What Is The Difference Between Canon STM And USM Lenses?

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The autofocus feature made its official debut in the world of photography in 1985. As each camera manufacturer introduced its own autofocus systems, Canon created the feature differently and had succeeded. 

Since then, other manufacturers have followed Canon’s architecture by placing the autofocus motor in the lens. In the 90s, Canon launched the Electro-Optical System or EOS with two types of autofocus motor, the USM and the STM. 

What Is The Difference Between Canon STM And USM Lenses?

Canon has focused on improving the autofocus feature of its lenses. The brand launched the Ultrasonic Motor or USM lenses that provide fast autofocus, yet the operation is not as smooth and quiet. 

When more and more photographers used Canon DSLRs to film videos, the brand launched the Stepping Motor Lenses or STM that provides a quiet and fast experience, although the speed is not as impressive as that of the USM. 

Canon camera with various lenses and gears

Types Of Ultrasonic Motor Lens

The Ultrasonic Motor Technology, or USM, was introduced by Canon in the early 90s. It is mostly used on EF lenses. This type of lens converts ultrasonic vibration energy into rotational force in order to move the lens. 

The USM design is based on the vibration frequencies that are applied to the coupled rings on the motor, causing it to rotate. 

  • Ring-Type USM

The ring-type USM motor is widely used on Canon’s EF lineup. Out of the 49 EF lenses that have the USM motor, 42 are ring-type ones. 

Ring-type USM lenses can drive the focusing lens faster and smoother even at low speed, so you do not need to have a gear system to boost the speed. It also has high levels of holding power, so once the motor is turned off, the focusing lens is held properly in place without further input. 

Also, it allows the focusing lens to start and stop faster to ensure the best response. 

  • Micro USM

The micro USM motor is built to fit a wide range of Canon lenses, and it is not restricted to the size of the barrel. It is also more affordable to produce, making it suitable for lenses aimed at beginners. 

The micro USM uses a sonic vibration motor that has a series of gears which results in a traditional autofocus drive approach. The motor is silent, so it is great to use when taking pictures of live subjects. 

  • Nano USM

The Nano USM is a fast and quiet autofocus system. It is the most ideal autofocus motor for professionally used lenses because it can work well on both videography and photography . 

Nano USM lenses combine the speed of ring-type USM and the smoothness and silent operation of STM. It is great in capturing fast action movements where both smooth focus and quiet motor are important. 

Types Of Stepping Motor Lens

Stepping Motor Lenses or STM are ideal for snapping photos and filming videos. It has two great characteristics: it is smooth and quiet. Since its focus motor is silent, you can record comfortably. 

STM lenses are great at producing precise and smooth incremental movements, so each frame of the video that you took is clear and crisp. 

Hand holding both Canon STM and USM lenses
  • Gear Type STM

The most common type of STM lenses is gear type. It is ideal for small and compact. It is a lightweight and compact motor that uses helical gears to focus on the subject accurately.

  • Lead-Screw Type STM

Unlike the gear type STM, the lead-screw type STM is larger in size. However, it offers greater levels of speed and silence. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Are STM And USM Lenses Compatible With Other Camera Brands?

One way to know if the STM or USM lens is compatible with other camera brands is by looking at the indicators on the mount located at the front of the camera. 

You need to detach the lens. You can do this by pressing the release button gently then slowly twist the camera lens anti-clockwise. 

If you see a red circle on the mount, it means that it is compatible with other camera brands. However, if you see a white circle, it means that it is not compatible. 

Which Mount Is Compatible With USM And STM Lenses?

Both the STM and USM lenses can be attached to Canon cameras that have the RF mount and EF mount. The RF mount is the latest mount built by Canon, and it is used on their full-frame mirrorless cameras. 

Meanwhile, the EF mount is the older version that Canon used in its DSLR and SLR cameras with mirrors in them. 

RF mount has more pins compared to EF mount. Although the EF mount is the same as that of the RF mount when it comes to concept and design, it is different when it comes to the camera that it is compatible with since RF ones are focused on mirrorless cameras


USM lenses are better for capturing images and are ideal for professional-grade lenses, while STM lenses are better for beginners and videographers. 

The type of lens that you get for your camera should depend on what you want to focus on, whether it be taking pictures or filming videos. 

Kaitlin Cooper is an active professional wedding and portrait photographer in San Diego, California at Kaitlin Cooper Photography. She is also a contributor to many large publications, including Bridal GuideBustlePixpaWith Joy, and Hello Giggles.