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The “Other” Canon Primes — Why Did They Do That?

Published June 28, 2012

Canon actually released 3 prime lenses this month. The 40mm pancake has received a lot of attention, as it should. It’s an amazing little lens at an amazing price. Almost no one is commenting on the other two lenses, though. We got our first small batches of the Canon 24mm f/2.8 and Canon 28mm f/2.8 IS USMlenses in today and I was eager to see what all the fuss was not about.

As with all new lenses, I had to run them through Imatest to establish our acceptable standards for the lens. For those who don’t normally read this blog, let me make it clear: I’m not a lens reviewer. I don’t have the time or the inclination to do all of the work it takes to give you a good feel for how the lens handles, focuses, renders bokeh, etc. I simply test the lenses optically using our Imatest lab and share those results. I’m sure the professional reviewers will have complete results out soon.

These two lenses replace some rather old-in-the-tooth, but inexpensive, consumer grade prime lenses that sold for $350 (24mm) and $250 (28mm) respectively. Both were considered reasonable values and people liked their small size, but neither was a rock-my-world lens. The newer lenses are far more expensive at $850 (24mm IS) and $800 (28mm IS). They still are small, now have 7 curved aperture blades (rather than 5 in the old 28mm and 6 in the old 24mm), USM motors, and image stabilization.

Old (above) and new (below) 24mm and 28mm f/2.8 lenses


I had a different point of view going in with these lenses than I did with the Canon 40mm pancake. The 40mm was so inexpensive that good performance was a pleasant surprise. Pancakes are kind of cool. Buying a kind-of-cool, good-image-quality lens for $200 is a no brainer.

These two are not inexpensive. I understand they have IS and all, but at these prices for f/2.8 primes, I expect some really impressive resolution numbers. Obviously, some people have decided that f/2.8 is the new f/1.4. Call me old fashioned, but I disagree. At these prices, with an aperture no different than a high quality zoom, I expect some rocking good performance.

Build quality seems fine. It has a metal mount, and a nice rigid body with a pebbled finish. The aperture blades are nicely curved, making a near circular opening, which previous Canon consumer grade lenses often didn’t. AF is pretty quick, reasonably quiet, and quite accurate. The IS works very well, of course, and I could take fairly sharp images at 1/4 second exposures.

Imatest Results

As always, these are Imatest MTF 50 results, so they reflect the performance at about 12 feet distance in our lab. Infinity and close-up results could be different to some degree. But the little 40mm has amazingly good numbers. To give some perspective, I’ve put it in a table with results for some other lenses in this range. The higher number is MTF 50 at the center point, the lower number is average across the entire lens front measured at 20 points. Results given are the average of 8 tested copies for each lens and the variation among copies was quite small.


LensAperture ShotCenterAverage
Canon 24mm f/1.4L IIf/1.4625545
Canon 24mm f/1.4L IIf/2.8930780
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8Lf/2.8745605
Canon 24mm f/2.8f/2.8805660
Canon 28mm f/1.8f/2.8865695
Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS USMf/2.8865725
Canon 28mm f/2.8 IS USMf/2.8915775


There are a couple of points worth considering here. First, there’s nothing earth-shattering: the two new lenses are good. At this price they should be good. At least good. I was rather surprised at the difference between the two. The 24mm doesn’t resolve quite as well as the 28mm and the difference of about 50 Line pairs/Image height is right at the point where I expect you could detect the visual difference in a print. I was surprised that the old 28mm f/1.8 kept up so well when stopped down a bit. That lens has issues, don’t get me wrong (I swear it will flare by lamplight) but from a resolution standpoint, particularly in the center, it kept up surprisingly well.

Like most newly designed lenses, the strength of these new versions appears to be in the corners. You can tell by the average resolution numbers that the new lenses are doing better in the edges and corners than the older ones (I consider the Canon 24mm f/1.4 a new lens). One of the ways they accomplished that, though, appears to be by allowing more distortion (correcting distortion and maintaining sharpness are sometimes a trade-off in wide-angle lens design). The table below shows the amount of barrel distortion in several lenses.


