Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Review

November 23, 2015 | Mark Goldstein | |

Introduction

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is a very fast, moderate wide-angle lens for Canon's full-frame DSLRs, incorporating two aspherical elements and one UD glass element in a 14 element, 11 group optical formula. Featuring Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics technology to achieve a higher level of chromatic aberration correction, Sub-Wavelength Structure Coating (SWC) to help combat flare and ghosting, an ultrasonic focus motor, a 9-blade circular aperture, silent high-speed AF performance and full-time manual focusing, the new Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is ideal for travel and reportage photography. The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is available now for £1799.99 / $1799.99 in the UK and the USA respectively.

Ease of Use

As this is a very fast, premium wide-angle prime lens, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is predictably big and bulky, weighing in at 760g and measuring 10.5cm in length. You can use it on a smaller Canon EOS APS-C body for a 56mm equivalent angle of view, but it balances much better on a full-frame camera like the EOS 5DS R that we tested it with.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMThe Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens mounted on the EOS 5DS R

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMThe Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens mounted on the EOS 5DS R

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMThe Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens mounted on the EOS 5DS R

As you would expect from a lens that costs this much, build quality is excellent, certainly living up to the "L" moniker that denotes Canon's premium lenses. The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM feels very solid in your hand, even if the outer barrel and the filter thread appear to be made from plastic. The focusing ring is a good size and has a ridged, rubberised grip band. It has no aperture ring, though, which is no big deal unless you wanted to use it on a very old film body.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMThe Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens alongside the EOS 5DS R

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMSide of the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens

The lens features a distance scale complete with a DOF scale, although the latter is of limited use, having markings for f/11 and f/22 only. Still, certainly better than nothing.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMFront of the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMRear of the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens

The only other control on the lens barrel is a focus mode switch with the usual AF/MF settings. Note that this lens offers full-time manual focusing even when AF is selected.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMSide of the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMThe Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM len in-hand

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMThe Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens with the supplied lens hood fitted

The lens ships with a plastic petal-shaped lens hood (EW-77B) and a protective bag.

Focal Range

At the 35mm focal length the angle of view is 63 degrees.

 Sigma 35mm F1.4 DG HSMField of view at 35mm

Focusing

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens has quite a large focus ring. There are hard stops at both ends of the range, making it easier to set focus at infinity. Polariser users should be pleased that the 72mm filter thread doesn't rotate on focus.

When it comes to auto-focusing, the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM zoom is a quick performer, taking about 0.15 seconds to lock onto the subject when mounted on the Canon EOS 5DS R that we tested it with.

We didn't experience much "hunting", either in good or bad light, with the lens accurately focusing almost all of the time. It's also a quiet performer, thanks to the built-in USM (Ultra Sonic Motor), which makes this lens well-suited to video recording.

Chromatic Aberrations

Chromatic aberrations, typically seen as purple or blue fringes along contrasty edges, are impressively well controlled with this lens - the examples below show the worst-case scenario.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

Light Fall-off

With the lens wide open at f/1.4, you can see some noticeable light fall-off in the corners. Stopping down helps, although to completely get rid of this phenomenon, you will need to use an f-stop of f/4 or smaller.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

Macro

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is not a macro lens. The close-focus point is at 28cm from the film/sensor plane, and Canon quotes a maximum reproduction ratio of 0.21x for the lens. The following example illustrates how close you can get to the subject, in this case a CompactFlash card.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USMClose-up performance

Bokeh

Bokeh is a word used for the out-of-focus areas of a photograph, and is usually described in qualitative terms, such as smooth / creamy / harsh etc. One of the reasons to buy a fast lens is to be able to isolate the subject from the background, which is normally very hard to do with a wide-angle lens. Canon was apparently very much aware of this requirement, as they employed an iris diaphragm with 9 rounded blades for a very pleasing rendering of the out-of-focus highlights. Based on what we have seen, we can say that they largely succeeded. Below you'll find some examples, but you are also encouraged to check out our sample images.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
   
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

Sharpness

In order to show you how sharp this lens is, we are providing 100% crops on the following page.