The new Canon 35mm MkII, fixed focal length F1.4 lens.
For me this was an interesting review task, firstly because the last time I used a prime lens of this focal length was on a 35mm Film SLR, this lens is massive compared to the 35mm lenses of those days, secondly I currently use a cropped Sensor camera (7D Mk1) and my main lens selection are all zooms, ranging from 11mm to 200m (plus extender). Just to really add to things on the day I had available to use this lens the weather was rubbish!
This 35mm F1.4 from Canon is a bit of a beast, compared to my memory of earlier film day 35mm’s, but of course the lenses I had then didn’t have the marvel of auto-focus, USM etc. Given its size and therefore weight it was surprising how balanced it felt on my camera, taking I do use a grip.
With its cropped sensor the 7D gives me a 1.6x multiplier, meaning that when on my camera the lens has the effective field of view of a 56mm lens on 35mm Film SLR or a Full Frame DSLR. So for most purposes this lens gives me more like a “Standard” lens field of view rather than anything approaching wide angle. For this reason this review may be of more interest to cropped sensor users than full framers
My normal genre’s are sport, wildlife and landscape. So given its effective focal length, not really being even at the top end of the wide angle bracket, and it being nowhere near what you would need for most sport or wildlife applications this lens, for me, would fit into the possible general (walk around) and people / portrait applications, Which I generally use my 24-70 2.8L for.
I guess the main requirement of any lens is that it gives the sensor the best chance of capturing the maximum amount of detail from the subject in front of the lens. The great thing about this lens of course, to me, is the F1.4 aperture, or any of the stops between that at the F2.8 maximum I am used to.
Given the potential use I would put this lens to, indoors with no flash or added light seemed to be the area I should look at mostly.
The detail seen was excellent, at the focal point when wide open, and a good bokeh was also achieved, even on a cropped sensor camera. In reality though the depth of field, at the distance that was necessary to achieve a filled frame and minimise background was too short.
To get the desired features even at a short distance either side of the focal plane in focus either required stepping down, to a stop approaching F2.8, or moving away from the subject a fair distance (this is where I would miss the zoom capability of my normal lenses), thus introducing more unwanted background.
Moving away and keeping the F stop fully open would of course be OK in a studio with a controlled plain background, or even in a church situation where the blurred background is acceptable and gives context, but in a everyday walk around mode, in low light where you may want to use the shutter wide open, and have the subject fully in focus would introduce more background than you may desire, and the bokeh becomes less pleasing. Looking at the various shots of our cat and balancing the distance and F stop F1.8 to F2.2 seemed to give a good compromise to filling the frame, having a reasonable depth of focus and reasonable bokeh.
F1.4 – Not unpleasant but closer scrutiny reveals the depth of focus fades as the back of the cat’s head is approached.
F1.6, slightly more depth of focus, but to me still needs a little more to get the top of the head sharper and more defined.
F1.8 – This is, to me, is getting more where I would like to see the definition and compromise in relation to background content and blur, although as can bee seen below at 100% the contrast against the background is softer than some may desire.
F1.8 100% crop – definition on the lower ear and across the head is still soft.
F2.2 – more definition around the subject edges, but beginning to loose the background blur such the objects start to distract.
The colour reproduction was faithful (auto colour balance) and sharpness of the image where it was needed was good, particularly in the indoor shots, For the couple of external shots I did try, given the bad weather, were a little lacking, but this may be more sensor than lens.
F1.6, ISO800, 1/25th – straight from the RAW file saved as Jpeg to insert here, the colour reproduction is very accurate.
F20, ISO 100 1/40th – straight from the RAW file saved as Jpeg to insert here. Given a less than ideal day, never the less the colour accuracy is s little off, not so far that a little post processing in Lightroom wouldn’t fix if the picture was for anything but this.
I also took the above to look at the hand holding abilities ( I know I have a fair bit to do with that of course), particularly in relation to the 1 X focal length being the minimum hand holding shutter speed.
F20, ISO 100 1/40th 100% crop. Given the aperture of F20 then the focal point should not effect the overall sharpness, so my conclusion is that the blurriness, looking at the building (eliminate wind movement of the trees) is purely related to my ability to hand hold this lens at the 1 x Focal length speed. So with my cropped sensor should I have used something more equating to 1 x 56mm?. Exactly what that might be would require more time with this lens to develop my personal requirements, but needless to say this is a large lens to hand hold at low speeds.
Of course the lens’s optical quality, which appears excellent, construction (as would be expected of an L lens) and ease of use would be the same to users, but the type of use is likely to vary. For my purposes, with a cropped sensor body, this would be in the studio, wedding portrait areas rather than my more normal genres.
I am not a studio type, but if I were, or for shooting weddings, I would be temped by this for close in work, where low light would demand a larger aperture whilst trying to keep the ISO down as low as possible. Maybe on the second body to catch times such as exchanging rings, signing the register in the church vestibule etc., maybe a close up of cutting the cake at the reception.
Given my normal genres this is probably not a lens for me, but it is an excellent lens, if not a little pricy. Without the need for the F1.4, for my money the 24-70 2.8L MKII may be a better buy, for my type of work, because of flexibility of uses etc. but if you are in the portrait and wedding genres I could see this being a big asset.