Friday, March 18, 2011

Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM Lens Review

The Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 must be one of the most harshly criticized lenses I've come across, in fact the reviews are so bad that I dismissed the possibility of buying one after reading several of these reviews.  But after continuing my search for a lens faster than f/2.8 with a focal length shorter than 35mm I quickly discovered that the choices are slim!

I shoot Canon so I started looking at the offerings from Canon and the EF 28mm f/1.8 is the only lens fitting both the sub 35mm and sub f/2.8 criteria for under $1000.00, in fact it is less than half the price of the EF 24mm f/1.4.  

What about lenses offered by manufacturers other than Canon?  The very good Sigma 30mm f/1.4 is the obvious competitor to the EF 28mm f/1.8.  The Sigma does not work on full frame digital or film so this was a huge blow to my interest in the lens but I continued to consider it despite this major drawback.  The Sigma is of a stop faster and is sharper in the centre of the frame but the EF 28mm f/1.8 is a better performer near the edges of the frame.  I did not have access to both lenses to compare for myself so I relied on advice of those who had tried both and it seemed to be a draw.  Would I be better off with Nikon or Sony?  Nope Nikon and Sony don't even make a lens equivalent to the EF 28mm f/1.8! so Canon is starting to look good.

So I started to ask myself "why is this lens so badly reviewed?"  I stopped reading lens reviews done on test charts with no regard for real world conditions and apparently with no regard to budget and turned my focus on the advice of owners of the EF 28mm f/1.8.  People who own the EF 28mm f/1.8 are almost always satisfied or very satisfied with their purchase.  

So after much reading of technical reviews and owner reviews I decided to purchase the EF 28mm f/1.8.  My rational for buying this lens was that I could not afford the 24mm f/1.4L and the Sigma 30mm seemed to be about the same optically but it is crippled by it's APS-C format only. 

So I'll offer some of my experiences with this lens along with some photo samples for you to decide for yourself if this lens is for you.  This is not a "technical review" but rather a review of my experience as a photographer with this lens.

This is a shot taken at f/1.8
While I agree that the lens is a little weak wide open
I don't thinks it's as bad as many would like to believe.

The lens improves dramatically at f/2 and I use this
Aperture a lot.  This shot is f/2 with the subject away from 
the centre of the frame and I'm happy with the lens's performance.

Here is another f/2 shot that shows the bokeh.
Bokeh quality is subjective but I usually find that
I like the results with this lens.

Low light is where this lens really performs.
This one is f/2  and it's a dark theatre performance.

In this shot you can see that the lens provides a nicely
blurred background at f/2.2.

f/2.8 and close this lens provides excellent detail and depth

Here you can see how the lens performs in brighter light.
f/8 and wonderful colours.

So there you have a sneak peek into one of the most controversial lenses in Canon's lineup.  It offers full ring USM focus technology that is as quiet as any lens I've ever used and it focuses fast and accurately.  It is much smaller and lighter than the L Primes and is less than half the price.  It has a very nice build and handles perfectly.  If you are a landscape photographer (I'm not) then this lens may not fit your bill but for Photographers who shoot environmental portraits, street photography etc and who want a fast lens that works in low light then this lens may just be the best one in it's price bracket!


  1. Thank you so much for doing this review! I've been trying to find a "real user's" review of this piece of glass. I have been a little aware to buy this lens because of the reviews saying it's not really a good lens by the charts. And I think the quality of the lens is pretty big thing to me. You convinced me that this isn't a bad lens.

    Thank you for this, I think I'm gonna buy it!

  2. Intersting. Thank you for this review. I have also been looking for a lense for environmental portraits, street photography etc for a cropped camera. And I`m torn appart 24ef, f2.8 and this lense you described.
    While I guess it might be true the first one is better for landacapes and architecture the 28mm may produce better results for environmental portraits you are about to convince me :)
    Have you considered 24ef, f2.8 ?

  3. Yes I did but I wanted a lens faster than 2.8 and I like the full time manual focus on the USM lenses so for me the 24 was a poor fit.

  4. I purchased the 28 on the strength of this commom sense and workman type review. This lens is a usefull tool for stills and video.

    Tom McHugh
    Great Island Photography

  5. Thank you for the review!
    I was really not sure about this lense since there are so many controversial reviews of this lense.
    How about the bokeh?
    In your samples it looks nice, but i read somewhere that because of the short focal length, this lense has more DOF than the 50mm counterpart even at 1.8f.
    Can you please share your experience with this lense bokeh wise?

  6. Well of course it has more dof as it is a wide angle. However it will have the same dof if the framing 28/50mm is the same, however the perspective will be different.

  7. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    thank you :)

  8. My wife is looking for a lens that will work well indoors for shooting candid shots during holidays, birthday parties etc. where the lighting isn't great and you're in smaller rooms. She is using a 70D crop sensor. Would your recommend this 28mm f/1.8 lens for that type of shooting? We were also considering the new 35mm f/2 with IS, but the wider aperture and wider angle have me thinking the 28mm 1.8 would be the better choice for this kind of shooting. Any input?

    1. I haven't actually used the new 35mm lens but based on the information available it appears to have better image quality than the 28mm; however you should choose based on how well the focal length will suit your needs. I personally find the 35mm lenses to tight on a crop body for what you wife want's to use it for and in my opinion the 28mm is nearly perfect for that use.

  9. Thanks for review, it was excellent and very informative.
    as a first time visitor to your blog I am very impressed.
    thank you :)

  10. wow...superb... I was looking for exactly ur kind of review...thank you for making my decision easier...huh!

  11. I love this lens... for all the reasons you mentioned. Furthermore, I enjoy leaving positive reviews just to draw out the hypercritical chart testers. I can't imagine a situation where I'd need to shoot a subject at 1.8 where I'd want the photo perfectly sharp from corner to corner. For landscapes and such, I'd have a tripod and f8 or smaller. Glad I picked this lens up for a song and a dance from a hypercritical chart tester who let it sit in his bag in pristine condition, unused for years. My indoor shots have character, bokeh, and richness to them now.