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A wide aperture wide angle lens with silent focusing and weather resistant professional build quality.
Canon's EF 35mm f/1.4 USM L costs around £1120 and sports a silent focusing motor and professional grade weather resistant build quality, as well as a bright maximum aperture of f/1.4.
Those in the market for a fast wide angle prime lens on a budget may also be considering Canon's more basic EF 35mm f/2 lens, which only costs around £210, but lacks the weather resistant build, silent focusing and is a stop slower than the f/1.4 variant.
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: Handling and features
Weighing just over half a kilogram, this 35mm lens has a fair bit of weight to it, but still it balances well on the EOS 1Ds Mark III used for testing and will do so on other advanced level Canon bodies. Being an 'L' series lens, build quality is top-notch, bearing the usual black finish of non-telephoto lenses of this type and the lens sealed against the elements.
A distance scale window is provided on top of the lens barrel with hyperfocal markings for all apertures and with f/4, f/11 and f/22 taking prominence. Useful as they are, these markings are a little close together to set accurately. A wide rubberised focusing ring provides just enough resistance for accurate manual focusing and as the lens sports a silent ultrasonic motor, manual adjustments can be made at any time by simply turning the focus ring.
Focus speeds are quick enough for most purposes and the bright maximum aperture certainly helps in low light as I didn't manage to make the lens hunt at all. Care still needs to be taken when shooting at f/1.4 though, especially when you are close to your subject, as the shallow depth of field can make it challenging to focus accurately.
Overall I really enjoyed using this lens due to its excellent build quality, fast focusing and the bright viewfinder image achieved due to the fast maximum aperture.
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: Performance
This lens performs well in the centre of the image at wide apertures, with the quality towards the edges improving as the lens is stopped down. At maximum aperture the sharpness in the centre is already approaching good levels, although towards the edges this lens can be a little soft.
Peak sharpness in the centre is achieved at f/5.6, where the resolution is outstanding and the quality towards the edges is excellent. Images taken at f/8 provide the best compromise between sharpness in the centre and towards the edges of the frame.
Chromatic aberrations are kept below levels that will pose issues for most. They are at their strongest at f/1.4 in the centre of the frame. Here Imatest recorded fringing covering 0.75 pixel widths, which should only be visible on close inspection.
Levels of falloff are typical for a wide aperture lens. At f/1.4 the corners are 2.8 stops darker than the image centre. Illumination isn't visually uniform until the lens is stopped down to f/5.6 or slower as darkened corners are still visible at wider apertures.
A slight amount of barrel distortion is visible, as is typical for wide angles with a bright maximum aperture. Here Imatest recorded 2.26% barrel distortion, which shouldn't pose too many issues most of the time. The distortion pattern is uniform across the frame, so those who do need to correct the curvature of lines for critical applications should find it relatively easy to remedy.
|Click on the thumbnails for a high resolution image.|
|This image taken at f/8 displays excellent sharpness from edge to edge.||The bright aperture of f/1.4 allows you to isolate a subject creatively.|
For a wide aperture lens this optic is quite resistant to flare and ghosting. Strong light sources in the frame will cause a loss of contrast at wider apertures along with some flare. At smaller apertures the contrast returns but the flare is still there. Light sources outside of the frame pose few issues even without the supplied petal shaped lens hood.
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: Verdict
Despite its age, this lens is still capable of producing excellent results. The resolution recorded in the centre is high, even at wide apertures. Although the resolution may fall off towards the edges, I find this acceptable in use with wide aperture lenses such as this.
Although the price tag is high, it is to be expected for a lens of this calibre. The 'L' series build and design means the lens should be able to withstand the rigours of daily use, along with a bit of rough and tumble, or inclement conditions.
|A lens capable of producing outstanding quality when used within its limitations.|
Good centre resolution at wide apertures
Outstanding performance across the frame when stopped down
Resistance to flare
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: Cons
Soft edges at wide apertures
|VALUE FOR MONEY|
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: Lens specification
|Construction||11 elements in 9 groups|
|35mm equivalent focal length (on APS-C body)||56mm|
|Size||79 x 86mm|
|In the box||Lens hood, Lens caps, Soft Case|
The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM costs around £1120 and is available from Warehouse Express here:
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM