Which are Canon's sharpest EOS lenses?

Discussion in 'Canon EOS' started by dan_south, Nov 16, 2009.

  1. If you were asked to list Canon's six sharpest lenses for EOS cameras, which would you select?
  2. Pick any six of the "L" series primes, especially the ones over 50mm in focal length.
  3. Canon EF 85mm f1.2L USM Mark II
    Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8
    Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 USM Macro
    Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L USM
    Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM
    Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM
    (+ I love my old FD 55mm f1.2 Aspherical)
  4. Pick any of the true macros.
  5. I'll add the 35 1.4L lens. I've taken some nice images with that one.
  6. Speaking in general, there is a lot more to a lens than how sharp it is. Lots of lens are sharp, and that is all they are. Your question is to general. Don't you have a lens in mind, a zoom, or telephoto, or wide, or fisheye, or fixed fast lens. The lens is selected to suit the conditions of the shoot and the desired effect that the artist may have. At the very least you don't take a 400mm lens to shoot landscapes, nor a fisheye to shoot most sporting events. I think you could get a better response if you were to give some idea of what you plan to do with a lens, or what type of lens you are looking for. The majority of lens are at least sharp, but there is so much more to a lens.
  7. I don't have the others, but in my tests, when used optimally, the 50/1.4 is sharper than the 90 TSE and 100 Macro.
  8. If you look at Canon's computer generated MTF charts the 300 f2.8IS and the 400mm f2.8IS are a small step above several others which makes them the top of the pyramid. The new 100 macro was tested by one site to be the best Canon lens they had ever tested.
  9. I realize that my question is open-ended. I'm sorry if that decision is annoying to anyone, but I didn't want to color the responses by citing specific models for comparison or specifying a certain application/type of shooting. I just want to sample the community's thoughts on the topic. (For my own benefit, only.)
    I will say that I find it interesting that the early responses have avoided most zoom lenses and tend toward the long end. Is the 90mm TCE lens really sharper than the new 17 and 24 mm models? Is the 90 mm macro lens sharper than a shorter macro? Please keep your evaluations coming!
  10. I wouldn't care, really. If lens X is 1% "sharper" than lens Y, but lens Y provides the functionality that I need I'd pick lens Y every time.
  11. On my 5D MK2,
    1. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro
    2. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L
    2. Canon 300mm f/4L IS
    Between the 35mm and the 300mm, I cannot tell which one is sharper.
  12. "In General"
    Prime lenses will be much sharper than zooms.
    "L" series lenses will give you sharper results than the others.
    So, once you narrow it down the the focal range areas you need. Then look at the MTF charts for those lenses. It's a quick way to confirm if the lens is good or not.
  13. My experience has been that most good L series glass (zooms and primes) plus non-l primes are very sharp when used optimally. Put it on a tripod at f/8 or f/11 and you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference. Even then you'd be looking at corner sharpness and color rendition, etc.
    To me, sharpness is more about functional sharpness - what does a lens look like when shot at f/2.8 or f/2, when you can get just enough shutter speed to be handholdable? What does the rendition look like? Is it contrasty with good color plus being sharp, or is it lower contrast but still sharp? Sometimes it's the rendition that gives the perception of sharpness - more than just resolving power.
    From my experience, the 35L, 85L and 135L are exceptional at creating this perceived sharpness. The longer fast L primes do the same thing. A lot of other lenses are scary sharp in optimal conditions, but maybe do not have the same wide open "oomph" that longer/fast L primes do.
  14. EF-S 10-800mm w/2x tele-extender.
  15. 60 efs macro
    135 f2

