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 – Image quality
Running a series of tests alongside the older EF 35mm f/1.4L USM revealed some noteworthy differences under close inspection. Though you’ll struggle to see it in real world images unless you inspect images at a 100% magnification or closer, our Applied Imaging tests confirm this new lens is superior in terms of sharpness at both the centre and edge of the frame when it’s opened to its maximum aperture of at f/1.4. It’s much of the same story up to f/4, beyond which point the centre sharpness starts to follow an identical profile and resolve the same sharpness as its predecessor all the way to f/22. As for edge sharpness, this remained consistently higher than the results recorded by the older EF 35mm f/1.4L USM throughout the aperture range. Users can be confident of shooting extremely sharp images between f/2.8-4 with this lens.
A very impressive sharpness performance then, but what about other important image quality criteria such as chromatic aberration, vignetting and curvilinear distortion? Shooting a series of scenes with both lenses and inspecting high contrast edges where chromatic aberrations can often be found confirmed this new lens has considerably improved in the way it controls fringeing. As the images below show there were obvious signs of purple fringeing in images taken on the older lens (image on the left) and virtually none taken with this newer lens (image on the right). We’ve got the engineers at Canon to thank for developing the innovative Blue Spectrum Refractive optic that has a vital role to play.
As for vignetting, the corners of images appear 1.8EV darker than the centre when the lens is opened to f/1.4, which is fractionally darker than its predecessor at the same aperture setting. Close the lens down to f/2.8 and the corner shading quickly starts to disappear and by the time f/4 is reached there’s virtually no sign of vignetting at all.
Not forgetting the way the lens handles curvilinear distortion; this too is another area of improvement on the original, displaying less barrel distortion, which you’ll have difficulty scrutinizing in real-world images.