Mirrorless cameras have taken over from DSLRs as the new king of the hill. But don’t write off DSLRs just yet. There are a bunch of high-end DSLRs (mainly full-frame) from both Nikon and Canon that have continued to see decent sales, which brings us to the topic of our discussion.
Canon’s EF mount is designed for Canon’s full-frame DSLR cameras. This segment still has a bunch of exceptional lenses that are in high demand. If you own a Canon full-frame camera, such as the 5D Mark IV or the 1DX Mark II, you may be looking to update your lens collection. This discussion centers on the best Canon EF lenses in 2023.
We have other guides on Canon:
BEST PORTRAIT LENS
BEST STANDARD PRIME LENS
BEST MACRO LENS
BEST TELEPHOTO LENS
BEST STANDARD ZOOM LENS
BEST MID-RANGE ZOOM LENS
BEST WIDE-ZOOM LENS
1. Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM
First up is the favorite portrait lens of many Canon shooters. I, along with many others, feel that 85mm is the best focal length for shooting portraits. DxoMark ranks this lens as the highest-rated among all Canon lenses and one of the sharpest lenses created to date. That’s very high praise and cause for excitement if you’re eyeing this lens for your collection.
I feel a majority of users will love this lens for its fast wide aperture and superb optical performance. Yes, the price will put this lens out of the reach of many photographers, but this is an excellent buy for those who want to invest in the best portrait lens they can.
Not all wide aperture lenses come with image stabilization, but this is one of the best lenses in the Canon stable. This lens comes with image stabilization elements rated for up to four stops. That means you can hand-hold the lens and shoot at up to four stops slower speed than you could otherwise shoot. This is very handy when shooting in low-light situations.
Note the red ring around the lens’s focusing ring. This signifies that this is an L-series lens and comes with the solid build quality this series promises. The lens is weather sealed and should withstand anything mother nature throws at it. At 950 grams, it is also very heavy; someone using a lighter camera will feel the weight of the lens, but for heavier cameras like the EOS 1DX Mark II, the weight balances well.
Autofocusing is one of this lens’s strong suits. The lens is powered by a ring-type ultrasonic motor that focuses quickly and silently. The front element of the lens does not rotate when the lens focuses. The only way you get a visual clue that the lens is focusing is through the focusing distance indicator shifting. The lens features a full-time manual focusing override, allowing you to grab the manual focusing ring and then turn it when necessary to adjust the focus manually.
The lens is very sharp in practice, even when shooting wide open. Center sharpness is better than corner sharpness by a marginal amount. Corner sharpness improves somewhat if you stop the lens to f/2 and f/2.8. Even when stopped at f/11, the lens delivers fantastic sharpness across the frame. Only when the lens is pushed beyond f/16 does lens diffraction finally start to catch up, and the performance becomes soft. All these observations are based on use with a full-frame Canon DSLR.
Moving on to vignetting and distortions. Being a short telephoto lens, the 85mm f/1.4 does not show very notable distortion, but a little bit of pincushion distortion is present. The lens does suffer from some vignetting. Corners are dark when you shoot at f/1.4, however, vignetting goes away when the lens is stopped.
To provide a comparison, I will briefly cover the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 Art lens that retails at a lower price than the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4 Art. The significant difference between this lens and the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4 is the optical performance of the Sigma, as well as the price. The Sigma, in my opinion, is a tad sharper than the Canon and comes at a lower price point. This makes Sigma the better choice if you don’t particularly care about brand choice. But if it’s a true Canon EF lens you’re looking for, you can’t go wrong with the EF 85mm f/1.4.
2. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
If I have to choose between the 35mm prime and the 50mm prime, I’ll always choose the 50mm for myself. For this discussion, however, I have decided to overlook what my heart says and go with the lens my mind tells me is a better choice when shooting in everyday situations. The 35mm finds its application in a wide variety of conditions.
You can use this lens for shooting street scenes, travels, weddings, and everyday photography.
Let’s start with the lens’s most crucial feature, the fast f/1.4 aperture. In low-light situations, the lens can gather a lot of light to capture excellent exposure.
Wide-aperture lenses are prone to suffering from chromatic aberrations, especially when working in challenging lighting conditions. The EF 35mm f/1.4 II USM comes with a unique Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics element that practically removes all of the chromatic aberrations that affect your photos when working in poor lighting.
Additionally, the lens features Canon’s Subwavelength Structure Coating, which ensures the camera can withstand the effects of flares and ghosting.