    in that order
  16. 135 F2 follow by 100 2.8 Macro. In my test, my70-200 2.8 IS was just as sharp as my 85 1.8. v/r Buffdr
  17. My sharpest is the 100mm f2. Inexpensive, good build quality, quick focus, and wicked sharp. A true bargain.
  18. 60mm 2.8 macro
    135mm 2.8 L
    200mm 2.8 L
    100mm 2.8 macro (both versions)
    100mm 2.0
  19. 200mm 1.8 is the sharpest of the lot, followed by 135mm f2.
  20. To the OP you should visit the Digital Picture . com
  21. Gurbally,
    No the 200 f2 tests sharper than the 1.8.
    The 135 is behind the 300, 400 and 100 macro f2.8's.
  22. I find this whole sharpness thing a little to overblown when it comes to lens selection. I have taken razor sharp photos with a p/s and blurry ones with a 5D2 and L lens. Is it just me? Over the years I have owned many lenses and I have not had one yet that was not sharp when used correctly. Using it correctly is the hard part.
  23. IMO and from my experience there are definitely huge differences in lens sharpness, as well as the other factors that define quality from a lens - color, contrast, separation of planes, bokeh, control of flare, ca, vignetting, etc. Obviously not as much between one top notch lens to the next, but from a top notch to a crappy cheap lens, the difference is enormous - sharpness, color, flare, ca, bokeh, contrast, everything.
  24. Brett my point exactly. Color, contrast etc was not part of the OP and is probably much more important or at least as important, but most questions all seem to center around sharpness alone when it comes to choosing a lens. Maybe I am exaggerating a bit but just trying to make a point.
  25. To the OP you should visit the Digital Picture . com​
    Thanks for the tip! I'll check it out!
  26. I was looking last night at two National Geographic photo books "Wide Angle" and "Through the Lens". The are hand selected collections by National Geographic of what they consider to be their best photography over around 100 years.
    I was amazed at how many of them weren't particularly sharp, often not perfectly composed (eg people half out of frame), colours were sometimes off, lacking velvia like saturation, plenty of grain, etc, etc. Yet the photos had real impact. They captured the world and life as it is, the good and the bad in a very organic way.
    I can't help thinking the quest for sharpness, digital, and computer processing are creating a sameness to all the photography these days. One only has to look at the photos on the photonet banner to see that the only displayed sunsets will be blood red, all models have blemish free porcelain skin, and all colour are hypercolour.
  27. "I can't help thinking the quest for sharpness, digital, and computer processing are creating a sameness to all the photography these days. One only has to look at the photos on the photonet banner to see that the only displayed sunsets will be blood red, all models have blemish free porcelain skin, and all colour are hypercolour."
  28. I assume you are referring to lenses in current production.
    BTW, you're going to end up with a list of Canon's supertele's if you only look at "sharpness" as your criteria. In order:
    1. 200mm f/2L IS USM
    2. 300mm f/2.8L IS USM
    3. 400mm f/2.8L IS USM
    4. 500mm f/2.8L IS USM
    5. 600mm f/4L IS USM
    6. 800mm f/5.6L IS USM
    Some of the lenses people are listing (like the 85/1.2 and 100 macro, the 135/2, etc) are all fantastic lenses but aren't anywhere near the above in terms of LP/mm.
    I second Dan's comment on http://thedigitalpicture.com. Great reviews and comparable images from just about every lens Canon has. You'll be able to verify the above list yourself.
    Another great resource is http://slrgear.com.
  29. Richard,
    I took a look and at this moment the photo.net banner was showing pictures including:
    Along with a porcelain skin shot and some sunets. I still think there is variety (actually I think there is more now that photography is much more mainstream). I think if you look at popular photography forums of yesteryear (not NatGeo's hand-picked selection from the last century), you'll find similar levels of repetition as well.
  30. In practice, 'used properly' as people have repeated above, really does describe satisfaction with lenses a lot. The context, eye, mind, experience, and inspiration of the photographer are fundamental.

    I have found that the 'L' designation does not guarantee the quality of a lens. At the same time, it does always go with a price premium, so it is frustrating when you get one that doesn't satisfy. Some of my favorite lenses are 'L' lenses, especially in the zoom range. I have a 24mm and the 100m f2.8 macro, which is mentioned a number of times above, as well as the 24-70mm 'L' lens.

    'Used properly' those lenses are all great, but the 24-70mm is so darned good that it is tempting, especially in the studio, to just pick it up and go, even if it might not be quite as good in all areas of images at all f-stops and zoom ranges.

    The Canon TS-E 90mm f/2.8 I had was terrible. Then I looked around and found that sample images were also terrible, including the ones Canon put out. The concept just doesn't make sense, especially if what you are doing is trying to compete with what view cameras do. For optimal results, learn and implement Scheimpflug's Rule with a view camera, instead of using a lens with interior elements that swivel. I think the only reason TS-E lenses exist is because they are good enough for 'professional' work, which is often much more undemanding than one would think. Another approach that works better than going to a TS-E is to shoot multiple frames, each focused at a different distance, and then use CS4 to stack and merge them- it's a cool feature.

