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Canon Consumer Zoom Lenses: EF 28-90mm, EF 28-105mm and EF 28-135mm

by Bob Atkins, 2003

Canon currently has a number of choices for a general purpose zoom lens. Three of the choices are the EF 28-90mm f/4-5.6 (USM and non-USM), the EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 USM and the EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM and these span the range from around $100 to $400 - so one of these Canon zoom lenses will probably fit your budget!

There's also a EF 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 lens which I believe is out of production and a EF 28-105mm f/4-5.6 USM (not to be confused with the 28-105/3.5-4.5 USM). Both are "low end" lenses, comparable to the 28-90/4-5.6 USM, but since I have access to neither, I didn't test them!

The Zoom Lenses

lenses2.jpg (49211 bytes)

Left to right: Canon 28-135/3.5-5.6 IS USM; Canon 28-105/3.5-4.5 USM; Canon 28-90/4-5.6 USM
All lenses shown zoomed to maximum focal length

Canon EF 28-90mm f/4-5.6 (USM) - Price class $100

This is Canon's low end basic zoom lens, often sold in "kits" with an EOS body. It's small, it's light and it's cheap. The construction uses lightweight plastic, even for the lens mount - though the optics are all glass. The lens feels fairly flimsy and I don't think I'd want to try drop testing it!. Though it has manual focus, it has no manual focus ring. To focus manually you rotate the front end of the lens barrel. Focusing is loose and undamped and quite sensitive to small rotations of the barrel. In addition the barrel wobbles up and down quite a bit, which isn't a good sign for optical alignment! There is no distance scale (hence no IR focus markings). A basic lens at a low price. Though the lens is available in USM and MM (Micro Motor) versions, this isn't the ring USM motor with FTM (full time manual focus). There really isn't a significant difference between the MM version and the USM version, though Canon claim the USM version is quieter and focuses faster. It probably is and does, though I'm sure the difference isn't very significant.

EF 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 USM - Price class $200

This Canon zoom lens is a huge step up. It's solidly constructed with a metal lens mount. It has a ring USM motor with full time manual focus, a distance scale and IR focusing marks. It's a little bigger, a little heavier and about twice as expensive as the 28-90, but it's a much better constructed lens. Manual focus is smooth, well damped and geared so that fine adjustments can be made, as you would expect from a ring motor FTM USM based lens. The current version is the "II" model, though it is optically identical to the original model which was tested here. The differences are mainly cosmetic.

EF 28-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM - Price class $400

This Canon zoom lens is significantly larger and heavier than the 28-105 but is of a similar solid construction with a metal lens mount, ring USM motor, FTM, distance scale and IR focusing marks. It also has image stabilization which allows it to be hand held at shutter speeds about two stops slower than would otherwise be possible and still get sharp images. It costs about twice as much as the 28-105. It takes a significantly larger filter than the other two lenses (67mm vs. 58mm). Manual focus is smooth, well damped and geared so that fine adjustments can be made, as you would expect from a ring motor FTM USM based lens. This lens uses one aspheric element (neither of the other lenses tested have aspheric elements) which may contribute to better performance - at least that's the idea behind using aspheric elements

Technical Data

LENS (all USM) Size (length x diam) Weight Ring USM with FTM Filter Size Lens Mount Distance
28-90/4-5.6 68mm x 71mm 190g NO 58mm Plastic NO 8/10
28-105/3.5-4.5 72mm x 75mm 375g YES 58mm Metal YES 12/15
28-135/3.5-5.6 IS 97mm x 78mm 540g YES 72mm Metal YES 12/16

The Tests

CAVEAT:Testing was done using a Canon EOS 10D DSLR body. The Canon 10D has the smallest pixel pitch (7.7 microns) and so the highest native resolution of any current DSLR. It can resolve around 65 lp/mm at the sensor. Film can resolve more, typically up to around 80-90 lp/mm with slow speed, high resolution films and the best lenses - though unless you get drum scans you probably won't see that level of detail in scanned images. Digital testing with a 10D tends to reduce the difference seen between lenses as a consequence of this resolution limit, so if you see a difference in performance between lenses when tested on a 10D, you'll see at least that much difference, probably more when using film.

Also, the 10D has a sensor significantly smaller than 35mm film (about 22mm x 15mm vs. 36mm x 24mm) and so does not show edge and corner defects which you might see on film. For example most lenses vignette slightly when used wide open, so the corners of the image on film are often slightly darker then the center of the image. Since the 10D image sensor is smaller then film, such vignetting is very much reduced. Similarly many aberrations increase as the distance from the optical axis increases. For 35mm film, the corners are 21.5mm from the optical axis, for the 10D the corners are 13.3mm from the optical axis, so corner image quality is expected to be higher for 10D digital images than for full frame 35mm film images.

Obviously if you are shopping for a lens for your 10D (or other Canon DSLR with a similar sensor size), the the results of the tests presented here will be directly applicable. If you are shopping for a lens for your film camera then bear in mind the limitations outlined above. However the zoom lens that tests better on a 10D will almost certainly be the better performer when used with a 35mm film body too.