Even though this is an L-series lens and comes with weather sealing at the back to prevent dust and moisture from getting inside the lens, the build quality isn’t the greatest. Unlike the Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM mentioned in the previous section, this lens seems to have a lot more plastic. Also, please note that for the lens to be completely weather sealed, you will need a filter at the front.
The front element of the lens comes with a fluorine coating that ensures that any smudges or fingerprints can be easily cleaned.
Let’s talk about autofocusing, an essential aspect of the lens’s performance. The lens features Canon’s ring-type ultrasonic autofocusing motor. This motor ensures the lens can autofocus precisely and with little noise when engaged. The lens features a full-time manual focusing ring. A focusing distance indicator tells you how far the lens is focusing.
In terms of lens performance, the 35mm f/1.4 is brilliantly sharp, even wide open at f/1.4 at the center of the frame. The corners of the frame are a little soft, but still decent enough. Stopping down the lens to f/2 and f/2.8 improves corner sharpness. I would say that to my naked eye, the lens is sharp even at f/16. Closing the lens aperture beyond this means the lens starts to show the results of lens diffraction.
The lens has no noticeable distortion but a fair amount of vignetting at the corners. Vignetting, however, goes away when the lens is stopped.
Many users would be interested to know the quality of the lens’s bokeh, but unfortunately, that aspect is a bit disappointing. The out-of-focus effect of the lens is okay but not in the same league as some of the other lenses we have seen.
If you are on a tighter budget, both Sigma and Samyang have great competitor lenses, but this would be my pick for a true Canon EF standard prime lens.
3. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM
Macro lenses rarely get the attention that they deserve. Photographers often disregard that they can be more than just typical macro lenses. One particular macro focal length that I love using is 100mm. It’s the right focal length for shooting a range of photography genres and is thus not limited to its intended purpose.
Considering this is an L-series lens, like the other lenses we’ve seen thus far, the lens comes with decent build quality and weather sealing. You can use this lens in inclement weather and expose it to tough terrains without concern. Notice the red line around the barrel of the lens. Surprisingly, even though the lens is an L-series lens with suitable weather sealing, Canon has used a lot of plastic in the design. One benefit of plastic is that the weight of the lens is 625 grams, which ensures that the lens is easy to hand-hold.
The 100mm focal length offers much working room for a macro photographer. This comes in handy when shooting small, living subjects like bugs. With a smaller focal length macro lens, you will have to get in close, and in the process, you could scare away your intended subject. The lens offers proper macro perspectives by capturing 1:1 magnification and has a minimum working distance of 11.8 inches.
This lens can be used as a portrait lens as well. The focal length of the lens is ideal for shooting portraits and headshots. The background blur feature on the lens is decent. At f/2.8, the bokeh is pleasing but not out of this world.
The image stabilization on this lens is interesting. The image stabilization feature offers two adjustment stops when working at the maximum magnification. When working at a lower magnification and using the lens as a traditional lens, you get up to four stops of image stabilization. Image stabilization is a big help when you’re shooting hand-held.
Autofocusing on the lens is powered by a ring-type ultrasonic motor which is quiet and accurate when focusing. The lens features a full-time manual focusing override as well. What immediately identifies this as a specialized macro lens is the incredibly long focus throw earmarked for macro focusing and only a small focusing throw dedicated to normal focusing. The manual focusing throw takes a 160-degree turn to travel from the shortest focusing range to infinity. This ensures you have more control when focusing manually in the macro mode.
Unfortunately, this also means that when you’re shooting in the normal mode, the short manual focusing throw will make it difficult, if not impossible, to adjust the focus. In the normal focusing range and when shooting everyday photography, you’re better off shooting with autofocusing.
Still on focusing, the lens sports an internal focusing design. That means nothing physically moves when you focus (manually or otherwise). None of the front elements rotate or extend when you’re focusing. In other words, you can use an ND or C-PL filter without worrying about the front end rotating.
The lens features a focusing range delimiter button that can be toggled between three positions. You can select the full focusing distance, or 0.3 to 0.5 meters, or 0.5 to infinity. This allows you to speed up the focusing process by limiting focus hunting. If you leave out the focusing distance to full, sometimes the lens spends considerable time hunting for focus, which can severely impact the focusing performance.
