Canon EF vs EF-S Lenses – Understanding The Differences

Canon EF and EF-S lenses are interchangeable lens options designed for Canon digital cameras. These lenses offer photographers a range of focal lengths, from wide-angle to telephoto, as well as varying levels of image quality and specialized features. Knowing the differences between these two types of lenses is essential in order to make an informed decision when shopping for camera equipment. This article will discuss the primary differences between Canon EF and EF-S lenses, including their physical size, compatibility with different camera bodies, optical performance, and more. By understanding the differences between these two lens types, photographers can make an educated decision when purchasing Canon lenses.

What’s the Main Differences in Canon EF vs EF-S Lenses?

The Canon EF and EF-S lenses are two different types of lenses that have been developed to meet the needs of different photographers. The main differences between them is the size of the image circle they produce, which affects the compatibility with certain cameras. 

The image circle of the lens is a crucial element which determines the area of the photograph that is projected onto the camera sensor. In general, lenses are divided into two categories: EF and EF-S lenses. EF lenses, also known as “full-frame” lenses, have a bigger diameter which covers full-frame sensors and are suitable for larger image sizes. On the contrary, EF-S lenses have a smaller image circle and are designed specifically to cover APS-C sized sensors, which usually have a sensor that is approximately 1.6x smaller than full-frame sensors.

Crop Factor

When using a full frame lens on a digital camera with an APS-C sized sensor, it is important to take into consideration the “crop factor” or “focal length multiplier.” This element of lens design relates to the difference in size between a full frame sensor and an APS-C sized sensor.

A full frame sensor has a 36mm x 24mm dimension, while an APS-C size sensor is 22.5mm x 15mm. This difference in size results in a crop factor of 1.6x or 1.5x depending on the model and manufacturer of the camera body. The effect this has on the focal length of lenses means that any given lens will be magnified by the crop factor, making it appear as though you are shooting with a longer lens.

For example, if you have a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens for your camera body that has an APS-C sensor and 1.6x crop factor, then effectively what you’re shooting with is a 80mm lens (50 x 1.6 = 80). This means that the same amount of scene will be captured as if you were using an 80mm lens on a full frame sensor body, but it would appear to have been shot with a 50mm lens.

This crop factor or focal length multiplier also affects depth of field, meaning that when using the same aperture setting, the depth of field will be increased on an APS-C sensor compared to a full frame sensor.

Understanding this concept and taking it into account can make all the difference in achieving the desired effect in your photos. Knowing the impact of the crop factor can also help you choose the right lens for any given situation. With this knowledge, you will be able to make sure that your lenses are working as intended and creating beautiful images.

Although this is The Main Difference between the two, there are other differences between them as well. 

  • Optical Performance : Canon EF lenses offer superior optical performance compared to their APS-C counterparts, as they are designed with higher-end optics and more complex designs featuring additional elements. These lenses provide exceptional detail and sharpness, thanks to the use of specialized coatings and lens materials such as Canon’s Super Spectra Coating, which reduces ghosting and flare, and Canon’s Ultra Low Dispersion (UD) elements that minimize chromatic aberrations. Furthermore, the larger sensor size of full frame cameras that use EF lenses produces an increased angle-of-view compared to APS-C lenses, allowing for a greater range of composition options, including the ability to capture expansive scenes with a single lens. With these features and capabilities in mind, Canon EF lenses are truly capable of capturing stunning images.

  • Build Quality : Canon EF lenses generally offer superior construction materials and design features compared to their EF-S counterparts, such as weather sealing, improved ergonomics, and overall sturdiness. The construction of each lens type is slightly different. Canon EF lenses tend to have a more robust build with thicker and heavier components, including metal body parts and improved weather sealing. These lenses also feature larger diameter rings for manual focus and zoom control, allowing for more precise operation. On the other hand, Canon EF-S lenses are usually constructed of plastic rather than metal, and lack weather sealing.

  • Autofocus Performance : The autofocus performance of EF lenses is generally better than EF-S lenses because they are able to use Canon’s more advanced autofocus technologies. EF lenses are also better suited for action photography and shooting in low light conditions due to their larger diameter, which allows them to gather more light and focus faster. EF-S lenses are designed primarily with amateur photographers in mind, and while they still offer great autofocus performance, it is generally not as good as that of EF lenses. They are better suited for stationary subjects, or for shooting in bright conditions where the extra autofocus performance of EF lenses is not necessary.

  • Size and Weight : The Canon EF lenses are considerably bulkier and heavier than the EF-S lenses, but that is because it has a wider angle of view and a longer focal length. This means better performance when shooting with wide-angle shots, including landscapes or architecture photography. The greater physical size also allows for increased durability and steadier images when shooting with longer shutter speeds. The EF-S lens, on the other hand, is designed to be smaller and lighter for an easier carry. This makes it especially ideal for those photographers who need a more compact solution for their camera gear. The shorter focal length of the EF-S also allows users to capture closer shots more easily than with the EF lens. While the angle of view is more limited than the EF, it can still provide ample coverage for a variety of shooting scenarios.

