What’s In My Bag?
In this article we will cover various lenses for Canon EF-S mount cameras. These APS-C format sensors are approximately 24×16 mm. Its dimensions are about 2/3 those of the 35mm film format (29mm vs 43mm diagonal, approx.).
Super Wide Rectilinear
Canon EF-S Macro 60mm F/2.8
For those starting out in underwater DSLR photography, we have no higher recommendation than to start with a Canon 60mm.
This is usually the first lens I’ll recommend to new photographers. With its fast accurate autofocus, this lens will deliver results right away with little frustration. It will be rewarding right out of the box.
The EF-S 60 can attain 1:1 macro, but does so basically at the end of your macro port. If a subject can run away, it probably won’t let you get that close. This is a great lens for fish portraits, macros of stationary subjects, and for close-up shooting in dirty water. More...
Canon EF 100mm f /2.8 Macro & 100mm f2.8L IS
100mm, 1/125th, f/16
100mm, 1/125th, f/20
I have used this lens on 9 out of 10 macro dives. The main advantage of this lens is the added standoff distance gained over the shorter macros. The 100mm attains 1:1 reproduction about 6” in front of your port, giving you some breathing room between the underwater housing and skittish subjects. Conversly, you may find that you sometimes have to back up too much on larger subjects in dirty water.
The longer minimum focus distance also allows the use of water contact close up lenses or housed close up lenses for super macro shooting. I’ll often use a +6-+10 diopter or SMC wet lens on the end of the port, which brings the minimum focus distance in to about 3” in front of the port, but allows 2:1 macro reproduction.
Being a longer macro, its autofocus can sometimes hunt, so a good focus light is very important. The AF motor is fast, but low contrast subjects can be tricky. A focus gear isn’t absolutely critical with this lens, if your underwater housing offers convenient access to the AE-L/AF-L or AF-ON controls from the right handle. Assuming you can access these buttons easily, you can “lock & rock” with this lens, allowing you to let auto focus get close, lock af, then rock in and out for fine focus. The original 2.8 version of this lens is still available and is generally a good value. It doesn't have the Image Stabilization of the 2.8L series, though that is not critical when using a strobe. That being said, the L series lens has come down in price a lot and is a great lens for the money.
The curved aperture blades on this lens yield a very smooth out of focus area, and this lens is very sharp. More...
Canon 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye Zoom
This lens gets top honors as the sharpest, nicest fisheye available for Canon whether fixed focal or zoom. The only downside to this lens compared to the Tokina 10-17mm listed below is that it is about double the cost and doesn't zoom all the way to 17mm so it has a little less "reach". But if you want best in class glass; this is it. The dome works great with Large domes and small 100mm-140mm for exceptional close-focus wide angle.
Canon 8-15mm at 10mm, 1/250 second, f/8
Tokina 10-17mm /3.5-4.5 Fisheye Zoom
No, it isn’t made by Canon, but Tokina started a revolution with this first fisheye zoom. This is a very good optic at a great price, which perfectly suits what I want in a fisheye lens for underwater photography.
This close focusing fisheye lens works extremely well behind nearly every dome port, even allowing specialty ports like the Zen Underwater DP-100 Fisheye Macro port to be used.
Lionfish on Reef; Close Focus Wide Angle
Tokina 10-17 at 10mm, 1/250 second, f/8
This is an extremely wide lens that focuses very close. At 10mm, its field of view is nearly 180 degrees. When zoomed to 17mm, it has a 110 degree field of view. I use this lens at 10mm for close focus wide angle shooting, and will zoom in on occasion to crop to a more pleasing composition, or frame a more skittish subject tightly. This versatility makes 10-17 my go to lens on DX or EF-S Camera. More...
Tokina 10-17mm at 10mm
Tokina 10-17mm at 13mm
Sigma 15mm f/2.8
This too is a very good lens, and used to be my first choice in the days prior to Tokina 10-17. Sigma 15 has a 120 degree field of view on a DX sensor, and just a touch of barrel distortion, but not enough to be distracting. More...
Sigma 15mm 1/200th, f/6.3
Canon 15mm f/2.8
This is a good lens, but a pretty old design. The Sigma 15mm was always my first choice due to its better close focus ability. More...
#1 Canon 18-55 3.5-5.6 IS STM with Nauticam WACP-1
Sigma 18-35 f1.8 DC HSM Art with Nauticam WACP-1
Wait you are thinking: that is a kit lens and not wide angle at all! Yes that is true, but it is also a contemporary, fast focusing lens with excellent optics that happens to work superbly well with Nauticam's amazing WACP-1. This is our favorite way to shoot wide angle on a crop sensor Canon. You get excellent sharp corners and near fisheye 130 degree FOV with focus to the glass CFWA capability AND incredible zoom range for isolating sharks in the blue or fish portraits. For more information on this ground breaking lens combination, go here. Nothing else produces this versatility. For those that want the fastest lens possible and are will to give up some zoom range, the Sigma 18-35 does a beautiful job.
