There is a new king of the 35mm f/1.4 lens lineup. With its introduction, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens raises the bar on image quality delivered at this focal length and aperture. This lens is not small, light or inexpensive, but it is an impressive performer, delivering remarkable image quality at an extreme wide aperture that begs for torturous low light conditions.
The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens replaces the 1998-era Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Lens, a lens that Chuck Westfall (Canon U.S.A.) referred to as a "mainstay with a lot of photographers" and a "tough act to follow". With the popularity enjoyed by the very useful 35 L version I, success to an improved version of this lens was nearly assured.
The original 24 L and 35 L version "I" lenses appeared similar in not just max aperture, but also in design. When the 24 L II was introduced, many expected the 35 L II to be close following. "Close" didn't happen and it took another 7 years for the now 17 year old 35 L to be retired.
Introducing a new lens without solid improvements does not often make good business sense. Canon generally makes lens upgrades worthwhile, has been delivering some amazing new lenses recently and has brand new innovative technology (Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics) implemented in this lens. The 35 L II promised to be as outstanding as it was certain to be useful.
Selecting a focal length that will work well for your application is always the important first step in choosing a lens and that aspect of the 35 L II was obvious even before the lens arrived. The moderately wide angle 35mm focal length is a favorite of many, and for good reason. This angle of view has a vast range of great uses, especially when paired with an ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture.
Falling into the range of focal lengths I want for fixed focal length general purpose use, the 35mm focal length is a great choice for capturing a natural perspective. It is wide enough to capture the big scene but not so wide that people and other subjects are readily distorted by the close perspective invited by ultra-wide angles.
I've been grabbing this lens for use around the house, capturing those moments that just naturally show up – such as Brittany unwinding with the dog.
The 35mm focal length has long been a first-choice for photojournalists. Wedding photographers, who work in some of the worst lighting venues to be found, also frequently use 35mm f/1.4 lenses. Portrait photographers like the 35mm focal length for full to mid-body portraits and for group portraits. Landscape photographers have plenty of use for the 35mm focal length.
Sports photographers able to get close to their subjects (such as basketball shot from over or under the net) or wanting to capture a wider/environmental view of their events appreciate this focal length. Parents love 35mm f/1.4 lenses for capturing their indoor events. 35mm is also very popular with videographers, especially for creating documentaries. Many medium and large products are ideally captured at 35mm.
While horses, at least for most people, do not qualify as "products", they do fall into another category that can make good 35mm subjects: pets. Most pets will let you get close enough to capture a nice perspective with a 35mm lens.
I was anxious to capture the Milky Way with this lens and am happy to report good results from doing so. While 35mm night sky exposures need to be short (roughly twice as short as when using 17mm) to prevent star trails, the longer focal length (longer than 15-24mm range that I most often use for night sky photography) makes the Milky Way larger in the frame. The wide aperture addresses the exposure duration concern. I'll specifically address two additional night sky concerns, coma and vignetting, in the image quality section below, but here is a pair of examples with a 50% peripheral illumination correction setting selected (and contrast increased).
The full list of 35mm uses is massive. I've only scratched the surface here.
On an ASP-C/1.6x sensor format body, the 35mm focal length provides an angle of view similar to a 56mm lens on a full frame sensor format body. The 56mm angle of view is close enough to 50mm to be used for all applications this extremely popular "normal" focal length is used for. Those uses coincide with most uses of the 35mm focal length with slightly tighter framing or slightly longer perspective for the same framing being the difference.
Here is a full frame example of what the 35mm focal length looks like at each full aperture stop from f/1.4 through f/16.
The f/1.4 aperture is the widest available in a 35mm focal length DSLR lens, and especially on a full frame sensor format body as illustrated above, the background can become strongly blurred at f/1.4. As always, the strongest blur comes with a close subject and a relatively distant background. Larger background details remain quite visible even at f/1.4 with more distant subjects as in the photo of the horses shared above.
In addition to being able to blur the background, a wide aperture provides a bright viewfinder and also provides the light needed for some AF systems to activate their higher precision mode. A primary benefit of a wide aperture is the amount of light provided to the sensor, allowing fast, action-stopping shutter speeds at low ISO settings and/or high shutter speeds in low light settings. I love that available light seems to almost always be sufficient for using this lens handheld and frequently sufficient without reaching for noisy high ISO settings.