Barrel DistortionPercentage
Canon 24mm f/1.4L II1.00%
Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L @ 24mm0.75%
Canon 28mm f/1.81.50%
Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS USM2.10%
Canon 28mm f/2.8 IS USM1.55%


It’s not awful. And, of course, it can be fixed in post processing. Again, the 24mm is a little worse than the 28mm.

As with the Canon 40mm f/2.8 tests, the results of both of theses lenses were VERY consistent with little copy-to-copy variation. We only had a dozen copies to test but there was  little lens-to-lens variation. This shows the actual numbers for 8 copies of each lens.


There is one other difference between the two lenses; their behavior when stopped down. The 24mm f/2.8 IS improves resolutions significantly when stopped down to f/4 and f/5.6 as shown below (the mark on the graphs are the average numbers for all 8 lenses tested).

The 28mm f/2.8 IS improves only slightly when stopped down to f/5.6, on the other hand. Neither lens was any better at f/8 than at f/5.6 on a 5D II.


The bottom line is these are both nice, sharp lenses. Certainly sharper than the current 24-70 f/2.8 L zoom (we’ll have to see if they’re sharper than the 24-70 Mk II) and better than the 24mm and 28mm lenses that they – well, I guess replace. Although I have trouble considering a lens a replacement when the price has jumped 200% to 300%.

Would I buy one? No. I love IS on wide angle lenses, I really do. But I wouldn’t pay this price for it unless I had a specific need for it, which I don’t.I’m not even certain I know what the specific need might be. Concert or night-club photography, perhaps? Some video work where IS is critical? I’m not sure, maybe some of you can tell me. If you need this, though, I can say you should be quite happy with the image quality.

Personally, I’d rather have be half-way to saving up for a Canon 24mm f/1.4 or 2/3 of the way to a 35mm f/1.4. I’ll take the extra aperture over the IS. I’m sure not everyone will feel that way,though. Obviously Canon expects there will be a lot of people wanting these two new IS primes.


Roger Cicala

June 2012

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

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  • valerie

    anyone uses one of those to film?
    i can’t see the difference between the 24 and 28.. it’s only 4mm between both..
    which one to get?

  • Does anybody remember the time when a 2.8/28 was an unspectacular bread and butter lens and could be had for like 90 Euros (don’t know ’bout Dollars)?

    Greets Ralf C.

  • I have some specific uses for the 28 mm IS. One is dim lit church weddings, especially when the couple stands still at the altar. I need to step down to f/5.6 to get enough DOF, and shutter speed can go really down.

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Max,

    We actually had only one of the 24 TS-E we tested that failed optical testing. What you’re describing, though, sounds like what I’ve seen with other lenses sometimes: a bad batch or SN group that seem to have a high incidence of problems. I wonder if perhaps they were all in similar SN range? I believe there are 5 cemented groups in the 24 TS-E. It seems like a likely explanation would be during manufacture one of those groups had a number that were mis-cemented causing all of the lenses that had them to be decentered.

  • MaxM

    Hi Roger, great review, thank you for your effort!

    I know it might be a bit off-topic (but in the end not that much :), but I read you tested 50 copies of the TS-E 3,5/24mm L II: could you comment on the consistency of this lens? I’m experiencing problems with this, I’ve tried 3 copies of it, two of them have been calibrated (a few times each) by Canon Germany, the third copy was loaned to me directly by Canon Germany (a copy of their property). The results were thoroughly disappointing because of severe centering problems, easily detected even in unshifted position. My findings were also 1:1 confirmed through MTF measurings made by a very serious (and renowned) german optical company I worked at.

    Best regards from Germany, Max

  • Very useful review. The price point of these lenses is the major problem over here. These 2 lenses could be very useful on a crop – as “normal wide” options – putting the price aside. I guess they are aiming at video users who need the silent IS? $800 for a 2.8 prime Non L ?

  • Dave

    Thanks, as always, for your mini-reviews, insights, and gems of wisdom.
    Use for the 24 & 28 IS? They are what I’ve been wanting for helicopter aerials. I need absolutely tack sharp results all across the frame and out to the far edges of the corners. I haven’t found anything at any speed that will do that at less than f4, so f5.6 with IS would give me the best effective vibration minimization of anything available that I’m aware of. But what I REALLY need is a 14-24 and 24-70 IS(VR), or better yet, a 20-60 f2.8 IS/VR that is tack-sharp everywhere @ f5.6.

