Now we see through a glass, darkly...
- Apr 5, 2016
You're placing 21st century expectations on lenses created in the late 1980s to claim that lenses considered "premium" then weren't because they wouldn't be considered "premium" today.Not exactly. The EOS-1 was introduced in 1989. Also introduced that year was its holy trinity of lenses: 28-80 f/2.8-4, 20-35 f/2.8 and 80-200 f/2.8. The first four lenses introduced for the EOS system, in 1987, were the 50 f/1.8, 35-105 f/3.5-4.5, 35-70 f/3.5-4.5 and 100-300 f/5.6, definitely not high end. There were some very high end lenses introduced between 1987 and 1989 but in 1987, the Canon F1 using the FD lens mount was king and Canon was introducing lenses for both the FD and EOS mounts. There was even an 85 f/1.2 for the FD mount. The 50 f/1.0 was the first lens that Canon introduced for the EOS mount while stating that it could not be made for the FD mount. That was in 1989.
In 1987, I owned a serious FD system and was extremely annoyed that Canon didn't see fit to make an FD body that had an in-focus indicator in the viewfinder. It wouldn't have been difficult, although there was no way that an FD lens could have been controlled by an FD body. There simply wasn't room in the mount.
Several 1987, 1988, and 1989 EF lenses released months before the EOS-1 in September of 1989 were considered higher end lenses.
EF 100-300mm f/5.6 L (1987)
EF 135mm f/2.8 SF (1987) was considered an "advanced" lens
EF 300mm f/2.8 L USM (1987)
EF 50-200mm f/3.5-4.5 L (1988)
EF 600mm f/4 L USM (1988)
EF 200mm f/1.8 L USM (1988)
EF 28-80mm f/2.8-4 L USM (April 1989) is the equivalent of today's 24-70/2.8. It was out half a year before the EOS-1. It was the 24th EF lens released.
The EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM and EF 85mm f/1.2 L USM were released at the same time as the EOS-1, as were the EF 80-200mm f/2.8 L USM and EF 20-35mm f/2.8 L USM.
But at the time, a "Holy Trinity" was a set of fast (i.e. f/2.8 or wider) 24 or 28 or 35/50/85 primes. The EF 35mm f/2 didn't hit the market until 1990, but the EF 28mm f/2.8 had been out since 1987 and the EF 24mm f/2.8 came in 1988. The original EF 50mm f/1.8 (1987) was also a little better build quality than the cheaper "plastic fantastic" EF 50mm f/1.8 II.
Other than the TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L, there was not a "premium" 24mm or 35mm "L" until 1997 and 1998, respectively. That ought to tell you all that you need to know about the acceptability of "non-L" primes for use by many pros back in the early EOS era.