Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens Review

With the arrival of the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens, the Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens and Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens now have another sibling - a big brother. Even before I had a 35 f/2 IS in my hands, I felt like I already knew this lens well as it shares design with these nearly-identical siblings (that I had just-prior reviewed).

35 f/2 IS with 24mm and 28mm f/2.8 IS Lenses

Based on the similarity of these three lenses and my experience with them, I expected the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens to deliver fast and accurate AF, great image quality and image stabilization in a light, compact and moderately-priced package. And it does.

The 24mm f/2.8 IS, 28mm f/2.8 IS and 35mm f/2 IS differ primarily by their focal lengths, though the 35, with its f/2 max aperture, can allow twice as much light into the camera as the f/2.8 max aperture lenses. And the 35 f/2 grows in size accordingly. While the angle of view afforded by each lens is not dramatically different than the next-in-line sibling, the difference between 24mm and 35mm becomes more substantial.

Replacing the 22-year-old Canon EF 35mm f/2 Lens, the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens delivers much-improved peripheral image quality, adds image stabilization and Ring-type USM AF, and has a significantly-improved build quality - including a much better MF ring than the replaced 1990-era design. The 35 f/2 IS is modestly heavier and larger (but still small and light) than the non-IS 35 f/2. A significantly higher price tag is the big downside.

On Canon EOS 1D X - Top View

The 35mm focal length is an extremely popular one. It has long been a go-to focal length for photojournalists, wedding and event photographers, portrait photographers (don't frame portraits too tightly with this lens), landscape photographers ... and the list goes on and on.

Sample Picture

The above 35mm f/2 portrait was captured in a brief pause of motion. This is about as tight as I like to frame a 35mm portrait (for perspective distortion reasons) using a full frame body (a Canon 1D X in this case). This sample picture also shows you the maximum amount of background blur possible when using this lens in similar situations.

Mount a 35mm lens on an APS-C format DSLR and the 35mm focal length delivers an angle of view similar to what a near-normal 56mm lens delivers on a full frame sensor format body. While a prime lens does not have the versatility of a zoom, the 56mm angle of view is very general purpose for a prime lens. 50mm lenses have been even more popular than 35mm lenses in the full frame format world (including film).

I typically consider f/2.8 the minimum aperture I want for capturing action indoors or in very low light outdoors, so this lens' f/2 aperture is very well-suited for this use.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens on Canon EOS 1D X - Angle View

Following its sibling 24mm and 28mm f/2.8 IS Lenses, the 35mm f/2 IS becomes the third Canon prime lens wider than 100mm to have image stabilization. Perhaps even more interesting is that this is Canon's first f/2 max aperture lens wider than 200mm to have IS.

The combination of an f/2 aperture, 35mm focal length and 4-stop IS makes the 35 IS, at review time, arguably the most low-light-handholdable full frame format Canon lens available (just ahead of the 24 f/2.8 IS). And the 35 f/2 perhaps equals the most handholdable Canon lens available.

Lenses being introduced with image stabilization far outnumber those coming without it. Image stabilization has matured nicely since it was first introduced, and the IS system in the 35 f/2 IS is yet another example of this maturity.

The IS sound from this lens basically inaudible. If I place the lens practically against my ear, I can hear a light IS shhhhhhh that is mixed with light clicks when the lens is moved. The viewfinder shows no evidence of image stabilization going into effect (jumping/shaking/etc.) - aside from the stabilized view in the viewfinder.

My experience with the IS system in this lens is very good. With good technique from a stable, standing shooting position, I encounter few reject images when exposure times are shorter than .3 for approximately just-over 3 stops of assistance. The reject rate jumps up at .3 seconds, but the keeper rate is still decent. The keeper rate then quickly diminishes - but it has a long tail.

I set what I think must be a new PR (Personal Record) for standing-unsupported handholding exposure duration using this lens. The following example images (100% crops with very light sharpening) were captured with 1.3 second exposures. And I had others from this and slightly shorter exposures that I could share (the keeper rate was running at about 10% at these durations). I also had 1 usably-sharp shot (out of 20) at 1.6 seconds - which seemed like forever when holding the camera still.

Image Stabilization Example

 
We cannot expect indoor stability when shooting in the wind and/or with unstable footing, but IS will still make a big difference - perhaps making the same relative difference in results.

Image stabilization does not stop subject motion blur. You need a still subject for long exposures (unless, of course, motion blur is desired).

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens

I was surprised that Canon decided to not include the 24 f/2.8 IS and 28 f/2.8 IS Lenses in the L Series, but, I'm therefore not surprised that the 35 f/2 IS follows its siblings in this non-L designation. When first introduced, the 35 f/2 IS, like its siblings, had a price that makes adding weather sealing and painting the red ring around the end of the lens seem logical. This lens does have image quality that challenges Canon's best L lenses covering 35mm.

