Canon’s latest wideangle prime lens promises to set a new standard in image quality, but does it justify what seems like an exorbitant price? Michael Topham finds out
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM Review – Features
The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM is rather special in the way it debuts pioneering lens technology that we’ve never witnessed before. What I refer to more specifically is the introduction of a new Blue Spectrum Refractive optic (also known as a BR optic) that’s sandwiched between two glass elements within the lens. Canon says this new innovative optic has the affect of correcting for chromatic aberrations more effectively, while also producing sharper images through its ability to refract blue light – a wavelength that, until now, Canon admits has proven particularly difficult to converge to a specific focal point. If this new BR optic is as effective as it’s promised to be we’ll no doubt see it introduced into many future Canon lenses from this point forward.
As well as developing the new BR optic, the lens features a totally new optical design. Whereas the older EF 35mm f/1.4L USM incorporated 11 elements in nine groups with eight aperture blades, the newer EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM features a more complex arrangement of 14 elements in 11 groups with nine aperture blades. The result of the new design makes it both larger and heavier than its forerunner, which also plays its part in the way the lens handles.
One of the key attributes of this lens is its maximum aperture that’s complementary to capturing natural, reportage-style images that so many photojournalists, sports and wedding photographers like to take. It’s likely to see most use at the f/1.4 end of the aperture range in low-light situations, but can be stopped down to a minimum of f/22. In typical Canon fashion it features an ultrasonic motor to ensure autofocus is both fast and quiet and the full-time manual-focusing ring allows users to make fine focusing adjustments on the fly without having to switch to manual mode first.
Unlike Canon’s considerably cheaper EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens (£399), this professional-grade optic doesn’t offer optical stabilisation. Though admittedly this makes it more vulnerable to handshake, there’s the argument that stabilisation is not entirely necessary on such a wide-angle lens where minor movements of the camera can cause fewer disturbances. Optically stabilised 35mm lenses still remain few and far between (neither the Nikon 35mm f/1.4 G AF-S nor Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM offer optical stabilisation) and excluding the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM, the only other lens that does is the recently announced Tamron 35mm f/1.8 SP Di VC USD (£579).
The weather sealing has also been improved to ensure the lens meets the high expectations of serious photographers who may find themselves shooting in adverse weather conditions. This ultimately should see it more resistant to damage and water ingress when the going gets tough. Another improvement on the EF 35mm f/1.4L USM is its ability to focus closer and within 28cm of a subject as opposed to 30cm.
Like the older EF 35mm f/1.4L USM, the internal focusing system prevents the front element from rotating, with filters and adapters attaching via a 72mm filter thread. On older Canon lenses the filter thread diameter used to be printed on the barrel, whereas nowadays it’s printed around the perimeter of the front element, making it easier to refer to when the lens is stowed away in a bag.