Just one lens for the C100?

Just one lens for the C100?
Canon C100 & the EFS 17-55mm f/2.8

Canon C100 & the EFS 17-55mm f/2.8

I often get asked the question “What’s the best lens for the Canon C100?”. Well, typically that’s a difficult question to answer. It’s like asking “What’s the best food to have for dinner?” But I have to admit, if I had to grab just one lens to do an entire shoot, I think I have the answer. My lens of choice would be the Canon EFS 17-55mm f/2.8.

I have a closet full of Canon EF-L, EFS zooms and primes and Rokinon Cine Prime lenses and normally take several of them to cover myself for almost any situation. But most of the time I found I’m shooting with the 17-55mm. To be honest, I just love this lens.

EFS 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM

EFS 17-55mm f2.8 IS USM

So, why the love fest for this thing? Well, in my opinion it’s a perfect choice for video with the C100. It’s relatively light compared to most EF-L lenses, it’s less expensive, it has image stabilization, it has a constant aperture of f/2.8, and it’s a great blend of being wide enough and just long enough for almost anything. Admittedly, there are times that I find it’s just a bit too short and would love it to be a 17-80mm or something like that. But, I’ve learned to work around that by knowing where I need to be in relation to what I’m shooting.

This lens choice is of course based on the type of shooting I do. Most of our work is hand-held documentary style where I’m up close and personal. I’m usually within a few feet or less, so the 55mm range gives me plenty of reach to get closeups of important details and great tight shots of faces. And the 17mm end of the lens is wide enough to capture the entire scene without distortion. I rarely feel trapped in no-man’s-land where I can’t get close enough or wide enough.

The perfect partner for the C100

The perfect partner for the C100

The constant f/2.8 aperture is perfect. It’s fast enough for most situations and provides a very pleasing shallow depth-of-field image. I’m always extremely happy with the look of my footage. I’m often surprised at how the 55mm end of the lens looks longer than it really is. If you’re shooting a host or interview subject for example, the background is nicely out of focus and the subject really pops out. Thanks again f/2.8!

Overall, it has a more solid build and pro-feel than other less expensive EFS lenses. The manual focus ring offers enough travel to accurately and creatively find your focus. Unlike some cheaper lenses where just the slightest turn of the focus ring throws it wildly out of focus in one direction or the other, this one feels comfortable, accurate and easy to use with confidence.

Canon 17-55mm1

The Image Stabilizer is awesome. It really helps smooth things out when you’re hand-held, which I am most of the time. Even on the longer end of the lens it makes a significant difference. I often create the illusion of a subtle slider move by just shifting my body weight from side to side. On a few occasions I’ve taken a shot that’s pretty solid as-is but added some additional stabilization in post. People who watch the finished piece ask me what type of slider I brought with me to Africa.

I find I can handle almost all types of shots with this lens; general b-reel action, interviews, on-camera host walk-and-talks, tight interiors, landscapes and vistas, you name it. The only downfall is sacrificing the ability to get beautiful long-lens images that really compress the background. Even though you can compensate for the lack of reach by physically getting closer to things, you can’t replace the look of shooting with a longer zoom like the 70-200mm for example.

If I could slightly revise my “just one lens” choice to “just two lenses”, I would take the 17-55mm f/2.8 and my trusty Canon EF-L 70-200mm f/2.8. Is that cheating? I guess it is.

EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM

EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM

To be true to the challenge, I would feel comfortable heading off on a documentary style shoot with just the 17-55mm f/2.8. It wouldn’t be perfect in all situations but I can’t think of another lens that would be as versatile. You may be thinking the Canon 24-105mm f/4L would be a better choice – and perhaps you would be right. But for me, on a Super 35 sensor camera, 24mm is more like 35mm and that just isn’t wide enough when I’m up close to the action. Also, I’ll take f/2.8 over f/4.

I think there would be something quite liberating about packing super light, using what you have and focusing on the creative part of our craft. How about you? What lens would you take?


Scot McDonald


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  1. September 4, 2014, 6:07 am   /  Reply

    The 17-55 2.8 is indeed a great lens, the quality is up there in L category though the build isn’t quite as good. I’ve used it as the ‘standard’ lens for some time. However, it’s been knocked off its perch by a young upstart of a lens – the Canon 18-135 f3.5-5 STM IS.

