Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM – quick review

IMG_3899A quick review of the insanely good Canon EF-M 28mm f/3.5 Macro IS STM lens.

Actually, if it was a *really* quick review then the title would be sufficient. But let me explain why I love this new lens so very much.

The preamble

First, some background. I am currently in Hong Kong. More specifically I am sitting in the lobby of the Empire Hotel, allegedly in Causeway Bay but in reality in Tin Hau. I’m here to do my “day job” thing at the Hong Kong Mineral and Gem Show, but of course while I have some free time in Hong Kong I had some time to do some photography.

Yesterday evening I went out to Causeway Bay to do some ‘street photography’. My weapon of choice was the Canon EOS M3 camera coupled with the EF 85mm f/1.2L lens, which is an utterly insane combination for all the wrong reasons. But there was method in my madness. The M3 is a less conspicuous camera than my EOS 5DSR, even when so front-heavy with the weight of the 85mm f/1.2L lens. And shooting entirely at f/1.2 at night in the street was great fun.

I'm not sure what's written on there but it's probably illegal.

I like lamp posts.

I went into a camera shop, mostly just to see their confused faces at the 85mm L monster on my tiny M3. And there, on the shelf, was the new EF 28mm f/3.5 macro lens that I’ve been waiting so long for.

“There it is!” I kind of said.

“That just came in today” Salesperson replied.

“I’ll take it. How much is it?” I replied.

So. After a brief panic when I couldn’t remember my American Express PIN code for the purchase, which was very helpfully solved by American Express approving the transaction automatically EVEN WHEN I ENTERED THE WRONG PIN (that’s a pro-tip for those who find an American Express card lying around somewhere), I walked out with the shiny new macro lens. American Express emailed me later to say that they’d done this as a one-time courtesy and I can’t decide whether to thank them for letting me get the lens or condemn them for the obvious security loophole.

So I walked back to my hotel a very happy man. For, you see, I had heard about this lens, and I believed it to be highly relevant to my interests.

I have a few Canon macro lenses already. I have the perfect EF 100mm f/2.8L IS. I cannot use another word than perfect to describe this lens. It does everything I could possibly want out of the lens – and more. If I was stuck on a desert island with a Canon body and the choice of only a single lens it would be this one. Not a more practical one like a long telephoto that would help me spy for boats on the horizon, oh no. This one. Because it’s just THAT good.

I have the MPE-65, a lens that does one job, extreme macro, and does it well. But this is not a beginner lens. You need to have some serious lighting and serious stability to use this lens. Some crazy bugwatchers have been known to take this out into the field and take photos of live insects, but you’re far better off to gas the bastards and take them back to the studio where you can set up the MPE-65 on a tripod made out of iron girders embedded in concrete. But, if you can master this insane lens you will love it forever.

I also have the EF 50mm f/2.5 compact macro – a lens design that’s so old that it would probably have voted for Brexit. It’s slow, it sounds like a bag of angry bees when focusing, but it is the sharpest 50mm lens Canon do.  Another unsung Canon hero. Rumors abound that this has finally been withdrawn and may be replaced. Perhaps this new EF-M 28mm macro is an indication of what a future EF 50mm f/2.5 II macro may contain…

 

The actual review

So, if you haven’t heard already this lens is the first Canon Lens that has a built-in macro illumination light. A switch on the side turns it on and adjusts brightness. The lens is cunningly angled so you can hold it almost at 45 degrees close to really tiny things like ants or very small rocks to take photos of them without the lens getting in the way.

The lens has to be unlocked and twisted into active position in a similar way to the EF-M 11-22 lens, but in this case the lock can move to two positions. ‘Normal’ or ‘Super Crazy Macro’.

Yes, this is locked

Locked

Yes, this is normal

Normal

They missed out the word 'crazy' but it is.

Super Crazy Macro

And wow. It’s a fun beast. People have been complaining that Canon hasn’t been innovating. Well, now along comes this. Not only has the EF-M system not stalled as some feared, but they’ve released their most exciting and innovative lens since the MPE-65 just for mirrorless. Happy days.