One problem with testing zooms, and comparing three different zooms, is that you can generate huge amounts of data. You can test at 5 different focal length settings at 6 different apertures at both center and edge for each of the zoom lenses. That's 180 different images to compare. Rest assured I'm not going to present 180 images here or it would take me a month to write the review and all day to download the page.

Instead I'm going present a subset of the images, illustrating some basic points, but I'm going to draw conclusions based on my own assessment of a larger set of images and you'll just have to take my word for the results I present there!

Note that all of the image here represent very close examination of the image, much closer than you'd normally see in a print. Some of the crops are 100%, in that case a 200x200 pixel sample would be a 1" square section of a 10x15 print. Some of the crops are at 400%, in which case a 200x200 sample would be a 1/4" square in a 10x15 print.

Focusing is the most critical issue in any lens test. If you miss focus even slightly you can draw incorrect conclusions about lens performance. You can't just blindly assume that AF works perfectly every time with every lens. Usually it does, but this is a lens test, not an AF test. For these tests the correspondence between autofocus and manual focus was checked. Manual focus was assisted by the use of the Canon Viewfinder Magnifier. Focus bracketing was used to make sure that the viewfinder screen gave an accurate indication of the final image (it did!).

28mm tests

Here's the first set of images, all shot wide open at 28mm (f4 for the 28-90, f3.5 for the 28-105 and 28-135). The image is cropped from the center of a test target shot from a distance of about 6m. The target was in direct bright sunlight and exposed so as to put the white background of the target close to a pure white. Since the black areas are a small fraction of the total white areas, if any flare is present, it will show up in reduced contrast

28widecenter.jpg (29443 bytes)

28f9center2.jpg (26682 bytes)

Looking at the three top images showing the performance wide open, the gray scale strip at the top of each image shows that the 28-135 has the best color/lowest flare. The 28-105 shot shows some evidence of flare since the left most block is a little light and a little blue. The 28-90 performance is commendable, with maybe a little less flare evident than the 28-105 (though it is at f4 vs. f3.5). Remember that these crops are 138 pixels square out of the original 3072 x 2048

At f9.0 and 28mm all three lenses are pretty similar in the center as can be seen from the lower three images above. Any differences between these images are clearly insignificant. All three Canon zoom lenses show some improvement over their performance wide open. Contrast is higher and flare is lower in the case of the 28-105 and 28-90 lenses as can be seen in the dark patches on the left of the gray scales. The 28-135 is pretty good wide open, so shows less contrast improvement, though a resolution increase can be seen

The following crops are from the top left corner of the image, shot wide open at 28mm

28widecorner.jpg (32729 bytes)

It's evident here that the 28-90 is the worst performer of the group, showing more flare and less sharpness than the others. The 28-135 seems to have a small advantage over the 28-105, but again remember that these are 36x63 pixel crops from the original 3072 x 2048 image so the effects you are seeing here are fairly subtle. They are reproduced here at 400% enlargement. I doubt you'd see them in a 4x6 print, and I doubt they would be very noticeable in an 8x10. At 300 dpi in an 8x12 print, these crops would be about 3mm x 5mm

28f9edge.jpg (49492 bytes)

Here's a shot of a difficult subject at the edge of the frame, 28mm at f9.0. White/black transitions show up color fringing you'd never see on a "normal" image. The 28-90 is clearly not quite so sharp and shows more color fringing. However note that these are 400% enlargements from the original (you can clearly see the individual pixels), so the fringing isn't quite so bad as it may appear in these images.

50mm tests

Below are the results of a test at 50mm focal length. These crops are taken from the center of the image

50center.jpg (61646 bytes)

Again it's clear that there is no big difference in resolution, however it's evident that the 28-90 zoom lens shows lower contrast, especially when used wide open. You can tell this by looking at the density of the horizontal shadow at the top of each crop. The 28-105 and 28-135 are very close in performance. If I had to pick one, I'd say the 28-135 has slightly better contrast, especially wide open. When stopped down to f9.0, all three lenses are about equal.

Samples from the edge of the image are shown below. Again, wide open the 28-90 has the lowest level of performance, with the 28-105 being slightly better and the 28-135 slightly better still. At f9.0, all three Canon zoom lenses are quite similar.

50corner.jpg (60595 bytes)

Below is another example of relative performance at 50mm, this time in the rendering of specular highlights. The shot is of a polished chrome car door lock with the sun reflected off it:

50highlight.jpg (37082 bytes)

As you can see, the cheaper lens does not do very well wide open and renders the bright specular highlight with a blue flare around it. Stopped down the three zoom lenses are pretty equal.

50mm - how about a prime?

The question always seem to come up whether zooms are as good as primes. Well lets look at the EF50/1.8 prime and see how it stacks up against the zooms at 50mm. To make this fair, all the lenses were set to f4.5, which is more or less wide open for the zooms, but more than 3 stops closed for the 50mm prime.

50f45center.jpg (49475 bytes)

I think the prime has a slight edge here. Contrast is certainly slightly better than the 28-135 and 28-105 and significantly better than the 28-90. Resolution isn't very different though. So lets look at the edge of the image:

50f45edge.jpg (44782 bytes)

Well, not too much difference between the prime and the 28-135 and 28-105 zooms, but the 28-90 is clearly suffering pretty badly at the edge. Is the prime significantly better then the two more expensive zooms - In my opinion, no , it's not. But it is three stops faster and 3 stops for $80 is a pretty good deal!