    It’s cheap, it’s cheerful, it’s surprisingly good once you tame it with the zoom-iris correction – keep the iris at f5-f8 and you’re not going to get any ramping of exposure – EXCEPT during zooms. This is a ‘fly by wire’ lens, no actual mechanical manual control… But you weren’t going to use the zoom during a shot, were you? 😉 Yes, you can get away with it, and for snap zooms it’s a fun effect.

    The key thing is that it has exceptional range (18-135 covers a multitude of sins), it has very good image stabilisation, and it works perfectly with the Dual Pixel Auto Focus function. This is the lens I’ll have on the camera when you’re dragged into a very fast moving run and gun B-Roll coverage situation – I cover a lot of events, trade shows, incentive travel and so on, and with this lens on a C100, I can almost cope without my trusty EX1Rs.

    If you’re shooting more formal interviews, art shots, properly shot General Views and B-roll, this is not the lens. But here-in lies the rub: it also makes a great ‘Director’s Viewfinder’ to select the focal length you want to use.

    Best thing? About £200 in the UK, virtually free if bought as the C100 kit lens. Seems a little pricer in the US – sorry, but it’s about time we had a better deal sometimes.

  2. September 4, 2014, 11:54 pm   /  Reply

    Great tips on both lenses (tempting to try the 18-135) Out of interest has anyone tried the Sigma 18-35 on the C100 ? Definitely not a ‘run-and-gun’ option but am considering it as an interview lens to pop between two portrait focal lengths when mounted on a tripod… any experience with this? Seems to be a lot of hype surrounding the new Sigma Art lenses and wondered if it was worth a look?

    • Scot McDonald
      September 5, 2014, 12:37 am   /  Reply

      Hi Glenn,
      I haven’t tried the Sigma 18-35mm myself but I have heard great things about it – especially the image quality it delivers. For much of my work, it’s always a balance of artistic quality and practical functionality. With that in mind, the lack of an image stabilizer on the Sigma is an important consideration.

      Thanks for your input!

      • May 25, 2016, 3:32 pm   /  Reply

        I use the Sigma 18-35 for coverage and love it. I’m usually doing corporate type stuff so can grab some creative b-roll with it. Most of the time I have the 24-105 on which is so great for getting a variety of shots quickly and the IS really helps the handheld or monopod shots. The Sigma seems to work well with the continuous autofocus on the c100 mark II. I followed a child around handheld and was surprised at how good it kept focus.

    • September 5, 2014, 1:01 am   /  Reply

      The Sigma 18-35 1.8 is on my list to buy – over, for example – the Samyang 35mm 1.4, because of its flexibility: I can’t put my camera in exactly the right spot every time. But I’m very happy to own a number of lenses that cover the same focal length because one of the key requirements for most C100 shooters is that they don’t want to be caught changing lenses when the action happens.

      Yesterday, I was shooting a Corporate ‘fun day’ and covered all the fast moving action stuff with the 18-135. I needed faces, I needed establishing, I needed effect shots (ultra wide closeups, compressed perspective telephoto), and continually cover 4 teams mucking around over three hours. Then there was a brief impasse as the sun went down and the evening festivities were under way – outdoors, lit by tea lights and a bit of spill from a servery area. The 18-135 would have needed 24dB gain (I don’t do ISOs), I switched to the 17-55 2.8 which got me down to 6-12dB.

      So the horrible truth is, I guess, that folks like us are going to end up with the 17-55, the 18-135 AND the Sigma 18-35 (that extra stop-and-a-bit, and its performance wide open, mean a lot).

    • AHC
      February 2, 2015, 8:13 am   /  Reply

      18-38 it’s one of my favorite lenses. I usually prefer larger lenses, but eh, a 1.8 zoom. And i you uptade the firmware of the lens, works great with dual pixel focus.
      bokehlicious. A must.

  3. January 12, 2015, 7:32 am   /  Reply

    Great article – thank you for answering the impossible, over-simplified question of “which lens?” I’ve been shooting with the 5D for years but I’ve been curious about the C100. I’ve got a video shoot this week and I’m adding the C100 and the 17-55mm lens to the equipment list (in addition to the 5D Mark III) and I’m going to play around with it. Thanks again – Michelle NYC

    • Scot McDonald
      January 13, 2015, 11:55 am   /  Reply

      No problem Michelle. Hopefully you’ll like it as much as I do. Let us know your thoughts after you’ve had a chance to work with it.


