Canon EF Lenses Guide

Canon EF Lenses Guide

Canon EOS digital SLRs are backed up by the world’s most comprehensive system of interchangeable lenses. From 8mm ultra wide angle to 800mm super telephoto, the 60+ lenses in the EF series cover all possible shooting requirements. See the world from new perspectives. Capture your vision through the eyes of EOS.

The Canon EOS experience. Your camera is just the beginning:

Your Canon EOS is a single-lens reflex (SLR) camera. The lens used to create the image in the viewfinder is also used to expose the image onto the film or digital sensor. This means that what you see is what you photograph. The lens is interchangeable. With one lens you can capture the wide expanse of a landscape; with another you can fill the frame with a flower. You can change the lens at any time to suit your subject, and each time the viewfinder will continue to show the image you will shoot. It is possible to take great pictures with just your Canon EOS camera and a single lens, but single-lens reflex photography offers you a great deal more than this. There are dozens of different lenses in the EOS system, each one designed to help you create outstanding images. This Guide will help you to choose the lenses you need.

Canon EF Lens series

Looking through more than 60 years of expertise. See the world differently and choose a lens to match your imagination: 

Many Canon EOS cameras are sold complete with a lens – usually a standard zoom such as the Canon EF-S 18-55mm B.5-5.6 IS. This is a versatile lens, capable of photographing people, landscapes and many other subjects. So why do you need to consider other lenses? By definition, a standard lens is ‘middle-of-the-road’. It is a good lens for many subjects, but not always the best lens. Good wildlife photographs can be difficult to shoot with a standard zoom, and you will struggle to take dramatic close-up images. Canon has introduced state-of-the-art features, such as image stabilization which is available on selected lenses. There is a series of high-performance lenses which give outstanding image quality. Canon is also the only manufacturer to offer a range of tilt-and-shift lenses for architectural and creative users, and the only manufacturer of a high-performance macro lens which provides 5x magnification. In fact, creativity is a key reason for the wide range of lenses in the Canon EOS system. Just as a golfer carefully selects the right club for each shot, so you should choose the best lens for each subject. Of course, you may not be able to afford (or need) as many lenses as a golfer has clubs, but even a modest selection will help you to capture an image the way you see it in your mind’s eye. The following pages will help you to choose the lenses you need.

How much do you want to see? Focal length affects the angle-of-view:

Lenses are defined by their focal length, measured in millimetres – 28mm, for example. The lens angle-of-view defines the area of the scene or subject which can be recorded by the camera.


Lenses with small focal lengths have wide angles-of-view and are called wide-angle. Those with long focal lengths have narrow angles- of-view and are called telephoto (because the narrow angle has the effect of making the subject appear closer than it really is – ‘tele’ is Greek for ‘far off). In between are standard lenses, which have an angle-of-view similar to that of the human eye (usually taken to be around 50mm for photographic applications). So if you are shooting a landscape and want to include a wide expanse of the scene, you need a lens with a short focal length – between 24mm and 35mm is popular. Wide-angle lenses are also good indoors – you can include a lot of the subject even when there is no space to move back. Telephoto lenses, on the other hand, are useful when the subject is distant and you can’t move any closer. These lenses, with focal lengths from 70mm to 800mm, are popular for wildlife, sports and news.

Canon EF-S 17-85mm f-4-5.6 IS USM

(Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM includes wide-angle, standard and telephoto focal lengths in a single lens)


Telephoto lenses magnify not only the subject, but also any camera movement. With focal lengths over 100mm you need to use a fast shutter speed or a sturdy tripod – unless the lens offers image stabilization.

Zoom or prime? Which type of lens should you choose?

Lenses for your EOS camera can be divided into two main types – zoom and non-zoom. A zoom offers a range of focal lengths in a single lens – 28 to 90mm, for example. A non-zoom (often called a ‘prime’ lens) has a fixed focal length – 50mm or 200mm, for example.


