Canon EF vs EF-S Lenses: Compatability and Practical Difference

Last Updated on

Do you want to know the difference between Canon EF vs EF-S lenses?

This can be a confusing topic, especially for photographers who have only just purchased a Canon DSLR.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide–which will tell you everything you need to know about EF lenses, EF-S lenses, and the differences between them.

By the time you’ve finished, you’ll know whether an EF or an EF-S lens is right for you.

Understanding Lens Mounts

First things first:

If you want to understand the difference between EF and EF-S lenses, you’ve got to understand lens mounts.

What is a Lens Mount?

The lens mount is the place where a lens and a camera come in contact. Technically speaking, both the camera and lens contain part of the mount–and these two features combine to create a working setup.

Note that different lens mounts are created by different manufacturers. A Canon lens mount is different from a Nikon lens mount which is different from a Sony lens mount.

The EF vs EF-S distinction is an example of this last scenario. Canon makes both of these lens mounts, but one is designed to mount on full-frame DSLRs, while the other is designed to mount on APS-C DSLRs.

The photo was taken with Canon APS-C camera EF-S lens

A History of EF Lens Mounts

EF lenses go all the way back to 1987, while EF-S lenses are much newer (they were created in 2003).

The name ‘EF’ comes from the mechanics of the lens: EF lenses include an ‘Electro-Focus’ motor, which allows for electronic focus to be carried out by the lens itself.

Prior to using the EF mount, Canon had been producing cameras and lenses that interfaced through the FD mount. This mount required that the autofocus motor be housed in the camera, rather than the lens.

EF vs EF-S Lenses

When EF-S lenses were first produced by Canon in the early 2000s, there were already a huge number of EF lenses on the scene.

But what’s the difference between these two lens types?

In the most basic sense:

EF lenses are produced for Canon’s full-frame DSLRs. EF-S lenses are produced for Canon’s APS-C DSLRs.

While there is a wide range of EF lenses, many of them are designed with advanced amateurs and professionals in mind.

EF-S lenses, on the other hand, are designed to take advantage of the smaller APS-C sensor size. Canon also designed EF-S lenses to take into account the different needs of APS-C users.

Example of photo that was shot with Canon Full Frame camera and wide angle EF lens

Can I Use EF Lenses on Crop Sensor Cameras?

If you’re trying to decide whether to buy an EF lens or an EF-S lens, this is a critical question.

Can you use an EF lens on a crop-sensor camera, or do they only work on full-frame bodies?

Fortunately, it is possible to use an EF lens on a crop-sensor camera. However, there are a few benefits and drawbacks to take into account:

Benefits

First, an EF lens will have a narrower field of view on an APS-C camera. For wildlife and sports photographers who require a lot of reach, this is extremely helpful.

For instance, a 300mm EF lens ends up with a field of view equivalent to a 480mm lens on an Canon APS-C camera.

Second, EF lenses tend to have a more robust build than their EF-S counterparts. Many EF lenses, such as Canon’s L lenses, are built with professionals in mind, and can handle the rigors of serious use.

The photo was taken with Canon APS-C camera and EF lens

Drawbacks

While the narrow field of view on an APS-C camera may be appreciated by some photographers, others–primarily landscape and architectural photographers–will want the widest field of view possible.

So if you’re a landscape or architectural shooter, or you just want an ultra-wide angle perspective, it’s better to use a full-frame camera with EF lenses.

See also: Best Wide Angle Lens for Canon

Plus, EF lenses are much more expensive than EF-S lenses. If you’re on a budget, you’ll appreciate the money you can save by purchasing EF lenses instead.

Can I Use EF-S Lenses on Full-Frame Cameras?

That depends on the lens.

EF-S lenses tend to stick out farther where they interface with the camera. If the mount on the EF-S lens is long enough, it can come into contact with the camera mirror, causing the camera to break.

However, not all EF-S lenses have this problem. Some EF-S lenses have mounts that will interface without damaging the mirror.

So, assuming that you’re using an EF-S lens that safely mounts on a full-frame camera, you’ll want to think about these key benefits and drawbacks:

Benefits

EF-S lenses tend to be much cheaper than the corresponding EF options, so an EF-S lens can be a nice budget option.

EF-S lenses are also more compact compared to EF lenses, which will help photographers who travel frequently.

Drawbacks

There’s one big issue that comes with using an EF-S lens on a full-frame body:

They’re designed to project the image onto a smaller (APS-C) sensor.

Which means that an EF-S lens mounted onto a full-frame camera will give you a heavy vignette, like this:

You’re free to crop this out in post-processing. But in addition to adding time to your editing workflow, you’ll lose pixels–which can narrow your printing options, among other things.

Should I Buy EF or EF-S Lenses for my APS-C Camera?

If you have an APS-C camera, then you’re free to purchase either EF or EF-S lenses. Both will interface just fine with your camera body.

So it’s really all about your needs as a photographer.

For Sports and Wildlife Photography

If you’re looking to do wildlife, sports, or bird photography, then purchasing an EF super-telephoto lens is a great idea. There are really no EF-S substitutes for these lenses, plus a 400mm EF lens will have the field of view of a 640mm lens on an APS-C camera.

For Landscape, Architecture, and Travel Photography

If you want to do any type of photography that involves a wide-angle lens, then I recommend EF-S lenses.

Canon manufacturers some great wide-angle EF-S glass. And landscape photographers as well as travel photographers often spend hours or days in the field, where a light setup is essential.

For Portrait and Casual Photography

If you’re shooting portraits or walkaround photography on an APS-C camera, EF-S lenses can be a great choice.

They’re cheap, they’re optically impressive, and they’re small–which makes them a great option for either of these types of shooting.

Understanding Canon EF-M Mount and EF-M Lenses

In addition to its EF and EF-S lenses, Canon produces another lens lineup:

EF-M lenses.

These are designed to work on Canon EOS M APS-C mirrorless bodies, not DSLRs.

However, Canon offers an adapter that allows you to mount EF and EF-S lenses on a Canon EOS M body.

Conclusion

Hopefully, you now understand the key differences between EF vs EF-S lenses.

You should also understand why EF lenses and EF-S lenses both have their place, no matter your camera body.

Because both offer some great optics!

What to Read Next:

>