90mm tests

Finally here are the images at 90mm. There's a slight difference in magnification since 90mm isn't marked on either the 28-105 or 28-135 lenses, so I had to make a guess as to where to set the zoom ring. These images show both a normal resolution test pattern and a very low contrast test pattern. Again it's evident that the 29-90 has the lowest contrast and resolution wide open, and this time stopping down doesn't really help much. The other two lenses are fairly equal, with the 28-135 perhaps showing just slightly better contrast, though it's a tough call.

90center.jpg (64280 bytes)

The images below show edge performance at 90mm. It's fairly clear that the 28-90 lags behind the other two lenses wide open. Both contrast and resolution are low. It improves when stopped down but still isn't quite as sharp as the 28-105 or 28-135. It's tough to see much difference between the two better lenses. If there is one it's too small to be of any significance.

90edge.jpg (74882 bytes)

What about the Canon zoom lenses you didn't test

Well, I didn't test them because I don't have access to them, but in the spirit of photo.net I'll still make a few comments!

There is a 28-80 low end zoom which was, I think, replaced by the 28-90. Plastic construction, no distance scales etc.etc. From what I've read and from my general experience with Canon lenses, I'd assume it's pretty similar to the 28-90.

There is a current 28-105/4-5.6 USM which is NOT, repeat, NOT to be confused with the 28-105/3.5-4.5 USM tested here. The 4-5.6 version is another low end plastic lens in the same family as the 28-90. Since it's only about $50 cheaper than the 3.5-4.5, I can see no earthly reason to consider buying one.

There is a 24-85/3.5-4.5 USM which is priced between the 28-105/3.5-4.5 and the 28-135/3.5-5.6. It's a mid range lens like the other two, with full time manual focus, a ring USM, distance scales etc. It has a good reputation and is certainly an alternative if you are prepared to trade off the telephoto end for the wide-angle end of the range.

There is a 28-200/3.5-5.6. I'd be very interested in testing this lens, but I think it would be most fair to test it against 3rd party lenses of similar zoom range.

Then there are the high end "L" series lenses of which the 24-70/2.8L USM is the current production version. However at $1400, it's not really a lens most consumers will consider and it's not one that's in my camera bag, so a test on that lens will have to wait until someone gives one to me...

Conclusions (about the zoom lenses I DID test)

The Canon EF 28-90mm low end lens does fairly well. True, it's not generally as good as the more expensive lenses when used wide open, particularly at 90mm, but it does quite well when stopped down. Edge performance isn't quite so good as the better lenses, but the difference is pretty small, especially stopped down at shorter focal lengths. All in all an OK performance and certainly capable of yielding decent quality small prints and maybe even the occasional 8x10. If you're looking for the smallest, lightest, cheapest lens and you don't intend to use it wide open all the time then it could be a reasonable choice. It's not a very sturdy lens and the ergonomics aren't great either (no separate focus ring, no distance scale), but it's "only" around $100 and these days $100 doesn't buy you much more than this in an autofocus lens. I don't think I'd go so far as to actually recommend this lens, but if you have one I wouldn't recommend throwing it away either!

The Canon EF 28-105mm is a very nice lens to use, it's well built and has good optics, certainly better than the 28-90. At around $200 I think it's a bargain and a much better buy than the 28-90 as long as you don't mind the slightly larger size and increased weight. You also get a longer reach (105 vs. 90), which can be useful. I've owned this lens for many years and I've never been disappointed with it. I can certainly recommend this lens to anyone wanting good performance at a reasonable price.

The Canon EF 28-135mm is clearly the winner from an optical and functional viewpoint. Optically it's as good as or slightly better than the 28-105, plus it has an extra 30mm of reach. The IS function really works and allows you to handhold at 1/8s at 28mm, whereas without IS you might need 1/30s for sharp images. If you're stuck without a tripod this could be the difference between getting a shot and losing it. The downside of the lens is its extra cost (about $200 more than the 28-105) and its significantly increased size and weight, as well as the need for a larger (and more expensive) filter (72mm vs. 58mm). If size weight and cost aren't an issue, it's the better lens. I got this lens in a deal where I bought a camera and this lens came with it. I had intended to sell the lens, but after using it for a while I'm quite reluctant to part with it! The IS feature is really nice...

What would I chose if I had no lens in this range? If my funds were limited I wouldn't totally dismiss the 28-90, though I think if at all possible I'd skip the beer and pizza for a month, save up another $100 and go for the 28-105. It's a significantly better lens and well worth the extra cost. The major difference between the 28-105 and 28-135 are in terms of functionality (IS and 135mm vs. 105mm), not so much in optical quality - though I would say the 28-135 does have a slight edge, especially when used wide open. Which Canon zoom lens you buy between these two is very much a personal decision depending mainly on just how much you think you'll need the IS function and whether you think you'll use the extra range. Be warned though, the IS function is seductive and once you've used it it's hard to give it up!

Where to buy the Canon zoom lenses

Depending on where you buy, which version of the lens you buy and whether you buy gray market or USA versions, the 28-90 will cost you $100-$120, the 28-105 will cost you $200-220 and the 28-135 will cost you around $400.