A zoom lens gives you the equivalent of several lenses in a single package. Instead of buying 28mm; 35mm, 50mm, 85mm and 100mm lenses, you can buy a 28-105mm lens. Not only is this less expensive, it is also a lot lighter to carry. With just two zoom lenses, such as a 28-80mm and a 75-300mm, you are ready for most subjects. A zoom lens also offers you settings between the focal lengths available in prime lenses – 32mm or 183mm, for example.

Canon EF 28-105mm f3.5-4.5 II USM Lens

(The Canon EF 28-105mm f3.5-4.5 II USM lens, is an excellent general-purpose lens. It covers a good range of wide-angle and short telephoto focal lengths in a compact unit)


Generally, prime lenses have a wider maximum aperture than zoom lenses. Wider apertures let more light through the lens, which means you can use a faster shutter speed for the exposure. This is an important consideration when choosing a telephoto lens, because a faster shutter speed helps to reduce the effects of camera shake. A wide aperture is also invaluable when shooting in low light without flash – at a floodlit sports event, for example, or with ambient light indoors. A prime lens is also the only choice for super-telephoto lenses. The maximum focal length found in an EF zoom is 400mm, while prime lenses are available up to 800mm. In terms of image quality, some prime lenses are better than zooms, though the difference is not significant focal lengths in a compact unit. for many users.

Understanding the lens name. A brief guide to the numbers and letters:

What does a lens name such as EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM really mean? Most Canon lenses for EOS cameras have the designation ‘EF’. This is short for electronic focusing. As you press the camera shutter button, the lens will automatically focus on the subject.


100-400mm shows this is a zoom lens. The two figures indicate the range of focal lengths available. Prime lenses only have a single figure, such as 135mm.

Canon EF 100-400mm f-4.5-5.6L IS USM

(Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM)


Inside an Canon EF lens is a series of adjustable metal blades which together form a diaphragm. At the centre is a hole which varies in size as the blades move. This hole is called the lens aperture. The size of the aperture is indicated by an f-number. Small numbers, such as f2, f4, f5.6 denote large aperture. Large numbers – f11, ft 6, f22 – indicate small apertures. The size of the aperture controls the amount of light passing through the lens during an exposure. The f-number in the lens designation shows the size of the maximum aperture. Many zoom lenses have a maximum aperture which varies with the focal length. This is shown by giving two numbers, such as f4.5-5.6.

What do the different letters and numbers mean on the Canon lens?

  • L:  Indicates a professional Canon L-series lens – the ultimate in image performance and operability. L-series lenses may include protection against weather and aging, as well as special optical materials such as fluorite, ultra-low-dispersion (UD) or super UD elements.
  • IS:  Refers to Image Stabilizer. Image Stabilizer lenses detect and compensate for unwanted movement, allowing for the use of shutter speeds up to five stops slower than would otherwise be possible.
  • VERSION NUMBERS:  Canon often updates a lens, usually making it smaller and/or lighter. Some lenses have been updated three or four times. The version is indicated by roman numerals in the name – II, III or IV.
  • DO:  Indicates the use of multi-layer Diffractive Optical elements. This revolutionary technology, unique to Canon, enables the manufacture of smaller, lighter and outstanding performance photo lenses.
  • EF-S:  EF lenses designed to fit Canon EOS models with the EF-S mount.
  • MP-E:  Lens specially designed for macro photography.
  • MACRO:  Or ‘close-up’. Captures your subject with a magnification ratio of 1:1, so the image recorded is truly life-size. When printed or viewed on screen, image appears larger than life.
  • TS-E:  Specialist tilt/shift lenses that allow correction of perspective distortion and control over the angle of the focal plane. These lenses are often used for architectural interiors and exteriors.
  • EXTENDER:  Lenses that fit between the camera body and master lens to deliver focal length magnification.
  • ULTRASONIC MOTORS:  USM is short for ultrasonic motor – one of the technologies Canon has pioneered. Every EF lens has a built-in motor which powers the autofocusing system. A USM is very different to a conventional motor. A travelling wave is created by piezoelectric elements in a ‘stator’ ring, and this movement is transferred to a ‘rotor’. The circular shape of a USM is ideally suited to lenses, as is the ultra-fast, near-silent operation. Non-USM lenses use micromotors.