The opposite of low light can be a problem for the use of f/1.4. Even the fastest currently available shutters (1/8000) may not be fast enough in some situations, such as with a white reflective subject under direct sunlight. The resolution of this problem is to use a narrower aperture (increases depth of field, reducing background blur), to use a neutral density filter or, if light is sufficiently blocked, to use a circular polarizer filters. Cameras with a 1/4000 max shutter speed (such as the Canon Rebel/***D/***D models) will run into the too-much-light (I know, that sounds absurd to a photographer) condition more frequently.
This is a good time to note that just because f/1.4 is available doesn't mean that you have to always use it and there are times when it doesn't work well, including for group portraits when all group members' faces are not on the same plane in sharp focus.
Image stabilization is not featured on this lens or any other f/1.4 lens as of review time. While I always welcome this feature, as I said, this lens is hand-holdable in very low light conditions even without image stabilization - as long as the f/1.4 aperture provides adequate depth of field for your situation. Landscape photographers and others looking for the deep DOF provided by narrow apertures will, as with any other non-stabilized lens, want a tripod when light levels drop and possibly even when shooting under reasonable light with a circular polarizer filter installed. The Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens is the widest aperture 35mm lens currently featuring image stabilization. For those photographing stationary subjects handheld using a narrow aperture or in extreme low light levels, the IS lens may be a better alternative. IS can also be valuable for handheld video capture.
Those trying to stop motion in low light will find that f/1.4 rules and that the strongly-blurred background is irreplicable.
Those on the fence regarding placing a 35 L II preorder at announcement time received a big push over the edge when Canon published the MTF charts. The word "push" is probably too mild of a choice. In a pre-announcement call, Chuck Westfall stated "... amazing performance compared to any other 35mm f/1.4 lens available." The MTF chart lent strong support to his words.
The thick lines show contrast while the thin lines show resolution. The solid lines show sagittal (lines radiating from center to the image circle periphery) results while the dashed lines show meridional (lines perpendicular to the sagittal lines) results. The black lines indicate a wide open aperture while the blue lines show results at f/8. The left side of the chart shows center-of-the-image-circle measurement and the right side shows peripheral measurement. The higher the lines, the better the lens performs. When all of the lines get crushed into the top of the chart, the lens promises to be amazing.
You generally pay the premium price and endure the extra size and weight of an ultra-wide aperture prime lens because you want to shoot at the widest apertures. Often, the image quality of such lenses at their wide open aperture is short of stellar. The lines in the 35 L II MTF chart indicated that was not the case with this lens – the difference between the 35 L I and II charts is significant.
I was very optimistic, but when theoretical becomes real is always the true gauge of optical performance of a lens. This site's standard image quality test along with the other comparison tools are a great gauge of lens performance, but I want to start this review section with a real world example. Following is a set of examples showing the center of the frame performance from an ultra-high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R. RAW-captured images under a clear sky were processed in DPP using the Standard Picture Style with a sharpness setting of "1" (on a 0-10 scale).
Depth of field at f/1.4 is very shallow and this fact can be seen in this comparison. To insure that you are not misleading yourself, look for the section of flowers showing the LEAST amount of difference between apertures to insure that you are making comparisons that fall within the depth of field. What you are seeing is that this lens is very impressively sharp (great contrast and resolution) wide open and though I will not say that there is no improvement seen at f/2, that change is minor. While I've used 35mm lenses that begged to be stopped down for ideal sharpness, this lens invites f/1.4 use, which is the primary reason that you buy an f/1.4 lens in the first place. The ISO 12233 enhanced resolution chart test shown in the image quality results back up this performance – from two copies of this lens (see the 5Ds R results) that tested nearly identically.
While the corner performance from this lens is not quite as good as what the center delivers, it remains impressive in its own right. Those using 22.3 megapixel-class or lower resolution full frame DSLRs will see very sharp corners natively and may question what I'm talking about. Those using ultra-high sensors that put lens performance under a microscope will see a touch of softness in the corners at f/1.4, even without regard to vignetting. By the time vignetting clears almost completely at f/2.8, even 5Ds R corners are looking really impressive.
A noticeable amount of the corner softness I am referring to is caused by lateral CA (Chromatic Aberration). Lateral CA is my favorite lens aberration, because simply checking the Chromatic aberration correction box under the lens correction tab in the DPP 4 tool palette (or in your favorite image processing tool) makes it go away and even 5Ds R corners look great at f/1.4.