    Thanks again for your equipment rental service and your posts.


  • KimH

    Hi Roger,

    I read your posts and your stories with delight, thanks for making them!

    SimonL and you had an exchange on the TS-E 24II. Have you done the ts-e 17? Curious.

    If I can suggest anything for your stories it would be one about the MTF50 (imatest) or the ones that are published by Canon, you knwo what i mean, what it does and what it tells (or not…), how to make sense of it all. There are many perceptions out there and i tried to make sense of it all – no success.. your usual approach in explaining a subject would help a few of us.

    Greetings from Germany, KimH

  • That was quick! Thanks Roger.

    ~groans~ Looks like it’ll have to be the TS-E I’ll have to save up for to bolt on the front of my FF cameras in future.

    50 copies? I could take the worst one off your hands as a favour.

    Thanks again.

  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Simon,

    We have them for all of the Canon lenses. The 24 TS-E (average of 50 copies) resolves 915/775 line pairs/image height wide open.


  • I’m a recent follower of your comments [since the M43 Wide Angle post] but I particularly like the fact that you have a reasonable number of samples to play with rather than the one-off pixel-peeping that, although it has it’s place, tells us less than you might think.

    If you have the Imatest results to hand for the TS-E 24mm Mk 2, could you put them up alongside the others?



  • I agree with Blah, this seems to be more for the hdslr side…imho.

  • RBR

    I can see having IS on a wide angle such as these lenses might be nice to have for landscapes without a tripod, especially around dawn and dusk when the light is low and you need to stop down for more depth of field. The price just seems out of whack for what you’re getting here. No fancy glass or weather sealing? If they were in the same price range as the lenses they replace they might be a nice light weight alternative to heavier zooms and faster lenses to have on hand, but not for what what they’re asking.

  • Blah

    One word: Video!

  • Steve

    The distance windows look useless for zone focussing on the new lenses.

  • Canonet

    Obviously, the new 24, 28, and 40 are made for Canon’s mirrorless. No one will spend that money to buy 24 IS and 28 IS when there are cheaper (EF) and better options (L) out there… however, if you have a Full Frame Digital Canonet or A1, you will buy.

  • Jon Fairhurst

    Massimo Foti nailed it. The application for a wide, f/2.8 lens with IS is when shooting static items in dark spaces like museums and cathedrals where tripods are not allowed. When shooting a flat surface, a faster lens will also do the trick, but when pushing a wide lens near an object for forced perspective, you want deep focus.

    It’s not all that helpful for video though. Video is typically shot at 1/50 or 1/60. Unless you’re really close to your subject, those speeds are no problem with a 24 or 28mm lens, handheld. And if you are super close, you really want the hybrid IS for x-y stabilization as found in the 100/2.8L IS Macro (which is a great video lens.)

    The museum thing is a limited application. Too bad the 24-70/2.8L II didn’t get IS. That’s where f/2.8 and IS would have been a match made in heaven.

  • Craig

    Why did I order the 28mm IS to use with my 5D3? Taking pictures of food in restaurants. Low light, hand held, working distance can’t conveniently be more than a foot, usually want as much depth of field as possible. Thanks for the great ‘review’.

  • Ed

    I am in the camp of Roger – who really needs an f/2.8 prime – especially at this price!

    I have an EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM – wonderful lens. I would love to see an Imatest comparison of the 17-55 lens at both 24mm and 28mm vs these two primes. For $200 more than either of these primes you can get a lens that covers both ranges, plus wider and longer. (granted only on crop bodies)

    Sure the primes are a lighter and smaller – but for me, if a prime isn’t faster than what a quality zoom can offer, why bother?

  • Jerry Russell

    Hi Roger,

    Again the most surprising thing to me about these results, is that the full-frame format has no extra resolution over micro four thirds, in spite of having twice the sensor height. With f/2.8 primes, there’s also little gain in depth of field or light-gathering power over the faster MFT lenses like the Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 or Panasonic/Leica 25mm f/1.4. And, wouldn’t we expect the performance of these Canon lenses on crop format DSLR’s to be clearly inferior to MFT?

