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Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Interchangeable Lens Review

As this lens was released back in 1992, Gary Wolstenholme investigates whether this lens can still hold its own on today's high resolution DSLRs.

|  Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L USM in Interchangeable Lenses
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Handling and features

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

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.

Resolution at 35mm How to read our graphs
The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III using Imatest.
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Resolution at 35mm

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.

Chromatic Aberrations at 35mm How to read out charts
Chromatic aberration is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III using Imatest.
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Chromatic Aberrations at 35mm

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.
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM @ f/8   Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM @ f/1.4
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.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM
A lens capable of producing outstanding quality when used within its limitations.
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: Pros
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Good centre resolution at wide apertures
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Outstanding performance across the frame when stopped down
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Build quality
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Weather resistant
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Resistance to flare

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: Cons
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM Soft edges at wide apertures

FEATURES Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM
HANDLING Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM
PERFORMANCE Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM
VALUE FOR MONEY Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM
OVERALL Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM: Lens specification
Price £1,120.00
Filter size 77mm
Format Full-frame
Construction 11 elements in 9 groups
Angle-of-view 63 degrees
35mm equivalent focal length (on APS-C body) 56mm
Internal focusing Yes
Image stabilisation No
Minimum focus 30cm
Maximum aperture f/1.4
Minimum aperture f/22
Weight 580g
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
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