Overall, I am very pleased with the quality of the images I have shot using this lens. The lens is very sharp at the center of the frame, even when shot at a wide-open aperture. Some corner sharpness loss is noticed, but that can be corrected by stopping down the lens to f/4. Sharpness reaches its zenith at f/5.6. Stopping down the lens beyond f/5.6 results in no meaningful increase in sharpness.
4. Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM
The Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is one of the best-rated Canon prime lenses, as per DxOMark. By the way, DxOMark rates this lens better than the Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM and the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM. Both these lenses have a longer reach and have a solid optical performance to boot. The EF 400mm f/2.8L IS II USM has since been replaced by the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM. We don’t have any immediate data for the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM.
The Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is also one of the most expensive prime lenses. But when it comes to performance, this lens will blow your mind. Whether you’re shooting birds, sports, wildlife, or any other long-range photography, this lens will be your best friend. And the fact that this lens is compatible with a bunch of Canon teleconverters means you can extend the lens’s focal length up to a maximum of 600mm (with two stops of light loss in the process).
You can’t operate a telephoto lens hand-held without image stabilization. Thankfully, the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM does not disappoint in that regard. The lens has built-in image stabilization rated to counter image shake up to four stops. You can slow down the shutter speed without pushing the ISO (and risk image noise) to compensate for the lack of light.
The fact that the lens comes with not one but three different image stabilization modes is a blessing, especially for wildlife and sports photographers who will be making the most use of this lens. The first mode is the standard IS mode, activated when you press the shutter release halfway. The second mode is the dedicated panning mode that doesn’t attempt stabilization of any horizontal movement of the lens. The third mode is designed to be activated only when the exposure is made. This mode is for subjects that are erratic, moving in different directions, and difficult to predict.
The one drawback of the Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is that it’s one of the heaviest telephoto lenses in the Canon stable. This is one of the primary reasons this lens isn’t always the first and obvious choice. But this is a great lens to work with if you can manage the weight or use a monopod to relieve the pressure occasionally.
In terms of performance, the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is one of the sharpest lenses Canon has ever made and you will not be disappointed by its performance. Autofocusing is powered by a ring-type ultrasonic motor (USM). The lens’s autofocusing performance has been boosted by the use of focusing algorithms that have been optimized for fast performance. Additionally, a high-speed CPU helps the overall performance. You also get a full-time manual focusing override.
Focusing is rock solid and very fast. Even with the 1.4x and the 2.0x teleconverters and the drop in aperture, the EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM offers solid autofocusing.
5. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
The 24-70mm has long remained a workhorse for photojournalists, wedding photographers, documentary photographers, and other enthusiasts looking for a lens to shoot everyday photography. The fantastic focal length means this lens is ideal for shooting various genres.
Canon’s EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM has a solid reputation as one of the best standard zoom lenses in the business. The constant aperture of f/2.8 means that the lens aperture is fixed no matter what focal length you shoot at. This ensures the lens can hold the same exposure across the focal length. Speaking of fast aperture, the lens can also capture a decent amount of light, which is handy when shooting in low-light conditions. And if you love capturing that beautiful background bokeh, the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM can also achieve this.
The construction of this lens incorporates a lot of plastic, resulting in the lens being fairly lightweight. The lens weighs just 805 grams and balances easily with a full-frame camera like the 5D Mark IV.
Still on the topic of build quality, this lens comes with weather sealing and should survive in any weather conditions. A fluorine coating has been used to ensure that the lens can also handle the effects of fingerprints and smudges, further expanding the possible shooting conditions.
Autofocusing on the lens is powered by a ring-type ultrasonic motor that performs as we’ve come to expect – fairly quietly and accurately. Full-time manual focusing is available, ensuring you can tweak the focusing when you want to without issues. It’s also worth mentioning that the lens’s front element does not move or rotate when you’re focusing. If you plan on using C-PL or Variable ND filters, you can use them without any issues.
The list of cons associated with this lens is relatively small, but one aspect of the lens that needs mentioning is the absence of image stabilization. You will not miss it when shooting in good light and with the wide end of the focal length. However, image stabilization would have been good for low-light conditions. Without it, you will have to rely on pushing the ISO.
The lens’s performance is admirable. It is very sharp in the middle of the frame, even when shooting at f/2.8 across the focal length. Corner sharpness is a bit softer, but that shouldn’t be too much of an issue. Stopping down the lens does improve corner sharpness a bit.