Supplementing the studio test results, here is a pair of real world 5Ds R test sets from two different corners of the 35mm f/1.4L II lens (top left first, then top right).
Note that I intentionally overexposed corners to better allow digging into subject details at f/1.4. The corner results at f/1.4 are not as crispy as the center, but are quite good. And again, CA correction resolves a significant part of the any softness seen here.
To see how far this lens has come, check out a 35 L II vs. 35 L I comparison using the site's image quality tool.
Since I spilled the beans on the presence of CA, I'll address that issue next. The 35 L II's press release specifically addresses this lens' ability to avoid this aberration (more about this in the Special Lens Elements and Coatings section below) and it does perform very well in this regard. But, it is not CA-free. The image below shows the max lateral CA I was able to coax from this lens using the 5Ds R's magnification ability.
Again, just tick the CA correction box and this issue essentially resolves itself as illustrated above.
I have seen no axial CA (purple fringing) from this lens, something that cannot be said regarding many ultra-wide aperture lenses.
It is a wide angle lens with an ultra-wide aperture, so noticeable vignetting is to be expected from the 35 L II. This lens shows a bit over 3 stops of shading in the corners, an amount I consider normal for such a lens. At f/2, about 2 stops of shading remains and 1 stop remains at f/2.8. Stopping down further results in more subtle change with about .6 stops remaining at f/11. This performance is similar to the version "I" lens.
APS-C format DSLR owners may see 1 stop of corner shading present while utilizing only the inner portion image circle, but the shading will primarily be noticable only when a smooth color is present in that location (such as a blue sky). By f/2, that shading is gone.
While this lens is not completely flare free, the effects of flare, even with the sun in the corner of the frame, are relatively minor overall. The least amount of flare is seen at f/1.4 with effects slowly increasing through f/16 where a modest amount of flare is visible. I wouldn't say that the "II" improves over the 35 L "I" in this regard, but with the new version of the lenses having an increased lens elements/groups count (14/11 vs. 11/9), this outcome is not surprising.
Coma (not to be confused with CA) is generally recognized by sharp detail contrast towards the center of an image and long, soft contrast transition toward the image periphery. Coma is most visible in wide aperture corners and the pin-point stars in the night sky are the subject that brings this aberration out most easily for me. While not coma-free, this lens performs well in this regard. Here is a look at a 5Ds R corner taken from a 10-second exposure.
Note that CA correction was not used for this image and that some star trails are present even at 10 seconds at this resolution and focal length.
Lack of distortion is usually one reason to choose a prime lens over a zoom lens and that is definitely the case with this lens. This lens is essentially distortion-free. Feel free to place your straight lines along the edges of the frame without causing angst for the architect, builder and real estate agent. The "II" shows improvement over the "I" in this regard.
I always find bokeh (background blur quality) to be a challenge to evaluate as there are an infinite number of situations available to test. For sure, I have created a huge number of images with out of focus backgrounds using this lens. Most of that blur has had very good quality though a few instances showed somewhat ugly results in parts of the image. Perhaps easiest is the look at out of focus specular highlights with the following example captured using a significantly stopped down f/5.6 aperture.
The normal diminishing concentric rings are seen on the borders with a very smooth center. Nice is that the specular highlight blurs remain nearly round right into the corner of the frame (no cat's eye bokeh).
With an aperture blade count increase (from 8 to 9), distant point light sources showing a star-like effect will have 18 points instead of 8 due to the odd number blade count. The points on these stars are coming from the blades of the aperture. Each blade is responsible, via diffraction, for creating two points of the star effect. If the blades are arranged opposite of each other (an even blade count), the points on the stars will equal the blade count as two blades share in creating a single pair of points. The blades of an odd blade count aperture are not opposing and the result is that each blade creates its own two points. Nine blades times two points each create 18-point star effects.
Overall, I'm really pleased with the image quality from this lens. When other max aperture options are available for a prime lens focal length, you buy the widest aperture lens available with intentions of using that max aperture. Often, image quality is sacrificed, at least to some extent, at f/1.4, but ... the f/1.4 results from this lens are impressive. I have not felt the need to stop this lens down for contrast and resolution purposes. Actually, I have barely used any other aperture other than when evaluating this lens.
I don't usually spend much time talking about lens elements and coatings, but prefer to let a lens' image quality speak for itself. The results are what really matter. However, some lenses warrant the discussion.