  4. Franco
    February 7, 2015, 7:42 pm   /  Reply

    Well, having the Canon16-35 f2.8 and its cousin the 24-70 2.8 I’m wondering how they’ll crop in the Super 35 C100 mk2. The 24-70 is wonderful on full frame, but now I’m going to be transitioning to the new C100/2… Too much money tied up in this glass to spend more to downgrade quality. What do you think of the two ranges in crop – 1.46?
    16mm – 23mm
    35 – 52
    24 – 35
    70 – 102

  5. Conan
    February 8, 2015, 1:57 am   /  Reply

    Bang on Scot. The 17-55 is on my c100 80% of the time. After owning a lot of lenses of various focal lengths I settled on four. I have sold all of the rest. Tried the 18-135 and it is just a horrible feeling lens. Brilliant focal length but so off putting when focussing manually.

    The only four you’ll need:

    1. 17-55. For all the reasons you state. Plus if you shoot mainly narrative it’s so versatile.

    2. 70-200 f4. I know. F4! This cameras lowlight ability makes up for it not being F2.8 and it is soo much lighter than the F2.8.

    3. 24 f2.8 IS. Seriously underrated lens and definitely not the first you’d think of as you get this focal length and aperture when buying the 17-55. Buuuut, it is optically far superior to the 17-55’s 24mm has virtually zero distortion. Has image stabilisation. Is tiny. And is so light. I’d say it’s the best run and gun prime out there. It stops the C100 from being front heavy (prob the only issue the 17-55 causes) when handholding for any length of time. A brilliant lens for verite style shooting.

    4. 100 macro L. Just a brilliant lens. The IS is cracking. People whinge about the build quality but if you’ve got past the build quality of the 17-55 then this shouldn’t be an issue. It not too heavy. Blisteringly sharp and it forces you to make some very arty shot choices.

    But if I was to choose only one: 17-55.

  6. Marc
    July 12, 2015, 2:15 pm   /  Reply

    I bought a C100 and have read a lot thinks to buy my first lens. I was first for the 24-105 f4 which was for me the best run and gun lens for all situations. I want to use it for documentary. But a friend of mine tell me that the best iso is 850 with the C100 and that I need a more lighting lens like the 17-55 f2.8 or the 24-70 f2.8. But I’m used to film with shoulder camera and with wide angles. Then, as you advise it, I bought the 17-55 f2.8. I did some pictures and I noticed that there is a lot of vignetting at 17 mm f2.8! How do you manage your shootings with this?
    Thank you (sorry I’m french and my english is bad)

    • Scot McDonald
      July 12, 2015, 2:28 pm   /  Reply

      Hi Marc,
      If you go into your C100’s camera settings menu, you’ll find a setting called EF-S Lens Off/On. Turn this to “On”. That will take care of any vignetting.


  7. Marc
    July 14, 2015, 7:01 am   /  Reply

    Thank you Scot. I’ve seen this function. But in the manual, they say that it can decrease the quality of image. What do you think about that. Did you see a decrease of the quality?

    Thanks for your answer


    • Scot McDonald
      July 14, 2015, 7:48 am   /  Reply

      From a mathematical perspective yes, the camera does increase the size of the image to crop the edge and remove vignetting. But, the increase is so minimal (something like 2%) you’ll never notice the difference. Do a quick test yourself. Shoot the same scene at the same settings with the EF-S lens function “On” and then with it “Off”. I doubt you’ll see any difference at all in the image quality.


  8. Marc
    July 14, 2015, 10:24 am   /  Reply

    I did a test and on a computer screen you don’t see any difference. But how do you work ? You have the EF-S lens function “on” or “off” ?

