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Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Just when I thought my temporary flirtation with the Canon EOS-M6 was over, Canon Malaysia came back to me with the EF-M 22mm F2 STM lens which I was very interested to try out. In my recent review of the Canon EOS-M6, I concluded that it performed well, with the only serious downside being the sub-standard kit lens. Therefore, I was hoping that the 22mm F2 pancake would do justice to what the M6 is truly capable of!

As usual, a little disclaimer – the review of the Canon 22mm F2 lens is independent and based on my personal experience shooting it on the Canon EOS-M6. Both the 22mm lens and the M6 body were on loan from Canon Malaysia. Neither me nor Ming Thein are connected to Canon Malaysia. The loan was strictly for review purposes and these products will be returned after the review.

All images were shot in RAW and post-processed in Capture One Pro version 10.2. Higher resolution images with full EXIF data intact can be viewed at online image gallery here.

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

The Canon 22mm F2 STM lens has been around for several years now, and I’ve been surprised to find that not many photographers have reviewed it. I have a thing for pancake lenses, I think they fit perfectly in the world of mirrorless cameras. The slim profile of the lens matches the small Canon M6 body, making the combo truly compact. Mirrorless camera manufacturers should produce more good optical quality, affordable and genuinely compact prime pancake lenses!

The 22mm focal length provides an equivalent field of view of 35mm in 35mm terms, which is a versatile, easy to use, and classic focal length. The wide aperture of F2 is respectable considering it is “pancake” in design. The minimum focusing distance is about 0.15m, good for decent close up shots with a maximum 0.21x magnification. The lens weighs almost nothing, at only 105g. The thing that caught my attention most was the affordable price tag, with the lens retailing at about RM1,000 (~ $240) in Malaysia.

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer Awesome Yana from AbsoluteYana

I was trying to figure out what Canon’s target market for this 22mm pancake lens is, especially on the EOS-M series bodies. Surely one spectrum of target consumers is the social media savvy user, hoping to take their photography to the next level with a better albeit affordable lens on a mirrorless camera body. That means, lots of “Instagram-able” food pictures taken at hipster cafes, never-ending selfies, and the typical OOTD/fashion shots. With that in mind, I stormed out and did just that for the review! Ok, that was a bad joke, but I can totally see how people would buy this lens just for those purposes.

On a more serious note, I was looking for subjects to photograph so that the images would not look too similar to my previous Canon M6 review. Knowing that the lens yields 35mm equivalent field of view, it was almost impossible not to do the usual street photography thing. Luckily, I had the opportunity to shoot a singer-songwriter’s live performance on stage – which I did entirely with the 22mm lens. Also, Deepavali, a celebration that is best translated as the “Festival of lights” was taking place and I went out on the eve to a local hotspot to witness and capture the celebration.

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer I like how this image is sharp from edge to edge.

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer Crop from the previous image. Look at the extreme corner, no sign of softness. Impressive!

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Based on initial tests of the Canon 22mm lens, I was happy to find that the lens performs well as an all-rounder. There is no noticeable soft corners and the sharpness of the lens was quite good – much better than the kit lens. To my eyes, the sharpness of the lens is quite even from the centre to the edges of the frame. The amount of fine detail captured is also quite good, but to achieve optimum sharpness, it is best to stop down to F4 or F5.6. Wide open at F2, the lens is sharp enough that I find myself shooting wide open most of the time. However, it is worth mentioning that the sharpness is not at the same level as higher grade lenses (Canon L lenses, for example). In bright, outdoor conditions, the images rendered by this lens feature rich contrast and good colour.

Considering the 1.6x crop factor and F2 aperture, I was not able to create as much blur in the background as I would’ve liked, but when it works, the bokeh quality is beautiful and smooth. I was also pleased to find that chromatic aberration is well controlled, and there isn’t a lot of noticeable distortion. This 22mm pancake lens corrects all the technical flaws that the original kit lens suffers from.

