It seems like just yesterday I was introducing the predecessor to this lens, the Serenar (Canon) 28mm f/3.5. The latter was and remains a fine lens, and I had no complaints about it. The only reason it has now gone to a new owner (who reports that he too is pleased with it) is that I allowed myself to be seduced by the promise of a little more speed and slightly better resolving power. I’m weak. There, I said it.
The new arrival looks a bit more modern on the outside; the beginnings of the shift in Canon’s design philosophy can be seen here. As such, I find it looks a bit more appropriate on my larger Canon bodies (as shown here on my fetching L1) than the smaller Barnack Leicas. It’s still quite solid, but it lacks the feeling of being carved of a single chunk of brass that the old 3.5 had. On the plus side, the glass is more recessed in the body, and the aperture ring is larger and easier to read. Pretty minor differences, really. And while we’re on the subject of minor details, since this lens came to me from Japan, I’m unreasonably happy that it’s marked in meters rather than feet. I’m one of those odd Americans who, for reasons I cannot fully explain, prefers metric markings on their camera equipment.
Optically, the 2.8 demonstrates many of the same basic characteristics as the 3.5 did: vignetting wide open, good sharpness spreading out toward the corners as you stop down some. The differences lie in when things shift; whereas the 3.5 didn’t really feel sharp across the frame until f/8, the 2.8 manages similar levels by f/5.6. Practically speaking, this gives the latter a little more flexibility in addition to the 2/3rds of a stop in absolute speed advantage it holds.
Contrast is moderate, and not terribly different across the aperture range, for both lenses. The 2.8 appears to have a slight edge in resolution, but not really enough to make a meaningful difference in real-world performance. Color rendering is fairly similar as well, and consistent with older Canon lenses, with a slightly muted feel overall. Flare resistance is good. In short, both lenses produce photos that look pretty similar most of the time.
If you’re reading this thinking a) that there’s no big surprises, and b) wondering why I bothered, you’re not alone. I’m not sure that I really gained anything important. But that’s how it goes sometimes, I suppose. I’ve still got a good 28mm lens for my LTM cameras, so I didn’t lose anything either. As long as I broke even (more or less), I can’t complain.