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.
Let’s go over all of the equipment we used to shoot our still images:
- Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
- Tripod: MeFOTO GlobeTrotter Carbon Fiber Tripod
- Remote Trigger: Vello Shutterboss Version II Timer Remote Switch
Canon Lenses Tested
We aimed to test the most popular Canon lenses from the 17 to 300mm focal range including:
- Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II
- Canon 17-40mm f/4L
- Canon 24mm f/1.4L II
- Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II
- Canon 24-70mm f/4L
- Canon 24-105mm f/4L
- Canon 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L
- Canon 35mm f/2 IS
- Canon 35mm f/1.4L
- Canon 50mm f/1.8 II
- Canon 50mm f/1.4
- Canon 50mm f/1.2L
- Canon 70-200mm f/4L
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L
- Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II
- Canon 85mm f/1.8
- Canon 85mm f/1.2L II
- Canon 100mm f/2
- Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro
- Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS
- Canon 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L
- Canon 200mm f/2.8L II
- Canon 200mm f/2L
- Canon 300 f/4L
- Canon 300mm f/2.8L II
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.
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:
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!
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
B&H Photo Video Yechiel Orgel
Orange County Parks