Canon EF-S 10-22 /3.5-4.5
There are situations where a fisheye lens is just too wide, and if I don't have a WACP as mentioned above, I’ll reach for a superwide rectilinear lens like the 10-24. Subjects like scalloped hammerheads, eagle rays, and pelagic fish often won’t let you get close enough to give these magnificent subjects the prominence they deserve with a fisheye lens, and you’ll need something with more reach. There are lots of options, and most of them are decent, but 10-24 has become my choice because it has slightly sharper corners with most dome ports.
Of all the superwide rectilinear lenses I’ve tested, this one has the best corner sharpness behind common 8” domes. Even with large domes, you’ll still see some corner softness, and it will be more apparent at closer focusing distances and open apertures. In most cases a single element close-up lens (commonly, but incorrectly, referred to as a diopter) improves corner sharpness, but this isn’t without consequence. The close-up lens will also reduce the field of view, increase pincushion distortion, and increase purple fringing. In general I’ll use a close-up lens in situations where soft corners are distracting (wrecks, reefs), but won’t when shooting sharks & pelagics in blue water.
You probably aren’t going to be happy with the corner sharpness you’ll get using this lens behind a 6 or 7” dome port. The 8 or 9” options are much better. More...
Again, most all of these corner sharpness issues are corrected when using a WACP, which is why it makes for such a powerful option.
Canon 11-24 /4
This is a great EF lens and will do a nice job, but the price, size and weight may discourage its use for EF-S mount
Tokina 11-16 /2.8
I have to admit, I love to shoot this lens topside. The short focal length (which I can hand hold even after a few cups of coffee) and /2.8 aperture make this one of my favorites in low light conditions. Its relatively limited range and slightly softer corners in most dome ports have led me to prefer Nikon’s 10-24. This is a very good option, though. More...
Tokina 12-24 /4
This is another good choice, especially if you already own it. Less expensive than a Canon 10-22. More...
Sigma 10-20 /3.5-4.5
This is another usable option, but it has the weakest corner sharpness of all of the lenses listed here. More...
Sigma 17-70 /2.8-4.0 HSM
There have been four versions of this lens (original, HSM, OS HSM and current OS HSM C), and all four have been popular choices for underwater shooting. The HSM and OS HSM lenses are dramatically fatter than the original, but the newest is mid size , fast focusing and the best of the bunch. We do have solutions for most major housing brands. This is a favorite lens of many EF-S shooters and offers more flexibility than any other mid-range lens.
17-70mm at 26mm, 1/160th, f/9
A midrange zoom like this is not my first choice for underwater shooting, but there are situations where a lens that is almost wide angle, and almost macro, is appropriate. This range works well for fish id shots, skittish big fish, and “almost” shooting. These strengths can be useful on an exploratory dive, night dives, or dives when you just need a change of pace.
17-70mm at 38mm, 1/60th, f/4
The real key to choosing a midrange zoom is to pay attention to the lens’ maximum reproduction ratio. This Sigma zoom gets the nod here purely because it can shoot 1:2 macro (a subject about 4cm across on APS-C). Most of the Canon options are limited to 1:4 or worse macro shooting, which doesn’t give me the versatility I need in this lens. This close focusing ability also means this lens can be shot behind most dome ports without a close-up lens.
17mm, 1/160th, f/16
A lens of this range can be shot behind either a dome port or a flat port. Which is better depends on your goals… If you want to use the midrange zoom for bigger stuff that is skittish, or for fish portraits, I think a dome is the best choice. If closeup shooting with a bit of versatility is your preference, a flat port is a good choice (but there might be a bit of vignetting at 17mm, depending upon the diameter of the flat port front). I almost always use this lens behind a dome, as I’m looking for a change of pace from the other macros in my bag when I mount this lens. If I didn’t travel with a 60mm macro, I might think about adding a flat port for this lens.
Sigma 18-50 /2.8
This is a good choice, capable of shooting 1:3 macro, and fast. This is a fat lens, which can complicate zoom gear availability though.
Canon EF-S 18-55 /3-5-56 IS
These lenses certainly aren’t the best choice, but they are packaged in kits with lots of digital slr cameras, so we encounter them frequently. They don’t have the macro ability of 17-70, but are decent for fish portraits and almost wide angle shooting behind a dome with a +2 or +4 close up lens. More...
35mm on EF-S has the same field of view as a 52.5mm lens on full frame, so this is a very familiar lens to a photographer coming from a full frame system. Personally I’m after a longer focal length here. More...
Sigma 70mm /2.8
Good optically, but slow focusing.
Canon 100 & 1.4 Teleconverter
This is a way to shoot super macro with a 40% bump in magnification over the standard 100mm with the same minimal focus distance. You are committed though for the whole dive.
Sigma 150mm /2.8
This lens is very good optically, and combined with a close-up lens it is an excellent super macro tool. Personally I find it a bit too long on a APS-C sensor for close quarters macro work, but it can excel with shy subjects that can only be shot at a distance of 18” - 24+” The autofocus can be a bit challenging on older EF-S cameras compared to the newest camera bodies on the market. More...