Canon's 35 f/2 IS MTF chart became available at announcement time. Here is a comparison between the old and new 35mm lenses from a theoretic perspective.

MTF Chart

The original Canon EF 35mm f/2 Lens delivered very sharp frame centers, but performed poorly in the peripheral areas of the image circle until significantly stopped down. The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens is again very sharp in the frame center at f/2 and is also quite sharp into the full frame corners. Stopping down to f/2.8 increases sharpness modestly, but the decrease in vignetting is much more noticeable. This lens is razor sharp across the entire frame at f/4. The extreme full frame corners show a slight improvement at f/5.6, but increased depth of field or longer exposure times are by far the biggest reasons to stop down beyond f/4.

The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens is very noticeably sharper than the Canon EF 35mm f/2 non-IS Lens in the mid and peripheral areas of the image circle at f/2 and even when stopped down. The f/2 IS retains a sharpness advantage over the f/2 non-IS in the corners even at f/8, but the difference becomes minimal by that aperture.

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM Lens vs. 35 f/2 IS comparison is an interesting one. The 35 L of course rules at f/1.4, and it is sharper in the center of the frame at f/2. At f/2, the mid and corner of the frame differences are harder to discern as the 35 L has more CA, but less vignetting. These two lenses are equalizing at f/2.8 and at f/4, I give the f/2 IS lens a slight advantage, but both lenses are performing impressively.

Expect the 35 f/2 IS to give you a moderately strong, but not unusual, just-over-3-stops of full frame corner shading at f/2. APS-C format sensor body owners will see a just-noticeable, just-over-1 stop of peripheral shading at f/2. Stop down to f/2.8 and about 1/2 of the vignetting goes away (a very noticeable difference). About .8 stops of vignetting remains in full frame corners at f/16.

The 35mm f/2 IS's peripheral shading is nearly identical to that of the 35 f/2 non-IS. As you would expect, the 35 f/1.4 L shows considerably less vignetting at comparable wider apertures (the two lenses compare more closely at narrow apertures).

The 35 f/2 IS shows impressively little CA (Chromatic Aberration). The f/2 IS's performance is better than both the 35 f/2 non-IS and the 35 f/1.4 L in this regard.

The IS lens design has 3 additional lens elements (10/8 vs. 7/5) over the previous non-IS design, but remarkably shows the same or less flare than the previous lens. Which is very little - flare is very well controlled by this lens. The f/2 non-IS shows slightly more flare than the f/2 IS at very narrow apertures - f/11 and narrower. The 35 L and its larger glass show modestly more flare than the two f/2 lenses at narrow apertures.

The 35mm f/2 IS shows very little distortion - a performance that is similar to the other two Canon 35mm lenses I've been comparing against.

The 35 IS and its 8-blade rounded aperture (upgraded from 5 non-rounded blades) delivers nice background blur quality (often referred to as bokeh). The difference from the 35 f/2 non-IS is very noticeable in out-of-focus specular highlights. Below is an example that demonstrates this difference.

Note that I was working on the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens Review at the same time as the this review, so a pair of non-Canon 35mm f/1.4 lenses are included in this comparison. These are 100% crops from identically focused lenses. An f/4 aperture was used for this comparison (wide open apertures usually deliver completely round specular highlight blurs).

Bokeh Comparison

To my eyes, the Canon 35mm f/2 IS wins this comparison. It delivers the most-round and smoothest specular highlight blurs. I'll give the Sigma 35 f/1.4 second place with nearly round and rather-smooth blurs.

The Samyang 35mm Lens' pinwheel-like blur designs are my least favorite. The Samyang acts as a slightly longer focal length lens that frames the scene tighter and enlarges the background blur more. That the Samyang's blur is larger does not make it a better lens in this regard.

The old Canon L and f/2 non-IS lenses do not have rounded aperture blades. The result is that the specular highlights in stopped down aperture images become octagonal and pentagonal respectively - instead of circles. Octagonal is not too bad, but the L's specular highlight blurs are not as smooth as I would like. I don't like pentagonal at all - unless I'm doing something creatively cutsie (I seldom do that).

When looking at a busy area of blurred image, these lenses do not perform dramatically different from each other.

The above images were identically exposed with exception of the Sigma 35 that needed a 1/3 stop longer exposure to produce a histogram equal to the other lenses in this comparison. The Canon 35 f/2 is about 1/6 stop brighter in comparison, but its exposure was not adjusted in this comparison.

Note that the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens utilizes " ... micro-stepping drive control for quieter operation." [Canon]

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens Tripod Mounted on EOS 5D Mark III

Using Canon's Ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor), the 35 f/2 IS internally focuses very quickly, quietly and accurately. AI Servo performance has proven very accurate to me - even at f/2.