  • Roger Cicala


    The 24 f/1.4 II is done at both f/1.4 and f/2.8

  • Markus

    Does the first (MTF 50 resolution) table really refer to both versions of the 24/1.4? And if so, why did you test the MkII @f1.4 while all the other lenses were @f2.8? Or are these just the number for the 24/1.4 II, once set to f1.4 and then @f2.8?
    Those lenses might perfectly fit to a mirrorless offering from Canon, I’m just missing the STM motor required for a good contrast AF performance. So, I’m also wondering a little bit…

  • Roger, thanks for sharing the imatest results! I myself do not see the need for the wideangle IS prime. It is quite nice reading that you can take acceptably sharp images at 1/4s, however this will not work for shooting people (club, concert, indoor activities) as the background will be sharp but some people will be blurred. Those extra stops in L lenses will prove to be an advantage in reality.
    Therefore I guess it is really primarily focused on video shooters, not stills shooters.
    With these prices, I would rather invest into 24-70 (or 20-105) or 35 f/1,4.
    But hey, I am just a hobbyist, not a pro.

  • Massimo Foti

    I very often take pictures of very large artifacts (planes, vehicles) inside museums, indoor, with poor light. The subjects are, of course, totally static. I don’t want thin DOF, because I need to cover as much details as possible over a deep area. With a state of the art Canon IS I can get 2-3 extra stops, that means I capture as much light at a f/1.4 lens while keeping enough DOF to fit my needs. On top of that these new lenses are smaller and lighter, while quite expensive, they are cheaper than the f/1.4 lenses too.
    I understand my requirements are pretty unusual, but I would like to contribute some feedback anyway.

    My main problem now is that I was planning to get the 24mm and now your test made me think if I better take the 28mm instead…

    Thanks for your contribution to the photo community. Keep up the great work!

  • Roger,
    Thanks for the post. My question comes from the MTF50 chart of the various Canon wide-angle lenses. Could we see the rating of of 24mm 1.4L II at f/2.8 instead of at f/1.4? Thanks for all the unparalled work you are doing on this blog and for LensRentals’ fantastic service.

  • Roger,
    Thanks for the post. My question comes from the MTF50 chart of the various Canon wide-angle lenses. Could we see the rating of of 24mm 1.4L II at f/2.8 instead of at f/1.4? Thanks for all the unparalled work you are doing on this blog and for LensRentals’ fantastic service.

  • Edvin

    Thank you so much for this review, really enjoyed reading it. Just as you said paying that much for a non L lens makes a little sense. IS is great but I’d go with the extra stop for a little more money. As for use, the lens is great for group shots, new born photography like in hospitals especially with low light, tight quarters such as rooms in an average home, landscape and pretty much anything else your mind can get creative with!

  • R Smith

    I am rather surprised that you don’t see the point of these lenses! Here you have lenses that are half the weight, size and price of the expensive L lenses and pretty well the same performance and yet with effectively greater light gathering power (due to the IS). For those of us who like the 28mm focal length too this is a welcome addition in the Canon EF line- not everyone wants to lug around a big heavy 35 or 24 to get the same performance as these lenses. The 28/1.8 is very disappointing. The only reason to get the Ls will be because you must have the shallow depth of field effects. In my opinion it is a mystery why so many users are obsessed with high speed lenses when digital has removed the immediate need for most of them. The future is smaller sized lenses (and camera bodies).

  • so funny – I went look on Amazon earlier this afternoon and couldn’t find these at all, I knew they had been announced months ago and then I saw your post in my Facebook feed – as always your lens posts are so well done, really appreciate the work dare I say love of your craft 🙂


  • Siegfried

    thanks for your tech review for these new boys, but as for “I’m not even certain I know what the specific need might be” – you might want reading that earlier guess-star post below where Aaron goes on shooting wide. By the way, it will be interesting to see how these prime lenses perform against that 16-35/2.8 zoom which invitee Aaron considers to be a superlative.


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