Which lenses should you choose for your Canon EOS 5D Mark III?

By Kevin Carter - Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Lens Recommendations
Introduction | Canon EOS 5D Mark III vs. Nikon D800: Competition is closer than expected! | Standard lenses | Telephotos | Wide Angles

The last in our four-part series on choosing the best lenses for your Canon EOS 5D Mk III concentrates on wide-angle zooms and primes. Mounted on the 22.3 Mpix EOS 5D Mk III, we’ve tested 23 different models covering moderately wide- to ultra-wide angle lenses ranging from 35mm to 12mm. Read on to see which of these perform best on the EOS 5D Mk III.

00-visuel-wide-angle

General Overview

With their expansive, rectilinear perspective and generous depth of field, wide and ultra-wide angle lenses are ideal for panoramic landscapes, architecture and interiors. They’re also particularly suited to creative use. With subjects close to the lens being exaggerated in size, ultra-wides can be used to create striking images with an almost three-dimensional quality that can’t be achieved with longer focal length lenses.

Wide-angle lenses, are typically those with a focal length ranging from 24mm to 35mm and encompass an diagonal angle of view ranging from 84-62 degrees (74-to 54-degrees horizontally) on a 35mm format camera.

In terms of popularity, the 24mm is well-liked, especially with today’s high resolution sensors, where light cropping can achieve the same coverage as a 28mm. As a result, 28mm lenses tend to be offered with a slightly lower technical specification (and price) to differentiate the two, and could make a tempting proposition to those on a budget.

Although most makers refer to the diagonal angle of view in their product literature, most purists prefer to think of the coverage of wide-and ultra-angle lenses in terms of the horizontal angle of view. This is because as photographers, we naturally assess a landscape or interior across the frame, from left to right.

As a group, ultra-wide angle lenses for 35mm (full frame) format cameras have a focal length less than 24mm and project a rectilinear image, rendering straight lines as straight lines. Fish-eye lenses have short focal lengths as well, but produce circular images with strong barrel distortion.

Typically today, the range of focal lengths include those ranging from 12mm to 21mm, and provide sweeping images with an horizontal angle of view of around 113- to 81-degrees, respectively.

We’ve tested 23 different models covering moderately wide- to ultra-wide angle lenses ranging from 35mm to 12mm, including zooms as well as primes.

Some of the more significant lenses we’ve not yet been able to test include the Canon EF17-40mm f/4L USM, and the EF14mm f/2.8L II USM.

Both of these lenses and many of the others will be tested in the coming months… 

Image quality overview

01-wide-angle-overview

Fixed focal length wide-angle primes out-perform their zoom counterparts and achieve comparatively good scores against the rest.

If we compare wide-angles as a whole with the complete database of lenses tested on the Canon EOS 5D Mk III, the primes perform well, with some of the best examples approaching that of the best standard focal lengths and short telephoto lenses.

Inevitably, some compromises are made during the design process. Correcting for stronger distortion and vignetting at shorter focal lengths take their toll on sharpness across the frame and make high image quality a challenging proposition. Lenses that perform uniformly well in all areas tend to cost a lot more than those that achieve good results in a few of the metrics.

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Image quality degrades as the focal length shortens, and zooms with their greater compromises aren’t usually able to match the performance of their fixed focal length equivalents. On average zooms achieve 20-percent lower scores in the DxOMark ratings

03-value-for-money

Wide angle zooms offer some cost advantages but they rarely perform as well as the primes

DxOMark Selection

Wide and ultra-wide angle prime (fixed focal length)

 
Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSM A Canon 899 34
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM 850 33
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/2 ZE Canon 1030 31
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM 1550 31
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 35mm f/1.4 ZE Canon 1843 31
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM 1420 30
Samyang 35mm F1.4 AS UMC Canon 599 29
Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM 699 29
Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM 800 29
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 28mm f/2 ZE Canon 1280 27
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 25mm f/2 ZE Canon 1700 27
Canon EF 35mm f/2 400 24
The two top-rated wide-angle lenses are moderate wide-angles, followed by Canon’s highly regarded EF24mm f/1.4L II USM


It’s quite clear from the list that wider lenses perform less well than the more moderate focal lengths, though the exception to this are the older film-era lenses which were never designed with the high-resolution digital sensor in mind.