  • Price : Generally speaking, the Canon EF lenses are more expensive than their EF-S counterparts. This can be attributed to the features and quality of the lenses.The Canon EF lenses are designed for full frame cameras, and feature a larger image circle thus providing more coverage. They also offer better optical performance and sharpness compared to EF-S lenses due to their improved design and built quality. Furthermore, the greater range of f/stop values offered by these lenses provide photographers with greater flexibility when shooting.In comparison, EF-S lenses are specifically designed for cameras with APS-C sized sensors and have a much smaller image circle, thus providing less coverage. Additionally, they are not as robustly built as their EF counterparts and can be susceptible to dust and moisture entering the lens, which can affect its performance. Despite these drawbacks, the EF-S lenses are much more affordable than their EF counterparts and generally provide good image quality and sharpness.

Using EF Lenses on Crop Sensor Cameras

EF lenses are fully compatible with crop sensor cameras. However, there are some advantages and disadvantages to take note of:


One of the key advantages of using EF lenses on APS-C cameras is the ability to take advantage of the smaller sensor size. With an EF lens, photographers can capture a much narrower field of view and collect more detail in their photographs, enabling them to take shots of distant subjects with greater clarity and sharpness. This is especially advantageous for wildlife photography, as a wide angle shot is often necessary to fit larger animals into the frame. In addition, due to the smaller sensor size of APS-C cameras, users can take advantage of wider apertures and faster shutter speeds than they would get with larger format cameras. This allows for improved performance in low light conditions and better control over depth of field. Lastly, EF lenses are compatible with a variety of Canon accessories such as teleconverters, extension tubes and filters; permitting photographers to get creative in their photography. 


For wide-angle and landscape photography with EF lenses on APS-C cameras, there are several potential advantages to consider. Firstly, due to the crop factor of the sensor, the effective focal length for EF lenses on APS-C cameras is effectively multiplied by 1.6x. This means that a 28mm lens will appear to act like a 45mm lens on an APS-C body. This can be limiting when trying to capture a wide scene, as you will not be able to fit the entire landscape in the frame.

Additionally, due to the crop factor of APS-C sensors, much more of the lens’s optical imperfections (distortion and chromatic aberration) are magnified compared to shooting with a full frame camera. High-end lenses may be able to better manage these optical issues, but users should still be aware of them when capturing wide scenes with an EF lens on an APS-C body.

Finally, field of view can also be a challenge when shooting landscape photography with EF lenses on an APS-C body. This is because the angle of view will be less than it would have been on a full frame camera, which can make capturing wide scenes more difficult. Furthermore, this reduced field of view may lead to a loss of depth and scale in your images.

Using EF-S Lenses on Full-Frame Cameras

Using Canon EF-S Lenses on full-frame cameras is not recommended due to the differences in physical design between the two types of lenses and camera bodies. EF-S lenses have a larger “butt,” meaning their rear element protrudes from the body further than a standard EF lens, which creates a shorter flange distance – or the distance between the rear of the lens and your camera sensor. This short flange distance is only possible because crop sensors have smaller mirrors inside, creating more space for this protrusion. Using an EF-S lens on a full frame camera can be problematic because its mirror is much bigger, making it likely that it will hit against and potentially damage your lens when taking photos. To avoid this risk altogether, Canon created its own mounting index specifically for EF-S lenses so they won’t accidentally be used with full frame bodies. Therefore, using an EF-S lens on a full frame camera could result in serious damage to both your lens and camera body, so it should generally be avoided unless you are absolutely sure that you understand how these different types of lenses work together.


What Does EF Stand For on Canon Lenses?

EF stands for “Electro-Focus.” The EF lens mount system was Canon’s original autofocus lens mount system, first introduced in 1987. All Canon autofocus lenses released since then have been designed to fit the EF lens mount.

The EF lens mount is a bayonet-style mount that allows lenses to be quickly attached and removed from the camera body. The locking mechanism is a ring around the base of the lens that twists to lock into place on the camera body. To remove a lens, you twist the locking ring in the opposite direction until it pops free from the camera body.

What Does EF-S Stand For on Canon Lenses?

EF-S stands for “Electro-Focus Short Backfocus.” It refers to a lens design that allows the lens to be closer to the camera’s imaging sensor. This results in a reduction in size and weight, making it more compact and easier to carry around. EF-S lenses are only compatible with Canon digital SLR cameras that have the APS-C image sensor.

How to Identify if a Canon Lens is EF or EF-S?

Canon lenses are easily distinguishable due to the presence of the EF or EF-S label on the lens barrel. The EF models are identifiable by a red dot featured prominently on the barrel, while an EF-S model is denoted by a white square. These labels are vital in understanding the type of lens being used and its purpose


I’m a professional photographer with 17 years of experience in a wide range of photography, and over the course of my career I’ve had the opportunity to use a variety of photographic equipment now I would like to share my knowledge with you through this website. I hope becomes the go-to destination when selecting the best gears for any project. Here you can access unbiased reviews and make an informed decision when choosing gears.

Sittha Sathutham Photographer and Writer

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