? Copyright 2003 Robert M. Atkins All Rights Reserved

Readers' Comments

Add a comment

D L , August 02, 2003; 02:37 A.M.

Well done Bob!

I'd really like to see 24-85 included.

I'm actually surprised to see 28-90 performed well(better than 28-105 and 28-135, especially in contrast department) at 28mm wide open. But I'd like to see the some larger versions of the 100% crops.

I've had a 28-105. I've always been happy with it. The best thing about it? Superfast and superquiet focusing. At about $200, it's a remarkable value.

What's next bob? 70-200/2.8L vs 4L vs Sigma 2.8 vs ...?


BTW, did you use the hoods?

Vincent J M , August 02, 2003; 11:20 A.M.

I am not sure about the testing methodology used here. I've been using my 50/1.8-II for a few years now, together with the other lenses, the 28-105/3.5-4.5 (Mk-I) and the 28-135 IS. Though I have only shot on film (mostly B&W - PanF+ and Delta 100), I make 12x16" prints from these in my home darkroom when I have the time, using a Rodenstock Rodagon 50/1.8 on fiber based paper. The difference between the 50mm prime and the other zooms hits you on the face at these print sizes. The 50 clearly shows a lot better sharpness, better contrast and definition. Maybe the DSLR dumbs down the image too much for the user to be able to observe much difference between good and average lenses. Also, in this test since a DSLR was used, one can't tell much about the distortion or egde to edge sharpness.

Bob Atkins , August 02, 2003; 11:53 A.M.

As I tried to make VERY CLEAR in the article (see the very large gray box titled "Caveat"), this is a test of these lenses on a 10D Digital DSLR. Relative performance on film may be different - in fact WILL be different - assuming you use slow film, a tripod, etc. etc. to maximize sharpness.

However you then have to reconcile the fact that MANY people report that they actually get BETTER images from a 10D then they were getting from film.

You also have to reconcile the fact that lower quality lenses give lower quality results on a 10D (see the 28-90) so the 10D can tell the difference between a good lens and a not-so-good lens, so all lenses are not equal on a DSLR!

It's probably true that the 10D won't show the difference between a really good lens and a GREAT lens, but then most people will never see that difference anyway even if they use film.

People often see what they want to see. If told over and over again that an $80 prime is better than a $400 zoom, that's what they'll see. Most people haven't ever put both lenses on a tripod and shot them side by side with equal care. I can tell you that a 24/2.8 prime isn't that much better than a 20-35/3.5-4.5 zoon at 24mm when both are used at f8 to f16 - and they are tested using real film. I know this is herasy, but nevertheless it's true. Primes are faster. That's why I use a 50/1.8 a lot. It's great when light is low, it's great when I want really shallow depth of field. The prime is also a lot smaller and lighter. I think the 50/1.8 is a great lens and if I lost mine I'd buy another one tomorrow. It's just not that different in image quality from the mid-range zooms, especially on a DSLR. Chose not to believe it if you don't want to believe it.

I do these tests very carefully. I've been testing lenses on film for 15-20 years so I do have some grasp of the factors involved. I ran an optical measurements lab for 20 years too, so I'm pretty familar with testing methodology. If thyese results conflict with your beliefs, well, all I can say is numbers and images don't lie.

Maybe I'll do a prime vs. zoom test on APX 25 (ISO 25 B&W film, very sharp) since I actually have a few frames left on a roll that's in my EOS-3 right now. I'll add that as an addendum to the article, but if it doesn't show what you expect it to show, don't blame me!

larry lambert , August 03, 2003; 02:13 A.M.

Uncle Bob I think you could probably auction those last few frames of APX for enough money to step up from the 90 to the 105!! Seems to me the test was at least scientific enough for repeatable results, and even though everyone always makes the disclaimer of YMMV, somebody will always grumble. I have had the 28-135 for about 3 yrs, and have handheld .5 sec single birthday candle shots (!) I've looked at the 28-70 many times (and more recently the 24-70). Every time I'm stuck in my craw, thinking "DAMN, no STABILIZER!!" Having 2.8 is cool and all, but I can shoot the 135 at F8 and always get a sharp handheld shot. Not most of the time, always. Hmmm, 2.8 or 8, 2.8 or 8. Which would you choose?

larry lambert , August 03, 2003; 02:15 A.M.

P.S., did you use the hoods?

Ilkka Nissila , August 03, 2003; 05:42 A.M.

The problem with the optical stabilizer is that it doesn't stop subject motion, while an f/2.8 or faster lens might. To be heretic (since that's the theme of the day), I don't see much value in those blurry people, sharp surroundings shots that I've seen published from IS lenses.

I appreciate the care with which you've done these tests. They're an interesting read. However, in real-world photographic situations, there are other aspects which don't show up in images of lens test charts. Flare/ghosting resistance is one thing, autofocus/manual focus accuracy in case the subject flat & still (this may be lens-dependent as the number of steps or focus throw varies from lens to lens, and brighter lenses are generally easier to focus for both MF and AF), bokeh (it's of interest to people especially in portrait focal lengths which the 50 mm is on a 1.6x DSLR), colour rendition / saturation, contrast (black marks on white is not a normal subject). I realize that these are difficult or impossible to test objectively but a subjective analysis is often of value as in the end all images are judged subjectively.