Action Sample Picture

In a quiet environment, you can hear the shuffling of elements inside the lens during autofocusing, but this is one of the quietest-autofocusing lenses available. FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is available, and filters do not rotate during focusing.

The EF 35 f/2 IS lens' autofocus system is a major upgrade from the older, very noisy, EF 35 f/2. And the manual focus system is also much improved.

The 35 IS has a modestly-sized manual focus ring designed for secondary use - it is large enough to be very usable, but small enough to not be in the way (or accidentally rotated) when using AF. The focus ring is very smooth, is nicely damped and has no play. A nice 145° of rotation is provided - this is the same amount of rotation in the 35 f/1.4 L and somewhat less than in the 35 f/2 non-IS. You will see subject sizes change somewhat as this lens is focus-distance-adjusted (similar to the other two Canon 35s), but the framed image remains smoothly centered.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens on 1D X - Front View

A focus-related improvement this lens' siblings enjoy over their predecessors is a shorter MFD (Minimum Focus Distance) and higher MM (Maximum Magnification). The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens breaks this little tradition by sharing the same MM as its predecessor. Even so, the 35 f/2 IS has one of the best MM specs among similar lenses as shown below.

ModelMFDMM
Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens7.9"(200mm)0.15x
Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L Tilt-Shift Lens9.8"(250mm)0.14x
Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM Lens9.8"(250mm)0.14x
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM Lens8.3"(210mm)0.16x
Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens7.9"(200mm)0.23x
Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 Lens9.8"(250mm)0.16x
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II Tilt-Shift Lens8.3"(210mm)0.34x
Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM Lens9.8"(250mm)0.18x
Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens9.1"(230mm)0.23x
Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 Lens11.8"(300mm)0.13x
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM Lens11.8"(300mm)0.18x
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens9.4"(240mm)0.24x
Canon EF 35mm f/2.0 Lens9.8"(250mm)0.24x
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake Lens11.8"(300mm).18x
Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens15.7"(400mm)0.16x
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens17.7"(450mm)0.15x
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens17.7"(450mm)0.15x
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens17.7"(450mm)0.15x
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens9.1"(230mm)0.50x

Adding extension tubes to a wide angle lens generally makes a dramatic difference in that lens' abilities to focus closer. With the Canon EF 12mm Extension Tube II behind it, the 35 IS has a 0.60-0.36x MM spec. Use the Canon EF 25mm Extension Tube II and MM goes to 1.04-0.79x.

This lens is not compatible with Canon Extenders. The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens has a clean, smooth, fixed-size design that is comfortable to carry and use. While slightly larger than both its predecessor and its siblings, the 35 f/2 IS is still quite small and light. It feels very nicely built.

With Hood on Canon EOS 1D X - Angled Top View

The made-of-engineering-plastic lens barrel has a nice quality feel to it, though the barrel exterior flexes slightly when squeezed (so does the 35 L). Plastic is light - light is an often-desired lens characteristic. Smaller max apertures require less glass which also means less weight - and less size. The 35 f/2 IS, while not as light as the 35 f/2 non-IS, is considerably lighter than the 35 f/1.4 L.

ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens22.8 oz(645g)3.1 x 3.7"(80 x 94mm)mm2007
Canon TS-E 17mm f/4 L Tilt-Shift Lens28.9 oz(820g)3.5 x 4.2"(88.9 x 106.9mm)mm2009
Canon EF 20mm f/2.8 USM Lens14.3 oz(405g)3.1 x 2.8"(78 x 71mm)72mm1992
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L II USM Lens22.9 oz(650g)3.5 x 4.2"(88.5 x 106.9mm)77mm2008
Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens9.9 oz(280g)2.7 x 2.2"(68.4 x 55.7mm)58mm2012
Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 Lens9.5 oz(270g)2.7 x 1.9"(68 x 49mm)58mm1988
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5 L II Tilt-Shift Lens27.5 oz(780g)3.5 x 4.2"(88.5 x 106.9mm)82mm2009
Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 USM Lens10.9 oz(310g)2.9 x 2.2"(74 x 56mm)58mm1995
Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens9.2 oz(260g)2.7 x 2"(68.4 x 51.5mm)58mm2012
Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 Lens6.5 oz(185g)2.6 x 1.7"(67 x 43mm)52mm1987
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM Lens20.5 oz(580g)3.1 x 3.4"(79 x 86mm)72mm1998
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens11.8 oz(335g)3.1 x 2.5"(77.9 x 62.6mm)67mm2012
Canon EF 35mm f/2.0 Lens7.4 oz(210g)2.6 x 1.7"(67 x 43mm)52mm1990
Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Pancake Lens4.6 oz(130g)2.7 x 0.9"(68.2 x 22.8mm)52mm2012
Canon TS-E 45mm f/2.8 Tilt-Shift Lens22.8 oz(645g)3.2 x 3.5"(81 x 90.1mm)72mm1991
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2 L USM Lens19.2 oz(545g)3.4 x 2.6"(85.4 x 65.5mm)72mm2006
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens10.2 oz(290g)2.9 x 2"(74 x 51mm)58mm1993
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Lens4.6 oz(130g)2.7 x 1.6"(68 x 41mm)52mm1990
Canon EF 50mm f/2.5 Macro Lens9.9 oz(280g)2.7 x 2.5"(68 x 63mm)52mm1987

For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.

