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The Canon Lens Wars Series by SLR Lounge – Episode 0

By Pye Jirsa on January 9th 2014

SLR Lounge Canon Lens War

Welcome to the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars Series, the ultimate visual guide to real world differences between a whole host of Canon professional zoom lenses and primes. In total, we tested 25 Canon lenses valued at over $40,000 dollars starting from 17mm to 300mm focal length.

Before we get started, we want to thank B&H Photo Video for sponsoring our Canon Lens Wars concept and for providing the Canon lenses that we were missing for our tests, so thank you to B&H for supporting SLR Lounge.

So without further ado, let’s get started.

Watch the SLR Lounge Canon Lens War Introduction Video

The Concept Behind the Canon Lens War Series

There are plenty of sites and resources for technical reviews that can differentiate on a pixel basis which lens is sharper, has better color, more contrast and so forth. But that’s not the goal of this series. We are not going to do any lab testing in the Canon Lens Wars. Instead, our goal is to find out the perceivable visual differences between Professional L series lenses versus Professional and standard primes at the same focal lengths and aperture settings.

This means that we are testing these lenses on a visual level by viewing images full screen on a 27″ 3K resolution IPS display. While at the same focal focal length, we want to see which lens creates the most and best looking bokeh at wide apertures, to see which lens has visually better sharpness, clarity, contrast, color and so forth.

So for example, we want to compare the visual differences between the Canon 50mm f/1.2L, Canon 50mm f/1.4, and Canon 50mm f/1.8 II prime lenses versus the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II and Canon 24-105mm f/4L zoom lenses at 50mm focal length. We tested all the lenses at their Widest Open Aperture (WOA) as well as at their Widest Common Aperture (WCA).

Here is an example showing the difference image aesthetics when both lenses are shot at their WOA.


Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II at 50mm

Equipment Used

Let’s go over all of the equipment we used to shoot our still images:

Canon Lenses Tested

We aimed to test the most popular Canon lenses from the 17 to 300mm focal range including:

The Real World Test

With the help of our wonderful wardrobe designer, Samantha of Impressionist Designs and our talented makeup and hair artist Olivia Black, we prepped our lovely model Yvette and chose an outdoor scene.


I selected this willow tree scene because the extending branches in each direction, and different depths would allow us to see large differences in depth of field at different aperture settings between lenses.


Since the shoot was outdoors, the challenge was capturing the same, or at least a similar composition for each lens while the light was also similar. This meant that we needed to capture all of the images within a small time window so that we could be comparing apples to apples across all of the images. In addition, unfortunately for our model, she had to hold her pose throughout the entire 3 hour duration of shoot. Which I must say, she did an incredible job despite it being quite painful.


So to setup, we choose a composition and then measured and wrote on the ground the distances at each focal length that would provide the same or nearly same composition at each focal length grouping. At each of these focal length spots, we had our lens assistant, Kaylee, follow our lens guides that listed out each lens that matched or could zoom to match that particular focal length.


How We Shot the Canon Lens Wars Test

The Canon 5D Mark III was set up on our MeFOTO GlobeTrotter Carbon Fiber Tripod [Our review here], and internal image stabilization was turned off on every lens that had it available. With each lens, we obtained focus automatically via the nearest AF point, then we verified focus through 10x zoom in live view and switched the focus to manual to prevent it from changing. We shot on a 5D Mark III in full RAW and utilized the mirror lockup function to prevent any additional camera shake that could affect detail. The camera was triggered via a Vello Shutterboss Version II Timer Remote Switch.


With each lens at each focal length we would run through the lowest aperture and then every full stop above that up to f/11.

Canon 85mm f/1.2L II

With each shot, we would adjust the shutter speed manually to match exposures from shot to shot. When we captured all of the shots at the respective apertures on a particular lens, my assistant Tony switches to the next lens in that focal group until we have completed each lens in the focal range.

Once completing all of the lenses in the focal range, we moved the tripod back to the next spot, setup the same composition, verified Yvette was roughly the same size and position in the frame and started all over again! Altogether, we have 9 focal ranges in the test:

  • 17mm
  • 24mm
  • 35mm
  • 50mm
  • 70mm
  • 85mm
  • 100mm
  • 200mm
  • 300mm

Canon 16-35mm f2.8L

Canon 300mm f/2.8L

How We Processed the Images

We processed each image in Lightroom 5 with identical settings using the SLR Lounge Lightroom Preset System so that any differences you see in color, sharpness, contrast, etc are a direct result from the lens itself. All sharpening and noise settings were turned off as well.

From there, we began comparing the images side by side on a Dell U2713HM 27″ IPS monitor to see which visual differences could easily be noticed, and which differences had to be “pixel peeped” to be seen.