High performance optics. How Canon makes a better lens

All Canon lenses give good results, but there is one group which excels. This is the L-series lenses, easily identified by the red ring around the lens barrel. L-series lenses use the latest optical technology – much of it developed by Canon – to provide the highest possible performance.


Every Canon EF lens is made up of a number of optical elements. There can be as many as 18 different elements in a single lens. Most of these have spherical surfaces (that is, if the curved surface of the element was continued in all directions, it would form a perfect sphere). However, this can produce spherical aberrations, which mean that parts of the image are not brought to an accurate focus. Spherical aberrations can be reduced by using one or more aspherical elements in the lens. Lenses can also suffer from chromatic aberrations, giving colour fringing around subjects. Canon uses elements made from ultra-disperson (UD) glass and fluorite crystals to correct chromatic aberrations.

Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8L II USM Lens

(The Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8L II USM, is an extreme wide-angle telephoto which benefits from the increased optical performance offered by L-series technology)


Canon has also overcome spherical and chromatic aberrations using diffraction gratings. In the past, diffraction gratings have created too much flare for use in camera lenses. However, Canon has developed a method in which two gratings used together cancel out the stray light, leaving just the direct rays to form an image. The advantage of this multi-layer diffractive optical (DO) element is that it allows smaller, lighter high-performance lenses to be designed and manufactured. DO lenses are identified by a green ring round the lens barrel.

Standard bearer. One lens – many subjects

Every Canon EOS owner should have a standard lens. There is a good range available, like the EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM plus three standard 50mm prime lenses.


One of the best lenses you can buy is the Canon EF 50mm f1.8 II. It has a performance approaching that of some of the L-series lenses, yet is the least expensive lens in the range. It also has a wide maximum aperture, making it ideal for photography in low light or at night. Even better is the EF 50mm f1.4 USM, a very solid lens which excels at all light levels. Finally, there is the amazing EF 50mm f1.2L II USM, featuring the widest aperture of any EF lens.

Canon EF 50mm f-1.2L II USM Lens

(A dream of a lens – the Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM or Mark II has the widest aperture of any EF lens. If this is out of your range, the EF 50mm f1.8 II is a good alternative)

Canon 50mm Small Depth of Field(Images taken with 50mm f1.8 II Prime lens)


These zoom lenses cover the most popular focal lengths, from wide-angle to telephoto. An essential part of any EOS camera system. A standard zoom is usually defined as one with 50mm in its range. A standard zoom is often supplied with EOS cameras, so it may not be on your shopping list at the moment. However, it is worth considering the Canon EF 28-200mm B.5-5.6 USM or EF-S 18-200mm f3.5-5.6 IS if you are looking for one lens to cover a wide range of different subjects.


There is a great temptation to think that you can get sharp images with a hand-held standard zoom. This may be true with a wide-angle setting, but the effects of camera shake increase at longer focal lengths. Follow the reciprocal rule. You need a shutter speed at least as fast as 1 /focal length. So if the focal length is 125mm, you need a shutter speed no slower than 1 /125 second. If this is not possible, use a tripod to obtain maximum lens performance.

Going to extremes. Lenses for landscapes – and much more

A wide-angle lens has a wide angle of view. This makes it ideal for landscape photography, because it can fit a wide expanse of scenery into your picture. But it is much more than a landscape lens.


Normally, if you want to increase your field-of-viewto include more of a subject, you can move further from the subject. This is not possible in all situations, however. If you are indoors, a wall will usually limit the distance you can move back. Here, an Canon EF 24mm f2.8, EF 24mm 1.4L II USM or EF 20mm f2.8 USM lens will help you to include much of the scene. If you own an EF-S mount body, like the Canon EOS 450D or 40D, then the EF-S 10-22mm f3.5-4.5 USM will be ideal, giving the same angle of view as a 16-35mm lens.

