Review: Canon 35mm f2 IS (Canon EF)

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS product images (6 of 7)ISO 2001-125 sec at f - 2.8

When Canon released their 35mm f2 IS lens, we questioned why the heck anyone would need IS for such a wide focal length. We thought about it: there are video users, there are people who like to shoot stopped down handheld, and there are people who love to do long exposures handheld. So why the heck not throw it in?

We compared the 35mm f2 IS to Canon’s old 35mm f1.4 and Sigma’s 35mm f1.4, and it came out in second place amongst our readers. It’s been a mainstay lens on the 5D Mk II since I’ve received our loaner unit, and it also accompanied me to a wedding that I recently shot–and there it became the lens I often stuck to.

So does Canon have a winner?


Pros and Cons

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS product images (3 of 7)ISO 2001-60 sec at f - 2.0

Pros

– Excellent build quality, it feels better than the L version

– The addition of IS is a nice touch

– Fast aperture

– Fairly compact size

– Excellent image quality

– Beautiful bokeh

– Perhaps the absolute best lens for every wedding photographer on a budget

Cons

– A tad more pricey than we’d like it to be

Gear Used

For this review we tested the Canon 35mm f2 IS with the Canon 5D Mk II, 580 EX II, Rogue Flash Bender, 430 EX II, and the Phottix Odin triggers. Many images were edited using VSCO Film Pack 3: which features Instant Film renderings.

Tech Specs

Specs taken from the B&H Photo Video listing of the product

Performance
Focal Length 35 mm
Aperture Maximum: f/2.0
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Canon EF
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Canon (APS-C)
Angle of View 63°
Minimum Focus Distance 9.48″ (24.08 cm)
Magnification 0.24x
Groups/Elements 8/10
Diaphragm Blades 8
Features
Image Stabilization Yes
Autofocus Yes
Physical
Filter Thread Front: 67 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.1 x 2.5″ (7.87 x 6.35 cm)
Weight 11.82 oz (335 g)

Ergonomics

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS product images (1 of 7)ISO 2001-60 sec at f - 4.0

The Canon 35mm F2 IS is a compact lens that is a little bit on the chubby side of the design world. While there isn’t very much to it, there are some new changes to their overall lens design philosophy that are evident with the 35mm f2 IS.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS product images (2 of 7)ISO 2001-60 sec at f - 4.0

First off the front element and front filter thread don’t move while focusing. Additionally, Canon incorporates a brand new type of lens cap that requires the user to pinch the center–just like Tamron and Sigma.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS product images (4 of 7)ISO 2001-60 sec at f - 2.8

The top of the lens is characterized by some semi-serious business. Here you’ll find the focusing ring near the front–and for users more accustomed to Canon’s higher end lenses, you’ll think that this ring is on a diet. Behind the ring you’ll find a depth of field scale. While Canon has improved on their depth of field scales, they’re still not perfect nor anywhere as useful as many of their competitors’ offerings.

In the image above, you’ll also be able to notice the new texture on Canon’s newest 35mm lens offering. Previously, the company’s lenses had a smooth exterior–but the textured feel is much nicer.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS product images (5 of 7)ISO 2001-60 sec at f - 2.8

On the side of the lens is where you’ll find the controls. Typically, lenses of this focal length just have an AF/MF switch, but Canon’s goes one extra step. Since there is IS built in, you’ll also need to remember the stabilizer if you choose to use a tripod.

Build Quality

Though it doesn’t sport the metal exterior of Zeiss or Sigma, this lens is built pretty darn solidly. The exterior’s textured feel reminds me a bit of Rokinon’s lenses. Additionally, it feels very solid when held–almost like a plump Granny Smith Apple with a tough as nails coating that some field worker put on it because they didn’t want you to eat the fruit.

Granted, there isn’t weather sealing built into the lens and they don’t market it as dustproof, but this lens had loads and loads of sand and wind blasting against it during a wedding I was shooting. It shrugged it all off like the man of steel reacts to bullets. And while this isn’t Canon L glass, it might as well be.

Since switching over to Sigma, I’ve left Canon glass in the dust. But for users wondering what the heck Canon is doing with the lineup right now (and there are tons of you out there) this is a lens that should help to restore hope.

Ease of Use

Like many of Canon’s autofocus glass, you just need to point and shoot. If you’re manually focusing for video, spring for an EVF of some sort like the offerings from IndiPro.

Both still and video creatives will really appreciate the added IS when they need to shoot at slower shutter speeds or even just for filming.

Autofocus

On the Canon 5D Mk II, this lens focused very quickly and didn’t suffer from very many issues. In good lighting, the outer focusing points nailed te focusing accurately. In lower lit situations, they struggled a bit, but the center focusing point nearly never missed its targets.

On newer Canon bodies, this won’t be an issue at all.

