Canon STM vs USM Lens: The Battle of Canon Lenses

Canon boasts some of the finest lenses for any digital camera. But anyone can get confused while purchasing a camera lens. The reason is because you need to consider zoom vs prime, aperture, and focal length. USM and STM lens are popular terms in the lens realm. This adds more figures and information in the minds.

But there is no need to allow these terms to confuse you! In today’s comparison guide, you will learn the meanings and motors included in these systems. And after you have understood the basics of the Canon STM vs USM lens, you will be sufficiently informed to make a conscious decision.

History of Canon Focus System

The manufacturer rolled out an efficient autofocus system in the 1980s known as the EOS. This famous term stands for electro optical system. The EOS placed the autofocus motor in the lens. Remember that the autofocus motor used to run the lens focus operation.

This was different from the other leading brands, like Nikon, who used to put the autofocus motor inside the camera itself. In today’s age, the placement of the autofocus motor in the lens is common, and almost all brands create lenses this way.

However, Canon is proud to manufacture categories of autofocus motors after presenting the EOS system. This resulted in various lens autofocus options, such as the STM and USM lenses, which today’s article talks about.

The Meaning Of Canon USM

The term USM on Canon lenses represents the autofocus motor system. It stands for Ultrasonic Motor and it functions by employing ultrasonic vibrations which are transformed into a rotational motion to move the focus ring. These lenses boast a quicker autofocus as opposed to STM lenses. However, their operation is a bit noisy.

The majority of Canon lenses incorporate this motor. USM lenses are hailed as the professional standard. The motor is much more advanced than the DC motor. This lens is able to focus rapidly. Plus, it is a breeze for USM lenses to shift from one focus point to another. For instance, it takes just a few seconds to jump from manual focus to autofocus.

But this hardly scratches the surface. Three main types of USM lenses exist – Nano USM, Micro USM, and Ring USM. The last one used to be owned by everyone, but nano USM is now a favorite among photographers. Let’s dissect each USM lens one by one:

1. Micro USM

This lens includes a sonic vibration motor, which is not directly paired with the focusing system. Micro USM consists of gears resembling a DC motor. This makes it noisy. Owing to the gear-like design, the motors present a practical focusing system without being restricted to the lens barrel size. Lastly, these lenses do not include the full-time manual focus.

2. Ring USM

This system includes two rings. One ring is connected to the barrel and vibrates at ultrasonic frequency, which makes the other ring move rotationally. The other ring is attached to the autofocus or focusing system. This lens is characterized by full-time manual focus, enabling you to jump from manual to autofocus quickly.

3. Nano USM

This revolutionary USM boasts a unique mechanism. It blends the silent focus of a lead screw STM lens with the speed of ring USM. Its motor resembles that in the Ring USM. However, the motor movement is more linear.

But as compared to the STM motor, the nano USM demands focus-by-wire. As a result, you are guaranteed high-quality pictures, smooth focus in videography, and quick autofocus response.

Perks of Canon USM Lenses

The major benefit of owning a Canon USM lens is quicker focusing as compared to Canon STM autofocus system. The better autofocus speed proves USM lenses to be perfect for professionals, enabling them to rapidly switch focus between their subjects.

When it comes to the advantage of Canon ring USM, the focus is fast like a wink. It excels at focus, which is a must for all photography niches, even the ones who shoot plenty of action. However, there is just one downside – ring USM is quite noisy. No photographer likes to work with a shrill lens. But opposed to the DC motor, the ring USM lens is somewhat quieter.

As compared to micro lens, it enables you to turn off autofocus while reverting to manual focus. Not to mention that it displays full-time manual focus. You can travel with micro USM lenses anywhere because it is the most lightweight in the USM lens series. Moreover, these are cheaper.

But in many aspects, Nano USM lenses are the best deal for many photographers. The brand made this system to fulfill the demands of videographers and photographers. As for its noise level, it is as noisy as an STM lens.

And a nano USM lens is as efficient as a ring USM. In simple words, you can get the best of both worlds. Last but not the least, speed and smoothness makes this striking lens a complete package.

The Meaning Of Canon STM Lens

This term represents the autofocus system. STM lens stands for Stepping Motor. This is a focusing system which employs a geared motor to shift the focus ring. The STM lenses by Canon are recognized for their silent autofocus system, which is exactly what videography requires. However, these lenses are slow at aiming focus as opposed to USM lenses.

The power for the Stepper Motor technology is derived from the camera body instead of the lens. STM lenses were created especially for shooting videos. Canon prioritized a quieter and smoother operation in this system. But even with the smoother focus, it is still slower than the USM variant.

Now let’s understand how it operates. Not many people understand how the STM lens works. The maker designed a focus motor which eradicates noise in shooting. Its focusing system is extremely silent. However, all experts agree that zero noise during shooting should not be taken for granted.

