There does not seem to be a lot of information out there about this lens still, so I thought I’d share some impressions about it here. I’ve had it for a couple of months now, I’m just coming back from a trip where it served as my only tele, so I feel that I have used it enough to give some comprehensive info about it.
Apologies in advance for the lack of quantitative, dare I say scientific tests, that’s not what I’m up to (I’m just too lazy for that, let’s be honest). So I’m sticking with “impressions” about the lens; therefore, by definition, it is all subjective, and surely lacking in many areas. You’ve been warned.
Excuse also the quality of the pics included. Not all of them are keepers, but they’re here to illustrate some of the points I make. I tried to link to full size JPEGs for closer examination if needed (not very familiar with the forum interface yet, so I hope that worked fine …)Build quality
Well, it’s plastic. All around. Somehow before I bought the lens, I’d read some early reviews disagreeing about whether the barrel was plastic or metal. I have no idea how there was even a discussion about it, because it takes one second holding the lens to realize that it’s not made like its EF-M cousins, but that the barrel is indeed all plastic (as is the lens mount, obviously).
Whether that’s a good thing or not, that’s up to you to decide. I will note that it’s not only plastic, but it’s fairly soft plastic. I’ve dropped this lens twice during my last trip (in 10 days … yes, I’m THAT clumsy). Both fairly minor drops, and both lens and body still work like a charm. But the lens is dented, in several places. Clearly it does not require too much force to make a dent. Maybe that’s a good thing after all, maybe that’s even why the lens is still working perfectly … But in any case: soft plastic.
There’s at least one undeniable advantage to this: it’s light. And pretty small too. It’s quite remarkable to have 320mm equivalent in such a small package. I bought it specifically to be my lightweight, travel tele, and from that point of view it does not disappoint.
As for other aspects of build quality, it’s very similar to other EF-M lenses. Same look, which for me is a good point, I think this EF-M lenses look pretty sleek, but YMMV. The zoom ring is nice and large and handles fairly well. And as usual with EF-M lenses, the focus ring is terrible, small and impossible to handle, with a horrible focus by wire. So this is not a lens for manual focusing, but if you’ve handled any other EF-M lens you know what I mean. Image stabilization
As on other EF-M lenses, the IS on this lens works flawlessly. Efficient, and remarkably quiet.
200mm, 1/30 sec, f/6.3, ISO 400
One note that is not really about the lens, but more about handling: I found it significantly harder to handle the M at arms length (no VF, so framing on the back LCD) with this telephoto. Even with IS I consistently needed to stay at faster shutter speeds to retain good sharpness, compared to, say, my 70-200 IS on my 6D (and I mean differences larger that what the crop factor accounts for). To be clear, this is not about the IS system of either lens, but it is just about handling. Probably a personal thing too, but I can be pretty steady with a DSLR and a mid-size lens in my hands, and clearly I find it much harder with the small M and EF-M lens held at arms length. Something to keep in mind. Sharpness
No MTF charts here, but I can give a general impression. A word about my personal expectations with this lens: when it was announced, there was a lot of disappointment about it being f/6.3 at the long end, but I never really cared about that. On the other hand, I was somewhat disappointed that it stopped at 200mm. I had hoped for specs closer to the EF-S equivalent, so up to 250mm. So when ordering this lens, I was wishing for something truly usable throughout that (somewhat limited) focal length range, and therefore I didn’t want to see the quality drop off significantly at the long end.
Well the good news is, I don’t see that at all. To me sharpness remains pretty even throughout the range, up to and including 200mm.
200mm, 1/100 sec, f/8, ISO 400
Keep in mind that I didn’t go measuring sharpness into extreme corners at every focal length … But I’ve had other lenses that get noticeably worse at the long end (an older EF-S 55-250 and particularly the EF 70-300 IS), and it did not take any pixel peeping to notice. This EF-M lens does not show that.
On a less positive note, I would add that while sharpness remains consistent throughout the zoom range, it’s not that great to begin with. It’s good, though. Just not great. Not the spectacular sharpness of the EF-M 11-22, or that of the 22 stopped down a bit. It’s comparable to the EF-M 18-55 (so if you’ve used that, you’ll know that it’s perfectly fine).
184mm, 1/250 sec, f/8, ISO 400Contrast
Probably the weakest IQ trait of this lens. I find the images out of this lens consistently lacking in contrast, looking slightly veiled, and requiring a contrast boost in post.
55mm, 1/200 sec, f/8, ISO 100
Colors also come out noticeably muted. I’m really not a saturation whore, in fact most of the time I like a slightly desaturated look. But with this lens, I find myself bringing the saturation up on almost all the pictures. Something to live with I suppose.
85mm, 1/200 sec, f/8, ISO 100Chromatic aberrations
Pleasant surprise here, CA is very nicely handled from what I’ve seen. Now I haven’t tried to push it particularly, but I’ve shot it in a variety of situations, and have never seen anything really objectionable.
200mm, 1/250 sec, f/11, ISO 100Flare
I’ll mention flare, although I’ve rarely encountered the issue in my shooting (and haven't gone looking for it). I think it’s less relevant with a tele anyway, where it’s much easier to avoid flare-inducing situations in the first place.
75mm, 1/125 sec, f/5, ISO 250
But generally speaking, I haven’t seen anything too horrible in terms of ghosting, but more of a tendency to veil and lose contrast. But this is a bit too anecdotal to draw any real conclusion.
55mm, 1/100 sec, f/6.3, ISO 200Bokeh
Quick word here as well, for two reasons. First, it takes some serious testing to really find out the out of focus characteristics of a lens (I hate when I see reviews drawing conclusions on bokeh from just one picture, when it depends so much on the type of background, patterns, distance from subject etc.) Second because this might not be a major factor for a 200mm f/6.3 lens used on a crop sensor.
So I’ll just say this: when needed, and when proper attention is paid to the background, a very pleasant blur can be easily achieved. Bit of catseye shaping in the below example, I suppose, but nothing major in my book.
153mm, 1/200 sec, f/5.6, ISO 160Conclusions
It’s a bit hard to summarize everything, for a lens that has pretty clear strengths and weaknesses. I’ll say this: to me, this is the first EF-M lens that is not a steal for the money.
To elaborate a bit, I think every other EF-M lens offers some of the best price vs quality values in the whole Canon lineup. The 18-55 is optically not the best, but it's more than decent, and at the price it’s currently going for, it makes a great normal zoom for the M. The 22 is really a remarkable value as well, cheap and optically excellent. And the 11-22 … well I could write pages about how great that lens is. But I won’t. The point is, each of these lenses, although each in its own way, is imho a fantastic value for the M system.
The EF-M 55-200 to me does not reach that “friggin’ steal” level. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, I think it’s absolutely fine optically, and being so small and light it makes a great travel telephoto. But it does have noticeable shortcomings, and it’s not THAT cheap …
Personally I’m happy to have it for those cases that I want to travel light and still be able to get some reach in my pictures. But whenever I want optimal IQ, I’ll be reaching for something else.