I rented Canon’s 35mm/1.4 for this past weekend, and while I wish I had more time with it to thoroughly test it out, the few days I had with it was enough to come to some conclusions. So, here’s my mini review, with not enough comparison shots. (Sorry!)
(Keep in mind that I’m comparing it to my Canon 35mm/2, a nifty little lens that is over $1000 cheaper.)
My first impression of the 35mm/1.4 (which I’ll refer to as the 35L, denoting its L glass status) is that it’s huge. I knew it’d be big, but it’s at least 2.5x larger than the 35mm/2. Because it’s L glass, it also has a bright red ring around it. These two factors made me feel a bit self-conscious when toting it around the streets. But it definitely was not a deal-breaker in any sense. It was heavy but still light enough for me to lift the camera with one hand and shoot (which was very difficult with my camera + the Canon 85/1.8).
Speed & focus
The next thing that jumped out to me was its incredible focusing speed, at any aperture. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever tried. Oh, and it’s dead silent. You could use it in a quiet library without worry (shutter snap sound aside). The focus would lock on immediately, on the very first press of the focus button. For instance, when taking pics inside of flowers with the 35L, it locked focus immediately, every time. I switched to the 35mm/2, and it hunted for focus at least 5 times before finally locking on the flowers (with the same lighting conditions and position). The focus accuracy is not 100% (probably due to user error), but still very, very good. Compared to the 35mm/2 (which is pretty consistent in its good focus), it’s better. And it’s waaaay better at focus accuracy than the 50mm/1.4.
Honestly, this was the big one for me, because I just love big apertures. The focus and speed is obviously leaps and bounds above the 35mm/2, but that’s not enough for me to buy this lens alone. What would make me buy this lens is its f/1.4 aperture and maybe that “certain something,” that magical quality that some lenses have. So I wanted to see how f/1.4 on a 35mm would compare to f/2 (which is what I have already with my 35mm/2). Here’s an example (shot in RAW and unprocessed):
A close-up pic:
And further away:
And comparing the lenses:
To me, the difference between f/1.4 and f/2.0 is notable (and especially significant in certain situations). This f/1.4 + incredible focusing speed + highly accurate focus = images in low light that are near impossible with the 35mm/2. And yes, unscientifically, I’d say there is a special something with this lens. Something about it is just really special. I can’t quantify it. I can’t articulate it. But it’s there.
Interestingly, I noticed that the pics from 35L were always brighter. Check out the above picture — the middle image and the right-hand image are both at the same apertures but the 35L’s picture is brighter.
The biggest surprise for me is that I’m not handing my wallet over to Canon this very minute to buy this lens. Don’t get me wrong — I loved this lens, and I’d probably cry with happiness if it magically landed in my lap. But the price tag — oh, the price tag! If I were a pro, I’d snap this up immediately; it’s a must have. But for traipsing around the neighborhood, an L glass feels a bit too much like a luxury for my thin wallet.
(It should be noted that I said the same exact thing about buying a full frame camera, and then I bought one about a month later. So check back in a week; I’m sure I’ll have bought this lens by then. Ha!)