Canon EF-S Lenses – Are They Any Good? (Featuring Kelly Yuen)

You bought an entry-level or prosumer Canon EOS DSLR. It came with a kit lens in the box. Every other photographer whom you know tells you to forget about that lens and get a “better” lens. Is that lens really that bad? Read on.

In Canon’s EOS World of DSLR cameras & lenses, everyone is familiar with EF lenses which stands for “Electro-Focus”. In 2003, Canon introduced the EF-S line of lenses for exclusive use with APS-C Sensors (Smaller Sensor found in Canon’s entry-level & prosumer DSLRs) The “S” in EF-S stands for “short back focus” (not “Standard” which many had thought so), which means that the rear element of the lens is closer to the image sensor than on regular full frame (35mm DSLR). As of 2012, no EF-S lens was given the ‘L” designation or with built with Diffractive optics and strangely only one EF-S prime lens was built for this line of lenses.
(*Only Canon cameras with the APS-C sized sensor released after 2003 support the EF-S mount.)

So back to the question, are these lenses any good? Well, the professionals and serious hobbyists swear by their L Lenses, but that does not means the non “L” lenses will not get you good photographs. Although 80% of EF-S lenses feels “plasticky” and not really made for harsh conditions, the lens build is consumer friendly and durable. It is also priced very much lower than it’s bigger EF & EF(L) brothers, EF-S is good too – if you know what you are doing. If you do not intend to invest upwards to a professional body or a full frame body in the future, EF-S lenses saves you tons of money to start with. They are cheap to replace too – this is a bonus.

Thanks to Canon Singapore, I was given the opportunity to take a few of the EF-S lenses out for a weekend. (*Except EF-S 17-55m F2.8 IS USM, EF-S  15-85mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM, EF-S 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 USM & EF-S 60mm F2.8 Macro USM) Strangely, all the slightly more expensive EF-S “front-liners” were all out on road show display leaving behind this few lenses that are usually shunned by Professionals and “Professionals”. Well, I just took the lot and left Canon Singapore with NO Plans and NO ideas on how to do this article. I feel strange at first to leave behind my Canon arsenal (Canon EOS 1Ds MarkIII, 1D MarkIV & 5D MarkII with the 14 EF & EF-L-lenses) at home for a weekend, but certainly, I feel relaxed with the lighter gear in my bag and a chance to do a leisure walkabout to take a break from assignments.

So which lenses did Canon Singapore passed me?

From Left to Right: EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS, (Left Top) EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS II, EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS, EF-S 17-85mm F4-5.6 IS USM & EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS.

I took to the streets. Since it’s a weekend, I met up with one of my photography student, Kelly Yuen. I decided that for this time, I will let Kelly do the shooting with the lot of EF-S lenses and I shall just take my weekend walk with him and let him do whatever he wants with the lenses.

Kelly Yuen (

We started walking towards Bugis Village, a haven of some sort for street photography with a complete messed up scene filled with people from all walks of life. Kelly fitted the EF-S18-200mm to his Canon EOS 400D and he started shooting.

Using the wide zoom range to his advantage, he shot expressions of people like the street paddlers below.

EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/40 F5.6 ISO 400.

EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/125 F5.6 ISO 800.

And he took shots of people & objects in the vicinity too.

EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/100 F5.6 ISO 400.

EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/60 F5.6 ISO 400.

As the sky threatens to pour, we left Bugis & headed towards Bras Basah. Kelly switched the EF-S 18-200 IS with the EF-S 18-135mm IS at this point. We went to the higher floors in search of films when Kelly decided to shoot from top down.

EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/250 F7.1 ISO 800.
(I did a little processing to make this photo more interesting. lol )

After the above shot, Kelly decided to change the EF-S 18-135mm IS to the new EF-S 18-55mm IS II and shot the church across the road.

EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS II, 1/200 F7.1 ISO 400.

I half suspect Kelly could be getting tired and decided to switch to this EF-S18-55mm IS II to lighten the camera. After getting what we were looking for, we decided to walk towards town. The Vanguard building caught Kelly’s attention and he took a shot of the building at the junction.

EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS II, 1/160 F7.1 ISO 800.

After this, the rain came and we headed home.
The next day, a Sunday, I picked up Kelly and decides to visit his school in the west of Singapore. His school offers a wide range of floral & fauna and I suggested to Kelly that perhaps, we can try doing some macro since some of the EF-S lenses have great magnification capability. When we reached, Kelly fitted the EF-S18-55mm IS II and took the below shots.

EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS II, 1/160 F7.1 ISO 800.

EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS II, 1/125 F7.1 ISO 400.

Very impressive close up shots I would say. Since it’s still very early, Kelly suggested visiting Chinese Garden as we are just a stone throw away. In just minutes, we are at the garden entrance. A rising sun greeted us.

EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS II, 1/800 F7.1 ISO 100.

I saw Kelly changing the lens to the EF-S18-135mm IS as we walked into the garden.
We came to a bridge that caught our attention. Seeing the peaceful lake with a nicely balance reflection of the bridge, Kelly shot the scene.

EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/160 F11 ISO 200.

A group of elderly was practising a fan dance, we got curious and got closer. Eventually, Kelly was right in front of the group and took this shot below.

EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/500 F5.6 ISO 800.