The first notable (already mentioned in the flare paragraph above) is that the Canon 35mm f/1.4L version "II" features a more complex optical formula, going from 11 elements in 9 groups to 14 in 11. Especially notable is the magic promised in those additional elements and headlining the innovation delivered by this lens are "Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics" (BR Optics).
"Canon’s proprietary Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics (BR Optics) incorporate a new organic optical material with unique anomalous dispersion characteristics for use in camera lenses. The molecular design of BR Optics refracts blue light (short wavelength spectrum) to a greater degree than other existing optical technologies including UD glass, Super UD glass and Fluorite, to control color fringing as effectively as possible. When placed between convex and concave lens elements made from conventional optical glass materials, BR Optics help to produce sharp images with outstanding contrast and color fidelity by thoroughly reducing axial chromatic aberration." [Canon U.S.A. press release]
While I'm quoting the press release, I'll grab the next couple of sentences as well:
"In addition to BR Optics, the new lens incorporates two aspherical elements and one UD glass element [snip]. The EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens also features Canon’s proprietary Sub-Wavelength Structure Coating (SWC), applied to the rear surface of the first and second aspheric lens elements to help combat flare and ghosting caused by light rays entering the lens at a large angle of incidence."
As seen on most of Canon's recently introduced higher-grade lenses, fluorine coating is applied to the front and rear lens surfaces, repelling dust and liquids. This coating also makes the lens much easier to clean.
Like most of Canon's best lenses, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens gets a rear-focusing Ring USM-powered AF system. The 35 L II focuses very fast with full extent distance changes being the only time I notice any time delay upon pressing the shutter release half way (this is normal). Focusing is quiet with some typical lens element/group movement being audible, but this sound level is minimal and will seldom be noticed. This lens' wide f/1.4 aperture insures that the camera's full low light AF capabilities are utilized. I have autofocused using the 5Ds R in conditions calling for 15 second exposures at f/1.4 (ISO 100).
Focus accuracy, especially with a very shallow depth of field at f/1.4, is paramount for sharp images. This lens has been performing very well for me in that regard. I will not say that every image I captured with this lens was perfectly focused, though I'll personally take the blame for most of the mis-focusing I encountered. It is very easy to move slightly after focusing when not using a tripod.
Bring on your fast-approaching subjects. The 35 f/1.4L II's AF system is ready to track them.
This is an internal focusing lens. The 35 L II does not change size with focus distance changes and FTM (Full Time Manual) focusing is supported. Simply turn the focus ring to manual focus at any time, even with the camera powered off. The 35 L II front element does not rotate, facilitating use of circular polarizer filters.
The manual focus ring is smooth, is nicely damped and, with 149° of rotation, is easy to use for even critical manual focusing needs. The large focusing ring is easy to find even in the dark.
Subjects change size somewhat during long focus pulls, but the change is not dramatic.
The 35 L II's 11.0" (280mm) minimum focus distance produces a best-in-class 0.21x maximum magnification, though only by a small margin. Still, this magnification can capture a very close perspective of a subject, one that pulls the viewer into the frame. When the close perspective is combined with the wide max f/1.4 aperture, background distractions can be nicely blurred away (see the aperture comparison earlier in the review for an example).
Here is how the 35 L II stacks up against some alternatives in this regard.
|Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.17x|
|Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens||7.9"||(200mm)||0.23x|
|Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens||6.3"||(160mm)||0.27x|
|Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens||9.1"||(230mm)||0.23x|
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||11.0"||(280mm)||0.21x|
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.18x|
|Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens||9.4"||(240mm)||0.24x|
|Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.18x|
|Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens||17.7"||(450mm)||0.15x|
|Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens||17.7"||(450mm)||0.15x|
|Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens||13.8"||(350mm)||0.21x|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.20x|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.16x|
|Samyang 35mm f/1.4 US UMC Lens||11.8"||(300mm)|
|Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||9.8"||(250mm)||0.19x|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.19x|
|Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZE Lens||11.8"||(300mm)||0.20x|
Wider angle lenses generally benefit the most from extension tubes in terms of magnification increase. With a Canon EF 12mm Extension Tube II behind the 35 L II, the magnification range extends to 0.58-0.36x and to 1.03-0.80x with the Canon EF 25mm Extension Tube II mounted.
