If you’ve never come across the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens before, then it could be the exact solution you need. Specifically designed for APS-C sensor camera bodies, this lens packs in a lot of features above and beyond a normal 35mm prime lens.
The EF-S 35mm doubles up nicely as a macro lens with a 1.0x magnification and minimum focusing distance of 13cm. Then there is a Hybrid Image Stabilization (IS) system, a wide f/2.8 aperture, and the standard workings of a 35mm lens.
On an APS-C sensor body, this lens has an equivalent focal length of 56mm, just a touch over the standard 50mm. Then there is the rather unique Macro Lite technology, which is essentially a built-in light system for illuminating small subjects.
Today we’re going to explore this unique lens offering to see if it can deliver in all departments.
Initially, the most noticeable features of the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM are its super light weight of 190g and small dimensions of 69.2 x 55.8mm. This means that the lens is hardly noticeable when strapped to a crop sensor camera body. As the focal length comes out at 56mm, this lens could make a nice setup for all-day photography where you need to travel light.
Since the lens barrel is an EF-S version, it’s more plasticky feeling than normal. But, with proper care and attention, this lens should last you a long time. There is no distance scale on this lens, but there is the usual AF/MF switch with manual focus override, image stabilization on and off switch, and also a button to activate the front macro lights.
The camera needs to be switched on for the light system to work; it has three modes of operation. One press of the button provides full light power, another press reduces the light output, and pressing again switches the lights off completely.
A continual press of a button illuminates only one side of the lens, which can be useful if you only need fill-in light on one side of the subject. Holding down the button again illuminates both lights.
The front of the lens features a standard focus ring with just enough width to grab hold of and no hard stops to hit infinity. The package comes with its own lens hood, which won’t work with the macro lights, so it’s best reserved for general photography.
Internally, the optics comprise of 10 elements arranged in six groups along with one glass-molded aspherical element to reduce lens anomalies and increase sharpness. There’s a seven-blade rounded diaphragm which provides a wide f/2.8 aperture.
The Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM in Use
Autofocusing on the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM is performed with a stepping motor (STM), which is surprisingly quiet for a mid-priced lens. The motor is quick to snap into focus, with the only signs of focus hunting coming in low light conditions. In the majority of cases, this lens can perform equally well for both images and videos.
For a mid-priced lens, there’s usually some evidence of lens anomalies. In this case, most are kept to a minimum. Chromatic aberration, usually seen as blue or purple fringing, is very low at f/2.8, with only small amounts on very high contrast areas.
There is some evidence of vignetting in the corners at f/2.8, but this effect quickly goes away by f/5.6. Barrel distortion is kept to a minimum, but a good lens profile in your post-processing software can provide you the most peace of mind for discrepancies in this area.
Onto the macro workings of this lens. The magnification ratio of 1.0x and close focusing distance of 13cm are wonderful to use on very small subjects. Ideally a tripod should be used in this area or with rock steady hands, but either way, it’s still very easy to fill the frame with the subject and produce very shallow depths of field.
The macro lights are a nice addition for very small subjects and having the ability to switch on both left and right lights works well, especially if you don’t have your own dedicated light setup. For extremely small close-up subjects, it’s extremely easy to get out of focus or bokeh effects.
Bokeh quality is very good, even when used as a regular lens and while this is a subjective area, you will have to be quite discerning to notice the difference between the bokeh on this lens and a high-end prime.
As for overall sharpness quality, this lens is reasonably sharp in the center and edges at f/2.8, but the sharpest results come in at f/4 and above. From f/11 and upwards there is a slight softening in the edges until f/22 where diffraction starts to take a hit.
The Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM works well as a general walkabout lens. The good quality image rendition definitely makes it worthy of its price point.
How Does It Compare?
As we are on the Canon platform and dealing with crop sensor bodies, the Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM could be a good alternative. This lens weighs even less than the 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM, at 130g, and has an equivalent focal length of 44.8mm.
It doesn’t have quite the same macro magnification at 1.2x, but it does have the built-in macro lights and includes roughly the same level of features. The optics on both lenses are comparable and the 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM has a slightly nicer lens barrel design. Therefore, the decision here would be based on if you need a slightly wider angle of view than what the 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM is offering.
If you’re not really concerned with the macro side of things then the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM is very good value. This is a relatively wide-angle zoom with image stabilization and a fast f/2.8 aperture. This lens is a good option if you want to upgrade from a standard kit lens with a faster aperture and the peace of mind of image stabilization.
For the newer RF crowd, there is the option of the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 MACRO IS STM.
|Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM||Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM|
|Optics||10 elements / 6 groups||11 elements / 10 groups|
The Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM works better than expected as a regular equivalent 56mm lens, with the added flexibility of a macro mode. The built-in light system is very convenient and can be a money saver if you’re getting into small product photography or macro work.
Sharpness levels from this lens are very good across the board, with pleasing background blur and a reasonably shallow depth of field. The stabilization system provides a helping hand for general use, and in macro mode, it’s great for steadying shots and achieving low shutter speeds.
For the price, the Canon EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM is extremely versatile and you cannot fault the range of features for the price. There may be more expensive prime lenses on the market which boast higher quality optics. But, considering all the assets on this lens and sharpness levels, you’ll have to take a big jump up in price to get the same amount features.