Canon EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM lens

      Photo Review 8.8
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      In summary

      Most people who buy this lens will receive it with one of Canon’s EOS M cameras and that’s probably the main reason to acquire it. Its retracting design makes it a nice partner for the EOS M5 and it’s a bit wider and shorter (though not as fast at the tele end) than the  EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM  kit zoom, which we reviewed in November 2012, when it was the standard kit lens for the   original EOS M camera.

      Compact, lightweight and easy to carry the EF-M  15″“45mm f/3.5″“6.3 IS STM is relatively slow, although its built-in stabiliser provides some scope for hand-held shooting in low light levels. Its zoom range covers focal lengths suitable for shooting landscapes and group portraits as well as close-ups and head shots and its quiet STM autofocus drive makes it suitable for use while recording movies.  

       

      Full review

      Announced in October 2015 to complement the EOS M10 camera (which we didn’t review), the EF-M 15″“45mm f/3.5″“6.3 IS STM lens is offered as one of the standard kit lenses with the new EOS M5 camera. Covering a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 24mm to 72mm its design sacrifices imaging speed for  compactness and portability. A stepping motor AF drive enables low-noise focusing for recording movies.
       

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       The EF-M 15″“45mm f/3.5″“6.3 IS STM lens, shown without end caps. (Source: Canon.)

      The optical design of this lens comprises ten elements in nine groups and includes three aspherical elements. Canon doesn’t publish a diagram showing the location of the three aspherical elements and, indeed, provides no other information than that they are present. Special Canon coatings are applied help keep ghosting and other lens flare under control.

      Canon claims the built-in stabiliser can provide up to 3.5 stops of camera shake compensation, which will be handy when shooting in low light levels. Full-time manual focus (AF+MF) is available via a setting on the camera’s arrow pad.

      The only accessories supplied with the lens are the front and end caps. A lens hood (EW-53) is available as an optional accessory, although it wasn’t listed in Canon’s online store when we produced this review and we couldn’t find any local re-sellers stocking it. B&H has it listed at US$29 (AU$38.87).

      Who’s it For?
       Most people who buy this lens will receive it with one of Canon’s EOS M cameras and that’s probably the main reason to acquire it. Its retracting design makes it a nice partner for the EOS M5 and it’s a bit wider and shorter (though not as fast at the tele end) than the  EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM  kit zoom, which we reviewed in November 2012, when it was the standard kit lens for the   original EOS M camera.

      Compact, lightweight and easy to carry the EF-M  15″“45mm f/3.5″“6.3 IS STM is relatively slow, although its built-in stabiliser provides some scope for hand-held shooting in low light levels. Its zoom range covers focal lengths suitable for shooting   landscapes and group portraits as well as close-ups and head shots and its quiet STM autofocus drive makes it suitable for use while recording movies.  

      Build and Ergonomics
       The EF-M 15″“45mm f/3.5″“6.3 IS STM is built entirely from plastic ““ right down to the mounting plate. It’s a budget-priced lens and its design and construction show it, although given these facts, overall build quality is relatively good.

      A slider on the lens barrel unlocks and locks the retracting mechanism that moves the inner barrel to extend the lens into the shooting position by just over 44 mm. Extending the lens is as easy as pulling the slider back and turning the zoom ring to the left. To retract it again, you simply, pull back the slider and rotate the zoom ring to the right. When fully extended, the inner barrel on the review sample had a bit more free-play than we’d like.

      When the lens is unlocked, the zoom ring turns through about 70 degrees, with hard stops at each end of the range. The overall length of the lens contracts as the inner barrel pulls back by 7-10 mm when the zoom is at the 24mm/28mm position.

      The focusing ring is roughly 10 mm wide and located right at the front of the outer barrel. It has a 3 mm wide textured band just back from its leading edge to provide a secure grip. Typical of lenses with stepping motor (STM) AF drives, the ring turns freely when power if off and provides minimal tactile feedback for manual focusing when power is on.

      The STM drive is quiet enough to use while recording movies. Unlike the larger EF lenses, there are no external switches for engaging manual focus or image stabilisation. Both functions have to be switched on and off via the camera’s menu.  

