Canon’s new EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens is offered as a cheaper alternative to the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS …

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Canon’s new EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens is offered as a cheaper alternative to the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens which was developed to match the EOS 650D. More compact, lighter and cheaper than the 18-135mm lens, it also features the STM (stepping-motor) AF system, which supports Canon’s EOS Movie Servo AF feature for smooth and quiet continuous autofocusing in Live View mode for movie recording.

In summary

Like its ‘sibling’ the 18-55mm lens can only be used with Canon’s DLSR cameras that have ‘APS-C sized’ sensors.  Purchased with a camera body, it represents good value for money and provides a worthwhile foundation for a more comprehensive kit that will grow as the photographer’s requirements expand.

It’s also a useful starter lens for digicam upgraders looking for improved image quality. Since it covers a range of focal lengths that will suit subjects as diverse as landscapes and portraits, it will suit newcomers to DSLR photography. Its light weight will also suit travellers, while silent operation will make this lens very useful for photographers who record video.

Rating

Build

8.3

Handling

8.5

Image quality  

8.5

Versatility

8.5

OVERALL

8.8

RRP:  n/a. ASP AU$tbc; MSRP US$249.99

SPECS

  • Picture angle: 74 degrees 20 minutes to 27 degrees 50 minutes
  • Minimum aperture: f/36
  • Lens construction: 13 elements in 11 groups (including   aspherical lens element)
  • Lens mounts: Canon EF-S
  • Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
  • Focus drive: Stepping motor
  • Stabilisation: Yes, four f-stops claimed
  • Minimum focus: 25 cm
  • Maximum magnification: 0.36x
  • Filter size:   58 mm
  • Dimensions (Diameter x L): 69.0 x 75.2 mm
  • Weight:  Approx. 205 grams

This feature is enabled by the use of a six-group zoom system plus a stepping motor focusing mechanism. A high-speed CPU and optimised AF algorithm provide fast autofocusing for shooting stills, while the Optical Image Stabiliser system claims the equivalent of four stops of compensation.

The stabiliser can be left on when the camera is tripod-mounted, although it uses battery power. When the camera is set to One Shot AF mode, full-time manual focusing is available. You simply half-press the shutter button and turn the focusing ring until the image appears sharp.

Its optical design is slightly simpler, with 13 elements in 11 groups. One aspherical lens element is included and optimised lens coatings minimise ghosting and flare and ensure colours aren’t compromised.

The lens is supplied with front and rear caps plus a printed multi-lingual instruction manual. The lens hood (EW-63C) is sold separately.

Build and Ergonomics

Build quality is  much as you would expect from a basic kit lens. Unlike the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens, this lens has a polycarbonate mounting plate, which fitted securely to both the EOS 700D and EOS 100D cameras we used for our tests.

Most of the barrel is also made from black polycarbonate and the matte finish looks smart with both cameras. This lens is at its shortest at the 35mm focal length, with the inner barrel extending by approximately 10 mm at the 18mm and 55mm ends of the zoom range. We noticed a slight rotation of the front element as the focal length was changed, but it would not be enough to affect use of angle-critical attachments like polarisers and graduated filters.

The focusing ring is an 8 mm wide band just behind the leading edge of the outer barrel. It has a finely-ridged rubber coating that provides a secure grip.  The ring turns through 360 degrees in both manual and AF modes. No distance scale is provided.

The zoom ring is just behind the focusing ring. It’s 46 mm wide and carries a 33 mm wide, thickly ridged rubber collar. The trailing edge of this ring is engraved with focal length markings for 18mm, 24mm, 35mm and 55mm positions. As the focal length is adjusted, the maximum and minimum apertures change accordingly, as shown in the table below:

Focal length

Max. aperture

Min. aperture

18mm

f/3.5

f/22

24mm

f/4.0

f/25

35mm

f/4.5

f/29

55mm

f/5.6

f/36

Two slider switches are located on the left hand side of the 18 mm wide section of the barrel behind these engravings. The top one selects between AF/MF and the lower one switches the stabiliser on and off.

All operations of this lens, from the focus lens drive used during zooming, to focus ring movement detection and control/drive, are operated electronically. The lens draws power from the camera body.   When it’s not operated for a certain time, the Auto Power Off setting switches it off. After deactivation, it can require up to one second to power-up again.

Performance

Overall performance was similar to the EF-S 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS STM’s on the two cameras we used for our tests. Our test results and comments are based on two samples of the lens, provided with the  EOS 700D  and  EOS 100D  cameras we reviewed at the same time.

Focusing was smooth and generally fast in bright conditions with both cameras  but slowed in low light levels, both with the viewfinder and, to a much greater degree, in live view mode. Touch AF was effective with this lens on both cameras, provided there was sufficient light.

With low-contrast subjects and around dusk, the cameras struggled to find focus even in this mode and many shots were missed in our tests. The STM focusing motor ensured few (if any) operational noises were recorded on movie soundtracks.

The stabilisation system was as effective as the 18-135mm’s and produced a higher percentage of sharp images at slow shutter speeds with both cameras. This is undoubtedly due to the shorter zoom range, which magnifies jitter less at 55mm than 135mm.

Images showed the review lenses came close to meeting expectations for the 18-megapixel sensors in both cameras. The highest resolution was recorded at the 55mm focal length, with all focal length settings producing their best results a couple of stops down from maximum aperture.

Edge and corner softening were relatively minor and diffraction reduced resolution from about f/8 throughout the focal length range.

Lateral chromatic aberration was mostly in the ‘low’ band, dipping into the ‘negligible’ band in the middle apertures for the 50mm and 85mm focal lengths. We found no evidence of coloured fringing in test shots.  

Barrel distortion was obvious in shots taken with the 18mm focal length but became relatively insignificant thereafter. Vignetting (edge and corner darkening) could be seen in open-aperture shots at all focal length settings. One or two stops down from the maximum aperture this problem was fully resolved.

Backlit subjects were handled very well, with very little loss of contrast due to veiling flare. Bokeh was also quite attractive in close-up shots at maximum aperture ““ although not outstandingly beautiful.

 

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