Great timing, great capture. Kelly’s decisiveness in photography always gets him natural shots of people and their activities. We left the group and ventured nearer to the water banks. Here, Kelly took this shot.

EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/500 F7.1 ISO 200.

Nice shot.  He then switched the lens to the EF-S18-200mm IS and he took a few more shots below.

EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/160 F7.1 ISO 200.

EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/200 F5.6 ISO 400.

We were too engrossed in shooting and did not realised the sky had (again!!) turn dark & gloomy again. As we made our way to the exit, Kelly shot the clouds.

EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/1600 F5.6 ISO 800.

We managed to get to the car in time and headed towards Kelly’s home which also happened to be at the west and within minutes’ drive from Chinese Garden.
At home, safe from the storm outside, Kelly decides to shoot the little indulgence we were having with the EF-S17-85mm IS USM.

EF-S 17-85mm F4-5.6 IS USM, 1/80 F5.6 ISO640.

Yummy shot isn’t it? After that, we spent our time together and went through all the photos that Kelly took and cleaned all the lenses together. Time really flies, before we knew it, it’s Sunday evening and the storm had stopped. Kelly decided that we should capture the sun set and round the EF-S Lens shoot with a nice “parting shot”. We went to a park nearby his house and Kelly took the EF-S18-200mm IS and shot this.

EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS, 1/200 F5.6 ISO 400.

After that we parted for the weekend.
That night, while sorting out the photos for this article, I realised Kelly did not touched the EF-S 55-250mm at all. So I took it out 2 days later at a photography event and used the EF-S55-250mm IS to shoot the below shots with a Canon EOS 40D.

EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS, 180 seconds F22 ISO 100.

EF-S 55-250mm F4-5.6 IS, 1/50 F6.3 ISO 400.

With the above 2 shots, I have completed my “round” with the EF-S lenses. It’s a pity that I did not have the chance (due to availability) to test out the “higher end” EF-S lenses like the popular EF-S 17-55m F2.8 IS USM, the travel-to-portrait-master EF-S 15-85mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM, the landscape-must-have EF-S 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 USM & famous EF-S 60mm F2.8 Macro USM. But having said that, well, we had fun with what we were given and Kelly produced good photos with the EF-S lenses. I had fun too using these lenses doing long exposure & tried shooting the moon. Looking at this batch of photos, I am convinced that it’s not about what camera or lenses we have or use, it’s the person behind these equipments that makes the difference. So if you are using EF-S Lenses and complaining about the bad photos, look into the mirror, that’s the person to blame.

For more details on Canon’s EF-S & EF lenses, visit

Quick Information:
EF-S Lens Lineup today & Focal Range Chart. (As of March 2012)

Canon EF-S 10-22mm F3.5-4.5 USM
(16-35.2mm on Full Frame/ 35mm equivalent)
EF Closest Equivalent : Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L II USM.

Canon EF-S 15-85mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM
(24-136mm on Full Frame/ 35mm equivalent)
EF Closest Equivalent : Canon EF 24-105mm F4L IS USM.

Canon EF-S 17-55mm F2.8 IS USM
(27.2-88mm on Full Frame/ 35mm equivalent)
EF Closest Equivalent : Canon EF 24-70mm F2.8L II USM.

Canon EF-S 17-85mm F4-5.6 IS USM
(27.2-136mm on Full Frame/ 35mm equivalent)
EF Closest Equivalent : Canon EF 28-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM.

Canon EF-S 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 IS II
(28.8-88mm on Full Frame/ 35mm equivalent)/ 7 versions
EF Closest Equivalent : Canon EF 24-70mm F2.8L II USM.
(* Remember the older EF 28-90mm kit lens that came with film SLRs?)

Canon EF-S 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS.
(28.8-216mm on Full Frame/ 35mm equivalent)
EF Closest Equivalent : Canon EF 24-105mm F4L IS USM.

Canon EF-S 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS.
(28.8-320mm on Full Frame/ 35mm equivalent)
EF Closest Equivalent : Canon EF 28-300mm F3.5-5.6L IS USM.

Canon EF-S 55-250mm
(88-400mm on Full Frame/ 35mm equivalent)
EF Closest Equivalent : Canon EF 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L IS USM.

Canon EF-S 60mm F2.8 Macro USM
(96mm on Full Frame/ 35mm equivalent)
EF Closest Equivalent : Canon EF 100mm F2.8 Macro USM or
Canon EF 100mm F2.8L IS USM.

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6 Responses to Canon EF-S Lenses – Are They Any Good? (Featuring Kelly Yuen)

  1. FM Soothoo says:

    Hi Allan. Good piece of analysis. Help to clear many doubts about EF-S lenses.

  2. slmka says:

    I strongly agrees the person in the mirror is the core of the photos. While some photos requires equipment to be the foundation (e.g. macro). But at the end of the day, is the person who shoot to tell the story.

  3. Johnson Ang says:

    Thanks for clearing up my doubts about my EF-S lenses. I feel less inferior now

    • Inferior? Just because the lens looks cheap? lolz.

      There are some “photographers” out there with top of the line EOS Bodies and expensive L-Lenses and produces nothing but crap.

      Photography gears are not status symbols, but equipments that we all use and craft our art & creativity.

      That is why we are all craftsmen. 🙂

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