Here is a visual comparison of some similar lenses:

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses

Positioned above from left to right in by height are the following lenses:

Canon EF 35mm f/2 Lens
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens
Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens
Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM Lens

The same lenses are shown below with their lens hoods in place.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens Compared to Similar Lenses with Hoods

The 35 IS accepts medium-sized and rather-common 67mm filters.

Though Adorama and B&H were initially indicating that, based on information they supposedly received from Canon, the lens hood and a lens pouch were included in the box (rare for a non-L lens), the unfortunate reality is that the Canon EW-72 Lens Hood and Canon LP1116 Lens Pouch are not included (at least not in the USA).

The release-lock-equipped EW-72 Lens Hood is nicely made, looks stylish, provides a nice amount of protection and with the flocked interior, works well for flare protection. But it is expensive - and not available in the USA at review time. I had to order the one shown in the product images from Japan at an even considerably higher price.

The LP1116 pouch will offer only modestly more than dust protection. Go with a Lowepro Lens Case.

Canon Lens Cap II

What does ship in this box is the awesome, newly-designed, Canon Front Lens Cap E-77 II, featuring a center-and-side-pinch design. That is one more wish off of my 2010 What I Want From Canon for Christmas list. With the new center-pinch feature, the Canon Lens Cap II is far easier to use with the hood in place. There is simply not enough room for fingertips between the cap and hood to reach the old-style caps on a lens such as this one. Canon shooters no longer have to look enviously at Nikon lens caps - and you no longer have to use Nikon lens caps on your Canon lenses to get the center-pinch feature.

Note that this lens is not weather sealed. If you want a weather sealed 35mm focal length, you will need to select one of the sealed zoom lenses - no other Canon-mount 35mm prime lens is weather sealed as of review time.

The reviewed Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens was purchased retail - online of course - from B&H in this case.

I have compared the 35 f/2 IS with the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM Lens and the Canon EF 35mm f/2 Lens throughout the review. Another comparable lens that is very popular at review time is the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens.

Comparing the 35 f/2 IS Lens with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Lens:

If you need the f/1.4 aperture, for the shallow depth of field or for the faster shutter speeds it makes available (key to stoping action in low light), your decision is made. You need the Sigma 35 f/1.4.

If you need Image Stabilization, the Canon 35 f/2 IS is the right choice.

If f/2 is wide enough for you and you don't need IS, the decision becomes a bit more complicated. Here are some comparisons to help with that decision process.

The Sigma of course rules all comparisons at f/1.4 - and turns in remarkable performance at f/1.4 compared to other f/1.4 lenses. The Canon joins the comparison at f/2. At f/2, you can expect the Sigma to be noticeably sharper in the center of the image and the Canon to have a slight sharpness edge closer to the corners - where the Canon shows more vignetting. The sharpness comparison at f/2.8 has these lenses performing more similarly (both excellent) in the center. The Sigma retains a slight center advantage and the Canon holds the peripheral edge. Beyond f/2.8, both lenses are razor sharp with the Canon retaining slightly better full frame corner sharpness.

The Sigma has about 1/2 as much vignetting at comparable apertures until stopped down to about f/4 where the Canon trails the Sigma by a very small amount through f/16. The Sigma has slightly less flare until the aperture narrows to f/8. The Canon then has noticeably less flare through f/16. Neither lens has significant distortion. These two lenses deliver similar bokeh.

The Canon weighs 1/2 as much, is smaller and focuses closer with a high MM (0.24x vs. 0.19x). The Canon is modestly less expensive at review time.

35 f/2 IS on Canon EOS 5D Mark III

Like the 24mm f/2.8 IS and 28mm f/2.8 IS lenses, the 35 f/2 IS is a great option for anyone able to utilize a 35mm focal length. Though it has a moderately high price tag, the 35mm f/2 IS image quality rivals that from the higher-priced Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM Lens. The 35 L of course retains a 1 stop aperture advantage (along with L lens treatment) - but the 35 L lacks image stabilization.

The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens, like it's siblings, will be a very nice addition to many lens kits.

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