Some have questioned the choice of 28mm, thinking that a 40mm-60mm macro range would be more appropriate. And they would be wrong. Wronger than that even. Wronger than people who use wronger instead of more wrong. Because it’s just about the right focal length to get your object in the right position to take advantage of the lighting on both sides. If you had your camera any further away (which you’d need for a longer focal length), the lighting would flatten out and you’d lose a lot of the depth perception – at least for built-in lights on a lens such as this – with longer focal lengths you can always use external lights such as the MT-24EX.

And there’s another benefit. At 28mm it actually works really well as a good standard lens for everyday use…

 

Taken with my camera. Read the article, it does explain stuff.

Victoria Park

Phooey

Hong Kong

 

Is it as good as the EF-M 22mm STM Pancake Thing? No. Especially not for indoors use being only a f/3.5 compared to f/2.0 on the 22mm. But it’s good enough for general use that you’ll probably not want to keep swapping them round.  Also, I find the 28mm just a little more interesting than the 22mm field of view.

So. How does it work as a macro lens?

Of course, with a new macro lens with built-in-illumination what is the first thing you want to try to do with it? Of course, a selfie of your own eye.

Turns out this is really hard.

Duck eye

My first eye selfie

Don’t blame me for not focusing on the eyeball properly. I would have taken a second shot except my wife started shouting at me:

“I thought you were meant to be looking after our son – he just tried to throw your iPhone down the toilet. What have you been doing?”

“I may have to lie because the truth is far to embarrassing.”, I replied.

Needless to say she didn’t let me get away with that and I had to admit the full truth.

Fortunately, being the wonderful wife that she is I actually got a chance to take another shot, this time of her eye.

Her eyes are nicer than mine anyway

Please don’t use this image for 21st century identity theft

So, immediately you can see the only real issue with this lens, that the light can produce ugly reflections on anything even slightly reflective.

So, as I mentioned before, this is actually a really good lens for taking photos of tiny rocks. And that is exactly why I bought it.

Here is a photo of a tiny japanese mineral specimen that was on sale a the Hong Kong Mineral & Gem Show:

IMG_1196

And here’s the small crystal in the box that it’s being offered in.

IMG_1198

Note that the box is 1″ (2.5cm) across. So that crystal is a couple of mm across.

Here are some more, these are natural spinel crystals from Myanmar. They’re all around 3-4mm each:

IMG_1213

And, for those of you who would rather have something they can visualise the scale better with, here’s a pen:

IMG_1216

And a Hong Kong $5 coin.

IMG_1237

I thought the lens might need me to do a firmware upgrade on my M3, but that wasn’t the case, it works fine with whatever firmware I have had on the camera for months. Switching between light modes requires a combination of short and long button presses. Iit’s easy and far better than having these options hidden somewhere in an on-screen menu.

The lens has another really nice feature – it comes with a normal cap that clips onto the end of the lens – this sticks on even when the lens is extended. You can however remove the cap and screw in an adaptor (which comes in the box) that allows normal 43mm thread filters to be used with the lens. This is great because 43mm is the same as the EF-M 22mm – so we don’t have the annoying situation of needing yet another set of filters for an EF-M lens (the 18-55 is 52mm and the 11-22mm is 55mm, for example.)

This lens is absolutely perfect for me. I can use a single lens for insanely stupid macro and pretty much everything else in one. I always liked the EOS M3, but with this lens attached it brings a huge level of fun back to photography. You’ll go out and photograph everything – because you can. And I haven’t even really had enough of a chance to even do that yet because I couldn’t wait to tell you all about it.

Thank you Canon! Keep innovating like this and the future will be bright!

 

 

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3 Responses

  1. Jessica says:

    Lovely entertaining educational article. Thank you for sharing!

  2. James says:

    I already have the 100MM L macro do I really need this lens?

  3. Philip says:

    I’m planning to buy this lens for my recently-acquired M5. Thanks for your very entertaining and light-hearted review. Coincidentally, I might have to purchase this lens in Hong Kong as it’s out of stock here in Malaysia!

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