As part of Canon's flagship L Series, it was expected that the 35 L II lens would have a high quality build, ready to be subjected to hard professional use. While I don't have the funds to torture test lenses (and probably do not have the heart to abuse beautiful lenses such as this one), we know that, according to Canon, the EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens features "improved durability over its predecessor." The 35 L "I" held up very well, so it stands to reason that the "II" will hold up even better.
Part of the build quality upgrade is weather sealing, including lens mount and barrel gaskets. I don't promote the idea of using cameras and lenses in the rain and snow without protection, but sometimes wet happens and weather sealing can save the day in that case. A front filter is recommended for maximum weather protection, preventing moisture from entering through the perimeter of the front element.
The overall exterior design of the 35 L II, including the finish, appears similar to other lenses Canon has recently introduced. What is good for one lens is often good for another lens, at least one being introduced in a close timeframe. Sharing design style is positive in multiple ways including giving a line of lenses a similar look and feel.
Engineering plastic is the material of choice for current exterior lens barrel design and the 35 L II receives the same. Tap your nails on the barrel and you will know that plastic was used. Squeeze the lens tightly in the right place and a slight amount of flex can be seen by the zoom ring. While we all love the cold, hard feel of metal, modern plastics have many advantages including light weight.
What can't be seen on the outside is this lens' solid metal core with very heavy-duty rollers, screws, and bearings. Roger Cicala's comments after tearing this lens down included "I was really rather awestruck by the amount of careful over-engineering that went into making this lens" and "massively over-engineered."
The simplistic design of Canon's prime lenses, with only one sizable ring and one switch, make them a dream to use and permits the photographer to "focus" on getting the shot. It is hard to ruin even a complicated shot or shoot due to an incorrect lens setup. Though the new lens has been modernized, including the flush-mount switch, the basic overall design has not changed much as you can see in the following comparison image.
At a time when lens design priorities generally favor smaller size and lighter weight, the 35 L II designers have gone the other direction. An increase in size and weight reflects the ultimate goal of higher performance optics along with maximized build quality and AF performance. Specifically, the increase is 5.3 oz (180g) to 26.8 oz (760g) in weight and .8" (19.5mm) to 4.2" (105.5mm) in length.
Here is a table containing some relevant comparison lenses:
|Model||Weight||Dimensions w/o Hood||Filter||Year|
|Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||22.9 oz||(650g)||3.3 x 3.4"||(83.5 x 86.9mm)||77mm||2008|
|Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens||9.9 oz||(280g)||2.7 x 2.2"||(68.4 x 55.7mm)||58mm||2012|
|Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM Lens||4.4 oz||(125g)||2.7 x 0.9"||(68.2 x 22.8mm)||52mm||2014|
|Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM Lens||28.4 oz||(805g)||3.5 x 4.4"||(88.5 x 113mm)||82mm||2012|
|Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens||9.2 oz||(260g)||2.7 x 2.0"||(68.4 x 51.5mm)||58mm||2012|
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens||26.8 oz||(760g)||3.2 x 4.2"||(80.4 x 105.5mm)||72mm||2015|
|Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Lens||20.5 oz||(580g)||3.1 x 3.4"||(79.0 x 86.0mm)||72mm||1998|
|Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM Lens||11.8 oz||(335g)||3.1 x 2.5"||(77.9 x 62.6mm)||67mm||2012|
|Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 STM Lens||4.6 oz||(130g)||2.7 x 0.9"||(68.2 x 22.8mm)||52mm||2012|
|Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM Lens||19.2 oz||(545g)||3.4 x 2.6"||(85.4 x 65.5mm)||72mm||2006|
|Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Lens||10.2 oz||(290g)||2.9 x 2.0"||(74 x 51mm)||58mm||1993|
|Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 STM Lens||5.6 oz||(159g)||2.7 x 1.5"||(69.2 x 39.3mm)||49mm||2015|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.4G AF-S Lens||21.2 oz||(600g)||3.3 x 3.5"||(83 x 89.5mm)||67mm||2010|
|Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S Lens||10.8 oz||(305g)||2.8 x 2.8"||(72 x 71.5mm)||58mm||2014|
|Samyang 35mm f/1.4 US UMC Lens||23.3 oz||(660g)||3.3 x 4.4"||(83 x 111mm)||77mm||2011|
|Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||23.5 oz||(665g)||3.3 x 3.6"||(85 x 90.2mm)||77mm||2015|
|Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens||23.5 oz||(665g)||3.0 x 3.7"||(77 x 94mm)||67mm||2012|
|Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZE Lens||29.7 oz||(840g)||3.1 x 3.9"||(78 x 99.3mm)||72mm||2010|
For many more comparisons, review the complete Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens Specifications using the site's Lens Spec tool.