Vincent J M , August 03, 2003; 10:16 A.M.

Uncle Bob, yes I did read all your notes and comments. However, I am talking simply from a user's perspective. I don't have the time to shoot LPMM charts and test graphs at all apertures and lighting conditions. However, when making full frame 35mm enlargements, I still maintain that my 50/1.8-II delivers noticeably better results than the zooms, at identical apertures.. this is what I have been seeing in my darkroom for the past few years.

Thank you for your kind offer to do a test on APX-25 on your EOS-3. I'd be delighted to see what that shows us. Still, I honestly doubt that almost similar lenses (when shooting on a DSLR) would show a huge difference when shooting film.

Andrew Robertson , August 03, 2003; 05:57 P.M.

I enjoyed the review, and must concur with your findings. However, I think that you need a plywood board with the resolution charts pasted to it to try to get all the test materials on a single plane (within reasonable limits). I think the way you do it now, with a sometimes significant gap between test materials, could lead to error.

Bob Atkins , August 03, 2003; 10:36 P.M.

Everything is attached to a plywood board, though not pasted. I'd estimate the maximum deviation from flat is maybe 5mm. If you run through the calculations and assume I'm shooting from a typical distance or ~4 meters (which for short and medium focal length lenses should give the same results as infinity) you'll see that any variation in target flatness is within 1/10 of the DOF even at 135 and wide open (where the DOF would be something like +/- 10cm). Since Canon AF on consumer zooms is spec'd at within the DOF and even on fast lenses with high accuracy sensors (which the 10D doesn't have) it's within 1/3 the DOF, a target flatness of 5mm is just fine.

So my targets are effectivly "optically flat" as far as focus goes. Having things pinned on there or attached with tape makes it a lot easier to add and remove various different test targets and patterns.

Bas Scheffers , August 05, 2003; 12:07 P.M.

Very interesting. To my eye, the 28-135 seems a bit sharper, that and the IS would make we want to upgrade. I own the 28-105UII and am in the process of deciding on a set of primes or just go with the 24-70/2.8. (in which case I still won't have a very good portrait lens) If going the primes route, using the zoom for traveling light during mid-day and the primes for serious stuff, the 28-105's advantage is that is has the same filter size (52mm) as the 24/2.8, 50/1.4 and 100/2. And if you have fast primes anyway, you don't really need the IS, unless you want the DOF shooting at f/8 brings, of course.

Choices, choices.

Bob Atkins , August 05, 2003; 12:31 P.M.

The advantage of the 28-135 IS as I see it is that it gives you the handholding ability of primes without the hassle of having to change lenses all the time.

The disadvantge/advantage is that it gives you more DOF. Sometimes you want this (especially for travel or PJ work), though sometimes you don't (usually for "art" work").

In my opinion, if you're not going to use a prime wide open, you're not gaining all that much over a mid (or high) range zoom. You will be gaining over a low end zoom though, no doubt about that.

Having compared results from primes and mid-range zooms, I'm pretty much a mid-range zoom man. I have a 50/1.8 for when I don't want DOF and I have a 24/2.8 prime because the 28-135 doesn't cover 24mm (plus it makes a good wide/normal 38mm equivalent lens on a 10D).

Jim Vanson , August 05, 2003; 12:59 P.M.

People often see what they want to see. If told over and over again that an $80 prime is better than a $400 zoom, that's what they'll see.

How true...thanks Bob for the rather well done report of Canon's midrange zooms on a 10D. Hopefully people buying/just having bought a 10D will use the article for guidance.

Now my thoughts on how the article affects me...a film shooter.

I’d like to see 28-135 vs 28 f2.8, 50 f1.8, 85 f1.8, 135 f2 primes; all shot on film. I crop on an enlargers baseboard. I often use the edge of the image circle albeit the edge that the 35mm frame can see. Film will test the lens in a different way because as you said; digital looks through the lenses sweet spot, film looks throughthe sweet spot and the edges. I’d like to see comparisons of the prime wide open, at the zooms wide open f-stop and at f8. Compare that to the zoom wide open and the zoom at f8.

Results will be interesting, I believe they'd really help those that see what they want to see. Cheers...jim

Bas Scheffers , August 05, 2003; 02:31 P.M.

Good point, Bob. I guess I want both! I would not be surprised if I end up buying the primes, the 28-135 and keeping the 28-105 as well. The IS on the body filled with ISO 100 slide film and the other one on a black and white body, usualy 400 speed. May replace my 70-200/4L with a 200/2.8L while I am at it. One at a time, though! ;-)

Now for you guys living in the current century, wouldn't it be nice if Canon came up with a 16-70/3.5-5.6 USM IS? (5.6 because I doubt they could do 4.5 affordably in that zoom range)

(for those wondering: I have decided to stick with Canon, I will go digital some day, which will no doubt be Canon. I like my Olympus, but keeping up two systems with the quality I want makes no financial sense and selling it will pay for half to 2/3 of the new canon lenses I want)

James Alexander , August 10, 2003; 05:10 P.M.

