Canon EF-M 32mm F1.4 review
1 Introduction and Handling
The EF-M 32mm F1.4 STM was an easy lens to miss when it was announced, unveiled at the same time as Canon's all-new EOS R. Quite how the EOS M series will play alongside the newer R line remains to be seen, but its adopters have been clamoring for more wide-aperture native lens options for some time, so it’s nice to finally see a lens of this type join the lineup. And at F1.4, it's the fastest lens in the EOS M system to date.
The third prime lens for the EF-M mount, the lens’s 32mm focal length provides a versatile equivalent focal length of 51mm in full-frame terms on EOS M-series bodies, and an aperture equivalent to an F2.2 lens on full-frame. As the only lens of its kind in the range, it should appeal widely to those already invested in the system, particularly portrait photographers who haven’t really had a suitable alternative as of yet (at least not a native one).
It should also find a lot of love from those shooting in low light, and it also makes sense for those intending to capture nature who don’t need a lens with true macro capabilities. In short, it has plenty of appeal.
- Focal length: 32mm (equivalent to 51mm in 35mm terms)
- Aperture range: F1.4-16 (In 1/3 stops)
- Filter thread: 43mm
- Close focus: 0.23m (0.76ft)
- Maximum magnification: 0.25x
- Diaphragm blades: 7
- Hood: optional (ES-60)
- Length / Diameter: approx. 56.5 x 60.9mm (2.22 x 2.40in)
- Weight: approx. 235g (8.3oz)
- Optical construction: 14 elements in 8 groups
That wide aperture is arguably even more important here, given that this is only the second lens in the stable not to be furnished with its own image stabilization system. This isn’t a feature we’d expect as standard on a lens of this sort, but it wouldn’t exactly be out of place when you consider that stabilization isn’t found inside any current EOS M-series bodies (at least not mechanically). Its omission from the lens itself is probably less of a concern for anyone intending on shooting portraits, but those planning on using it for static subjects in sub-optimum light might have hoped Canon had found space for this.
Speaking of not finding space for things, it’s a shame to find that a lens hood isn’t included with the EF-M 32mm F1.4 as standard.
Design and handling
The overall design of the EF-M 32mm F1.4 is consistent with the other optics in the series, which is to say smart and understated. Its charcoal grey finish perfectly complements the EOS M50 body I used during this review, while its weight of 235g gives it some substance relative to its size when held on its own. The combination is just as nicely balanced in the hands as it is to the eye, and the whole package will just about fit into a coat pocket.
The streamlined barrel features a large, textured focusing ring, while the rest of the casing has a matte finish that’s smooth to the touch. The overall result is perhaps the most minimally styled lens in the line since the (much smaller) EF-M 22mm F2 STM pancake lens. As with its siblings, there’s no focus-distance window or equivalent markings, and in the absence of an AF/MF switch, alternating between autofocus and manual focus has to be done via the camera.
It's only the focus limit switch that physically breaks the lens’ symmetry. We wouldn’t necessarily expect such a lens to be fitted with one, but its inclusion makes some sense when you consider its 0.23m close-focusing limit and broad range of potential applications. This two-mode control allows you to either use the full focusing range or to work between 0.5m (1.64ft) to infinity, and it’s relatively flush with the rest of the barrel and somewhat stiff. This, together with its placement just above the mid-point of the lens, meant that I found it somewhat more awkward to operate than necessary. That said, I imagine for most photographers it won’t be a control used frequently enough to matter.
|Like all of Canon's EF-M lenses, the 32mm F1.4 is very compact. At barely 8 ounces in weight it won't weigh you down, either.|
The EF-M 32mm F1.4 STM’s mount is made of metal, and there’s no real issue with mounting or un-mounting as such, although the fact that the barrel is the same diameter throughout and that most of it is made up by the rotating focus ring means that you have to grab it right at its base when changing lenses.
As useful as it is to have such a wide aperture, one issue I soon ran into with the EOS M50 was the lack of an electronic shutter that can enable shutter speeds beyond the the mechanical 1/4000sec limit. This applies to other EOS M-series bodies too, and presents an obvious challenge when working outdoors in brighter conditions. Of course, an ND filter can help here, but it's not a convenient solution. (Incidentally, there is a silent shutter option that employs an electronic shutter hidden in the EOS M50’s scene modes, although you have no agency over exposure settings when this is enabled and you can’t otherwise access the feature).
As with every other current optic in the EF-M series, focusing is handled by an STM stepping motor. Here, it’s a lead gear-type motor that promises smooth and quiet focus for stills and ‘near silence’ when capturing videos.
Canon’s own literature makes it clear that the advantage of this type of motor over the screw-type STM motor used in its other lenses relates to compactness rather than silence and speed. After using it for some time, I’m not sure whether the motor can be described as smooth in its operation when capturing stills, but only because it’s clearly working at speed to acquire focus. I’d certainly prioritize speed over smoothness here, so this is no criticism.
|When shooting very close subjects, the EF-M 32mm F1.4 can take a moment to achieve focus, but for arms-length shooting and beyond, focus is fast and snappy.
Converted Raw| ISO 100 | 1/160 sec | F1.4 | Canon EF-M 32mm F1.4
In good light, the lens typically performs a rapid shift to its approximate position before a brief final shuffle for accuracy. While this is audible, these sounds are easily masked by ambient noise, and they're not particularly obtrusive. When the lens hunts, it typically manages to travel between its full range in around a second and a half, although this can obviously be improved if you’re not shooting up close and are happy to limit the focus range to the 0.5m-infinity range.
Using autofocus during video recording will result in an audible low-frequency hum as it transitions between different focusing distances, rather than the more obvious, higher pitched whirring when focusing for stills. These sounds are picked up on recordings, but they’re also not distracting and are, again, easily quashed by ambient noise. These movements are very smooth, and I found the transitions looked very pleasing in resulting footage, assuming the camera found focus without any issues. There’s some noise from the lens as it’s manually focused during video recording, but if you turn the ring slowly enough you will not even notice this.
|This image shows the 32mm at its closest focusing distance, with the inner barrel extended from the main body of the lens.|
Focus itself isn’t internal; the inner barrel extends by around half an inch or so when at its closest focus distance of 0.23m, although the outer barrel maintains the same length at all times and the focusing ring also stays put. The focusing group isn’t mechanically linked to the ring, and response is speed-sensitive, not linear. This means that the amount of focus adjustment when manually focusing will vary according to how quickly you rotate the ring. You can work through the whole focusing range in as little as three quarters of a full rotation, but turn it too quickly and you may end up needing two-and-half rotations to move between the two extremes. Video shooters manually focusing will miss the option for linear focusing.
In any case, there’s ample room for fine control over manual focus adjustment, and this is helped even further by the peaking option found on every compatible camera, save for the original EOS M. The lens also supports full-time manual focus, which lets you override the AF system by turning the focusing ring.
Overall, while the lens doesn’t operate in complete silence for stills nor video, it works quickly enough for stills and smoothly enough for video.
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