To celebrate the 100th issue of PhotoPlus magazine we’re running this summary of its latest lens roundup. The test team has taken eight Canon-fit prime lenses and run them through its full sequence of lab tests and real-world workouts to decide which one is best. You can see the full 11-page test in PhotoPlus #100.
All but two of these lenses work on both full-frame Canons and APS-C models. On a full-frame camera they work as wide-angle lenses, whereas on an APS-C model the smaller sensor gives a 1.6x crop factor, so you’re effectively getting a longer focal length semi-wide-angle or standard’ prime lens.
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1. Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A
A fast prime lens with brilliant optical quality, though at a price
Focal length on full frame/APS-C: 35mm/56mm | Maximum aperture: f/1.4 | Image stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.3m | Filter size: 67mm | Weight: 665g | Price: about £650/US$900
Surprisingly compact for a full-frame 35mm f/1.4, the Sigma is neat, tidy and very well put together. It’s a moderate wide-angle on a full-frame Canon and a great ‘standard’ lens on an APS-C model. It’s not cheap, but you’ve got to remember this is a very fast lens – it’s two stops (3EV) faster than the Canon f/2.8 lenses in this group and 1 stop faster than the Canon 35mm f/2. Bear in mind, though, that there’s no image stabilizer. The Sigma produces the best image quality, but you’ll need to steady it or use a tripod at slow shutter speeds.
2. Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM
Versatile Canon-brand lens with image stabilization built in
Focal length on full frame/APS-C: 24mm/38mm | Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Image stabilizer: 4-stop | Minimum focus distance: 0.2m | Filter size: 58mm | Weight: 280g | Price: about £460/US$600
The Canon 24mm f/2.8 runs the Sigma a close second. Its maximum aperture is two stops slower, but it has a much wider angle of view and has an image stabilizer built in. It also acts as a moderate wide-angle on an APS-C Canon body – it’s a great lens if you use a camera like the EOS 700D at the moment but think you might upgrade to a full frame Canon in the future. The Sigma 35mm, above, is slightly better optically, but this Canon 24mm is cheaper, and if you want to stick to Canon lenses, this might be the clincher.
3. Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM
Great performance, specs and usability – just not quite as wide as the Canon 24mm
Focal length on full frame/APS-C: 28mm/45mm | Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Image stabilizer: 4-stop | Minimum focus distance: 0.23m | Filter size: 58mm | Weight: 260g | Price: about £410/US$550
28mm is the ‘classic’ wide-angle focal length for full-frame cameras, and it makes a handy 45mm focal length on an APS-C Canon like the 1200D or 70D. This lens is compact, near-silent in operation and one of the smallest and lightest in this group. It’s from the same family as the Canon 24mm f/2.8, above, and in fact the only way to tell them apart is the focal length marking on the barrel. This Canon 28mm is a good performer and not particularly expensive, but there’s not much of a price saving over the 24mm, even though this lens doesn’t go as wide.
4. Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM
Not quite as fast as the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, but this Canon alternative is cheaper
Focal length on full frame/APS-C: 35mm/56mm | Maximum aperture: f/2 | Image stabilizer: 4-stop | Minimum focus distance: 0.24m | Filter size: 67mm | Weight: 335g | Price: about £470/US$600
The Canon 35mm f/2 gives you an interesting dilemma. It doesn’t offer as wide an angle of view as the Canon 24mm and 28mm lenses, above, but it’s a whole f-stop faster, with a maximum aperture of f/2. It’s also a strong rival to the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 at the top of our list – it doesn’t quite match it for optical quality and it’s a whole f-stop slower (f/2 versus f/1.40, but it’s a good deal cheaper and it has an image stabilizer. In fact, all four lenses so far are really close in overall desirability.
5. Samyang 35mm f/1.4 AS UMC
Samyang’s old-school lens lacks autofocus but delivers optical quality and value
Focal length on full frame/APS-C: 35mm/56mm | Maximum aperture: f/1.4 | Image stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.3m | Filter size: 77mm | Weight: 710g | Price: about £370/US$420
The Samyang 35mm f/1.4 is something different. Samyang lenses are both inexpensive and actually rather good, but you need to be aware that these are manual focus lenses only – there’s no autofocus. The Samyang is ideal for enthusiasts and experts with time to take things more slowly, but it takes a bit of a mind-shift if you’re used to modern cameras and lenses. Optically, the Samyang is very good, if not quite up to the standard of the Sigma 35mm f/1.4. It’s also little more than half the price – but this is a big, long and hefty lens.
6. Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM
The widest lens in the group delivers middling quality but good value
Focal length on full frame/APS-C: 20mm/32mm | Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Image stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.25m | Filter size: 72mm |Weight: 405g | Price: about £410/US$540
The Canon 20mm f/2.8 is a bit of an old-timer compared to other lenses in this group and doesn’t quite match the rest for overall optical performance – but it does offer the widest angle of view and it does have image stabilization built in. You can use this lens on an APS-C Canon, where it still delivers a semi-wide effective focal length of 32mm. If you want the widest wide-angle prime lens for your money, then this is the one to get. Sometimes it’s more important just to be able to get everything in the frame than it is to chase the best optical quality.
7. Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM
Cheap, but for APS-C Canons only and not to be confused with the Canon EF 24mm f/2.8
Focal length on full frame/APS-C: NA/38mm | Maximum aperture: f/2.8 | Image stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.16m | Filter size: 52mm | Weight: 125g | Price: about £170/US$150
Now this is where it gets tricky. So far we’ve been comparing lenses which work on both full frame Canons and the APS-C models. But it doesn’t work both ways. This is an EF-S lens, which means that it works only on the APS-C Canons, from the EOS 1200D to the 7D Mark II. On these cameras it has an effective focal length of 38mm, so its angle of view is only borderline wide-angle. It’s a cheap and effective option for Canon’s smaller-sensor DSLRs, but don’t confuse it with the much better Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM.
8. Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM A
Another lens for APS-C Canons only, so it actually equates to a 48mm ‘standard’ lens
Focal length on full frame/APS-C: NAmm/48mm | Maximum aperture: f/1.4 | Image stabilizer: No | Minimum focus distance: 0.3m | Filter size: 62mm | Weight: 435g | Price: about £370/US$500
The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is another lens designed solely for Canon’s APS-C format D-SLRs, so although the focal length appears to put it in wide-angle territory, it effectively works out as a 48mm lens on these cameras. It’s actually a really good lens – its optical performance is first rate, as are the build and handling, and it’s not too expensive either. It’s a good buy if you want a ‘standard’ (non-wide-angle) prime lens for your APS-C format Canon, but it’s not actually a wide-angle and it won’t fit on a full frame Canon.