Seventeen years in the making: Initial impressions of Canon’s long-awaited 35mm f/1.4L II lens


posted Thursday, October 15, 2015 at 9:30 AM EST


Canon lenses, especially those from their L-series line, usually have a very long lifespan. These robust, beefy, professional lenses can often take a beating and perform well for years and years. That being said, improvements and new technology can come along and make these tried-and-true lenses even better.

Canon has updated nearly all of their L-series lenses with a "Mark II" version, but for a long time (read: 17 years) the venerable 35mm f/1.4L was left without an update. That all changed earlier this year with the announcement of the EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM. At a recent Canon shooting event, I finally had an opportunity to spend some time with the new 35mm f/1.4L II, and now have a batch of real-world sample images to share and a few initial thoughts on the lens' handling and build quality.

Sporting a slightly re-designed and refreshed exterior, the big changes happened on the inside. Not only is the lens, at last, weather-sealed, but it also includes a brand new lens technology called Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics. This new lens 'BR Optics' technology, as it's called, isn't a new type of glass element, like diffractive optics or fluorite, but rather a molecular, organic material that's sandwiched between two glass elements. According to Canon, the optical material refracts blue-spectrum light to a much greater degree than existing lens elements, such as fluorite or Super UD glass, and therefore the new 35mm f/1.4L II should combat CA and fringing much better than its predecessor.

I was only given a short time with this lens, and we don't yet have a sample in-house for a full review yet -- though that should be remedied very soon. However, I can share my initial thoughts on the lens' performance, build and handling characteristics.

Like Canon's other L-series lenses, the new 35mm f/1.4L II feels great in the hand. It's solid and feels very well made, and I love the updated, locking bayonet-mount lens hood. For obvious reasons, I wasn’t able to thoroughly test its sheer durability -- and its long-awaited weather-sealing -- but nevertheless, given my past experience using and own Canon L glass, I'm fairly confident this new 35mm lens will live up to that red ring.

Canon 5DS R: f/1.4, 1/60s, ISO 1000

Surprisingly, one of the few Canon L-series lenses I've never used is the original Canon 35mm f/1.4L. My first reaction upon holding this new 35mm L lens was noticing how long it was. For a wide-angle lens, I was a bit surprised at its overall length, which is right around four inches without the lens hood -- it's almost a full inch longer than its predecessor going by the specs. Like the earlier 35mm lens, the new Mark II uses 72mm filter threads and has a diameter right around three inches. Overall, the 35mm f/1.4L II isn't over-sized, by any means, and it's quite a bit slimmer and lighter than some of Canon's newer L-series zooms (the 24-70mm f/2.8L II, though much lighter than its own previous model, jumped from a 77mm filter to an 82mm one, for example).

The wide aperture of the 35mm f/1.4L II allows for good subject isolation.
Canon 5DS R: f/2, 1/1000s, ISO 100

In my brief hands-on time with the 35mm f/1.4L II, the lens performed as expected. Autofocus was quick and accurate, and the lens balanced nicely with the Canon 5DS R. For my personal tastes, I often find a 35mm prime limiting -- I tend to want my focal length either wider or more telephoto. Nonetheless, images look fantastic with lots of crisp, sharp detail, and the wide, bright aperture helps a lot when shooting in low light. It's also hard not to enjoy the wonderful, razor-thin depth of field and smooth out of focus blur that an f/1.4 aperture creates!

At the right angle, the depth of the field at f/1.4 is razor-thin!
Canon 5DS R: f/1.4, 1/60s, ISO 400, -0.7EV

We're anxiously awaiting our review sample so we can give it the full SLRgear treatment, but in the meantime, check out more re-sized real-world images below. For the whole selection of full-resolution JPEGs and RAW files, however, head over to our Canon 5DS R Gallery Page and look for image files with "-35LMarkII" in the name.

The bright aperture also allows for nice low-light performance
Canon 5DS R: f/1.4, 1/200s, ISO 1600
Canon 5DS R: f/1.4, 1/125s, ISO 200
Canon 5DS R: f/2.8, 1/2000s, ISO 100

Canon 35mm f/1.4L II Gallery Photos

Canon 5DS R: