The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 L might be a bit of an ageing rock star in Canons lens line-up, but can it still cut it as a top of the range lens? With a 35mm focal length this lens acts as a slight wide-angle lens on a full-frame body, and is more or less neutral on an APS-C camera.
Photography enthusiasts always bang on about how the quality of your camera isn’t as important as the glass you stick in front of it. We’ve said it ourselves in the past, so last week we thought it was time we put our money where our mouth is and spent a few days with the 35mm L lens attached to a Canon EOS 500D (Rebel T1i).
What’s the damage?
We won’t beat around the bush, this lens isn’t cheap. A new one costs around £1100/$1400 and used copies are hard to find. That’s big bucks, so the expectation is high.
Why this lens?
On a crop sensor DSLR such as the 600D, 60D, or 7D, the effective focal length of this 35mm prime is about 55mm. That’s a nice natural length that’s just a touch longer than using a typical 50mm lens on a full frame body, such as the 5D Mark II.
At its native 35mm on a full frame SLR the results are a little different, giving a wider angle and introducing some noticeable vignetting at the edges of the frame which aren’t present when using a camera with an APS-C sized sensor.
This isn’t an especially popular prime lens when compared to the 50mm f/1.4 and f/1.8 models, though the enormous difference in cost goes a long way to explain why the ‘nifty fifty’ pair are selling by the lorry load and this isn’t.
This is a fantastic lens, and one I found more versatile than my usual low-light choice, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8. The shorter 35mm focal length gives a more natural field of view on a crop sensor camera, and also gives the added benefit of being able to use a slightly longer shutter speed before camera-shake becomes an issue.
Oh, and being a fixed focal length L-series lens from Canon, this thing is as sharp as they come.
So what’s the catch? Well that price tag is a pretty big catch in my book. See this lens has been around a long time; it pre-dates digital SLRs and was originally designed as a marginally wide-angle lens for 35mm film cameras. Sadly, when coupled with a full frame body vignetting around the edge of the frame becomes quite apparent. There’s no image stabilisation on this lens either, so it’s down to your own fair hands to keep things steady.
There’s a certain irony to this lens then that probably sums up perfectly why you don’t see too many about. It’s undoubtedly best suited to crop sensor DSLRs as a ‘normal’ lens, yet costs so much that virtually nobody who can afford this lens will be using anything less than a full frame body.
In fact if you do the sums it’s quite easy to talk yourself out of buying the 35mm L for most cropped sensor cameras; a Canon 600D with this lens would total about £1600, whereas a Canon 5D Mk II with the much cheaper 50mm f/1.4 USM lens would come in at around £1750. The focal length of both packages would be broadly similar, and whilst you would sacrifice a bit of aperture and the prestigious L lens build, it could be a better performing and more future-proof package.
The only camera then that could really do justice to this lens for normal use would probably be the 7D, but even then it’s a hefty investment. Unless the f/1.4 aperture and L-series build are especially important to you, then most APS-C camera owners are more likely to opt for the much cheaper EF 35mm f/2 lens.
The other reason you might choose the EF 35mm f/1.4 L is for a special occasion, either renting or borrowing it. If you happen to already own a Canon DSLR but need better quality than your current lens line-up allows then hiring one of these will definitely help you get some of the best results you and your camera are capable of.