Bob, why have you taken up the highly annoying and asinine habit of saying "Canon have..." instead of "Canon has...?" Canon is the name of a company which is a singular entity. Whether Canon has many employees, one employee or no employees is irrelevant to the construction of the sentence. We don't say "Chicago are the windy city" just because a lot people live there. A city is a singular thing and so is a company. Please stop this silliness. It is very distracting.

Bob Atkins , August 11, 2003; 12:00 P.M.

Ow deer, I seme to ave lost the abilaty to speek propar inglish.

Your probobly rite.

Ben Smith , August 11, 2003; 04:05 P.M.

Whether one uses a singular or plural verb when speaking or writing about companies, governments, families (and so on) has nothing to do with being right or wrong. Different varieties of English do it in different ways.

Those who speak British English will most often use a plural verb:

"British Rail charge too much for their dodgy services."

American English speakers will generally use the singular:

"Our government is on a bit of a bender at the moment."

Be descriptive instead of prescriptive - it's so much more interesting and less frustrating!

V S , August 15, 2003; 09:59 A.M.

I wish you did it when I bought my 10D :-)

I asked for that in forume, but most "pros" said : cheap lense sux. If you spent $$$ on 10D go ahead and buy good lense. Now I can see the real diference, realy good.

I got a cheap one first and promtly upgraded to 135 IS and very happy with it.

From "non-profesional" point of view : 135 IS DOES give me much better images then plastic cheapo : both in terms of colors and focus ( it may be related to "IS" as well ) There are an obviose diference between images I shoot with both when I look on it now in my archives.

I would also say that even 90 gave me nice shoots in good weather for obviose reason and I also belive it kind of softer , but may be it is my shaky hands.

Another nice feature : 135 IS looks much more impresive : it wider, heavear and biger, so more "wow" effect :-) ( it can be a factor for some if you need to justify money you spent )

Rob Bernhard , August 28, 2003; 10:52 A.M.

The 28-90 was released with the Ti, if I remember correctly. I also recall reading that this lense was of worse quality than the 28-80. Having started with a Rebel 2000 where the 28-80 was the included lens, it would have been interesting to see if there is actually a quality difference between the two. Important? No, of course not. :)

Clanbuster Studio , September 08, 2003; 04:31 A.M.

24-70mm f2.8 L USM OR 28-135mm IS USM

I was saving money to buy either one of them. Well known lens "L" for sure is much better quality picture. But "IS" can help most of us because no matter how good is the lens, Somehow any share of your hands will cause lousy pictures. Which lens should we consider? I also headache choosing one of it because i always don't carry tripod all the time.

Mick Trist , November 03, 2003; 01:26 P.M.

What about the (discontinued) 35/105 zooms ?

They are in plentiful supply in the used market - are they worth considering ?

Walter Iglesias , December 27, 2003; 03:10 P.M.

the 28-105 is a rewally bad lens I am not saying it is the worst lens but it is bad. Barrel aberration is terrible at less than 105mm also it is not sharp at all even at f8 and also contrast in really bad. If you are using Canon and shoot film get a good FD prime like the Fd 100 f2,8, if you use digital and want a portrait lens the 70-200 f4 is very good. or the 70-200 f2,8 that is very good also but much more expensive.

igor narijny , July 17, 2004; 04:04 P.M.

Thanks for the good review, Bob!

Just wanted to add my 2 cents re my experience with 28-105, and am afraid it's not quite the same as yours. It was my first lens many years ago (a 3.5-4.5 version), and as long as I shooted snapshots it was acceptable. But when I shifted to slides and started working for magazines, it became a permanent disappointment. Two major drawbacks - very soft when enlarged, so the picture looks untidy, and non-consistent optical quality across the frame.

Finally changed it for Tokina 28-70/2.6-2.8, and it really was different. So I was surprised a bit learning from your review that the difference between 50/1.8 which I think is an excellent glass, better than Tokina, and 28-105 is much less than I expected. Probably sensor limitations, I suggest.

Well, it's a third party lens...Not sure how loyal my remark is to Canon, but maybe it helps someone. Note, however, that Tokina is terribly slow-focussing lens compared to 28-105, but the picture is much,much better.

As to 18-55 kit lens, I tested it on 300D and found it a bit better than Tamron 20-40/2.7-3.5 which I have - probably also may help someone.

If anyone is interested, my home test of Canon-compatible lenses on 300D (shooted same object at all apertures, 3 focal points on every zoom - wide end, middle and narrow end) showed the following order in terms of optical quality: 1) 28-70/2.8L 2) Tokina 28-70/2.6-2.8 - starting from f4-4.5 these two are not too far apart; 3)18-55 - great lag behing Tokina; 4) Tamron 20-40 - not much worse than 18-55.

Best, Igor

Patrik Jonsson , July 27, 2004; 11:19 P.M.

Hi, were the 28-135 images taken with IS turned on? (I assume not, if you had it on a tripod.) I've had a 28-135 for almost 2 years, and while I really like IS, I've noticed that in some instances it will actually contribute to making the images blurry. I took a bunch of test shots with and without IS, and my impression is that if you're shooting at normal "handholding speeds", IS will actually contribute to a small but noticeable image degradation. For images taken with a tripod, it should DEFINITELY be turned off. Does anyone have similar experiences?

