Canon 35mm f/1.4 L USM

On 35mm cameras, this lens is in the starting area for wide angles, but on cropped dSLR’s it is more of a standard lens. It is, however, a very fast lens that can be used in situations where ‘normal’ lenses would not be able to cope. We take a look at how it performs.

Canon 35mm f/1.4 L USMSpecification

  • Focal length 35mm
  • Aperture f/1.4
  • Angle of view
  • Filter size / type 72mm
  • Construction Elements/groups 11 elements in 9 groups
  • Focusing type Internal USM
  • Closest focus 0.3m
  • Weight 0.580kg
  • Dimensions (Dia x length) 79x86mm
  • Mounts available Canon EF
  • Tripod bush No
  • Price £

Build and Handling
Prime lenses can seem very simple to use after some of the modern zooms and the simplicity eases the achievement of build quality. A single focussing ring in front of a classic distance window that is marked with a useful depth-of-field scale pretty well sums up this lens. The only other control on the lens is the switch that changes the focussing from Manual to Autofocus.

The lens seems a little large compared to say, an 18-55mm zoom, but this is due to the wide aperture that this lens sports.

Autofocus is almost silent, quite quick due to the USM motor and didn’t hunt at all on a 1D, although it does have a little think about it in low light on a 300D. We are only pointing this out because there was little else to fault with the handling of this lens.

Optical Performance
As you would expect from a prime lens, especially one with Canon’s famous L suffix, the optical performance was good. You will see from the chart that a gentle curve is achieved with no wild jumps from one stop to the next, always the sign of a well-produced lens. It also manage to start from a decent wide open performance, showing that it has not been pushed beyond what it is designed for.

The only place it is let down, and here only slightly, is in the control of chromatic aberrations. As it is not a new lens and is designed originally for 35mm, the control of these anomalies has come on a long way since the introduction of digital and this lens has been left behind a little with modern techniques.

Images display good detail and contrast

The lens achieves good depth-of-field

Virtually no distortion is produced

Click on each comparision photo below to view full size versions

35mm set at f/8

35mm set at f/1.4

Below is our lens test data. To find out how to use these graphs look at this article: How we test lenses

The build quality and heritage of his lens is unquestionable and for full frame sensors or 35mm, it is still in the top flight. As a standard prime on a cropped sensor dSLR it will do a good job, but might just be out-performed by some of the younger opposition.

In summary the main positive points of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L USM are:
Excellent Build
Good low light performance
Consistent performance

Negative points are:
Starting to show its age.

Check the latest price of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 L USM here

Test by Ian Andrews

By: Jan 6530 days ago
It's too bad this wasn't tested on a full frame like a 5D, that's were this lens would really shine.
The examples shown here look oversharpened, they have all kinds of jaggies.
By: DaveCham 5666 days ago
Yes I agree, such a lens more or less becomes a 'standard' 50mm lens on 35mm or full-frame. Should only be relevant on full-frame really.

Even taking advantage of the crop sensor cameras using only the central 'sweet spot' of the image circle, the results of the full sized image provided here, doesn't look all that sharp, in my opinion.

I certainly wouldn't be happy with this performance if I purchased a new sample of this lens which performed only to this level. I would be returning it very promptly!

It will be interesting to see if the new Mk II version performs any better.

David Chamberlain

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