Photographer: To ‘L,’ or not to ‘L’
Hamlet : That’s the question!

Do you need an L Lens?

The debate over whether an “L” lens is worth the extra money or not is never ending. Is the statement “L is always better than non-L” always true? Here are my thoughts.

The ‘L’ lineup of Canon EF lenses are the “Luxury” lenses. And rightly so especially because of the price they demand. But such price is justified by the following features:

  1. Tough build, made to withstand trials in the field (some incorporating dust and moisture resistant rubber seals).
  2. At least one fluorite or ultra-low dispersion glass element combined with super-low dispersion glass and ground aspherical elements to truly push the optical envelope.
  3. Non-rotating front elements, which are optimal for some filters (e.g. circular polarizers).
  4. Relatively large apertures compared to other Canon lenses in the same focal lengths.
  5. Ring-type USM (ultrasonic motor) and full-time manual focusing.
  6. Three additional data communication pins on Canon Extender EF compatible lenses, compared to the standard EF mount.
  7. Better sharpness, color and contrast, less distortion, better bokeh, better focus speed (in general).
  8. Full time manual focusing (FTM). You can let the camera autofocus, then manually adjust focus yourself prior to the shot – without lifting your finger from the shutter.
  9. Many in the Canon L lens series are white in color. This reduces heat gain when a lens is used in bright, direct sunlight. White reflects more light than black – thus, less heat gain. This helps in protect the fluorite element in the lens from heat buildup.

Note: There are some lenses which include one or more of these technologies but which are not designated L-lenses.

So, now comes the questions, are the non-L lenses so inferior to their L counterparts that it becomes imperative to use L lenses?
The answer lies in the fact the purpose for which you do photography.

  • If you are a professional photographer who doesn’t want to sit for hours in front of the computer correcting defects of the images in Photoshop and cater to a clientele that demands the best, the L lenses make perfect sense.
  • If you are a serious amateur who has realized the shortcomings of the non L lenses, find them a limiting factor in progressing, and has the budget, the L lens is the way to go.
  • If you are a hobbyist, who clicks pictures, resizes them to 800×600 and 72 dpi and posts them mostly on the online forums, the difference between an L and a non L would be hardly noticeable.

That said, there are a few non L lenses (canon or third party) that are very close in terms of optical quality (one of the major deciding factors while buying a lens) to their L counterpart. A few that I have personally used and would recommend:

  • Canon EF 100 mm f2.8 USM macro.
  • Canon EF 85 mm f1.8 USM.
  • Tamron 90 mm f2.8 DI macro.
  • Tamron SP AF 17-50mm f2.8 XR Di-II LD Aspherical IF
  • Canon EF 50 mm f1.8 Mk II/f1.4
  • Tamron AF 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD Aspherical IF

I came across this video that compares the Canon 100 mm f2.8 macro vs the Canon 100 mm f2.8 L IS Macro. The L macro is subjected to artificial rain too!

Do you need an L Lens?N G

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