David Miller , December 26, 2004; 07:18 P.M.

I want to thank you Bob for your article.

My first Canon was/is the EOS 10D. This purchase was based on a colleagues 10D and his 24-70 2.8L which we used to digitally record clients fine art, which I was reproducing on my Epson 9600 with matte black ink.

I did purchase the 28-135 USM IS not realizing the outer straight edges of the clients images would bow out, all around the image. Sides, top, and bottom. Barrel distortion.

I also purchased the 24-70 USM 2.8L as well as the 70-200 USM 2.8L IS, and found that with either of these two lenses, my reproduction work became, well, nearly perfect. Photoshop CS and the Epson 9600 made the finished products perfect.

I agree these two lenses are not in the economy catagory you have written about. However I would like other readers to be aware the 28-135 USM IS, even though more reasonably priced, is not suitable, in my opinion, for fine art reproduction.

I have kept the 28-135 USM IS for some of the same reasons others have continued using it. Light all around walk around lens. Would I have realized the barrel distortion was there, I would not have ordered it. It was too late to return by the time the barrel distortion was identified.

Bob Atkins , January 12, 2005; 06:50 P.M.

Barrel distortion is trival to correct in PhotoShop and many other image editors. If you're shooting digital or you're scanning your work, distortion is easily corrected. Obviously if you're shooting slides and submitting originals for publication then distortion may be a significant issue.

Geoff Francis , December 20, 2007; 12:11 A.M.

I just want to add a correction. The 28-135 f3.5-5.6 IS USM lens takes 72 mm filters not 67 mm filters as was stated in the review.

Marcos Di Paolo , May 24, 2009; 04:01 P.M.

My 28-135 IS USM make this noise when the IS is ON: http://www.marcosdipaolo.nl/IS_28-135.mp3 i bought it today second hand, but the lens was used about only two times. Please, somebody tell me if this is normal. Thanks a lot. M.

Stephen Coates , July 04, 2009; 03:22 P.M.

Marcos, My 28-135 also makes that noise when the IS is on so I'm guessing it is normal.

Manos Bairaktaris , December 27, 2009; 01:34 P.M.

I own both 28-90 (non-USM) and 28-135 IS. I never expected much from the 28-90 and it never delivered! But 28-135 has disappointed me. Perhaps my lens happens to be a bad one, but I can't recommend it. It's soft and colour rendition is really poor. I was extremely disappointed when I bought a 300D with an 18-55 kit lens, which performs far better. I can live with the fact that my 50/1.8 prime is superior, but a 100$ kit zoom (the EF-S 18-55) gave the final blow. It's really a pity since the IS works well, the ring-USM is useful (especially with my EOS-3 film camera and separate AF/metering buttons) and the zoom range is very good. Since others are happy with this lens, mine might be a faulty lens.

dee tox , February 20, 2010; 12:19 A.M.

I completely agree with Manos concerning the 28-90mm kit zoom. I didn't expect much and it didn't deliver! But I did find a use for it. Because this lens can be purchased on the used market so cheaply, I picked one up and it became my dedicated product photography lens. I wrote a short article about the EF 28-90mm on my camera gear review site. The short version is that when stopped down and supplemented with flash, it did a fine job.

Bradley Linton , June 01, 2010; 02:32 A.M.

I suppose for the price this lens (28-135) performs as expected.  For anything more critical than casual shooting I think the lens is lacking namely do to a lack of sharpness (although it's okay in this category around f8-9), and the lack of speed when zoomed in.

This came as the kit lens for my 7d and I must admit I get a lot of use out of it.  That being said, for serious work I'll rent high-end primes with low f stops.


-bradley linton


Michael McGrath , July 29, 2010; 04:33 P.M.

Wondering why most of the reviewers are knocking that great little lens , that fab little performer , the Canon EF 28 - 90 mm kit lens ?

I simply cannot understand all the bad remarks about this lens . As a Pro Photographer I was faced with taking family portraits with the Bishop fast, and I mean fast , after Confirmation ceremonies , you don't get a second, hardly to breathe when they start queuing up , early on I had to abandon my Bronica SQA , my Mamiya 645 , my Nikon N90S , all eleven of of my Pro / Prosumer cameras , to keep up with the job ( Three of my DSLRs too as Digital does not suit large print jobs like this, even my Fuji S Pro or Sony Alpha ) .

I tried my old Canons 620 and 300V , both with this lens , and , voila , they turned out to be the fastest handling and focusing of all my cameras and lenses ! As a Pro you work with what is best for the job , and I found the Canon 28-90 to be the fastest for this particular job which earns me about 6,5oo EURO a year , not to be sneezed at in the present economic circumstances( I also get weddings to shoot as a result of the fab colour it produces from many of the families concerned through the years ) .

Then roll on the First Holy Communions and all ther little tots and more money from the Canon 28-90 rolling in , about 3,500 Euro , making a tidy sum of 10,000 EURO every year pn Confo's and Communions alone , that's the way a Pro works in Ireland, fast and hard !

And I reckon top Pro's like David Bailey would use something similar if faced with the same situation of taking 30 10X8 enlargements in a frantic rush inside an hour , posing the families , finding out what each wants , taking their names ( and cash ! ) and shooting !!!

