L is not Always Better

Canon 100mm f/2 USM, 50mm f/1.4 USM, 24mm f/2.8

My fully loaded camera bag is around 16kg (without the 500/4). So I started a “project” to reduce its weight substantially. The goal is to shave off 3kg. The other reason behind buying the non-L glass you see on the right was that I needed a lightweight travel kit. After contemplating a lot and considering even the Sony NEX-7 and the Fuji X-Pro 1, I had decided to go the most cost effective way: get some good primes for my 5D Mark II.

I had spent a weekend on reading reviews, analyzing resolution and distortion charts. And a strange thing started to materialize in front of my eyes. I’ve found three Canon primes that promised stellar image quality, low weight and low price tags. So I ordered the 24/2.8, 50/1.4 and 100/2 trio (of course with the optional lens hoods).

First arrived the 24mm (at the same day when Canon announced that this lens is discontinued and will be replaced with a much expensive IS version). I was surprised how sharp this lens was, blowing away my two L zooms that cover that range, and providing better center sharpness than the marvelous TS-E 24 II.

A few days later the 50mm arrived. Mounted it on the 5D II and compared it against my 24-70/2.8. It was no contest. The 24-70 was not even in the ballpark. Immediately replaced it with the 50, reducing my bag’s weight by about 600g.

The 100 produces much less shock than the other two. It is just a great lens (although I still prefer the color rendition of the 70-200/2.8 IS). Compared it with a friend’s 100/2.8 IS Macro, and at f/8, although less contrasty, it was on par with the macro lens (in the corners the little 100 produced better image quality).

These primes cost less together than a 24-105 f/4L lens and image quality at modest apertures (f/4-f/11) is much better in almost all aspects (avoid shooting towards the Sun with the 24…). Or to put it another way: I can break or otherwise ruin any of these three times to arrive at the price point of an L counterpart.

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  1. Dear Laszlo,

    Just discovered your site this morning and have found it very informative and interesting to read.
    You seem very well qualified to answer a question I have, but I hope you understand that I am not a professional photographer (or have any desire to be one), but I would like to upgrade to the next level of camera.
    I would consider myself a ‘happy snapper’ and the reality is that my photos only make it as far as Facebook or maybe the better ones end up in a frame on the bedside table. Currently Im snapping away with a Canon Powershot S90, point & shoot camera. I like the physical size of it and the fact I can shoot in RAW gives me lots to play around with in DxO afterwards.
    I want to move into interchangeable lens camera territory, but I want to keep my compact / point & shoot size. I understand the trade off between sensor size, features, lens choice etc. when choosing a physically smaller camera, but its important that I choose a camera that doesn’t need its own bag or strap around my neck.
    Ive read that you use a 650D ‘for fun’ and know that the EOS M uses the same sensor in a physically smaller body. The EOS M also has the ability to change lenses, but the body coupled with a 22mm and a 18-55mm wouldn’t take up much room in my small bag. Do you have any experience with this camera? or do you have a higher opinion of any other similar sized cameras?

    Thanks in advance for your advice


    • Laszlo Pusztai says:


      I only played a few minutes with the EOS M during Photokina, and it turned out to be something I do not like. I was considering it beforehand (with the EF-M adapter) as a lightweight backup camera.

      99% of the time I shoot either through the viewfinder or using live view on a tripod mounted camera. The remaining barely 1% is when I shoot handheld with live view. So a viewfinder (either electronic or optical) is a mandatory requirement for me. When I first picked up the camera I lifted it to my eye as if it had a viewfinder… Was a pretty embarrassing moment πŸ™‚

      Also tried the Fuji X-Pro (it is a large camera, and I don’t really like focus-by-wire lenses), Sony NEX-7 (the menu system is pure crap, and lens selection is lacking). So if I would be forced to choose one, I would pick the Fuji or the Olympus OM-D. Definitely not the NEX. But I had to be forced to pick either. I just prefer the optical finder and larger sensors.

      Actually I grown to like the 650D pretty much, and for fun shooting now I consider the fold-out LCD a must. It does not fit in my pockets (except the shooting west’s), but is considerably smaller than my regular gear πŸ™‚

      So I would recommend you to visit a camera store and play with them a bit. Slip in a card of yours and test some combinations. This is what I prefer to do before equipment purchase.

