Equipment

LensRentals Reviews the Canon 35mm f/1.4L II Lens

Published November 12, 2015

A few weeks ago, Roger was able to get his hands on a few copies of the brand new Canon 35mm f/1.4L II lens, and ran it through a series of tests comparing it to the competitors. He found, that the new lens from Canon is among the sharpest and most consistent in its class, beating the beloved Sigma 35mm Art Series lens in the process. However, not all lens reviews are just running the lens through a series of machines to test the glass quality and sharpness of them. So I decided to get my hands on the Canon 35mm 1.4L II as well, to give it a more practical run of tests and trails. I found, that the newest from Canon is incredible, and quite likely, my next personal purchase.

Build Quality

The build quality of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 II is exactly what you’ve come to expect with Canon’s L series lenses. The lens itself feels incredibly robust and durable, with all metal build and a good weight at 26.8 oz, a full 6 ounces heavier than its predecessor. That isn’t the only thing that has changed in the mark II version. Not only is the lens a bit longer, (4.2″ compared to 3.4″), but also is the first lens with “Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics”. To put that in simple terms, the Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics is a glass element designed to drastically reduce color fringing, and maintain contrast during all lighting conditions. While I’m a little bit of a skeptic when it comes to this new lens technology, I did find that this lens handled flaring far better than any other lens I’ve tested; providing a nice haze factor to the images, without going overboard or giving you that devastating flaring.

Canon also promises better weather sealing with the newest model in their 35mm line. Alongside weather sealing, the lens also has some small, but useful design elements changed, such as the AF switch being flush with the lens barrel, and a larger focusing ring when shooting in manual focus mode.

Using the Lens

My time spent with the new Canon 35mm f/1.4L II was certainly a pleasant one. Using the lens in a variety of shooting conditions, I was able to test the lens to the max, giving me a full range of uses. When it was nearly pitch black out, the lens was focusing fast and accurate. When I was shooting against a setting sun, the lens was able to combat flaring with ease, and when I was simple shooting with it in my hands all day, the lens felt well balanced and a nice compliment to my camera body. I went into shooting with this lens with some excitement, and the lens was able to meet all the expectations I had with it. The autofocus was incredibly accurate, allowing for fast tracking and quick focusing in a variety of shooting conditions. The robust build of the new 14 element lens lineup felt nice too. Throughout shooting with the lens, it always felt sturdy and solid, a feeling I sometimes lost in the original Canon 35mm.

MTF Charts

As stated above, resident tech guru Roger Cicala was able to run multiple copies of this lens through our Olaf Optics tests to get both an MTF chart on the lens (averaged over 10+ copies) as well as a copy to copy variation score. When placed up against the original Canon 35mm f/1.4L, the new Mark II version easily win the battle in terms of overall sharpness. the new Mark II version also beats the Sigma 35mm Art series in sharpness, by only my a small fraction that you likely wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in. These scores, make the Canon 35mm f/1.4L II the new king of the 35mms in terms of both sharpness and consistency, but is also priced considerably more than some of the competition.

MTF Charts for Canon 35mm

Roger Cicala, Olaf Optical Testing, 2015

Price

The greatest (and only) shortfall I found with the new Canon 35mm f/1.4L II came in the price of the lens. At $1,799 new, the Canon 35mm f/1.4 II is a staggering $300 more than its now dated predecessor, and double the price of the Sigma Art series lens – a strong competitor to the Canon 35L II. So is it worth the massive price difference? ┬áIf you’re a loyalist to Canon, then yes – the Mark II version is a considerable upgrade to the original, and well worth the price difference between the two. However, if you’re willing to venture over to Sigma, the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 Art series lens is still the best buy for the money. At $799 retail price, the Sigma 35mm Art series will put you right in between the two Canon lenses, and at a considerably lower price than both of them.

 

Zach Sutton

Lensrentals.com

Author: Zach Sutton

I’m Zach and I’m the editor and a frequent writer here at Lensrentals.com. I’m also an editorial and portrait photographer in Los Angeles, CA, and offer educational workshops on photography and lighting all over North America.

Posted in Equipment
  • I know this is an old comment, but if anyone else see the question and wonders, Lenstip has the answer here: http://www.lenstip.com/466.7-Lens_review-Canon_EF_35_mm_f_1.4L_II_USM_Coma__astigmatism_and_bokeh.html

  • Waltet

    Is there any chance that a new, fast and sharp 50mm L-lens will follow the 35mm? I’m using the canon 50mm f 1.4 but looking for an alternative…

  • Roger Cicala

    Victor, we really haven’t seen any problems with it autofocusing that I’m aware of but I’ll double check with the techs.

  • Victor

    I recently purchased a Canon 35mm 1.4 L mark II. I have no complaints about the image quality. I have used the lens on my 5Ds and my older 1Ds mark3. However, I do have problems with autofocus with both bodies. With center point or the center points on the 5Ds it works fine. Using all the focus points the lens does not focus properly. The lens will focus on the high contrast point closest to the camera even if it is in the corner of the frame. I’very never seen anything quite like it. Have you experienced this with your rentals.

  • John Leslie

    There is of course also the 35mm f2, which is a stop slower but cheaper and includes IS so can be used for hand-held video (for which it is a pretty good focal length). I think it was also worth a mention…

  • very nice write up. i am still sticking to my old 35L. Love it.

  • Any chance to check for coma? It seems that Canon did a great optical resolution job on this lens, but curious if the new glass also works for coma correction in aperture ranges of 1.4 to 2.5?

    Thanks

  • Roger Knight

    Alan, The articles’ beginning paragraph and MTF Charts’ first paragraph address the Canon and Sigma lens results.

  • Albert Silver

    Many thanks for the hands-on review. Any chance the new Tamron 35mm and 45mm f/1.8 and will be tested soon?

  • I think what Zach means by “fractal flaring” is when you see bright, many-sided shapes (hexagons, for example) in a repeating pattern. I shot with the Rokinon 8mm f/3.5 yesterday and experienced that type of flaring.

    From Wiki regarding lens flare:
    The specific spatial distribution of the flare depends on the shape of the aperture of the image formation elements. For example, if the lens has a 6-bladed aperture, the flare may have a hexagonal pattern.

  • L.P.O.

    Hello, it’s Gramma Nutsy here. Shouldn’t
    “by only my a small fraction”
    read
    “but only by a smal fraction”?

  • JJ-ch

    Maybe “fragmental flaring” (pictures in different colours of the aperture shape) was the idea?

  • Abi

    Correction.the mk2 is not all metal,there is more metal on the old 35mmL,mk2 plastic outer shell and plastic filter thread. And the price for the old 35mm L is now 1099 which is 800 cheaper.

  • Alan

    I would like to see this lens compare with Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art and Tamron SP 35mm F1.8

  • Could you explain what you mean by “fractal flaring”? I know what fractals are, but can’t visualize how they’d relate to lens flare.

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