      The built-in image stabilisation system can provide up to 3.5 stops of shake compensation, which goes some way towards compensating for the relatively small maximum apertures, particularly around the 45mm focal length.

      The zoom ring is 20 mm wide and located immediately behind the focusing ring. Just over two thirds of it is covered by a textured grip band, which starts at its leading edge. Six focal length settings are stamped onto the smooth training edge of the zoom ring. These line up against a short white line on the fixed section of the outer barrel.

      Focal length

      Max. aperture

      Min. aperture

      15mm

      f/3.5

      f/22

      18mm

      f/3.5

      f/22

      24mm

      f/4.5

      f/29

      28mm

      f/4.5

      f/29

      35mm

      f/5.6

      f/36

      45mm

      f/6.3

      f/40

      The lens ends in a plastic mount, which clips into a metal plate on the camera. The only items supplied with the lens are the front and end caps. An EW-53 lens hood and a LP811 lens pouch are available as optional accessories.

      Performance
       Corrections for peripheral illumination, chromatic aberration and diffraction are applied by default to JPEG files in the EOS M5 camera we used for our tests. So, before we could assess the performance of the review lens we had to disable these internal corrections.

      Although the review lens wasn’t a stellar performer in our Imatest tests, the  top resolution figures for the JPEG files we analysed came quite close to meeting expectations for the EOS M5’s 24-megapixel sensor mid-way through the lens’s focal length range. However, this was only for the centre of the field of view; at wide apertures, edge and corner softening were noticeable.

      This softening persisted as the aperture was stopped down but it lessened around the point where diffraction took effect between f/8 and f/11.  The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.

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      Lateral chromatic aberration was mostly negligible and we found no evidence of coloured fringing in test shots taken in contrasty lighting. The graph below shows the results of our Imatest tests.

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       Unlike the EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens, which we reviewed in August 2013 with the original EOS M body, the 15-45mm lens has a close focusing limit of 25 cm, which is only suitable for taking close-up shots at focal lengths close to 45mm. The relatively small (f/6.3) maximum aperture there leaves little scope for creating attractive background blurring.

      Fortunately, the stabilisation system works well enough to provide decent shake compensation at longer focal lengths and can be helpful when shooting close-ups in low light levels. We were able to hand-hold the lens at 45mm with shutter speeds as slow as 1/5 second and get more than 50% of shots acceptably sharp.

      Rectilinear distortion was quite noticeable at the 15mm position but by between 24mm and 28mm this had virtually disappeared, only to become visible again at a reduced level with the 45mm focal length. This is quite unusual since pincushion distortion is much more common at the long end of the zoom range, particularly in cheaper lenses.

      Vignetting was also quite severe at the widest apertures for the shorter focal length settings but diminishes as you approach 45mm. Stopping down reduces the darkening, although at 15mm some remained visible at f/8. The issue wasn’t as bad around the middle of the zoom range, where it was largely resolved by f/5.6.

      The review lens was very flare-resistant, even when pointed directly towards a bright light source. Some flare artefacts could be found with all focal length settings but they were much less than we expected for a cheapish kit lens.

      Autofocusing was relatively fast and accurate, thanks in part to the Dual Pixel AF system in the EOS M5 and the linear stepping motor, which is also very quiet. But like the EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM lens, it wasn’t quite as fast as similar M4/3 lenses from Olympus and Panasonic which don’t have the advantage of on-chip AF sensors.

      Conclusion
      Plastic lenses are often disappointing since they tend to be built to a price, rather than for performance. That said, Canon’s EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 STM IS lens is in many ways a cut above the average kit lens at optimal focal length and aperture settings.

      Built-in image stabilisation plays an important role for this lens, which is relatively slow at 45mm, where the maximum aperture is f/6.3. Most of the more concerning aberrations present in this lens are correctable in-camera when it’s used on the EOS 5M and can be taken care of with various raw file converters (Canon DPP, Adobe Camera Raw, etc.).