      Just my two cents.

      Happy shooting!


      • Thanks for taking the time to reply.
        I was also considering the OM-D, but I couldnt work out why its so much more expensive than the EOS M. It has a 4/3 sensor which is smaller than the APS-C sensor in the EOS M. Isn’t a smaller sensor lower quality?? I just assumed it was more costly because of all the image stabilisation and flip out LCD that the EOS M didnt have.
        Could you elaborate on why you’d choose the OM-D EM-5 over the EOS M?

        Thanks again


        • Laszlo Pusztai says:

          I would have three major reasons to choose the OM-D over the M: viewfinder, autofocus speed, and lens availability. Add to this the weather sealing on the OM-D and the tilting LCD also a plus.
          It’s true that the 4/3 sensor delivers lower quality given the same glass quality in front of the sensor, but even 4/3 sensors produce images that could make great A3 sized print.


  2. Anupam Dey says:

    Dear Laszlo,
    Great to read your writings!!! Lots of useful information.
    I’m not exactly a professional photographer, more like an enthusiast. Currently I’m shooting with 70D and the 18-135 STM KIT and the 50mm f/1.8. But I have decided to invest a bit for a second camera as me and my wife like to travel a lot and we both like to capture pictures.
    I know you don’t like the 6D that much but that’s the highest amount of money I’m going to cost for a full frame, my query to you is with the lens selection. I understand that you have a lot of experience in the field.

    I want my lens collection to cover a big range and also keep the quality. So I’ve selected,
    For 70D,
    1. Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM ($1,089)
    2. Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L IS USM Macro ($1,049) + Kenko Extension Tube ($199)
    3. Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM ($819) or Canon EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM ($1,349)
    4. Canon EF 300mm f/4L IS USM ($1,449) or Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM ($1,339)
    For 6D ($1,699),
    1. Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L ($1,499) or Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM ($1,699)
    2. Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM ($549) or Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM ($899)
    3. Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM ($349) or Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM ($369)
    It would have been very helpful for me if you could help me eliminate the β€˜or’s.

    Thanks in advance.


    • Laszlo Pusztai says:


      My new post deals with my general opinion about lens choice. I see a great degree of uncertainty about your focal length choices.

      With that said I can comment on two things: quality of lenses on your list and factors you can use to make the decisions. I have experience will all the lenses you mention except the 200/2.8 II and the 16-35/2.8II.

      The 300/4 IS is a lemon. It was crap even on an 5D (Mark I). The non-IS version is markedly better. I would avoid it. I used and loved the 400/5.6 for nine years, and while it was great with up to 12 megapixel sensors (full frame), it wasn’t good enough for me on the 5D2 or 5D3. Also 200-300mm is “no man’s land” for me.

      The Canon 24/2.8IS, 50/1.4, 85/1.8, 100/2 IS macro, and 135/2 are jewels. The 135/2 is even magical. The 50/1.4 is crap up to f/2.8, but it’s great for landscapes around f/4-8. 24 and 35 are vastly different, so as 50 and 85. To check which focal lengths match your vision I would do the tape trick on your existing 18-135: tape it down to corresponding full frame focal lengths to decide between 24/35 and 50/85.

      The 70-200/4IS is also a legendary lens – if f/4 is enough for you.

      On the 35/50 front there are two other lenses I’d like to mention. Canon’s 35mm f/2 IS and Sigma’s 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art. If 35mm would be my cup of tea (which isn’t) I would pick the Canon 35/2IS overt the Sigma 35/1.4 for travel shooting because it’s lighter and the IS comes really handy when I don’t bring a tripod. I also have a Sigma 50 art on order to replace my Canon 50/1.4 – mainly to be usable wide open (or slightly stopped down) for astrophotography. But the 50 art isn’t a travel lens at all.

      Just my two cents.



  1. […] last year. To travel light and be able to enjoy the vacation itself besides shooting, I bought three primes. In addition to having image quality that puts the 24-70 into shame, I really loved to work with […]

  2. […] lens belongs to my “travel trio“, so it will be used mostly handheld, sometimes in marginal light. I routinely do landscapes […]

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