The Canon L series lenses are professional spec lenses that are the best Canon lenses money can buy. All of the L series lenses are exceptionally good, but they are damn expensive and before splashing out the hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of bucks to buy these lenses you need to ask yourself “Do I really need an L series lens?”
When work colleagues, friends and family started commenting on my photos (i.e. the pivotal moment I knew I could take a decent photo) I couldn’t wait to get a bag full of L series lenses and started to build my collection. Every payday I settled the monthly bills and whatever was left I used to buy L series lenses and in a few months I ended up with the following in my lens bag:-
"The Canon 28 - 300 F3.5-5.6L IS lens - my travel lens"
I have to admit that I bought the lenses above because they are L series lenses, they are professional grade lenses and all the magazines and websites say they are the best. I didn’t even think about whether I needed L series lenses, I just ended up buying them. Some of the L series lenses I am glad I bought but others, I have to admit I am not so sure and am in two minds. I will never get rid of the L series lenses I have my doubts over – I will lose loads of money selling them on or trading them in, and they are like new, so they will remain in my lens bag.
I don’t care what anyone says, the L series lenses are tough, durable and built to last. Pick up an L series lens and then pick up a non- L series lens and you will instantly notice the difference and that the L series lenses are bullet proof. That’s not to say the non-L series lenses are well made and tough, it’s just they aren’t as solid as the L series lenses. The obvious disadvantage with this is the L series lenses are heavier, and whilst the extra weight may not seem like a big deal you will find that L series lenses often feel unbalanced and heavier on the camera. Non-L series lenses, on the other hand, are often better balanced and don’t feel so unwieldly.
Canon claims that L series lenses are made using the best optics, and I have no reason to doubt this. The image quality of all L series lenses is superb and I can’t fault them. The image quality of the non-L series lenses I own is also very good and the difference between them is negligible. In the real world the only way to tell the difference between the L series lens and non-L series lens is to go pixel peeping on the computer, and no-one other than photographers do that! I have never had a paying client say “ooh – let me have the RAW file so I can look at the image at 200% so I can make sure it is sharp”, and I never will. I have never had any complaints in respect of the image quality of photos taken with my non-L series lenses.
My non-L series lenses are plenty good enough to take commercial shots with, and I have sold plenty of photos taken with my Canon 35mm f2 IS lens (review here) and Canon 50mm f1.8 lens (review here) attached to my Canon 6d. The non- L series prime lenses are exceptionally good and I highly recommend them, however I can’t say the same about the non-L series zoom lenses from my limited experience with them.
A while back Canon released a new non-L series zoom lens with what I considered a useful range of focal lengths. Despite my collection of L series lenses I thought the lens may be worth a purchase so I went to a local camera shop to see one and also take a few test shots. My first impression of the lens was that it looked okay and the build quality was what I was expecting based on my experience of non-L series lenses. When I took some test shots and looked at the results on the back of the camera I have to admit I was less than impressed as the image quality was absolutely dire. When I got home and put the photos on the computer and went pixel peeping I got to see just how bad the image quality was, and when I printed one of the photos on to a standard size print I instantly reached the conclusion the lens was not worth buying.
My experience has shown that non-L series prime lenses are brilliant and well worth buying, but non-L series zoom lenses are poor and you’re better off buying L series zoom lenses.
So is it worth buying Canon L Series lenses then?
If you want to shoot zoom lenses, and want to get the best photos possible I’m afraid you’re going to have to suck up the extra cost and buy L series lenses. If you go down this route I would recommend you do your homework, do some research and identify the lenses you need so you don’t get caught up in the moment and buy L series zoom lenses you won’t use much, like I did.
If you want to shoot fixed focal length prime lenses you don’t need to buy L series lenses at all. The non-L series prime lenses are awesome, and for the money you can’t go wrong. I appreciate the build quality isn’t as strong and robust as the L series lenses, but does this matter? How much hard do you give your lenses? I have had my non-L series primes for a few years now and they are still going strong – I have no problems with the build quality of the non-L series prime lenses at all. The non-L series prime lenses are awesome value for money, and I highly recommend them.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.