Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM
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September 19, 2013
by Andrew Alexander
Canon refreshed its venerable 35mm ƒ/2 near the end of 2012, completely redesigning the lens and adding image stabilization to boot. The lens features a completely new design and modern features.
The EF-series lens was designed to fit full-frame camera bodies, but will also work on APS-H and APS-C Canon camera bodies; on an APS-H sensor the lens will function like a 45mm lens; on an APS-C sensor, the lens functions like a 56mm lens.
The lens ships with front and rear caps, but the EW-72 lens hood is optional. The lens takes 67mm filters, and is available now for approximately $600.
We'd like to thank LensRentals.com for sending us this lens to test.
The Canon 35mm ƒ/2 IS USM produces sharp results, even when used at its wider apertures, though it must be stopped down for maximal sharpness.
Mounted on the full-frame Canon 1Ds mkIII, the lens produces images with a sharp center but significantly soft corners when used wide open at ƒ/2. For isolating a subject this is actually quite good, but if you want corner to corner sharpness you will need to stop down significantly. Stopping down to just ƒ/2.8 provides a significant increase in corner sharpness, but not quite as dramatic as that found at ƒ/4, where it's not quite tack sharp, but as close as close gets. This performance continues through to ƒ/8, and diffraction limiting begins to set in at ƒ/11, but you don't see the impact of this until ƒ/22, where a generalized softness begins to descend upon the image.
Mounted on the subframe Canon 7D, performance for sharpness is very similar, though much more forgiving at the ƒ/2 setting.
The Canon 35mm ƒ/2 provides a very good level of resistance to chromatic aberration, and it's fairly constant across the range of apertures (if you see it, you'll see it in the corners in areas of high contrast).
Also noteworthy is a low amount of longitudinal chromatic aberration, which is typical of very fast lenses. This CA is evident in this lens, showing as magenta fringing on areas outside the plane of focus, but its not as prevalent as older fast lenses we have tested.
Corner shading isn't really a problem on the sub-frame Canon 7D, with the only noteworthy results being extreme corners that are 1/3EV darker than the center, when set to ƒ/2. At any other setting, light falloff is insignificant.
On the full-frame 1Ds mkIII however, it's more significant: at ƒ/2 light falls off to make the extreme corners more than a full stop darker than the center.
The 35mm ƒ/2 IS USM does fairly well to restrict distortion, showing a consistent +0.2% barrel distortion in the corners when mounted on the Canon 7D. On the 1Ds mkIII, there's just slightly more distortion, with a maximum result of +0.25%.
Canon employs its Ultrasonic Motor for autofocus, and the results are near-silent and very quick. It took under a second to focus from close-focus to infinity. Autofocus results can be overridden at any time by simply turning the focus ring; attached 67mm filters won't rotate.
The Canon 35mm ƒ/2 IS USM offers passably good performance for macro work: 0.24x magnification, with a minimum close-focusing distance of 24 cm (9 inches).
Build Quality and Handling
Canon uses a black stippled texture to finish this lens, which is light and fairly small, and mounts well to any of its camera bodies. The lens uses a new optical configuration: 10 elements in 8 groups, including a glass-molded aspherical element (this is a change from the previous 35mm ƒ/2's simpler 7 elements in 5 groups). In addition, the lens uses eight circular diaphragm blades to make up the aperture, to produce pleasing out-of-focus elements. The lens features a distance scale under a plastic window, measured in feet and meters, as well as a depth-of-field indicator (ƒ/11 and ƒ/22 marks) and an infrared index marker.
The lens features two switches along side the focusing ring: the first activates or deactivates autofocus ("AF / MF"), and the second activates or deactivates image stabilization ("Stabilizer On / Off"). Canon recommends deactivating image stabilization when a tripod is used.
The focusing ring is made of plastic with ridges, about 1/2'' wide. The ring offers excellent traction and adjusts focus well, ending in soft stops at the close-focus and infinity ends (an increase in resistance lets you know you can't focus any further).
Canon has added image stabilization to this lens. Stabilization typically isn't added to wide-angle lenses because you can get away with a relatively low shutter speed and still get sharp images. When shooting movies however, image stabilization is useful any lens. Check out our IS Test tab to see our full image stabilization test with this lens - it clocks in at around 3 1/2 stops of hand-holding improvement, almost as good as Canon's claimed four.
