An EF-S lens with a natural angle of view for general photography plus a built-in macro light that surrounds the lens to provide controllable illumination.

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Summary

Design- and price-wise, the EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens is targeted mainly at snapshooters and photo enthusiasts who use one of Canon’s cropped-sensor (APS-C) cameras. However, it is also worthy of consideration by owners to the flagship APS-C models like the EOS 7D Mark II for its features, performance and versatility.

With an APS-C camera, the 35mm focal length is equivalent to a 56mm lens on a 35mm camera body, an angle of view that provides a natural perspective for many types of photography. As well as offering true 1:1 macro reproduction for close-ups, this lens can also be used for portraiture (people, pets and personal items), events (weddings, parties and other special occasions) and documenting everyday life (food, fashions, etc.).

Most people will buy this lens as an addition to a basic kit and, as such, it is small and light enough to be easily fitted into the average camera bag. Outdoor photographers should note that it is not weather sealed.

 

Full review

Canon’s EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens is the first of its type with built-in LED lights on each side of the lens to provide full control over subject illumination. These Macro Lites can be adjusted individually to give images a sense of dimension. Designed for Canon DSLR cameras with APS-C sized sensors, this lens provides true 1:1 macro reproduction at a minimum subject distance of 30 mm from the end of the lens. We reviewed this lens on the EOS 200D camera.

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 Side view of the EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens. (Source: Canon.)

The optical design contains 10 elements in six groups with one glass-moulded aspherical element included to control spherical aberrations.  The seven-blade iris diaphragm closes to produce a rounded aperture for smooth bokeh.
 

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 The optical diagram for the EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens, showing the position of the glass-moulded aspherical element. (Source: Canon.)
 

Autofocusing is driven by a Lead-Screw STM (Stepping Motor) that operates quickly and quietly enough for this lens to be used for recording movie clips. Like most Canon STM lenses focusing is internal, with the focusing group driven electronically from the camera.  

Full-time manual focus over-ride is available in AF mode when One Shot drive AF is selected in the attached camera’s menu. But the shutter release must be half-pressed or Live View activated to engage the focusing ring.

Canon’s Hybrid IS image stabilisation system (which compensated for side-to-side movements) claims up to four stops of shake correction. This helps keep the viewfinder image steady when shooting hand-held and widen the range of situations in which hand-held shooting is possible. The IS operated silently, making it usable while recording movie clips.

The lens is supplied with front and end caps plus an ES-27 lens hood, which fits over the built-in Macro Lite assembly. A soft pouch (LP1014) is also included. The hood tapers inwards and its inner surface is threaded to take   49 mm diameter filters. This lens is not compatible with Canon’s extension tubes.

Who’s it For?
 Design- and price-wise, the EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens is targeted mainly at snapshooters and photo enthusiasts who use one of Canon’s cropped-sensor (APS-C) cameras. However, it is also worthy of consideration by owners to the flagship APS-C models like the EOS 7D Mark II for its features, performance and versatility.

With an APS-C camera, the 35mm focal length is equivalent to a 56mm lens on a 35mm camera body, an angle of view that provides a natural perspective for many types of photography. As well as offering true 1:1 macro reproduction for close-ups, this lens can also be used for portraiture (people, pets and personal items), events (weddings, parties and other special occasions) and documenting everyday life (food, fashions, etc.).

Most people will buy this lens as an addition to a basic kit and, as such, it is small and light enough to be easily fitted into the average camera bag. Outdoor photographers should note that it is NOT weather sealed.

Build and Ergonomics
 This is the first EF-S prime lens we’ve reviewed and although it is made mainly from polycarbonate plastic, the EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro is a cut above Canon’s standard kit lenses. Its metal mounting plate provides a more substantial feel and implies greater durability, while the overall construction is just a shade more refined.
 

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 Angled view of the EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens showing the Macro Lite assembly that surrounds the front element. (Source: Canon.)

The built-in Macro Lite assembly is right at the front of the lens itself, and covered in detail in a separate section of this review, below. It is approximately 4 mm deep and 42 mm in diameter and sits proud of the main lens barrel. Its internal surface is threaded to accept the screw-on lens hood, which rests on a finely ridged ring, roughly 10 mm deep at the top of the lens barrel.

