Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
Lab Test Results
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November 20, 2015
by William Brawley
While most of Canon's L-series primes underwent a "Mark II" update in years past, the popular 35mm ƒ/1.4L was a notable holdout, still going strong with its original design some 17 years later. However, Canon finally announced a "Mark II" refresh of their 35mm L lens back in August 2015, to the delight of Canon shooters.
In addition to updating the exterior design a bit and at long last adding weather sealing, the Canon 35mm ƒ/1.4L II is the first Canon lens to offer their new "Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics" -- BR Optics for short -- which is a molecular, organic material sandwiched between glass elements to correct for chromatic aberration. According to Canon, the BR Optics technology should offer superior handling for CA better than anything currently on the market; even fluorite and Extra-Low Dispersion (ED) elements. BR Optics are said to improve the overall sharpness of the image, as well.
Shipping with a bayonet-mount petal-shaped lens hood and Canon's classic gray suede-like soft pouch, the Canon 35mm ƒ/1.4L II retails for around $1,800.
Despite its very bright ƒ/1.4 aperture, the Canon 35mm ƒ/1.4L II is impressively sharp wide-open, on both full-frame and APS-C cameras. Given our expectations with Canon L-series lenses, we were hoping for a super-sharp lens, and the 35mm Mark II doesn't disappoint -- seriously fantastic sharpness from this lens, and a drastic improvement in sharpness compared to the original model!
On full-frame, the Canon 35mm II shows only slight corner softness at ƒ/1.4, but the center is practically tack-sharp. Stopping down only slightly will sharpen-up the corners, making images super-sharp across the entire frame. We see only minor diffraction-related softness begin to set-in around ƒ/11 or so, but it's really only a noticeable issue between ƒ/16-ƒ/22.
On a sub-frame camera, soft corners are practically a non-issue. Images are tack-sharp across the frame both wide-open and stopped down. The lens is seriously great on a sub-frame camera!
Though we didn't measure a "zero" on our chromatic aberration testing, the lens, in fact, does very well at controlling CA. On both full-frame and sub-frame cameras, the 35mm II lens averages very low CA, and when viewing our sample VFA chart images, we see very little CA even in the far corners at ƒ/1.4. There's a hint of green and magenta fringing on high-contrast edges, but it's very, very minor.
Vignetting is probably the only "weak spot" for this wide-angle lens, but it wasn't an unexpected quality for such a wide, fast lens. On a full-frame camera, at ƒ/1.4, the lens hits off the charts at just a hint over 1.25EVs of light falloff in the corners. As is typically the case, stopping down some greatly reduces the appearance of vignetting. At ƒ/2.8, vignetting is well below 0.5EVs, and then by ƒ/4-5.6, vignetting levels off at around 0.25EVs.
On a sub-frame camera, similar to corner softness, vignetting is significantly less of an issue. There's only slight vignetting at a bit over 0.25EVs at ƒ/1.4, but it quickly drops to near-imperceptible levels by ƒ/2.8.
Despite its wide-angle design, distortion is practically nonexistent for this lens, on both sensor sizes. Full-frame shows a hint of barrel distortion (+0.2% at the maximum), but averages near the zero mark on our distortion graph. For sub-frame cameras, both average and maximum distortion measurements are practically zero.
Using Canon's ring-type Ultrasonic Motor to drive focus, the 35mm ƒ/1.4L II was very quick to make smaller, finer focus adjustments, but felt oddly on the slow side to slew focus from minimum focus distance to infinity -- at a bit over one second. In real-world shooting, you're not likely to rack focus by that much distance on a constant basis, and so for more realistic shooting scenarios, the lens was very capable and nimble to autofocus.
As with other Canon USM-based lenses, the 35mm II offers full-time manual focus override of the AF with just a simple turn of the focus ring. For true, full-time MF, simply flip AF/MF switch on the side of the lens. The 1.25-inch wide focus ring is textured in thick, rubbery ribs for easy grip and smooth control, and offers about 180 degrees of rotation.
