Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM
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September 17, 2012
by Andrew Alexander
The Canon 28mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM was introduced in February of 2012 as a long-overdue update to the twenty-plus year old Canon 28mm ƒ/2.8. The lens features a completely new design and modern features.
The EF-series lens was designed to fit full-frame camera bodies, but will also work on APS-H and APS-C Canon camera bodies; on an APS-H sensor the lens will function like a 36mm lens; on an APS-C sensor, the lens functions like a 45mm lens.
The lens ships with front and rear caps, but the EW-65B lens hood is optional. The lens takes 58mm filters, and is available now for approximately $800.
On a sub-frame camera such as our studio Canon 7D, the lens provides excellent sharpness across its aperture settings; on a full-frame camera, the corners of the lens show a little softness.
Mounted on the Canon 7D, the lens provides consistent sharpness from its widest setting of ƒ/2.8 through to ƒ/11; while it's not tack-sharp, it is very sharp indeed. Diffraction limiting sets in appreciably by ƒ/16, and there is a generalized softness when fully stopped-down at ƒ/22.
Mounted on the full-frame Canon 1Ds mkIII, we noted a bit more of the lens' corners: specifically, it's a bit soft in the extreme corners when used wide open at ƒ/2.8 and ƒ/4, and while the central region of the frame offers excellent results for sharpness, the corner areas trail very slightly behind. You won't get tack-sharp results with this lens, but results will still be very good. Diffraction limiting again sets in at ƒ/11, and ƒ/16 produce slightly higher generalized softness.
The sub-frame 7D is hit a little harder for chromatic aberration than the full-frame 1Ds mkIII, but in both cases it's fairly consistent across the range of apertures, showing up as magenta-green fringing in areas of high contrast. Happily, you won't notice it through the majority of your image, as it shows up in the corners of the image.
There is a light amount of corner shading when the 28mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM is used on the sub-frame Canon 7D; the extreme corners are just 1/3 EV darker than the center. At any other aperture, corner shading is negligible.
On the full-frame 1Ds mkIII, the corners are punished a bit more: used at ƒ/2.8, the extreme corners are a full stop darker than the center. This is improved as the aperture is stopped down: it's a half-stop difference at ƒ/4, and at ƒ/5.6 and smaller, it settles in at a third-of-a-stop.
For a wide-angle lens, distortion is well-controlled: just 0.3% barrel distortion on the Canon 7D, and 0.4% on the Canon 1Ds mkIII. In both cases, you only note this distortion in the corners.
Canon employs its Ultrasonic Motor for autofocus, and the results are near-silent and very quick. It took under a second to focus from close-focus to infinity. Autofocus results can be overridden at any time by simply turning the focus ring; attached 58mm filters won't rotate.
The Canon 28mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM offers passably good performance for macro work: 0.2x magnification, with a minimum close-focusing distance of 23 cm (9 inches).
Build Quality and Handling
Canon uses a black stippled texture to finish this lens, which is light and fairly small, and mounts well to any of its camera bodies. The lens uses a new optical configuration: 9 elements in 7 groups, including aspherical elements (this is a big change from the previous 28mm ƒ/2.8's 5 elements). In addition, the lens uses seven circular diaphragm blades to make up the aperture, to produce pleasing out-of-focus elements. The lens features a distance scale under a plastic window, measured in feet and meters, as well as a depth-of-field indicator (ƒ/11 and ƒ/22 marks) and an infrared index marker.
The lens features two switches along side the focusing ring: the first activates or deactivates autofocus ("AF / MF"), and the second activates or deactivates image stabilization ("Stabilizer On / Off"). Canon recommends deactivating image stabilization when a tripod is used.
The focusing ring is made of plastic with ridges, about 3/8'' wide. The ring offers excellent traction and adjusts focus well, ending in soft stops at the close-focus and infinity ends (an increase in resistance lets you know you can't focus any further).
Interestingly, and perhaps with an eye to the future, Canon has added image stabilization to this lens. Stabilization typically isn't added to wide-angle lenses because you can get away with a relatively low shutter speed and still get sharp images. When shooting movies however, image stabilization is useful on any lens. Check out our IS Test above to see how the Canon 28mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM performed.
Canon EF 28mm ƒ/2.8 ~$?
The older 28mm is now discontinued, but our test of this lens shows it is in fact a fair deal sharper - you can achieve tack-sharp images with the older model that you can't quite get with the newer. However, it comes at the cost of higher chromatic aberration.
Canon EF 28mm ƒ/1.8 USM ~$450
A fair bit less expensive than the 28mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM, the 28mm ƒ/1.8 offers a faster wider aperture, but doesn't have the image stabilization of the newer lens. Used wide open, it has extremely soft corners - one might say they have a lot of character - but stopped down to ƒ/4, you have tack-sharp images.
Sigma 28mm ƒ/1.8 EX Aspherical DG DF Macro ~$400
The Sigma offers a very wide aperture, but even softer corners than the Canon 28mm ƒ/2.8.
Canon makes an innovative decision to include image stabilization in its wide-angle prime lenses; the lens performs well, perhaps not quite as well as the lens it is replacing (at least in terms of sharpness) but the image stabilization will be welcomed by landscape shooters and videographers alike.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by Prime Minister (40 reviews)Sharp, compact, lightweight, stabilization, build qualitySomewhat expensive
Unlike Nikon, Canon decided not to drastically change the optical design of their budget prime lenses (24mm, 28mm, 50mm). This resulted in a series of lightweight and compact lenses with a classic feel. Personally, I think these primes have just the right size and shouldn't be any bigger.reviewed June 6th, 2015 (purchased for $415)
Build quality is fine. The stippled texture looks great, the lens feels sturdy and nothing moves when focussing. The lens mount is metal. I never buy a lens with a plastic lens mount. The AF/MF and IS switches are small, but they don't feel particularly fragile. I don't use them that often anyway.
Autofocus is quick, accurate and virtually silent. I don't know if it's suitable for video. I think you will hear the focusing motor. The image stabilization is nice for video. The focus ring feels nice and makes focussing manually easy.
Optically, this Canon 28mm f/2.8 USM IS doesn't disappoint me. Yes, the corners are a little soft (full frame), there's a significant amount of vignetting wide open and there's visible chromatic aberration, but I don't really mind. Stop it down a little and the results certainly look good enough for me. It might not be the best companion for a 50 megapixel sensor, but on a 22 megapixel sensor it works fine.
Some people think that image stabilization on a wide angle lens is totally unnecessary, but I think it's a useful option to have. You can shoot this lens handheld under moonlight. Great for photos at night or indoors. I can see myself using the IS in museums, churches and on the street. Combined with the excellent high ISO performance of the Canon 6D, the IS can help me make detailed photos in situations I normally needed a tripod.
The image quality is good enough for most of us, the price is reasonable, it doen't weigh much and it doesn't take up much space in your camera bag. To me this new USM IS version is a big upgrade from the previous cheap plastic version.
So, would I recommend this lens? Yes, if you're not someone who demands the absolute best image quality. If you need that, you will have to spend more money. Prepare to carry more weight and you might need a bigger bag.