Around the outer surface of this ring is a channel that’s a couple of millimetres deep. We have no idea of its purpose.  The lens barrel steps out a few millimetres behind it and the focusing ring is located about 4 mm further back.

The focusing ring is 12 mm wide and totally covered by a finely-ridged grip band. Because focusing is driven electronically from the camera, this ring rotates through 360 degrees when the camera is switched off. Manual focus over-ride is available in AF mode but the ‘fly-by-wire’ focusing system provides very little tactile feedback so it can be difficult to make fine adjustments when you’re working at close distances.

The minimum focusing distance of three centimetres provides ‘true macro’ 1:1 magnification with a decent working distance for close-up shots.

Aft of the focusing ring is a fixed section of the lens barrel that is approximately 27 mm wide. and carries the lens controls. Located around the left hand side of this section are the two sliders for switching between auto and manual focus and turning the stabiliser on and off. The button for activating the Macro Lites lies below the stabiliser switch.

A solid metal lens mount attaches the lens to the camera. Inside the mount are gold-plated contacts for passing signals between the lens and eight similar contacts on the camera’s mounting plate.

The Macro Lite System
 The built-in front-facing Macro Lite LEDs are designed to provide additional, controllable illumination for close subjects. They are protected by a translucent plastic annulus. The light draws power from the camera’s battery via electronic contacts in the lens, which means there is some drain on battery capacity (although probably not much more than a built-in flash).

The lights are controlled by a button on the left hand side of the lens barrel, below the stabiliser switch. Pressing it switch both lights on at full strength, a second press reduces the overall brightness. Further presses are supposed to toggle the individual LED banks on or off to illuminate only the right or left side.

Even at maximum strength, the light from the LEDs won’t cover subjects more than about 15 cm from the lens. A further problem with this arrangement is that the assembly can’t be rotated so, for vertical shots, turning either panel off   won’t give you the sideways directional control of lighting that you would usually prefer.

We tried blocking part of the light with an opaque card but it was a clumsy solution and not particularly successful. Examples are shown below.  

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Macro shot with available lighting; 1/50 second at f/3.5, ISO 8000.
 

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 Macro shot with Macro Lites on full power; 1/50 second at f/3.5, ISO 320.
 

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Macro shot in portrait orientation with left side Macro Lite covered; 1/50 second at f/3.5, ISO 320. Note the darkening in the top half of the image.  

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Macro shot in landscape orientation with left side Macro Lite covered; 1/60 second at f/4, ISO 1250.  

We found the switch on the side of the review lens’s barrel to be quite erratic. Sometimes it would turn the light on with the first press and obediently toggle from full power to half power then on to turning the left side LED off while leaving the right side LED on and then the left on and right off.

But, more often it would take a couple of presses to get the lights to shine and then both LEDs would switch off on the third press, instead of only one. The fourth press usually elicited no further response.  

This situation occurred more frequently if the battery was at half power or less. So if you want to use the Macro Lites, make sure the battery is fully changed before you start shooting and have a spare battery on hand in case of problems.  

Performance
 Our Imatest tests showed the review lens to be a very good performer on the EOS 200D body we used for our tests. As usual, all tests are conducted on JPEG files; raw files generally have higher resolution, provided a decent converter was used to turn them into editable TIFFs.

Our tests recorded over 3000 lines per picture height between f/3.2 and f/6.3 in the central region of the frame. Edge softening reduced the resolution to between 2600 and 2900 across the same aperture range, which is acceptable.

Resolution peaked at f/4.5 and began a gradual decline from f/5 on, dropping more sharply at f/8 where diffraction began to take effect. The graph below shows the results of our tests.

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 Lateral chromatic aberration was well down in the negligible band and we found no signs of coloured fringing in test shots. In the graph of our test results below, the red line marks the border between negligible and low CA.

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 Both vignetting and distortion were tested by shooting raw files, since Canon automatically corrects these aberrations when files are compressed to produce JPEGs. We found some slight barrel distortion in uncorrected CR2.RAW files, although it wasn’t enough to impact on normal close-up shooting. But it could affect document reproduction, although it would be easy to correct post-capture.

Vignetting was noticeable at f/2.8 in uncorrected CR2.RAW files but effectively absent by f/4. Peripheral illumination correction in the camera eliminated it from JPEG files and this problem is easily corrected when raw files are edited.