STM lenses employ electric motors which rotate in steps. This motor is operated by a current pulse with a lead screw that links to the autofocus group. Its steps are fixed positions, such as ⅛ of a rotation or ¼ of a clockwise rotation. After ending a turn, the motor halts.

The downside to this is that STM lenses do not add a full-time manual focus. When the autofocus is in use, you no longer have the freedom to manually adjust the focus ring.

Perks of Canon STM Lens

The gear or ring system forms the focusing system in ring USM lenses. The motion of the equipment creates more noise. But STM lenses are devoid of this feature. Since the STM lens does not adopt the camera focusing sound, you won’t find anything better to shoot videos.

Its focus system is more silent and smooth during shooting. STM lens offers a balanced motion during shooting. These lenses are loved by vloggers and all content creators. And the reason is because Canon tailored these for capturing videos.

The focus of the STM lens is quick, which is an impressive feature for snapping pictures. But it is somewhat slower than nano or ring USM lenses. If your budget is tight, you are better off buying an STM lens. Professionals who love shooting videos but also capture pictures from time to time, these lenses are a great option.

Some Canon USM Lenses

DSLR Lenses

  • Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 lens
  • Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III lens
  • Canon EF 500mm f/4 IS II lens

Mirrorless Lenses

  • Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS lens
  • Canon RF 70-200mm f/4L IS lens
  • Canon RF 100-500mm f/4.5-7.1L IS lens

Some Canon STM Lenses

DSLR Lenses

  • Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS lens
  • Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 lens
  • Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens

Mirrorless Lenses

  • Canon RF 600mm f/11 IS lens
  • Canon RF 85mm f/2 IS lens
  • Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 lens

The Ultimate Question – Which Lens is Better?

In the bloodbath of Canon STM vs USM lens, the better pick is based on your particular photography niche. Canon USM lens boasts a fast focus speed but it is somewhat noisy. On the other hand, Canon STM lenses feature a silent autofocus system, which is why videographers love this option. Owing to the noise, the USM lens is a better option for photographers.

In simple words, there is no accurate answer. The reason is simple – there is no “better” lens as both options are constructed with different purposes. STM and USM are meant for different things. The lenses do not vary much in the photography field. This means if you are strictly planning on photography, go with the affordable option.

But if you prefer shooting videos, the STM lenses are better owing to lower noise level. But this does not mean that USM lenses are completely unfit to shoot videos. However, you will have to deal with the noise when the camera switches between varying focus points.

Keep in mind that photographers are responsible for making the best use of their lens. It all boils down to your photography niche and needs. Therefore, before finalizing the decision, consider these factors:

If you dislike squeaky noises coming in your videos, be cautious about your decision because previous models of USM lenses are not suitable. Professional videographers are aware that a balanced focus and audio are the most critical factors to make videos. And if you are determined to only shoot videos, blindly trust nano USM or STM lenses. Although the STM lens is ideal for shooting, it is not too suitable for snapping pictures.

Now let’s talk about picture quality as both lenses do not have much difference in this work. Ring USM lens was the best standard for focus speed. But this was before the emergence of the Nano USM lens. But you need to splurge some more money for this advantage. Ring USM lens works without much noise, but it is still not as silent as STM lens. The latter option focuses flawlessly without any noise.

In case you are a fan of wildlife photography, both lenses are perfect for this task. But it is important to work with a quiet lens as animals can get easily scared by a noisy lens. This can ruin the perfect snap.

Owing to the focus-by-wire mechanism of STM lenses, manual focus is still a bit sluggish. Ring USM lenses are ideal for static photography. However, the nano USM lens is perfect for both videography and static photography. Not only this, it is also much faster than the STM system to shoot moving subjects.

This proves it to be an improved focus hunter. In simple words, a nano USM lens is laced with all the perks a photographer demands. This system is a proud winner when it comes to versatility, smoothness, and speed.

But micro USM lenses are much more affordable than the other options mentioned in this guide. This means you should go with this option if you lack budget. STM lenses will also be good for your pocket. Keep in mind that whatever lens you end up purchasing, do not regret it in the end. It is your responsibility as a professional to make the most out of the equipment.

Final Verdict

The confusion surrounding Canon STM vs USM lens is now hopefully cleared. But after you are aware that these terms point to the autofocus system, the blur is erased in your mind. Furthermore, after knowing how both lenses operate, photographers can make informed decisions.

USM lenses are known for their precision and speed. However, these features automatically raise the price. Another downside is their high noise level. On the other hand, STM lenses operate silently with a balanced tracking. This is why videographers appreciate this system.

Now you have a deep insight on the Canon lens inventory. There is no mystique around weird acronyms and you are free to invest in Canon lens with confidence.

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