It comes as little surprise to see the recently tested, high-scoring $899 Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM (A012) occupy the number one position. Moderate wide-angle lenses are only moderately more difficult to correct than standard lenses, and the Sigma is the highest performing wide-angle we’ve seen to date.

It is, however, given a close run by the new $849 Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM. On the Canon EOS 5D MK III it even has higher sharpness at 20P-Mpix. It’ has excellent Transmission and similarly low levels of Distortion, and Chromatic Aberration. Although it has image stabilization, it has one downside in that the price is very close to the ‘faster’ Sigma.

Canon’s highly regarded EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM has a similar performance though the slightly higher Chromatic Aberration and -3EV vignetting pull the overall DxOMark score down a couple of points. Also worthy of a mention is the redesigned Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM. At $699 it’s good value for money, given the optical performance.

Ultra-Wide angle prime (fixed focal length)

Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Aspherical Canon 379 25
Carl Zeiss Distagon T* 2.8/15 ZE Canon 2950 24
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 21mm f/2.8 ZE Canon 1730 22
Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM 514 19
Carl Zeiss Distagon T 18mm f/3.5 ZE Canon 1395 18
 

Of the ultra-wide angle lenses tested, the Samyang 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC Aspherical achieves the highest DxOMark score and yet costs a relatively affordable $599. Distortion is high, as is Chromatic Aberration and Vignetting, but it has higher uniformity of sharpness across the image field over the first three stops. The Zeiss Distagon T* 2,8/15 is sharper overall with better control of distortion but you will have to pay for the privilege.

If those are too wide (they have a 104 and 100-degree horizontal field of view, respectively) the Zeiss Distagon T 2,8/21 (21mmm f/2.8) fares well with a DxOMark score of 20, and has both low Chromatic Aberration and Distortion. The only real shortcoming is the Sharpness score, which at 13P-Mpix, appears to be on the low-side for a prime.

Note: The Canon EF 14mm f2.8L II USM will be soon added in this lens selection

Zoom

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM 1399 22
Tokina AT-X 16-28 F2.8 PRO FX Canon 849 22
Sigma 17-35mm F2.8-4 EX DG Aspherical HSM Canon 350 20
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM 1674 20
Canon EF 20-35mm f/3.5-4.5 USM 299 19
Sigma 12-24mm F4.5-5.6 EX DG HSM II Canon 1400 15
Sigma 12-24mm f4.5-5.6 EX DG Canon 840 14

Zoom lenses dominate the ultra-wide category just as they do in every other. They’re so versatile they more or less made the old film-era f/2.8 prime lenses redundant. Nonetheless, while Canon is breathing new life back into those models with image stabilization and top-drawer optical designs, the zooms still look attractive in terms of portability and convenience.

High-speed, wide-angle zooms dominate two of the top-three positions in our DxOMark comparison mounted on the Canon EOS 5D Mk III .

Tokina prudently limited the focal range of the AT-X 16-28mm f/2.8 Pro FX in order to maintain image quality, and in doing so has achieved a relatively high DxOMark score of 22, as well as a high individual scores for Sharpness, Distortion and Chromatic Aberration. It’s the highest scoring wide-angle zoom in our database currently (tie with the Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM), but it’s also one of the newest designs.

The Canon EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM and its predecessor (not shown for comparison as it’s no longer available new) take first and third place despite their high price. Both are designed for daily pro-use and the current version has good Sharpness but high levels of Chromatic Aberration are disappointing.

As the widest of its type currently available, Sigma’s unique full-frame 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 zoom is certainly noteworthy. At $1400, it not cheap but the horizontal field of view at 12mm is an incredible 112-degrees, while still attaining a respectable DxOMark score of 15. Given the angle of view, it has low levels of distortion and reasonable Sharpness at 12P-Mpix.

Conclusion

There are numerous wide-and ultra-wide options for the Canon EOS 5D Mk III but if resolution and contrast are to be maintained, then it should be no surprise to hear that a prime lens should be chosen over a zoom.

That said, the widest, and one of the most versatile lenses of the group is the Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 II DG HSM. It certainly pays to consider third-party options. Samyang and Zeiss offer some of the highest quality imagery in this category while the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM A is highest performing lens of the group.

Canon users shouldn’t feel disheartened though, the numerous high-speed L-series all offer high image quality. The firm’s new IS enabled primes offer similar levels of imaging performance with the added advantage of stabilization, a feature that’s not only useful for stills but increasingly important for video as well.