You may have noticed the zoom lens included in the above table. While the 24-70 L II and 35 L II share the 35mm focal length capability, their max apertures are two stops (4x the light difference) apart. However, their size (with the 24-70 retracted) and weight are not so different. This table entry offers 24-70 f/2.8 owners a good hands-on comparison for reference. Here is the visual comparison:
The size and weight of the 35 L II, along with the lack of external moving parts, aid in producing a more solid feel similar to that exhibited by Canon's similar primes including the 24 L II. While you are going to know that a 26.8 oz (760g) lens is in your hands, this lens is not a burden to work with for extended periods of time.
Here is a visual comparison of 35mm f/1.4 lenses.
Positioned above from left to right are the following lenses:
The same lenses are shown below with their lens hoods in place.
Keeping the comparison in the family, here is the 35 f/1.4L II positioned among some of its siblings:
Here is the lens list, moving from left to right:
The same lenses are shown below with their lens hoods in place.
The 35 L II utilizes the same size filters as its predecessor: 72mm. These are medium-sized, medium-priced filters that can be shared by many other lenses.
The strongly-petalled Canon EW-77B Lens Hood is included in the box. While still using a bayonet mount system, most of Canon latest lens hoods utilize a nearly-flush push-button catch release instead of a mostly friction-based attachment method. The longer I use Canon's smooth-installing hoods, the more I like them. And the more I dislike the older attachment method hoods.
Few will argue that the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens, at least upon initial availability, carries a high price tag. As usual, the price is high enough above its predecessor for the latter to retain its value, preserving at least a reasonable percentage of the previous version lens' original investment. To me, and probably to most of those wanting to use 35mm at f/1.4, the new lens is worth the price differential. Still, I'm sure the 35 L II price will be a barrier for many.
A pair of retail-acquired lenses were used to create this review.
As shown in the tables above, there are many options for getting a wide angle of view and many options for getting an f/1.4 aperture. Combine those features and the pack is quickly narrowed down to four current alternatives.
The 35 L II's predecessor of course remains one option. The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Lens' advantages do not go beyond price, size and weight with the first of those being the biggest advantage. Otherwise, the new lens far exceeds the old lens' optical capabilities at the wider apertures.
The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens is the real contender in my mind. The Sigma 35 Art is a very nicely designed and classy-looking lens that performs very well for, the BIG advantage, a much lower price. The Canon is sharper at f/1.4 and I find the Canon to autofocus accurately more consistently, but certain is that many will find the Sigma to be a better value for them due to the price difference.
A pair of manual focus lenses are options for those not needing AF. The extraordinarily well-built Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* ZE Lens and less-well-built Samyang 35mm f/1.4 US UMC Lens. The Zeiss is a high-grade lens that is priced not too dissimilarly from the 35 L II and the Samyang, a value lens, is slotted at the low end of the price list. At f/1.4, the Canon 35 L II is sharper than either of these alternatives.
With advanced notice that the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Lens was going to be announced, I had a lot of time to think about what the lens would do for me personally. I often use the 35mm focal length, but I most frequently use zoom lenses for my 35mm coverage. I also, as of review time, have the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS prime. But ... there are times when the ultra-wide f/1.4 aperture holds real value for me – especially if the f/1.4 image quality is there.
I love it when my expectations are exceeded and when Canon formally announced this lens, the theoretical MTF chart did just that. My expectations, set in part by the 24 L II vs 24 L I differences, were for a modest bump in performance. But, in this case, my next step was to check the bank account for available funds. With the bank account gasping for breath (thanks to the 5Ds R bodies recently arriving), Tony's suggestion in the comments of the announcement post appeared to be a really good one: hold a bake sale! With the lens in hand and meeting my elevated expectations, I have a more serious decision to make as the really impressive wide open image quality this lens is delivering is refueling my love with the 35mm f/1.4 combination.
This is the type of lens that can set your work apart, delivering sharp, high contrast details without motion blur, without high ISO noise and with the background nicely blurred. In those capabilities is definite value. Stay tuned to find out if my 35mm f/2 survives this introduction or any other gear gets cut from the kit.
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