    Thanks a lot

  9. Marc
    July 18, 2015, 2:55 am   /  Reply

    Hey Scott,

    I’ve found the magic touch in the menu. In French the setting is called ‘Illumination Correction Periphérie”. I make it of “on” and now my picture is perfect everywhere.
    I did a corporate shooting with my new camera and new lens and in 80% of the situations, this lens was perfect. But I had to complete some shoots with a 18-135 f3,5-5,6.
    The next step is to buy the 70-200 like yours. But I’ve heard that it is quite heavy. How do you use it ? With rod barrs?
    Thank you for your advises

  10. Adrian
    August 1, 2015, 4:33 am   /  Reply

    For me, the one lens is 15-85mm IS USM
    A great but underestimated lens 🙂

  11. Peter
    August 14, 2015, 9:58 pm   /  Reply

    Hi gang,
    Just got c-100 mii and am having trouble getting the look I was hoping for. (I came from the 5d iii and loved the “faithful” camera profile. I do a lot of day of news and like to pull punchy “happy” looking color out of the camera with minimal grading. Have you guys created any custom picture profiles that you could recommend or know anywhere where I could find some? (Basically warmer more saturated stuff) Didn’t think the “eos standard” profile looked that good.

    Quite annoyingly, the downloadable files I’ve seen some places don’t seem to work on c-100 mii so I would need to dial in specs. Is anyone else kind of underwhelmed with c-100 after using 5d? Thanks

    • Jason
      February 15, 2016, 1:19 pm   /  Reply

      Yes! I totally agree with you…Side by side, the 5Dmii vs C100mii….5D wins every time in my book. Whats up with that? I think i need a new lens…im still using the one that came with it.

  12. sam
    November 9, 2015, 7:46 am   /  Reply

    Hey guys,
    I am using the c100 with a 24-70 L series lens hooked up to a ninja. It is in a cage with a follow-focus wheel hooked up to focus on the lens. The problem I am having is getting my shots in focus. I am using the screen on the c100 AND the one on the ninja but it seems like i miss it by a little bit. I am having to shoot at f4-f11 just to compensate. Any suggestions?

  13. Marc
    December 19, 2015, 5:37 am   /  Reply

    Hey Sam,
    I have the same problem than you. I’ve tryed the Zacuto Z-finder directly on C100 screen but it’s horrible to have the focus because you see all the pixels. And when you put the red peaking, the picture is very hard to decode. After that, I’ve tryed the Zacuto EVF pro. I had the same problem than with the z-finder : pixels are very present. Now, I use the autofocus which I lock when I have the focus. But I have the famous Dual Pixel AF which cost 500 € by Canon; For the moment, I think it is the best compromise with the old C100 and it works.

  14. May 23, 2016, 9:46 am   /  Reply

    Be careful for the use of this lens the Canon EFS 17-55mm f/2.8. It’s builded especially for APS-C sensor… On the C100 Mark ii you get a 35mm sensor croped but not a APS-C sensor. Also take a look at DXO Mark, this lens peak in sharpness at 35 mm but only get a reasonable score of 16 which is close to be poor. Canon EF-S lenses have a smaller image circle that is only big enough to cover the smaller sensor found on Canon APS-C cameras. I will recommend the 24-70mm f4 IS or the 24-105mm F4 IS. If you want to go with the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM which is much sharper than this lens.

  15. August 30, 2016, 12:55 pm   /  Reply

    I know this post is a few years old, but just wanted to thank you. Exactly the information I was looking for. The Canon EOS C100MK II is an expensive camera, and I’ll only be able to purchase one lens with it. Sounds like the 17-55 Lens Kit (EF-S Mount) is the way to go. Thanks again.

    • Dean Miles
      August 31, 2016, 6:11 pm   /  Reply

      You are most welcome. Good luck out there!

  16. Steve Roby
    January 19, 2017, 1:36 pm   /  Reply

    I just picked up the C-100 MKII for doc work, and wanted to get your opinion on the face detection STM lenses that Canon says will work with this camera. I asked Canon (in early 2017) if they had pans to upgrade the firmware so more lens would have this feature, but they said, “No.” I got spoiled with their 80D that lets you pop on any lens and use face detection – with a touch screen. I’m not thrilled that I have to invest in another lens (on a $4k camera), and one that won’t go to 2.8.

    Any thoughts for a “one man band” with interview subjects who tend to move while talking thus losing focus without face detection?


  17. March 13, 2017, 7:01 am   /  Reply

    I currently use the 24-105 f/4 lens and I want to point out that this lens is not as sharp as the 17-55mm f/2.8 lens, has anyone experienced this as well?

  18. Joe
    June 28, 2017, 9:40 am   /  Reply

    Hi not sure if anyone is experiencing a horrible rattling noise whenever IS on this lense is turned on. I can definelry hear it even when the top handle and shotgun mic is still on the camera …..

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