      The EF-M 15-45mm f/3.5-6.3 STM IS has a direct competitor in the EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM IS lens, which we reviewed with the original EOS M camera back in November 2012. That lens has a high-quality anodised aluminium barrel and metal mounting plate, which will make it more durable than the 15-45mm lens.

       Canon doesn’t list the  15-45mm lens separately in its Australian online ‘store’ but if you purchase it with the EOS 5M body, it’s valued at AU$120, which represents something of a bargain. The few local online re-sellers stocking it have it listed at between AU$360 and AU$420, which is close to the US price (US$300) without taking in shipping and insurance.

      The EF-M 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 STM IS lens is listed at AU$309 in Canon’s online store and, although roughly double the weight of the EF-M 15-45mm lens is more robustly built. However, its coverage isn’t as wide, although it has a slightly longer zoom reach.

      If you’re looking for wider coverage, the EF-M 11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM, which we reviewed in August 2013, will provide it, although it’s slower at its widest angle of view. Canon lists it at AU$459 ““ and it has a metal mount and a similar retracting mechanism to the EF-M 15-45mm.

      Canon is also about to release the EF-M 18-150mm f/3.5-6.3 IS STM all-purpose zoom lens, which claims four-stop stabilisation and Dynamic IS support. It’s listed for pre-ordering at around AU$720 to AU$740 by a couple of online re-sellers but has a plastic mount. The US MSRP appears to be around US$499.

       

      SPECS

       Picture angle: 53.5 degrees to 19 degrees 5 minutes
       Minimum aperture: f/22-f/40
       Lens construction: 10 elements in 9 groups (including 3 aspherical elements)
       Lens mounts: Canon EOS M
       Diaphragm Blades: 7 (circular aperture)
       Focus drive: STM (stepping motor); internal focusing
       Stabilisation: Yes, 3.5 EV correction, compatible with Dynamic IS
       Minimum focus: 25 cm
       Maximum magnification: 0.25x / 1:4 (at 45mm)
       Filter size:   49 mm
       Dimensions (Diameter x L): 60.9 x 44.5 mm
       Weight:  130 grams
       Standard Accessories: Lens front and end caps.

       Distributor: Canon Australia; 1800 021 167; www.canon.com.au.

       

      TESTS

       Based on JPEG files taken with the Canon EOS M5 camera.

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      SAMPLES

       

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       Vignetting at 15mm f/3.5.
       

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       Vignetting at 24mm f/5.
       

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       Vignetting at 45mm f/5.6.
       

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       Rectilinear distortion at 15mm.
       

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       Rectilinear distortion at   24mm.
       

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       Rectilinear distortion at 45mm.
       

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      15mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/60 second at f/7.1.
       

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      45mm focal length; ISO 200, 1/60 second at f/7.1.
       

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      Close-up at 15mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/200 second at f/3.5.
       

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      Close-up at 45mm focal length; ISO 125, 1/60 second at f/6.3.  

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      15mm focal length; ISO 800, 1/60 second at f/3.5.
       

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      15mm focal length; ISO 6400, 1/13 second at f/22.
       

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      Strong backlighting at 15mm; ISO 100, 1/1600 second at f/9.
       
       

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      Strong backlighting at 24mm; ISO 100, 1/1250 second at f/10.
       
       

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      Strong backlighting at 45mm; ISO 100, 1/640 second at f/10.
       

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      15mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/250 second at f/7.1.

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      45mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/125 second at f/9.

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      28mm focal length; ISO 100, 1/400 second at f/6.3.
       

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      34mm focal length; ISO 250, 1/60 second at f/8.
       

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      45mm focal length; ISO 320, 1/60 second at f/7.1.
       

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      15mm focal length; ISO 6400, 1/30 second at f/8.
       

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      Hand-held stabilisation test; 15mm focal length; ISO 12800, 1/15 second at f/4.5.
       

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      Hand-held stabilisation test; 45mm focal length, ISO 3200, 1/2 second at f/6.36.
       
       Additional image samples can be found with our review of the Canon EOS M5 camera.

       

      Rating

      RRP: Not listed separately on Canon Australia website; US$300

       

      • Build: 8.5
      • Handling: 8.5
      • Image quality: 8.8
      • Versatility: 8.8

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