Canon EF 24mm f-1.4L II USM Lens

(The Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM offers the widest maximum aperture of any EF wide-angle)


A lens can only focus on one distance at a time, and only a subject at that distance will be in sharp focus. However, an area in front of and behind the focused distance will only be slightly out-of-focus and will appear to be sharp. This area of apparent sharpness is called depth- of-field. A number of factors affect depth-of-field, including the lens focal length. A wide-angle lens gives a large depth-of-field – it often seems that even/thing in the image is sharp, from the foreground to the far distance.

Depth of Field images


The shorter the focal length, the greater the risk of image distortion. At focal lengths around 20mm and less, straight lines at the edges of the subject are likely to appear curved in the image. This makes extreme wide-angle lenses unsuitable for architectural photography – unless you are aiming for creative effects. For intentional distortion, try the Canon EF 15mm f2.8 Fisheye lens. It has an angle-of-view of 180° degrees, offering unlimited scope for creative images.

Take the long view. Telephoto lenses bring the subject closer

A telephoto lens is like a telescope – it gives you a magnified view of the subject. Focal lengths from around 70mm to 200mm are good for capturing the detail of general subjects. Focal lengths from 300mm and above are mostly used for specialist photography.


A short telephoto lens is ideal for portrait photography, giving good perspective by keeping you at just the right distance from the subject. Consider the wide-aperture Canon EF 85mm f1.8 USM, EF 85mm f1.2LII USM, EF 100mm f2 USM, EF 135mm f2.0L USM, or similar focal lengths with a zoom lens.

Canon EF 100-300mm f4.5-5.6 USM Lens

(Canon EF 100-300mm f4.5-5.6 USM)


Most wildlife and sports photographers have at least one lens of 300mm or greater. In the current range, these are mostly image stabilization lenses, which help to overcome the effects of camera shake at these focal lengths.


The effective focal length of some EF lenses can be increased by adding an Extender. Compatible lenses include the Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8L USM, EF 70-200mm f4L USM, EF 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L USM, and any prime L-series or DO lens with a focal length of 135mm or higher. The Canon EF Extender 1.4x Mk.ll increases the effective focal length by 1.4, so a 70- 200mm lens, for example, becomes 98-280mm. The Extender 2x Mk.ll increases the effective focal length by 2, so a 600mm lens, for example, becomes 1200mm. The Extender 1.4x reduces the effective aperture by one stop; the Extender 2x reduces the effective aperture by two stops.

Sports and wild-life lenses

Shoot with a steady lensImage stabilization overcomes camera shake

Camera shake spoils many photographs. There is little point in having a high-performance lens if movement during exposure blurs the image. The effects of camera shake can be reduced by using a fast shutter speed, or virtually eliminated by fixing the camera to a sturdy tripod, but these solutions are not always possible or convenient. That is why Canon has introduced lenses with built-in stabilizers.


Image stabilization lenses contain gyro sensors which detect the direction, degree and frequency of lens movement. This data is used to control the movement of a special optical element inside the lens. This element moves up and down, or side to side, to hold the image stationery inside the camera, despite the movement of the lens.


Some IS lenses, like the Canon EF 24-105 f4L IS USM have a single IS setting (Mode 1). This allows image stabilization to take place in both the vertical and horizontal modes at the same time. Other IS lenses add Mode 2 and even Mode 3. This allows you to pan the camera (follow a moving subject) without the lens trying to compensate for the movement in the direction of the pan. Two of the most recently introduced IS lenses, the Canon EF-S 18-55 f3.5-5.6 IS and EF-S 55-250 f4-5.6 IS have a single IS setting but can detect and compensate for panning movements automatically, letting you just concentrate on the subject.

