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Canon Full Frame Lens Suggestions for Underwater Video in 2020

Full Frame Lens Recommendations for Canon Cameras: What We Shoot.

Moving from APS-C to your full-frame sensor Canon camera? Don't know where to start? Here are some of the lenses we like to shoot underwater, categorized by type. In this article we will cover various lenses for Canon EF Mount Full Frame cameras. Full frame sensor cameras have a sensor about the same size as 35mm film cameras.

This article will cover:

  • Macro Lenses
  • Long Macro Lenses
  • Other Macro Options
  • Mid-range Lenses
  • Wide Angle Zoom Lenses
  • Fisheye Lenses

Macro Lenses:

Ideally a macro lens should be able to reproduce subjects as much as life size on the camera sensor (fill the frame with 1.3” subject on full frame camera) and be able to grab hard-to-get shots of elusive creatures like anthias and damsel fish. Macro is pretty unforgiving when it comes to sharp focus with the relatively shallower depth of field that is found on full frame cameras, so choosing the right glass is essential.

#1 Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM Lens

This is our absolute favorite macro lens for full frame Canon shooters. Fast AF and extremely sharp is the key in macro and this lens delivers. Crop sensor shooters who embraced the Canon 60mm macro lens will feel at home with the 100mm on a full frame, as the field of view will be similar. The 100 makes a fine small fish portrait lens on a full frame camera and gives some reasonable reach on shy macro subjects. The 100 has a minimum close focus distance that can also benefit from external close focus wet-lenses for “super macro” (greater than 1:1 reproduction). The price has also improved immensely in the last year. More...

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM

Originally when it was almost half the price of Canons “L” series 100mm, the EF 100 represented a heck of a bargain. Now that the L lens has gotten so reasonable, it probably doesn't make as much sense. The lens doesn’t have Image Stabilization, but that is rarely a factor underwater with strobe lit macro. The USM autofocus is still very fast and image quality is impressive at this price point.

Long Macro Lenses:

Because a full frame camera has a larger angle of view at any given focal length than a crop sensor camera, there may be situations where a longer focal length is desirable – garden eels and shrimp gobies are common examples. These long macro options will generally require more patience in use and may not suit every photographer.

#1 Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro

This Sigma is not a light lens, but does offer excellent auto-focus and image quality in this focal length. The 15” minimum focus distance is a bit long for some macro work, but a high quality close focus lens (like the Canon 500D) installed on the filter threads can help reduce this and improve reproduction ratio (although the lens will no longer focus past about three feet – not a big limitation for most macro/portrait use). In the right macro environment this lens can be a lot of fun as a stealth lens reaching subjects normally too shy to photograph well. More...

CANON - EF 180/3.5 L USM

At 180mm and 18” minimum focus distance (from the sensor) this lens is probably pushing what is practical, but with the right configuration it can produce impressive results and has beautiful bokeh. More...

Kenko 1.4X Teleplus Pro 300 DGX for Canon

When used with a high quality macro lens like the Canon 100mm this tele-converter (tele-extender) maintains autofocus and can provide a relatively inexpensive increase in focal length and an increase in maximum reproduction ratio. This comes at a slight loss in image quality and light gathering ability, but generally provides acceptable macro results. Note: Canon brand tele-extenders are generally specified for focal lengths of 135mm or longer. More...

Other Macro options:

Canon MP-E 65mm 1-5x Macro

This lens is a unique extreme macro tool and definitely not for everybody. Full manual focus over a VERY limited range from the port and depth of field as shallow as 0.05mm at 5:1 reproduction and f16. Bring your patience if you choose this option. More...

Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X M100 AF Pro D

An affordable 1:1 macro option.

Mid Range Lenses:

This is the most challenging (and probably least important) range for Full Frame shooters to select a good lens underwater, but there are several options for Canon shooters.

#1 Canon EF 24-70mm f/4.0L IS USM

This relatively new lens seems like one of the best options for underwater photographers. Compact dimensions, contemporary design, extremely sharp – all at a relatively reasonable price for an L series lens. There is even a macro mode at 70mm. More...

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

Canon’s flagship “standard” zoom doesn’t come cheap. We haven’t tested this superb lens underwater yet – stay tuned. More...

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM

A long zoom range behind a port will generally involve a certain amount of compromise in quality at certain focal lengths. That is true for the 24-105 as well, but it can do a respectable job through much of the zoom range.