Canon Lens Review Videos

From here, we will be creating review videos for each focal range showing you the differences between lenses within a particular focal length giving you our favorite lens options within each focal range group. So, be sure check back to the main Canon Lens Wars Series page frequently to see which our favorite Canon lenses at each focal length.

Welcome to the Canon Lens Wars Series by SLR Lounge!


Producer Pye Jirsa
Sponsor SLR Lounge
Co-Sponsor B&H Photo Video
Co-Sponsor Lin and Jirsa Photography

Writer Pye Jirsa
Director Chris Lin

Director of Photography Joe Gunawan
Lead Cinematographer Joseph Cha
Camera Operator David Park
Video Editor Joe Gunawan

Still Photographer Pye Jirsa
Model Yvette Benson
Makeup and Hair Artist Olivia Black
Wardrobe Stylist Samantha Freedman of Impressionist Designs
1st Production Assistant Kaylee Sizemore
2nd Production Assistant Tony Chang

Special Thanks
B&H Photo Video Yechiel Orgel
Orange County Parks

This site contains affiliate links to products. We may receive a commission for purchases made through these links, however, this does not impact accuracy or integrity of our content.

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

Follow my updates on Facebook and my latest work on Instagram both under username @pyejirsa.

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Joseph Prusa

    Nice work!

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  2. Christian Boecker

    Thank you very much, Pye! This is the best, most detailed and comprehensive comparison I have seen so far! Keep up the good work! :-)

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  3. Simone M

    Really excited about this series – can’t find anything so comprehensive anywhere on the net! Would’ve loved to see the 135s compared however.. its the one fault in an otherwise brilliant comparison of the range..

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  4. Megan

    I am so excited to see the results. But i echo others in wondering why no 135? And why no test of the non-L 24mm prime?? As someone with limited funds who is carefully weighing options for my next lens, deciding between L and non-L is a huge deal. I’m hopeful this will help me make those tough choices!

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  5. Melanie

    This was great Pye! Thank you for the the time and effort to put this all together. I always love seeing the differences between lenses.

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  6. andrew baker

    Just curious how the 100-400 would compare with the 400 /5.6? Looking into the difference between the two in clarity. Obviously, the 100-400 has IS whereas the 400 doesn’t. I have read that the 2x II can be used with the 400 and haven’t read anything about the 100-400 being able to use the extenders efficiently or sharply. Thank you for any input you can give.

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  7. Ryan Peterman

    This is a interesting series! I didn’t expect some of the conclusions and is pretty interesting series. (Well needed.)

    One range that seems to have been overlooked completely is 135mm. It is 85 or 135 for portraits…and when I have the room it is the 135. Why did you choose to omit this length?

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  8. Toni Jimenez

    Thank you so much for doing this!!! As a hobbyist, and someone who has just purchased a Canon 5D Mark III and 24-70L 2.8, 70-200L 2.8, and 85L lenses 1.2, I was trying to figure out what other lenses I should purchases to finalize my kit for “retirement.” I was thinking the 100L Macro and one wide angle lens and I may be done. I know once I’ve retired I probably won’t have the play money to purchase these types of lenses so I’m trying to do it now.

    I really do appreciate all the hard work and time you have put into this. All my friends are Nikon shooters so I’m sure they would appreciate your doing this for them also.


    Toni Jimenez

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  9. Jeff Mulvihill, Jr.

    This is fantastic! Thank you!

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  10. Dublin

    Can’t wait to see the rest of the videos. I’m hoping that my love for the 100 2.8 non-L will be vindicated. Disappointed you didn’t include my favourite, the 40mm 2.8 STM, but I guess everyone already knows it’s the single best lens ever produced :)

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  11. Tim Ludvigsen

    This is great that you are doing this. I think you will find that the new canon lenses are very sharp. I did a similar test using the Canon 70-200 2.8L II, 200 2L and the new 200-400 4L. I found that the 70-200 II and the 200-400 4L were very close if not the same across the board. The 200 2L was just a little softer then the other lenses.
    It will be very intresting to see what you come up with.

    Thank you for such a great site!

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  12. Mike Calo

    Wow, very meticulous and time consuming work. Thank you for doing this for our benefit!

    I’m curious why the 135mm 2.0L was left out? I know you mentioned picking only the popular lenses, the 135L is one of the sharpest L lenses around..

    Thanks again

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  13. sham

    Really excited about this, keep up the good work.

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  14. antonio

    Any chance of a nikon in the future?

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    • Pye

      If the series is well received, we would like to do a Lens War series for each major manufacturer, then compare our favorite lenses across manufacturers. So, it is very possible ;)

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