Canon EF 400mm f2.8L II IS USM Lens

(Canon EF 400mm f2.8L II IS USM with new improved 3 IS Modes)


The effect of the image stabilizer is to give you at least two extra shutter speed steps. So if you can normally hand-hold a camera and lens for sharp images at a shutter speed of 1 /60 second, you will be able to shoot at 1 /15 second for the same results using the IS system. IS lenses offer 2, 3 or 4 extra shutter speed steps of compensation, whilst the new Canon EF 200mm f2L IS USM offers an unprecedented 5 steps, giving enormous flexibility to sports photographers at indoor events, for example. Explore a new world Macro lenses reveal hidden detail Every lens has a minimum focusing distance. This determines the maximum magnification it provides. For a typical EF lens, this is about 0.2x – the image on the film or image sensor is about one-fifth of the subject size. If you want greater magnifications you need a macro lens.


To bring small things into full-sized view, select from one of the lenses in this category. Macro lenses can uncover detail that would be impossible to detect by the eye and give new perspective to extremely minute subjects such as insects or the petals of a small flower. A macro lens focuses closer to the subject than a normal lens, giving a magnification up to 1.0x (the image is the same size as the subject). The Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro lens, for example, focuses down to 0.31 metres. This compares with a close focusing distance of 0.9 metres for the non-macro EF 100mm f2 USM lens. Also available is the EF 180mm B.5L USM Macro, which focuses down to 0.48 metres. The EF 50mm f2.5 Compact Macro lens is a little different. It focuses down to 0.23 metres for a maximum magnification of 0.5x (half life size). To achieve life-size magnification, you need to attach the dedicated Life Size Converter between the lens and the camera body. All three lenses also focus to infinity, making them suitable for general photography.

Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro USM Lens

(The Canon EF 100mm f2.8 Macro USM is an excellent general-purpose short telephoto lens which focuses down to give life-size images)


A more specialist lens is the Canon MP-E65 f2.8 1-5x Macro Photo lens. This is not an EF lens – it does not autofocus. Also, as the name implies, focusing is over a range from life size to five times life size.

Canon Macro Lenses


Lenses specially designed for use with Canon’s APS-C digital sensors cameras. Canon engineers took advantage of the smaller sensor size to be able to produce smaller and lighter lenses for use with these digital cameras. Canon EF-S lenses offer a range of focal lengths using the latest in optical technology. If you are unsure about which macro lens to choose, you probably need the 100mm lens. It suits most general and close-up work. Then add the MP-E65 and you will be able to focus from infinity to 5x life size using just two lenses. For owners of cameras with an EF-S lens mount, the EF-S 60mm f2.8 Macro USM will give an equivalent angle of view of 96mm, a perfect entry into the macro world.

Take control of perspective. Tilt-and-shift lenses work miracles

These special lenses with their tilt and shift movements further expand photographic possibilities. Tilt movements allow you to obtain a wide depth of field even at the maximum aperture and still keep the entire subject in focus. Shift movements correct the trapezoidal effect seen in pictures taken of tall objects such as buildings, so that the subject does not look distorted. There are Four very special lenses in the Canon range. The Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L, TS-E 24mm f3.5L, TS-E 45mm f2.8 and TS-E 90mm f2.8 offer tilt and shift functions. The front section of each lens moves to give you control over various aspects of the image.

Tilt-Shift Canon Lens

(Tilt and shift Lenses can corrects the leaning of subjects that standard lenses create when taking pictures)


So how does it work, the focusing plane of a normal lens is at right- angles to the lens – focus on a point 10 metres from the lens and every point 10 metres from the lens will be in focus. But if you tilt the front section of a TS-E lens you also tilt the focusing plane. This means that you can have the focusing plane running at an angle to the camera. If, for example, you are photographing the front of a building which is at an angle to the camera, and adjust the focusing plane to the same angle, every point along the front of the building will be in sharp focus, even though each point is at a different distance from the camera.

The Canon TS-E 90mm f2.8 Lens

(The Canon TS-E 90mm f2.8)


The shift function moves the front section of the lens up or down (or side to side) in relation to the rear section. This moves the whole image inside the camera. If, for example, you are photographing a tall building, shifting the image allows you to bring the top into view without tilting the camera. This avoids ‘converging verticals’.


TS-E lenses are ideal for architectural photography, but are equally effective when photography landscapes and general views. With the addition of a close-up accessory, they are also very good at controlling the focusing plane of subjects close to the camera.

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