The 35mm focal length is one of the most popular primes made, probably only second to the 50mm if second to anyone. It’s popular because it is good for so many things, making us feel like we have to own fewer lenses to capture more amazing images. Most of you know that I’m very attached to my Sigma 35mm f/1.4, but when shooting with Canon’s new 35mm f/2 IS, I did my best to remain objective.
Right out of the box, the Canon feels much like any other Canon lens. The body is built from a mix of plastic, metal and rubber. I have complained about too much plastic on the body of a lens because it makes the product feel cheap, and I’m not about to let Canon get away with it either. This doesn’t feel like a high quality lens. Granted, it feels higher quality than other lenses on the market, but it isn’t at the top of my list.
There isn’t anything new feeling about the Canon 35mm f/2, but that’s Canon’s prerogative. Their lenses all feel and handle the same which of course has its advantages. No matter what Canon lens you pick up, the focus rings will feel the same, the switches will be in, generally, the same place and the lens will feel in your hands like you’ve been shooting with it for years. Even though its new, it slides into your arsenal like it’s always been there. I like that about Canon, but they need to be careful. Their competitors are innovating and given another two years, they could find themselves no longer the “cool” lens to own.
Outside of appearances, the lens functions extremely well. I never struggled, complained or got angry with the lens in any situation. It always focused well, accurately and fast. The autofocus motor was advertised as silent, and it doesn't disappoint. The motor is fast, quiet and pretty accurate. It did struggle in darker areas and would rack in and out as it tried to find the point I wanted to focus on, but this was not a common occurrence. It happened basically where any other lens would struggle and I can't really hold it against the Canon.
The image stabilization is Canon IS, and if you like Canon IS, then you’ll like it on the Canon 35mm f/2. I’m really not that impressed with the IS because Tamron does it so much better, but it functions generally as advertised and will help with video or when you want to drag the shutter a little bit (though I seriously still advise using a tripod).
This lens is pretty darn sharp. Zero complaints there. Is it the absolute sharpest lens at this focal length I’ve shot with? No, but at a certain point being slightly sharper ends up making basically no difference. It’s sort of just something that only you and other photographers will notice. I mean heck, normal people can’t tell the difference between a photo shot on an iPhone compared to one shot on a Hasselblad. Below you can take a look at a 100% crop (from top to bottom) at f/2, f/5.6, f/10, f/16 and f/22. Click any for a larger size.
Notice above that wide open there is significant chromatic aberration. This was not unexpected, as many lenses at this focal length suffer from a little CA when open.
The lens was sharpest between f/5.6 and f/10, which is pretty normal for most lenses on the market. At no point, even at f/22, would I say that the images produced were unusable. Though they are not what I would classify as "sharp," they weren't muddy and the textures are still pretty discernable. It is pretty much what I have come to expect from Canon optics.
For you bokeh fanatics, take a look at the bokeh below:
I think the most desirable thing about the Canon 35mm f/2 is that it performs basically to the same level as the 35mm f/1.4 L, for a heck of a lot less cash. If you are intent on sticking to your Canon guns and don’t see yourself needing the depth of field of a 1.4 lens, then the 35mm f/2 is a really solid alternative. When I say basically, I mean that though it does not open as far as the L glass 35mm, it does produce basically the same sharpness and performs very similarly.
However, sometimes f/2 is really not wide enough. When shooting in the dark (which I do often), I was really missing that extra stop that can be found on other 35mm lenses on the market.
What I liked:
Quiet autofocus motor
More compact size
Sharpness and general performance
What could use improvement:
General aesthetics and build quality
I don't really have a lot to say against the Canon 35mm f/2. It is a solid lens and a welcome addition to the Canon optics family. For $850, it is priced pretty well for how it performed. I'm not really all that impressed with the way the non-L Canon optics feel in my hand, but I'm a proponent of form over function. When it just works, I'm more than willing to look past the blasé exterior.
The Canon 35mm f/2 is a really good lens that will do exactly what you need it to in nearly any situation. I do miss the extra stop, but f/2 is actually more than most people expect. If you have to have a Canon but don't want to pay a really high Canon price, the Canon 35mm f/2 is a nice compromise.