And so it's plastic , so what , it does the job , and in my hands always to perfection , it has never let me down on that job over five years now . So it's light , all the better, so it's cheap , God forbid !

But I am convinced that it must be amongst the fastest - focusing Canon lenses you can get , and that's what I need on this particular job .

Back in 1966 my fellow Nikon-wielding Press Pro's laughed at me for using a Pentax Spotmatic and SMC Takumar lens for press wortk , now they know why !!!

It's great for outdoor portraiture , the 28-90 in my vast experience of it , delivers great colour , contrast and resolution on the job , and . I don't care if it breaks , I have another one backing up , and now , thanks to all the propaganda , it only costs me 30 Euro on ebay to replace .

John Lennon used to do the same with the harmonicas he played on stage and in studio with the Beatles , buy cheapo ones , dump them , and buy more cheaps all the time .

Seriously , from experience of turning out lovely 10X8 colour enlargements all the time with this lens from Reala and Superia film , I am convinced that it deserves a nuch higher rating amongst its peers . Yes I probably prefer my Canon 28-70 ( not L ) , but I don't risk it out there amongst all the pushing and shoving , the Canon 28-90 is the perfect lens for the scrum , use it , toss it , buy another and another .

But for the amateur ( meaning not doing it for the money ) the Canon 28-90 lens is as good as anybody will need and should last years . Therefore I give it a rating on the job of 5 out of 5 , I'd give it 6 out of 5 if I could , especially after all the money it makes me !!!Hey , wait a minute , maybe they're all running this fab little lens down deliberately so it will be cheaper on ebay?

So rush over to ebay and get one for half nothing, quick  now that I have let the cat out of the bag !!!

Michael . Michael McGrathThe Studio Kilkenny City Ireland

( PS , Sad news , Fuji Reala film gone ! ) .

Michael McGrath , July 29, 2010; 06:08 P.M.

I honestly do not consider the 28-105 , 28-70 , 24 - 85 or any of the old EOS Canon lenses to have any better image quality than the 28 - 90 of which I have an original ( marlk 1 ? ) . I think that the others may appeal on grounds of build quality , having some metal , being a bit heavier ,


I don't trust them because they have all been reported as vignetting to some extent or another , which the 28 - 90 does not do .

I think you would have to go as far as L series lenses to seriously get the better of the 28 - 90 . And to buy an L lens you would have to be a devout Canonist , which I am not - I prefer to buy lenses for my medium format gear , especially now that Digital has drwn level with 35mm film .

And in Digital I prefer Sony so I can get top Minolta lenses cheap that become anti-shake the moment they are mounted .

Pro's work like this , wealthy amateurs buy L series lenses , like over on Fred Miranda's site where you are not even let in unless you have a paying email address !!!

And of course most of them  have no time for the ' humble' Canon 28-90 over there  :-)

Here's to a great little worker that has proven itself time and again for me without fail when I use Canon  , the Canon EF 28-90 3.5 - 5.6 ( The Original Mark I , mind you  ) . It will never be amongst the Greats , like my SMC Takumar 12.4/50 , but in my time they said that the Nikkor 1.4/50 on the original Nikon F was better .

They were wrong then , in a big way , and they'll be wrong again .

FYI I have the Zeiss Flektogon 35/2.4 and the Zeiss Sonnar 135/3.5 , and they are no better in IQ than the Canon 28-90 , IMO these Zeisses are  overrated on the net , but that SMC Takumar is not , pity it isn't AF , and pity Pentax ever gave it up .


Michael McGrath , August 11, 2010; 03:15 P.M.

But Bob Atkins is right , as his tests show , about the bad performance of the 28-90 at 90 .

You'll get the very best out of this lens by treating it as a 35-70 in general use , only going to the 28 or 90 in extreme circumstances . Also a lens hood is essential on any of these consumer lens , and if you're stuck without a lens hood use a cut-out paper cup .

The one great thing about the 28-90 is its fabulously fast auto-focusing speed , better than any other lens I have , and I have Zeisses, Zuiko , Zenzanon and Nikkor lenses , it beats everything I have ever handled hands-down for auto-focussing speed . It seems to be especially suited to the 300V/ Kiss 5 in this regard .

But I have the original ' mark 1 ' , it seems to be the model that Bob tested here , there seems to be nothing about it specifically on the Internet , I have tried all over .

Maybe Bob will tell us about it , when it was issued for instance ?

It seems to make the old Canon 620 I have acquired spring alive , real fast , but if I were investing in, say , a Canon 7D I would buy an L series to go with that .  But I use Sony Alpha to avail of all the Minolta lenses shake free , and I still find the Fuji S2 Pro the best Digital for weddings - flies along with my Metz 45CL4 flash on candids ( I take all important wedding shots on Bronica SQA and Mamiya 645 medium format film ) , don't use Canon at all at weddings .

But I do use it and find it the best for FAST outdoor portraits in a churchyard when families are really coming at me to have their photos with the Bishop . None of all my other gear can beat the Canon EOS 300V with 28-90 for that particular job with all photos to 10X8 colour prints .

Horses for courses , I think ...

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