Canon 35mm ƒ/2 ~$290
Canon's original 35mm ƒ/2 is still available (at the time of writing); it provides similar results, though perhaps less smooth, when compared to the 35mm ƒ/2 IS USM. Obviously, it's a lot less expensive then the new model, but you'll forgo newer build quality as well as optical image stabilization.
Sigma 35mm ƒ/1.4 DG HSM "A" ~$900
More expensive than the Canon 35mm ƒ/2 IS USM, but less than the Canon 35mm ƒ/1.4, we were very impressed with Sigma's offering in this focal length: it's very sharp at ƒ/2, and tack-sharp by ƒ/2.8.
Canon 35mm ƒ/1.4 USM ~$1,200
When only the fastest Canon 35mm lens will do, this is where you go, but it's perhaps showing its age a bit when compared to Sigma's new offering; either way, it's just a single stop faster than the 35mm ƒ/2 for twice the price, and doesn't offer image stabilization. That said, it's sharper than the ƒ/2 at the same apertures.
If you're shooting movies and are looking at the 35mm focal length, the lens is a no-brainer; integrated image stabilization comes in very handy. If stills are more your thing, it's a noticeable improvement over the original Canon 35mm ƒ/2 USM, but whether it's worth twice the price is perhaps in the eye of the beholder. You can try before you buy by renting the lens from our friends at LensRentals.com.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by ruicarv79 (1 reviews)Lightweight, discrete, IS, close focus ability and... fantastic image quality!Not f/1.4! :)
You can find my personal review here:reviewed February 13th, 2015 (purchased for $550)
9 out of 10 points and recommended by MichaelShea (7 reviews)Quiet, unobtrusive, well-balanced on 5D mk iii, extremely sharp, reliable & quick autofocus, effective stabilisationSerious vignetting, but easily removable in post processing
A perfect match for the 5D Mark iii, in that it's a versatile, genuine walkaround focal length and exactly the right build quality, weight and size to feel comfortable mounted on the camera. My first full frame lens and I suspect it will be a very hard act to follow. Possibly only trails to the Fuji 23mm f1.4 amongst similar class and angle of view lenses that I've been lucky enough to use.reviewed January 6th, 2015 (purchased for $653)
The absence of a lens hood is admittedly quite ludicrous and Canon's marketing ploy of saving basic accessories for its 'L' range is indefensible. However, it's possible to obtain fully functional replica hoods from the far east at low cost.
It's conventional wisdom that image stabilisation properly belongs to telephoto lenses or for the benefit of video shooters. This is complete tosh because the difference that can be observed on stills photographs where IS is applied, in this instance through the lens, is glaringly obvious to me. But there again, lenses often get referred to as 'tack sharp' when they are obviously anything but. That does actually apply here, from approximately f4 to f8 incidentally. More to the point, the IS works splendidly with this lens.
I won't get into the argument over whether the lens was overpriced when first introduced, but would like to thank Sigma and others for forcing Canon to think carefully about its pricing policies. It used to be the case that full frame cameras and supporting lenses were characteristically big, heavy, unwieldy and expensive. I admit all that put me off for several years, but now am very glad to have belatedly made the move to Canon full frame and do not expect to look back. This new lens sets a very high benchmark by which others will be judged, but it represents a very promising start as far as I'm concerned. Thoroughly recommended.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by mariuspavel (5 reviews)super sharp, IS, build qualitynone
I own this lens for 4 month now, and it's super shrp from f2. I use this for weddings - inside of ballroom to take super sharp images of guests. I highly recommend this superb lens. Some pictures I took with this lens you cand find here - www.mariuspavel.ro/foto-nunta-brasov-alina-nelutu/reviewed July 19th, 2014 (purchased for $600)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by caMARYnon (8 reviews)excellent IQ even at f2.0 (colours, contrast, sharpness, bokeh, 3D effect); useful IS; very very good AF; very good built quality; excellent close-up capabilityhigh coma in night shots at f 2.0 and 2.8, not the best f2.0 resolution
This 35 is now my favorite walk around lens on my 5D MKII.reviewed October 25th, 2013