The lens does suffer from distortion. Barrel distortion is very noticeable at the wide-angle focal length. Distortion goes away at 35mm to 50mm. But again, at 70mm, we can see some pincushion distortion. The lens suffers from vignetting, which is evident when shooting wide open at the widest focal length. Vignetting goes away when the lens is stopped down to f/4 and smaller.
6. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM
If I could pick only two lenses to pair with a Canon full-frame camera, I would pick the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM I mentioned above, and the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM that I am going to discuss now. These two lenses are a perfect match for each other, and they happen to cover the focal length from 24mm to 200mm with a fixed aperture of f/2.8.
The 70-200mm f/2.8 is a versatile lens. You can shoot portraits, weddings, fashion, products, and many other genres in between. If you’re shooting portraits as a regular pursuit, you would likely love having this lens in your camera bag for the sheer versatility that the lens brings to the table.
The fact that the lens is compatible with both the 1.4x and 2.0x teleconverters means that you can extend the maximum focal length of the lens to 400mm with a two-stop drop in maximum aperture. This means you can use this lens for shooting sports and other genres in good lighting.
The fast f/2.8 aperture collects a lot of light and helps blur the background of your shots. This is a feature that every portrait photographer loves values. You can also see this effect when shooting sports photos – opening the aperture and highlighting the athlete while blurring everything in the foreground and the background.
Image stabilization adds a vital function to this lens, without which it would struggle in low light, especially when shooting hand-held. The image stabilization in this lens is rated at 3.5 stops. This is handy when shooting with a teleconverter combination and in low-light conditions.
Let’s take a look at the construction of the lens. The lens consists of 23 elements arranged in 19 groups. There are five UD elements and one fluorite element in the lens. The sole purpose of these elements is to suppress the effects of chromatic aberrations and color fringing. The lens also includes an Air Sphere coating that controls lens flares, ghosting, and internal reflections. This is handy when working in tricky lighting conditions, such as when the light source is directly in the frame.
On to the optical quality of the lens and its performance, when shooting outdoors, the lens is super sharp in the middle of the frame. This is across all focal lengths, even when the lens is wide open at f/2.8. Even the corners are admirably sharp. Sharpness improves slightly when you drop the lens aperture to f/4 and gets even better when you drop the aperture to f/5.6.
7. Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM
Finally, we conclude with the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens. This choice might be more practical than something like the 11-24mm f/4L USM.
The 11-24mm f/4l USM is a mouth-watering prospect for any photographer intoxicated with shooting with wide-angle lenses. But in many situations, that lens feels like overkill. It tends to capture too much, often resulting in post-session shock and additional editing work. The 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM is much more suitable for most photographers.
One flaw we have to mention off the bat is the lack of image stabilization. I am not a big believer in shooting landscape photography without a tripod. But sometimes, I want to make a quick composition, and the tripod isn’t viable. In these rarer instances, image stabilization would have been very useful.
Earlier, Canon released the successful and optically excellent EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM. This f/2.8 lens combines all of the refinements of that lens into a slightly bulkier body with the added advantage of a faster aperture.
If you’re buying this lens for capturing shallow depth-of-field shots, remember that such short focal length lenses will be limited in this application. You must be close to a subject to blur out any other elements. However, on the rare occasions when you get the opportunity to do so, the lens will not disappoint you.
The new f/2.8 lens weighs 790 grams. The lens is very well made and comes with weather sealing. I recommend using a clear filter that makes the lens completely weather sealed for the best results. Much of the construction is based on an inner metal core and engineered plastic that keeps the overall weight in check. A fluorine coating has been used to make cleaning the lens of fingerprints, smudges, and dust easier.
The lens’s construction includes both a Subwavelength- and Air Sphere coating, ensuring that the lens can handle the effects of flaring, ghosting, and light transmission issues. This will be useful when shooting in difficult lighting conditions. Flares and ghosting are very well suppressed in real-life situations, resulting in excellent contrast.
Autofocusing is powered by a ring-type ultra-sonic motor that offers internal focusing performance. The focusing motor is quiet and accurate when locking focus. Additionally, the lens features a full-time manual focusing override. One of the things that I don’t like about this lens is that the manual focusing ring has a very short throw. That means precise manual focusing is going to be a problem. But that would rarely affect you because this lens is designed to be used in autofocus mode, which offers impressive performance. I haven’t seen anything out of place to report.
In terms of optical quality, the lens is very sharp, even when shooting wide open. Corners are a bit softer, though, and stopping the lens down improves corner sharpness.