Autofocusing was fast and effectively silent and the EOS 200D provided all the focusing aids we needed for easy manual focusing. To some degree, these overcame the limitations of the unresponsive focusing ring.

The lens showed slightly better than average flare resistance, although it wasn’t totally immune from flare. However, backlit shots retained a decent amount of contrast and colour saturation and we seldom encountered flare artefacts.

Shallow depth of field is an issue to contend with when shooting at high magnification, particularly when copying flat subjects.  The f/2.8 maximum aperture will produce blurring at the edges of the frame if the camera is not exactly parallel with the subject. This can be difficult to achieve when using the camera hand-held.

Bokeh quality was variable and highly dependent upon the nature of subject backgrounds. Bright highlights were often outlined   but low-contrast backgrounds were usually attractively smooth.

Conclusion
 Canon’s EF-S 35mm f/2.8 Macro IS STM lens is small and light enough to justify a spot in an enthusiast’s camera bag and its price/performance ratio should make it a good choice for photographers with APS-C Canon DSLRs who want to shoot close-ups. However, the erratic performance of the Macro Lites in the lens supplied for us to review, coupled with the design limitations of the built-in lights that make it difficult to use them selectively when shooting in portrait orientation make us question its overall value for serious photographers.

Because it offers true macro 1:1 reproduction with a decent working distance at an affordable price, it will appeal to anyone who enjoys shooting flowers, insects and other small creatures as well as being useful for documenting jewellery and other small valuables for insurance purposes.  The Macro Lites can be useful when both are switched on because they will illuminate the subject whatever orientation you use for shooting.

But if you want to work in portrait orientation and switch off one set of LEDs to provide some modulation, this lens can’t do it because you can’t rotate the LED panels.   For these reasons, we’ve down-rated the Handling and Versatility scores for the lens, which also reduced our overall rating figure. If the Macro Lites are less important than imaging performance, ignore these ratings and focus on the image quality, which is excellent for a lens of this type and would normally merit an Editor’s Choice rating.  

Alternative lenses ““ without built-in lights ““ include the Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 USM Macroand Tamron SP AF 60mm f/2 Di II LD (IF) Macro lenses, which have longer effective focal lengths and greater working distances that could make them better choices for photographers who want to photograph mobile subjects (like insects). The Tamron lens is a stop faster than the Canon lens and roughly $100 cheaper.

It’s early days for this lens but already discounting has begun and buyers can save between AU$65 and AU$100 by shopping around. We wouldn’t recommend buying from off-shore re-sellers as the average online price when this review was published was roughly AU$441 to that you must add between AU$21 and $45.50 for the cheapest shipping   option (1-2 weeks), which takes you just over the best local prices.

 

SPECS

 Picture angle: 42 degrees 35 minutes
 Minimum aperture: f/22
 Lens construction: 10 elements in 6 groups (including one glass-moulded   aspherical element)
 Lens mounts: Canon EF-S
 Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
 Focus drive: Stepping motor (STM) with internal focusing
 Stabilisation: Hybrid image stabiliser (4 stops)
 Minimum focus: 3 cm
 Maximum magnification: 1x
 Filter size:   49 mm (requires lens hood to be attached)
 Dimensions (Diameter x L): 69 x 56 mm
 Weight:  190 grams
 Standard Accessories: Lens front and end caps, lens hood, carrying pouch

 Distributor: Canon Australia; www.canon.com.au

 

TESTS

 Based upon JPEG files taken with the EOS 200D camera.

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SAMPLES  

 

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 Vignetting at f/2.8.
 

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 Rectilinear distortion.
 

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Flare; ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/5.
 

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Backlit subject; ISO 100, 1/160 second at f/5.6.
 
 

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Flat subject at high magnification; ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/3.2.
 

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Flat subject at high magnification; ISO 100, 1/800 second at f/3.5.
 

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ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/5.
 

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1:1 reproduction; ISO 200, 1/160 second at f/5.6.
 

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Bokeh at f/2.8 with extreme close-up; ISO 100, 1/800 second.
 

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ISO 800, 1/60 second at f/4.
 

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ISO 640, 1/60 second at f/2.8.
 

Rating

RRP: AU$599; US$350

  • Build: 8.7
  • Handling: 7.5
  • Image quality: 8.9
  • Versatility: 8.6