Canon 35mm f/1.4L II USM: The New 35mm King

 
Canon 35mm f/1.4L II USM

Canon 35mm f/1.4L II USM

Raj Lalwani tests the new Canon 35mm f/1.4L II USM, to see how it copes with the challenges set by modern-day high-resolution cameras.

The first version of Canon’s highend 35mm f/1.4L was starting to feel long in the tooth. This fi rst happened when Sigma surprised everyone with the 35mm f/1.4 Art. It was optically far superior (not a complete surprise as the Canon counterpart dates back to 1998), and also half the price. The second problem happened when Canon moved up from the 22.1MP sensors of the 5D Mark III, to the new 50.3MP sensor. The 5DS and 5DSR are unforgiving sensors that demand a lot from the optics, more than most modern lenses can cope with. So it wasn’t any surprise that the company refreshed this crucial piece of optics, a workhorse of the wedding, documentary and street photographer.

Features

The 35mm f/1.4L II USM uses a new technology developed by Canon, called Blue Spectrum Refractive optics. These are made from an organic optical material and help tackle fringing in large-diameter lenses. The lens has two UD optics and two aspherical elements, which are supposed to improve centre-to-edge sharpness. A mention must be made over here of the MTF curve. If on-paper technicalities are to be taken at face value, Canon has outdone itself, with all the lines tearing through the top of the chart. The company has also included a subwave length structure coating to guard against fl are and ghosting.

I am a huge admirer of the Sigma Art lens, but the Canon has one crucial advantage, in that it can stop down to f/22. The Sigma (and the Nikkor equivalent and Tamron’s new 35mm f/1.8 VC) can only go down till f/16. One may wonder why I am harping on this, considering how quickly diffraction reduces sharpness in high-resolution sensors. But if you are getting really up close to your subject and play with a lot of foreground background relationships, or if you are using foliage or structures as up-close framing elements, even f/16 may not get you through-and-through depth of field.

Handling

The lens is larger than the older Canon and the Sigma Art. It gains some grammes, but the use of engineering plastic (and not metal) for its exterior keeps the overall weight down. The lack of a metal shell does not mean any compromise in build quality. The guys at Lensrentals, when they disassembled the lens, marvelled at the insides of the lens, which includes a solid metal core, very heavy-duty rollers, screws and bearings. “Massively overengineered,” was their verdict. The plastic ring that holds the front element has a rubber gasket, along with the regular Canon weather gasket we see around the bayonet. Add to this a special fluorine coating to protect the front and rear glass from grease and dirt, and what you have is an astounding amount of weathersealing. The build quality is almost as good as the Zeiss counterpart, and superior to the Sigma Art and the older Canon.

The centre-to-edge sharpness is classleading, wide open and stopped down. This is one of the very few lenses that can do justice to 50MP. Exposure: 1/40sec at f/14 (ISO 1600). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

The centre-to-edge sharpness is classleading, wide open and stopped down. This is one of the very few lenses that can do justice to 50MP. Exposure: 1/40sec at f/14 (ISO 1600). Photograph/Raj Lalwani

Performance

AF is fast, silent and reliable. Sharpness in the centre is excellent at f/1.4, and better than the previous king, the Sigma Art. The corners are a little fuzzy, but this rapidly improves as you stop down. How visible is this difference? It depends on how critical you are, and also what camera you are using. Users of 20/22MP cameras won’t see as perceptible a difference as those who are using the new 50MP cameras. One can notice some green fringing, but it is correctable. Vignetting is heavy, reduces at f/2.8 and goes away only around f/5.6, but this is common to this class. Colours are more neutral than Sigma, which renders a little warm.

Conclusion

The Canon 35mm f/1.4L II USM is an astonishing piece of optics. Sure, its MRP of Rs. 1,33,995 may seem astronomical, considering that the optical quality is only marginally better than the Sigma Art, which is Rs. 69,825. If you are a 5D Mark III or 6D user, you may consider saving that extra money. The difference isn’t as visible on lower-resolution bodies, especially if you are a wedding or event photographer for whom the look and feel is more important than 100% critical detail. Is the far superior build worth paying double? Only for certain kinds of photographers. That said, if you are using the 5DS/5DSR and need to make massive prints, the difference in sharpness is very apparent, and well worth the extra investment. This is the gold standard of 35mm lenses, and Canon has wrestled its crown back.

FINAL RATINGS
Features
Stops down to f/22, focuses close, USM
19/20
Performance
Very sharp, some green fringing, fast AF
34/35
Build Quality
Metal core, weathersealed
23/25
Ergonomics
Not as detailed a focusing scale as Zeiss
13/15
Warranty & Support
Two-year warranty, excellent service support
4/5
MRP Rs. 1,33,995
OVERALL 93%
VALUE FOR MONEY 3/5
Who should buy it? 5DS and 5DSR users who wish to get the best out of their camera and make large prints.
Why? While other users will find the Sigma Art a far better
deal, the 50MP sensors gain a huge advantage with this lens.

 

Tags: Raj Lalwani, Review, Canon, Lens, better photography, canon lens, May 2016, Canon 35mm f/1.4L II USM, Lens Price