom lens to find out where the pincushion distortion is the most obvious; that will probably be at or near the longest focal length. Like chromatic aberration, it can be partially corrected using tools like Photoshop’s Lens Correction filter (or a similar utility in some other software).
- Symptom: low contrast from haze or fog. When you’re photographing distant objects, a long lens shoots through a lot more atmosphere, which generally is muddied up with extra haze and fog. The dust or moisture droplets in the atmosphere can reduce contrast and mute colors. Some feel that a skylight or UV filter can help, but this practice is mostly a holdover from the film days. Digital sensors are not sensitive enough to UV light for a UV filter to have much effect. A polarizer might help a bit, but only in certain circumstances. I don’t consider this to be a huge problem because it’s easy to boost contrast and color saturation in Picture Styles (a menu item) or later in image-editing software.
- Symptom: low contrast from flare. Lenses are often furnished with lens hoods for a good reason: to minimize the amount of stray light that will strike the front element causing flare or a ghost image of the diaphragm containing the aperture. A hood is effective when the light is at your side, but it has no value when you’re shooting toward the sun. On the other hand, you’ll often be shooting with the light striking the lens from an angle. In this situation, the lens hood is only partially effective, so minimize flare by using your hand or cap to cast a shadow over the front element of the lens. (Just be careful not to let your hand or cap intrude into the image area.)
- Symptom: dark flash photos. Edge-to-edge flash coverage isn’t as problematic with telephoto lenses as it is with wide angles. (The built-in flash simply cannot provide light that covers the entire field of view that’s recorded by a lens shorter than 16mm.) The shooting distance is the problem with longer lenses. A 200mm focal length might allow you to make a distant subject appear close to the camera, but the flash isn’t fooled. You’ll need extra power for distant flash shots, making a large accessory flash unit a valuable accessory.
If you do not have a powerful flash unit and cannot get closer to the subject (like BTS doing their dance moves on a dark stage), try setting the camera’s ISO level to 3200. This increases the sensitivity of the sensor, so less light is required to make a bright photo; of course, the photo is likely to be grainy because of digital noise. If that does not solve the problem, you will need to set an even higher ISO, but then you’ll get even more obvious digital noise in your photo.