    In wide angle primes, I have found that the 24mm beats the 20mm and the 28mm. And the 35mm 1.4 (mentioned above) is a VERY sweet lens. And again the older 17-35mm f/2.8 'L' is the best of that bunch, which is again why I use it often in preference to the 24mm. As people have mentioned, the convenience and creative potential of zooms, when they are good enough, can trump the often utimately better image quality of primes. Ideally, it's good to use both.
  31. If one scrutinizes the online lens tests that have published resolution data, and not simply relied on subjective opinion, the 70-200mm f4 IS zoom is as sharp as any prime telephoto out there and sharper than any of the other zoom aternatives. I have one and it has lived up to my expectations for indoor (low light-ramp up to iso 1600) and outdoor equestrian photography (moving & jumping horses). The 200mm f1.8/2.0 tests very high, but the price is astronomical, and both the 85mm f1.2 and 100mm macro have very high resolution data as well. For wider angle lenses, I would look to the Zeiss ZE lenses for the Canon EOS mount, although the 50mm f1.4 Zeiss lens was no better in my hands than my Canon EF 50mm f1.4 (both sharpened up equally well by f2.8-4, but the Canon has a much nicer soft focus look for portraits and way better bokeh at f1.4 than the Zeiss). I would also recommend the Leitz 35mm f2 Summicron-R with EOS adapter before any of the Canon 35mm lenses if you can focus and meter manually. All my experience is with the full frame 5D MkII, if you are shooting APS-C it might be a different story.
  32. The 500/4 IS i regret selling was my sharpest lens. After that my old 200/2.8 version one would give it a close second, then the 100/2.8 macro(version one).
  33. 135 2.0L
    200mm 2.0L
    85 1.2L
    50 1.4
    60mm 2.8 macro
  34. Kevin, 50 f1.4! Are you joking with us?
  35. "Pick any six of the "L" series primes, especially the ones over 50mm in focal length."
  36. "Pick any six of the "L" series primes, especially the ones over 50mm in focal length."
    I vote for that:}
  37. Add these to the "mix" 85mm f1.8 & 400mm f5.6
  38. ISO 12233 Chart 100% Crop Comparison at the digital picture is an amazing resource. I've owned the 400 5.6 forever and although it's awesome I don't think it's up there with the 300 and 400 2.8s
  39. In my hands unskilled as they are, with my eyes, and on my 1DMkIII and 20D, my 300/2.8LIS tops my other supertele and my 135/2.0L tops my 2 other shorter focal length primes.
  40. My TSE 90 is sharper than my Zeiss 100 Makro, my Zeiss 85 1.4, and my Canon 85 1.8. I'm surprised the unit an above poster has is not sharp in his opinion. My TSE 45 is as sharp as my 50 1.4...again, maybe I'm lucky with my copy.
    Over 100mm the 135L and 300 2.8 get my vote as very sharp in their class.
    All tested on 1Ds3.
    These comparisons are all a bit academic though, I think prints or views on a screen from the 28, 35, 45, 50, 85 1.8, 135L, 200L, or the various Zeiss lenses I have are all good enough to take lens quality out of the equation completely when judging the success of a print. The only Canon lens I have tried where I would have said that I might notice a lack of optical quality, relative to a superior lens, in a print was the 20mm. The moral: go out and shoot!
  41. The only lens I have that really shimmers and shines over and above all the others is the 135/2 - but this is partly its beautiful bokeh. The 85mmL is said to have the same quality. I rate the 70-200f4IS as a superb lens too, even if it does not quite match the 135mm. The 85mm1.8 is a good lens, but is not quite in the same league.
  42. In my experience , the most differentiating factor between L and non L is the way the L lens render color and contrast.
    The difference in sharpness between a good non L vs the L lens is only visible when pixel peeping.
  43. Canon mentions using lead-free glass today for ecological reasons, but does this in any way have an adverse or constraining effect on optical design and performance?
  44. The sharpest lens is no match for the Victorinox Swiss Army Knife.
  45. Jake,
    A blunt Leatherman will cut a Victorinox in half. Even on FF at 4 feet by 6 feet.
  46. Having just got the 100L I can say that I am truly amazed. I never realised a lens could be so sharp.

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