Though not designed for true macro photography, the lens offers very good close-focusing performance -- Canon calls it "best in class." The lens can focus down to just 11 inches for a 0.21x magnification ratio, making it a great choice for dramatic wide-angle close-up shots.
Build Quality and Handling
Like other L-series lenses, the Canon 35mm II is built extremely well. Sporting an all-metal, weather-sealed barrel with a sealing gasket at the lens mount, the 35mm II is finished in a modern, matte black exterior similar to Canon's other recent "Mark II" black lenses. Like its predecessor, the 35mm II is relatively sparse on the outside, with only a single AF/MF switch and a focus distance window with depth of field scale. The focus ring is large and provides ample grip as well as rotates very smoothly with soft stops at either end of the focus range.
Under the hood sits a total of 14 elements situated into 11 groups, including one Blue Spectrum Refractive optic -- itself an organic optical material sandwiched between convex and concave conventional optical glass elements. The lens also includes a single UD and two aspherical elements. Applied to the rear surfaces of the two aspherical elements, Canon's Sub-Wavelength Structure Coating (SWC) helps combat flare and ghosting. Fluorine coating on the front and rear lens surfaces helps repel liquid and dust as well as makes cleaning the lens surfaces easier. The lens also features a 9-bladed circular aperture diaphragm and 72mm filter threads.
The most obvious alternative to this new 35mm lens is the older model it replaces. The Canon 35mm ƒ/1.4L is a classic, highly regarded lens. It's not nearly as sharp as the new model, especially wide-open, nor does it offer weather sealing. However, at around $1100 new, the lens is a good deal less expensive than the Mark II.
Sigma is next on the list of alternatives with the very nice 35mm ƒ/1.4 Art lens. Though impressively sharp and an otherwise very high quality lens, it's also not as sharp as the 35mm L II. On the plus side, the Sigma lens costs half as much as the Canon pretty much, making it an outstanding value.
Tamron follows Sigma's lead with an affordable and fast 35mm full-frame prime lens. Though it's only ƒ/1.8 for one thing, the Tamron SP 35mm ƒ/1.8 VC isn't as sharp as the Canon 35mm II. The Tamron does offer weather sealing, which is unusual for a budget-conscious lens. It's also has image stabilization -- another rarity for a fast-aperture wide-angle prime -- and something Canon doesn't offer in their L-series.
Canon's L-series lenses are all about premium -- premium performance and premium build quality -- and the new 35mm ƒ/1.4L II is no exception. A long-awaited update to a classic Canon full-frame prime, the new "Mark II" version of the venerable 35mm ƒ/1.4 lens offers noticeably improved sharpness and handles CA and distortion extremely well. The addition of weather sealing is icing on the cake. Though it's rather pricey at around $1800 -- a big bump up from both current street price and original MSRP of the original 35mm L lens -- the lens is catered to professional and advanced hobbyist photographers. If you need a fast and high quality wide-angle prime for your Canon DSLR, the new EF 35mm ƒ/1.4L II is a great choice.
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/1.4L II USM
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Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM User Reviews
10 out of 10 points and recommended by wallstreetoneil (1 reviews)sharpness across the frame is outstandingnothing
This is an amazing lens for sharpness across the frame - you can absolutely see it crystal clear with a 5DSR. Even at the outmost AF point on the 5DSR it is tack sharp at F1.4! Zero CA that I can tell - the image is so clean. I compared the SLR gear blur chart versus the Otus 55 1.4 at F1.4 and F2 and they are basically identical. This lens is as sharp as the 24-70 F2.8 II at 35mm (its' best FL) @ F2.8 @ 1.4!!!!! So you get 2 stops more light and it is on par with the best wedding mid range zoom in the world. This lens is Otus quality that comes with AF. When you see that it is on par with the Otus you can then understand the value you get. Cannot possibly recommend it more - this is a world class piece of glass and it is built like a tank if you search for a tear down youtube video by lens rentals.reviewed December 18th, 2015 (purchased for $1,800)
10 out of 10 points and recommended by caMARYnon (8 reviews)colours, contrast, AF, lack of optical aberrations, sharpnessprice
Just try it !reviewed December 9th, 2015 (purchased for $2,232)