Image Quality

As you can see from this comparison against Sigma's excellent DC DN (shot on the new Sony a6400), sharpness from the Canon EF-M 32mm is excellent, even wide open, and right out to the edges of the frame. Some softness and coma is apparent at the extremes, but even when viewed critically, this is impressive performance. The Sigma is a fantastic lens, but it's clear that the EF-M 32mm F1.4 has the edge when it comes to sharpness at our default settings (Sharpness +25, Radius 1 in Adobe Camera Raw). Both lenses show some magenta fringing wide open, the Canon perhaps being a little worse, but there's not much in it (and obviously our comparisons were shot on different cameras).

Stop down a touch and sharpness improves, although very strong results wide open mean that you really don’t notice as much of a benefit in terms of overall detail between wider and middle-range apertures as you might expect. This is impressive, and details remain crisp until around F8, whereafter the effects of diffraction become more obvious. By F5.6, both lenses are about as sharp and consistent across the frame as they get. The Sigma 30mm F1.4 offers a wider equivalent field of view than the Canon (45mm compared to 51mm), and when the extreme edges are examined at F1.4 and F5.6, it's clear that for the price, the Sigma also offers a superb performance, even wide open.

While it’s not difficult to deliberately introduce flare if you shoot against the sun, the lens is quite flare-resistant in general use - even without a hood, which is good, since Canon doesn't include one.

Shot at F3.2, this image demonstrates both the EF-M 32mm F1.4's outstanding sharpness, and one of its few weaknesses - longitudinal chromatic aberration. If you take a look at the upper left and upper right of this photograph you'll see that the trees behind the point of focus are ringed with green, whereas the bushes in the foreground are ringed with magenta. This is LoCA, and it's near-impossible to remove in post. Some LoCA in images shot wide open is not uncommon with lenses of this type, but to see it at F3.2 is concerning. That said, this shot is a 'worst case', drawn from hundreds of real world sample images.

Converted Raw| ISO 100 | 1/160 sec | F3.2 | Canon EF-M 32mm F1.4

There’s a touch of barrel distortion noticeable when shooting subjects with defined linear details, but it’s very slight. I only really found this to be an issue when capturing architectural details and anything with straight details that ran horizontally across the whole scene, rather than in everyday scenes. The reality these days with mirrorless systems is that automatic profiling usually takes care of distortion pretty effectively, making it much less of a factor than it might be when examining images shot on DLSLRs.

The slightest hint of distortion can be seen in this image, but it's very slight indeed. For anything short of architectural photography you're unlikely to notice it.

Converted Raw| ISO 100 | 1/80 sec | F9 | Canon EF-M 32mm F1.4

Some lateral chromatic aberration can be seen at wide apertures, although this is effectively processed-out of JPEGs and can be easily removed from Raw files. Longitudinal chromatic aberration is somewhat more of a concern. Like many fast 50mm-equivalent lenses, you may see green and magenta fringing around out of focus high-contrast objects. Tree branches highlighted on a bright cloudy sky are the classic 'stress test' example (see the shot of the squirrel, above), but if you look through our sample gallery you'll see LoCA in a few of the other images. It's worth stressing though that while LoCA can be found in some shots if you go looking for it, it's not likely to be a major concern in most situations and there are plenty of worse lenses on the market (some of which cost considerably more than the EF-M 32mm f1.4).

Bokeh takes on a cat’s-eye shape at the widest apertures around the centre of the frame and at the edges, but this soon improves as you stop down the aperture, until around F3.5, where it begins to take on the shape of the diaphragm. In the absence of point highlights, in images where the subject was captured at the closest focusing distance, I found blurred backgrounds to be rendered with a very pleasing creaminess. Bokeh balls are rendered fairly well with barely noticeable 'onion rings' but they're not completely smooth and you may see subtle colored haloing (LoCA again) around the spheres in some situations.

As we'd expect, there’s noticeable vignetting at the widest apertures, but it's greatly reduced by F2.8 and practically gone by F4.

Conclusion

For quite a while, the current EF-M lens lineup hasn't exactly been inspiring, but the EF-M 32mm F1.4 STM steers things in a welcome direction. No doubt the lens would have always have had a fair amount of appeal based on its wide aperture alone, but after using it for some time it's obvious that there's much more to appreciate.

Its compact size and light weight makes the EF-M 32mm F1.4 very well balanced on the EOS M50, and, being familiar with other EOS M models in the line, I can’t imagine this won’t also be the case on other compatible options. The lens’ usefulness is further enhanced by its small filter thread, which is just as well as you may want to fit an ND filter to avoid running into the maximum shutter speed of your camera.

The EF-M 32mm F1.4's wide aperture and 'normal' focal length is perfect for isolating subjects against their backgrounds and foregrounds while still providing a natural, intimate perspective.

Converted Raw| ISO 100 | 1/320 sec | F1.4 | Canon EF-M 32mm F1.4

Focusing performance is good and optical performance is solid across the aperture range. This kind of lens begs to be shot at wide apertures, and it’s good to find that sharpness is excellent, even at F1.4. Coma is also extremely well-controlled, making this lens useful for wide-aperture cityscapes and probably also astrophotography, as well as more everyday subjects like portraiture. Occasional LoCA might be a concern depending on what you shoot, but it's well-controlled compared to results from most competitive lenses.

Overall, I’ve genuinely enjoyed using the EF-M 32mm F1.4 STM. It handles well on the M50 and takes up little space, and is clearly quite capable of delivering great results across many different situations. If Canon builds out the EF-M range with additional prime options of a similar standard, we may be looking at a very different system before long.

What we like:

  • Compact and relatively lightweight
  • Very good sharpness wide open
  • Focus ring has large angle of rotation for fine adjustment
  • Surprisingly little lateral chromatic aberration
  • Relatively well protected against flare without hood

What we don't like:

  • No image stabilization
  • Longitudinal chromatic aberration noticeable in some situations
  • Noticeable vignetting and cat’s-eye-shaped bokeh at widest few apertures
  • Neither hood nor case supplied as standard

Scoring

Canon EF-M 32mm F1.4 STM
Category: Normal Lens
Optical Quality
Build Quality
Autofocus
Ergonomics and Handling
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The Canon EF-M 32mm F1.4 is a compact and powerful standard lens for Canon's APS-C format mirrorless cameras. Sharpness is excellent, and out of focus areas are rendered very nicely. Only noticeable longitudinal chromatic aberration at wide apertures takes the shine off an otherwise excellent performance.
Good for
Portraits and low-light imaging, where sharpness and bokeh matter.
Not so good for
High-contrast shooting situations at wide apertures, where colored fringing caused by longitudinal chromatic aberration can occasionally be an issue.
85%
Overall score