Wide Angle Zooms:

These are the go-to lenses for larger wild animal encounters where we aren’t likely to get right next to the subject. Sharks that aren’t baited in, turtles, rays, dolphins and other cetaceans are prime examples. Schooling fish and reef “vignettes” with models are also typical uses. On a trip to the Galapagos, Cocos, or Socorro (known big animal locations), we will typically shoot this category of lens 75% of the time or more.

#1 WACP-1 Options

Our absolute favorite way to shoot wide angle on full frame cameras is to use the Nauticam WACP in conjunction with a zoom lens. This relatively new underwater imaging tool offers so many advantages over conventional lenses behind a dome, that it deserves consideration on any set up. You get improved image quality, much sharper corners, greater zoom range, closer focusing, more aperture latitude, and usually in a smaller form factor. For Canon Full Frame our two top picks to use with the WACP are the Canon EF 28-70mm f/3.5-4.5 II and the Canon EF 28-80mm f/3.5-5.6 V USM. The 28-70 is a discontinued lens, but readily available and very sharp with the WACP. The 28-80 lens is more contemporary and more zoom range, but gives up some slight IQ. For those that need a faster lens, you can shoot the Canon 28mm F1.8 behind the WACP, but the flexibility offered by the zoom lenses will be what most people enjoy enjoy shooting. At 28mm, this combination provides 130 degree FOV, but can be zoomed down to as little as 44 degrees FOV. For more information on using the WACP on full frame, you can check out this blog here.

#1 Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

The top conventional lens pick would be one of Canon's 16-35mm lenses (there have been several). The 2.8L III lens is very good, heavy and pricey. Another option might be Canon's excellent 16-35 f/4L which is one of the best performing rectilinear wide angle lenses for underwater use on a Canon full frame camera that we have tested. It is also a surprisingly good value. Any lens in this category benefits from the largest high quality dome you can employ (230mm / 9” is optimal). This is a fairly close focusing lens and generally doesn’t need a close up diopter in a large dome that is properly positioned. More...

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

This lens is not as sharp in the corners underwater as the 16-35, but for pelagic shooting this doesn’t have to be prohibitive. At a fraction of the price of the 16-35, it provides a lot of value. It still does a respectable job in a large dome with a +2 diopter to assist in corner sharpness. More...

Canon EF 11-24 f/4L USM

This is a breaktrough lens for Canon and is the sharpest conventional lens behind a dome in the "Ultra Wide Rectilinear" lens category. It doesn't have the reach for shy pelagics, but is noticeably wider than the 16-35mm options. We would still rather shoot a WACP in this FOV range, but if you own the lens, it does a respectable job. For more on this lens, check it out the field review here.

Fisheye Lenses:

Fisheye lenses have long been one of our favorite underwater tools. They take some discipline to master – always get closer and keep your lighting and extremities out of the frame – but the rewards can be substantial. Fisheye lenses work extremely well in a compact port with edge to edge sharpness and often are capable of focusing nearly to the port surface. This allows for amazingly creative close-focus wide angle photo opportunities along with traditional super wide photography techniques. Because of the close proximity of the photographer to his or her subject, the water clarity often appears much better than it really is. There is extensive barrel distortion with these lenses, so care needs to be used with where primary subjects are placed in the frame.

#1 Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM

A clear winner in fisheye options if the budget allows is the 8-15mm. It will fit in 100mm Domes like the Zen DP100 and if optioned with the removable shade, the lens can be shot at full circular fisheye when zoomed to 8mm. More...

Canon EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye

An older design fisheye that still performs quite well.

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Diagonal Fisheye

The Sigma is a high quality, close focusing contemporary fisheye that has gained a reputation for image quality with underwater photographers - at a price well below the Canon offerings. It doesn’t fit in the smallest 100mm/4” domes, but works well in everything from a 4.33” dome and larger. Close focus wide angle capabilities are excellent with 180 degree diagonal FOV. More...

Tokina AF 10-17mm for 3.5-4.5 AT-X 107 DX/FX

Yes – this is a lens for crop sensor cameras. But this modern Tokina actually does reasonably well across the 15mm-17mm focal length range on a full frame camera. There is an “FX - Hoodless” version of this lens that is exactly the same optics with the lens hood removed. This allows a slightly wider zoom range without vignetting. The Tokina works well in a 100mm mini-dome or larger port, but can exhibit some light fall off in the corners on full frame. More...