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Which Lens Do I Need?

Canon Photographer Jenn Cooper discusses the various EF, EF-S, EF-M and RF lens ranges to help you find the perfect lens that fits with your Canon camera.

There are so many types of lenses available, it can get a little confusing knowing which is the right one. Every lens has its own unique advantages. Some offer excellent low light shooting, while others are more compact and offer superior optical quality than the kit lens supplied with your camera.

The first thing to consider is what type of camera you have. Do you have DSLR or Mirrorless camera? And does it have an APS-C or Full Frame sensor?

The Best Lens for your DSLR Camera

Canon DSLRs are categorised into one of two image sensor sizes: APS-C sensors (also known as a crop sensor) and Full Frame sensors.

APS-C DSLR Cameras and Lenses

If your DSLR camera has an APS-C sensor, you should first look at the EF-S range of lenses, which have been specifically designed for this range of cameras. Keep in mind that these lenses don’t fit on Full Frame DSLR cameras. But since they are made with smaller diameter optics, you get the benefit of affordability and they are generally more compact and lightweight than their EF equivalents.

The Best Lens for Your APS-C Camera

EF-S lenses feature a white square on the lens mount index and correlates to the same white square on all Canon APS-C camera bodies. This indicates that you can use Canon’s full range of EF-S and EF lenses on your camera body. However, if you use a Canon EF lens on an APS-C body, there is a crop factor that magnifies the lens by 1.6x.

Some photographers use this to their advantage. For example, a wildlife photographer shooting with the Canon EOS 7D Mark II, which has an APS-C sensor, and an L series EF 100-400mm lens can increase their focal length by 1.6x and achieve a greater zoom range (400mm x 1.6 = 640mm).

Full Frame DSLR Cameras and Lenses

If you have a Full Frame DSLR camera then you should only use EF lenses. These lenses are Canon’s largest range and are indicated by a red dot on the lens mount index. The benefit of EF lenses is they can be used on all Canon DSLRs (as well as on all Canon mirrorless cameras when using a lens adapter).

If you’re a serious enthusiast or professional and want a lens that produces quality images in all conditions, then you may also want to consider the L-Series lenses. These lenses can be identified by the red ring outside of the lens. The L-series lens tend to be built with more durability and feature specifically engineered multi-coated ultra-low dispersion glass. This results in a reduction in colour fringing (chromatic aberrations) and an increase in sharpness and contrast. So, you can rely on a L-Series lens to perform to the highest photographic standards.

The Best Lens for Your Full Frame Camera

The Best Lens for Your Mirrorless Camera

Like DSLR’s, Canon’s Mirrorless range is divided in to 2 formats; APS-C sensors and Full Frame sensors. Mirrorless cameras are more compact than DSLR cameras, for this reason, mirrorless cameras have a unique lens mount designed to work with the EF-M and RF lens ranges.

EOS M Mirrorless Cameras and Lenses

The EOS M range of mirrorless cameras feature APS-C sized sensors and pair with the EF-M lenses and feature a white dot on the lens mount index. These are the most compact of all Canon lenses, making them ideal for travel enthusiasts and photographers looking for a lightweight camera setup. Note that these lenses will not work with EOS DSLR or EOS R cameras. But if you’re looking to further broaden the range of lenses available for the EOS M camera bodies, you can also pair them with the full range of Canon EF and EF-S lenses using the EF-EOS M lens mount adapter.

The Best Lens for Your EOS M Mirrorless Camera

EOS R Mirrorless Cameras and Lenses

Canon’s latest lens technology can be found in the RF lenses, which have been specifically designed for Canon’s EOS R system of Full Frame mirrorless cameras and feature a red line on the lens mount index. With currently over 15 RF lenses, they offer higher quality and speed, with performance optimised for the EOS R system cameras. These revolutionary lenses provide superior sharpness, reduced aberrations and outstanding optical performance. When combined with select EOS R camera bodies, RF lens-based Image Stabilizers work in tandem with the In Body Image Stabilizer to deliver coordinated control and reduce camera-shake blur.

RF lenses also offer new levels of intuitive control with the lens control ring allowing you to customise control over aperture, shutter speed, ISO or exposure compensation.

Keep in mind that these lenses will not work with EOS DSLR or EOS M cameras.

The good news is that if you have existing EF and EF-S lenses, these can still be paired with the EOS R system of camera bodies using the EF-EOS R lens mount adaptor. The adapter offers additional creative control, with full compatibility and no loss in performance.

The Best Lens for Your Mirrorless Camera

Understanding the Different Types of Lenses

Now that we've established which range of lenses best suits your camera, we can discuss the different types of lenses you can use to really get the most out of your photography.

Macro Lenses

Macro lenses allow you to focus on a subject at extremely close distances and capture ultra-fine details.

Canon macro lenses like the MP-E65 allow you to produce images at 5x life-size magnification, revealing details that even the human eye cannot see. Macro lenses are not used exclusively for macro photography, as they offer versatility and an impressive focusing range that allows you to go from close-up detail to infinity focus. The EF 100mm f/2.8 L macro lens is a favourite within the Canon community.

Another great macro lens suited more for the EOS R series bodies is the RF 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM. You can get close to your subjects with a minimal focal distance of just 17cm to reveal the hidden details and achieve a beautiful smooth bokeh effect with a blurred background.

Telephoto Lenses

Wildlife and sports photography require lenses with larger focal lengths that can capture the action from a distance.

These types of lenses are known as telephoto lenses and have a greater magnification power that enables us to zoom in on distant subjects in stunning detail.

One of my favourite telephoto lenses is the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 L. If you want to get the most range out of this lens, you can pair it with an APS-C crop sensor camera. The 1.6x crop factor increases the maximum focal length from 400mm to 640mm.

Another outstanding telephoto lens is the RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1 IS USM, which is a more recent addition to the EOS R system. It has a wide zoom range allowing you to cover many different scenes and focal lengths with the one lens. It’s great for when you want to reduce the weight of the equipment, you’re carrying.

Wide Angle Lenses

Landscape photography requires a wide angle lens in order to capture a greater field of view. Lenses like the EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM or RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L IS USM capture ultra-wide vistas with ease. With their wide focal range, these lenses are also suitable for interior photography and astro/night sky photography, making them popular among travelling photographers.

Prime Lenses

If portraits are your passion then investing in a great portrait lens will really elevate your work. Portrait lenses offer a shallower depth of field, which creates that desirable soft blurry background while keeping your subject perfectly sharp. Some great portrait lenses to start shooting with are the EF 50mm f/1.8 STM and RF 50mm f/1.2L USM.

Canon Lenses Compatibility Guide

Full Frame (35mm)
Full Frame (35mm)
EOS R Series
EOS M Series
EF-S Lens Not compatible Via Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. Crops image by 1.6x Fully compatible Via Mount Adapter EF-EOS M. No cropping effect
EF Lens Fully compatible Via Mount Adapter EF-EOS R. No cropping effect Crops image by 1.6x Via Mount Adapter EF-EOS M. Crops image by 1.6x
RF Lens Not compatible Fully compatible Not compatible Not compatible
EF-M Lens Not compatible Not compatible Not compatible Fully compatible

Explore the full range of Canon lenses here and find the right lens for you and your shooting style.