A lot of sites are shrugging their virtual shoulders over these, but I think they're among the more interesting lenses to come down the pike in quite a while: Canon will soon replace two of the oldest EF lenses in the company's lineup, dating back pretty much to the very dawn of the EOS lensmount itself, with IS versions: the EF 28mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM (shown) and the EF 24mm ƒ/2.8 IS USM (it looks similar). Both are expected to ship in June.
These are no longer lenses of mainstream spec*, [UPDATE: much more on this below, added Sunday —MJ] so naturally they're no longer cheap—the initial pricing is set at a cool $800 and $850 respectively. On the good side, the fact that they're expensive means that they can be more premium designs—and include IS. I couldn't swear to it with a gun to my head, but I think they're the world's very first wide-angle single-focal-length lenses with in-lens image stabilization.
Why is that interesting? Well, for one thing, it's something I said would never happen. I love to be wrong like that.
Second, it proves, if proof was needed, that Canon is committed to in-lens IS and is unlikely to ever make an SLR with body-integral stabilization.
Third, it demonstrates that Canon acknowledges that "IS with any lens" is actually a selling point of systems with body-integral IS.
Personally, I was over the moon with IS when I first encountered it. The K-M 7D that was my first DSLR had an IS system that worked wonders. But frankly, no IS system I've encountered since then has worked quite as well. With several of the Pentax cameras, for instance (K20 and K-7), it seems like the SR can actually degrade image sharpness (perhaps only sometimes) at normal hand-holdable shutter speeds; where the SR improves the hit rate is at speeds that would ordinarily be below the hand-holdable threshold. Carl Weese has done more to test this than I have, but that's his conclusion, and with Pentax DSLRs I've adopted his practice of turning on SR for lower shutter speeds and turning it off at higher ones.
It's almost gotten to be "conventional wisdom" that IS isn't needed in wide-angle lenses, but people who say that are just people who don't need it. All IS does is take hand-holding 1–3 stops into what would otherwise be tripod territory. It doesn't matter what focal length the lens is...if you regularly find yourself at the edge of "tripod speeds" with lenses of any particular spec, then IS is potentially useful.
Both of these new lenses are full-frame lenses, but, of course, both of them will work on APS-C Canon DSLRs as well.
Not lenses for everybody, granted. But I'll be looking forward to trying these; and I find my interest in the Canon universe just ratcheted upward.
*How many photographers new to the medium in the past decade own a 28mm ƒ/2.8, compared to the percentage of photographers who did in, say, 1978?
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Original contents copyright 2011 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured [partial] Comment by Vinh: "There is a reason why IS is being introduced in wide angles at this time and why it can be done at a premium...video. It wasn't necessary for still images, but becomes quite necessary when shooting motion video."
Featured Comment by Matt: "$800 for the 28/mm ƒ2.8 is insane. Unless it has a flashy red ring and a whole lot of exotic glass, there is no way that IS and USM justify a 3x price increase. I just hope that the classic EF 28mm ƒ/2.8 will still be available for those who can't afford the new version. It's lightweight, sharp, cheap, and makes for a great normal on Canon crop bodies."
Mike replies: You'd better stock up now, while you can get one.
As for the price, you're not seeing it from the proper point of view. In 1978—since I picked that date in my footnote—most everybody shot with SLRs, most every SLR shooter shot with prime lenses, and 28mm was by far the most common wide-angle lens (24mms—"ultrawide" at the time—were considerably harder to make back then and considerably more expensive). Every maker needed a good workhorse 28mm and ƒ/2.8 was the easiest decent speed to make, so every lensmaker offered a 28mm ƒ/2.8. And there was fierce price competition, meaning that every lensmaker had excellent reason to cut every corner it was possible to cut, and many of the big lensmakers had excellent economies of scale on its side to help. Look for them on eBay now, you'll find all the mainstream ƒ/2.8's from those days:
(Top to bottom: Olympus, Pentax, Tokina, Minolta, Nikon Series E, Vivitar, Yashica, and Canon FD. There were more. And no, ten people who will email me about it, I didn't bother to check to make sure these exact lenses were available new in 1978.)
The focal length was so ubiquitous that several makers tried to distinguish themselves by making lenses of slightly oddball speeds—Vivitar offered an ƒ/2.5—and several big companies offered customers a choice of speeds. Nikon offered no fewer than three 28mms, four if you count the economy Series E lens. Although the fastest was the most difficult to design and manufacture, it was Nikon's best. Why? Because the main customers for the fast version were professionals, who would pay for the performance. (Target selling price is the #1 constraint in most lens design.)
It was rare to find a dog by the standards of the day. Strong competition will do that for you. The best lenses were the ones from the bespoke German firms of august heritage, Zeiss, which by that time was making lenses for Yashicas under the name of Contax, and Leitz, and from the #1 camera brand name of the day, Nikon, whose 28mm ƒ/2.8 AIS lens had a huge amount of care and cost lavished on its design and development. The lens remains a fine performer even today. Leitz, by the way, could get a price premium over Nikon of as much as 150% back then, based on name and quality! Woo hoo—now it's nearly 800%. And don't forget that Canon wasn't a leader in those days—it was back in the pack with Pentax and Oympus and Minolta.
In any event, those days are long gone. Even Nikon cheapened its own design for its first AF lens, which was based on the E Series lens rather than the AIS, because the decline of the lens type had already begun. Now, 28mm has fallen well out of favor as makers have learned to make even wider-angle lenses efficiently, and as primes have given way decisively to zooms. Any maker marketing a newly-designed 28mm ƒ/2.8 prime has competition that's tepid at best, and even mighty Canon won't have much help from economies of scale—the lens will be a relatively slow and low seller no matter how good it is. The new lens thus virtually has to be much more expensive than the economy design (only five elements, although one was a revolutionary-at-the-time press-moulded* aspheric) it replaces. Knowing it has to sell the new lens at a higher price anyway based purely on market conditions, Canon could afford to spend a little extra and build a better, more full-featured lens: nine elements (nearly double the number of its predecessor), rear focusing, a relaxed front element size (58mm vs. the old lens's 52mm), lens-based IS, USM focusing, and another 75 grams of weight (the people who want one are unlikely to be stickers about an extra two and a half ounces).
So $800 (or whatever it will actually sell for once its novelty has dimmed and price reductions have set in) is definitely not an "insane" price. Rather the opposite—it's all too sane. It makes perfect sense in the market conditions that prevail now.
I'm glad it's not cheaper—if I were in the market for it, I'd rather have an incrementally better lens than an incrementally cheaper one.
...And by the way, if Nikon had to design and build a lens from scratch today of the quality of the AIS 28m ƒ/2.8, it would have to sell for at least $800. And most likely more.
*It could be a hybrid type, I can't remember.