The true torture test for the Canon 22mm F2 lens came when I was shooting Bihzhu’s live performance at Shook! at Starhill Gallery, Kuala Lumpur. Before the event, I received a text from Bihzhu, preemptively warning me about the horrible stage lighting. Indeed, the horror was revealed when the show began with the stage light consisting of a saturated mix of purple and pink highlights (I spent considerable time correcting for skin tones). Additionally, the lighting for the stage was so dim compared to the backdrop large LED screen that I was basically shooting into the light for the entire event.

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Another challenge, self-inflicted in this case, was that I was stuck with a 35mm equivalent focal length. If you have known me from my old blog, you will know that this is not a comfortable focal length for me to work with. Especially for stage performances, I prefer working with much longer focal lengths for that extra reach and so that I don’t have to be too close to the performers. I guess, not having this flexibility and being stuck with a focal length was not my favourite experience, but I did push myself to get the shots that I needed. I definitely put extra effort for this round of shooting, getting myself as close as I can to the stage, while keeping in mind that I must not stay at one spot for too long for fear of blocking the audience’s view.

The Canon 22mm lens and M6 body combo performed incredibly well for this set. I was amazed by the autofocus capability, nailing crucial shots throughout the show. To my surprise, Bihzhu commented on how much she liked one of my shots! While the stage had horrible lighting, the lens handled the back-light situation well. I did have some misses here and there, and I can tell you that some of those failed shots were entirely my fault (you must understand that this is not my main working camera). There was a surprise birthday celebration for Bihzhu halfway through the show and I managed to react quickly enough, and the M6 + 22mm was capable enough to capture the right moments.

Is that not what a good camera and lens is supposed to do, perform when you need it to, be able to capture the right moment and deliver the shot?

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer The Canon colour is starting to grow on me.

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer The close up shooting is also quite good, going in as close as 0.15m.

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Deepavali, the festival of lights is a huge celebration in Malaysia. I brought the Canon M6 and 22mm combo out on the streets to witness the Deepavali Eve celebration. Lighting was inconsistent, mostly from street lamps, or fluorescent lights from nearby vendors and stalls. It was dim most of the time, and that was the point of this test, to see how the 22mm handled low light conditions. I shot wide open the entire time with ISO varying between 1600 and 3200.

It was a 4 hour walk along the streets, the atmosphere was vibrant and lively with loud, up-beat music, and a huge crowd busy with last minute shopping for the festival. Having a small and light camera helped a lot. With the tiny pancake lens, it was as if I had nothing on the camera at all, in terms of weight. Being truly mobile and not being weighed down by your equipment is the primary purpose for using a mirrorless system after all. It was a joy using such a small camera and lens combo.

My only complaint from this experience, was having to constantly watch my shutter speed. Coming from having a reliable image stabilization system all the time, I was used to handling extremely slow shutter speeds and still getting away with reasonably sharp images. This was not the case for this set of images as even at 1/50 shutter speed, there was plenty of blur in my shots due to hand shake. Yes, I admit, this was probably my fault for not having a steadier hand-holding technique but I wish the lens or camera had some sort of image stabilization, which would help keep the ISO numbers low.

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer One of the blink and you miss it moment, and the 22mm pancake lens on M6 managed to nail this.

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Review: the Canon EF-M 22/2 STM - Ming Thein | Photographer

Image stabilization aside, I don’t think there is anything bad to write about the Canon 22mm F2 lens. My experience has been positive with consistent sharpness from corner to corner, good control of optical flaws, minimal chromatic aberration and negligible barrel distortion. Autofocus was quick and reliable enough that I managed to capture critical moments. The 35mm effective field of view provides an easy to use, versatile focal length for everyday use and is a must for street photographers. The 22mm lens features a superbly slim and compact profile that creates a truly small and light mirrorless system for Canon.

I can confidently say, that for Canon EOS-M users, the Canon 22mm F2 STM pancake lens is a must have in your camera bag. This is a no-brainer upgrade from the kit lens, giving you improved results and a better shooting experience. Canon should make more lenses like this for different focal lengths, maybe an equivalent 24mm F2.8, and also a 50mm F2 pancake?

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