Image Quality

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS image samples (3 of 9)ISO 4001-60 sec at f - 4.0

For many of the images in this piece, we ran them through Lightroom 5 Beta with VSCO Film Pack 3: which gives an instant film rendering. In real life use, many people will probably do this if they’re using the lens for professional applications. However, we also have our standard barely edited images. All images with VSCO editing have also had their sharpness and clarity moved back to normal levels.

So what is the image quality like with the 35mm f2 IS? Let’s equate this to walking into a bar and trying to figure out what drink you want. We’ll choose beer (but I’m a whiskey kind of chap). There is your old favorite ale (Canon 35mm f1.4 L) that was always your mainstay until you started to change your tastes a bit more for something more refreshing. And so you went for a brand new and much more hoppy flavored beer (Sigma 35mm f1.4 DG), but you love that one so much that you always end up with a major hangover the next morning–and you need to go to work tomorrow. Then the bartender lets you know about this other drink that you haven’t tried: it’s more like a wonderful and lighter stout. It fills you up to the point where you know instinctively that you shouldn’t have anymore, but you don’t get that terrible hangover.

That happy medium brew is the 35mm f2 IS.

And so it becomes your reliable choice, but you make sure that you don’t abuse it too much so that you don’t get sick of it.

Bokeh

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma DP3 product images (7 of 8)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 2.0

Want some really wonderful bokehlicious photos? Then the Canon 35mm f2 IS delivers to satisfy your thirst. It isn’t as nice as its 35mm f1.4 L brother, but it is still excellent for what it is. Beginners slapping this lens onto the camera will perhaps get stuck in a bokeh-addictive syndrome, but the experienced will look at it and say, “I’ve seen better.” When a lens impresses veterans to the point where they want to shoot wide open with it all day and night, it takes some magic and truly incredible engineering.

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma DP3 product images (8 of 8)ISO 1001-60 sec at f - 2.0

For said users, this isn’t that lens. However as you can see, the image quality from this lens is more than good enough, and you can see even more of these photos in our Sigma DP3 Merrill review.

Color Fringing

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 12mm f2.8 product images (5 of 7)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 5.6

The situations where we are most likely to find color fringing are for studio environments where there is lots of contrast due to harsh lighting. We didn’t really find any.

Color Rendering

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS image samples (7 of 9)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 2.0

This photo was straight out of the camera and had absolutely no editing done to it. It was a RAW converted to a JPEG and helps to prove that Canon’s tradition of rendering skin positively beautifully continues. Though the 35mm focal length probably won’t be the choice of most portrait photographers, it sure is the choice of lots of photojournalists.

When combined with the Standard color profile on a Canon DSLR, the colors will look very true to life and only a tad more muted. But it’s still a very beautiful film-like look that reminds one of Fujifilm Astia. Thankfully, Canon’s sensors have loads of color depth, so if you want to work with them in post to get more out of the colors, you surely can.

For what the 35mm f2 IS delivers though, we’re more than pleased.

Sharpness

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS image samples (8 of 9)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 2.8

No sharpening was done to the image above and it was shot at f2.8. Though I missed Sander’s eye by a tad, we can still see how awesomely sharp the image is. And in all honesty, who cares if I missed his eye at this focal length. If you’re pixel peeping wedding images, you’ve got a whole other problem.

Distortion

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS image samples (4 of 9)ISO 1001-1600 sec at f - 2.0

I noticed a bit more distortion that I’d personally like with this lens–especially with arms and around the corner. Near the center, it isn’t a major problem.

Lightroom’s algorithms do a fairly good job with getting rid of it and Upright does an even better job if there is enough leeway. For this reason, try to shoot wider than you normally would and crop in post.

Extra Image Samples

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS image samples (2 of 9)ISO 4001-100 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS image samples (5 of 9)ISO 1001-125 sec at f - 8.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS image samples (6 of 9)ISO 1251-200 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS image samples (9 of 9)ISO 16001-60 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Canon 35mm f2 IS image samples (1 of 9)ISO 4001-30 sec at f - 4.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma DP3 product images (5 of 8)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma DP3 product images (4 of 8)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 3.2

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Sigma DP3 product images (1 of 8)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 2.0

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 12mm f2.8 product images (1 of 7)ISO 1001-200 sec at f - 5.6

Chris Gampat The Phoblographer Zeiss 12mm f2.8 product images (6 of 7)ISO 1001-60 sec at f - 5.6

Conclusions

Canon’s 35mm f2 IS initially confused us with its design, but after taking extra time to understand the lens and work with it, we became believers. It delivers some wonderful image quality, has a solid construction to it, focuses quickly, and is extremely portable.

Our only major beef is the price, but when you really think about it, it is justifiable. But with Sigma’s offering with a faster f-stop and better construction being only a tad more pricey, we still have to vouch for that over Canon’s.


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