Sunday, September 11, 2011

Canon EF 35mm f/2 Review

So you're one of those people looking for a 50mm equivalent lens for your crop sensor Canon DSLR? Were you considering the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 or the Canon 28mm f/1.8? Hit the jump to see how I made my choice and went with the Canon 35mm f/2, one of Canon's understated lenses.

P.S. For this post I skipped my usual 600px sharpened images and posted 1000px images, so you can click on any picture to see the 1000px larger version.


If you have read my post about the prime lenses, you'll find that I was looking for a 50mm equivalent prime to compliment my longer primes, at first my heart was set on the Sigma 30mm f/1.4, it is an excellent lens with great image and build quality, it ships with a hood and has Sigma's quick and silent HSM focusing, and being an f/1.4 lens costing around $400, it was a real bargain. When I started making some inquiries I quickly discovered that 3rd party lenses sometimes have focusing problems, some people have the focusing spot on from the first sample, while others had problems focusing in low light, and neither did I have the luxury of returning the lens and trying another one until I found one that focused correctly on my camera, nor did I have the option to send my camera plus the lens for Sigma to calibrate them, thus I skipped the whole Sigma idea despite the many attractions.

At that time, I missed Canon's 35mm f/2 and thought they only had the expensive 35mm f/1.4 L, so when I saw Kirk Tuck's blog about the 35mm f/2 I was very excited, I found a 50mm equivalent prime, it was small, it was cheap and it was a Canon (i.e. no AF problems), but what about the buzzy AF motor? It was a small inconvenience that I can easily get over, so let's quickly jump to the review of the actual lens.

Stadium at dusk, shot @ f/2.2


Before I start  talking about the attributes of the lens, the first and foremost reason I bought this lens is the viewing angle, the widest angle prime lens I have is the 50mm f/1.8, and it is barely usable indoors for anything other than tight shots, if you're sitting on a table and try to shoot someone sitting  across, you wouldn't be able to get his head in the frame with the 50mm (we're talking crop sensor here) without moving back, but with the 35mm (~56mm full frame equivalent) you can get the shot you want from a close distance, the viewing angle on the 35mm is close to what our eyes are used to seeing.

The 35mm also enables you to shoot portraits at a close distance without too much distortion to the facial features, unlike wider angles like the 28mm and the 24mm primes.

My friend was sitting directly across the table, one of my favorite portraits, 1/1000, f/2, ISO 100

A goal keeper angry because of  the many goals that entered, 1/250, f/2.2, ISO 1600

Now this is not a sharp picture but I really like the expression and the story this picture tells, my brother took this picture @ 1/50, f/2, ISO 1250


The size of this lens is just perfect, it is small and light enough to be discreet, it is my most used prime and the one I usually go to whenever I pick my camera. It is very similar in size to Canon's 50mm f/1.8 II.

35mm f/2 mounted to my 60D, you can see the lens hood reversed


The 35mm proved to be quiet sharp starting from f/2, becoming sharper at f/2.8 and getting really sharp by f/4. Some will say that the lens is not that sharp at the corners, but how does corner sharpness matter when there is already nothing there but blurred backgrounds? I don't use the 35mm to shoot architecture or landscapes. Check the following examples shot wide open @ f/2, now you tell me if these are sharp or not (all the shots in this post are hand held, down to 1/15 sec).

Desk Chair, 1/250, f/2, ISO 100

Fork, 1/60, f/2, ISO 1600

Ice Cream, 1/400, f/2, ISO 200

Guava Juice, hand held, 1/15, f/2, ISO 3200

Leaf (KL Bird Park), 1/1600, f/2, ISO 400

Bird (KL Bird Park), 1/8000, f/2, ISO 400


I like this lens' image quality, all the pictures I take with this lens are contrasty and the colors do pop, every time I use this lens I like it even more.I have hardly noticed any significant chromatic abberation wide open (unlike my 85 f/1.8) which makes me a happy shooter.

The bokeh is also quite smooth (unlike my 50mm f/1.8), take a look at the examples above. The lens has 5 aperture blades which results in pentagon shaped out of focus highlights, some people might not like this, but as long as you're shooting close to wide open you won't notice it, below is one extreme example of pentagon shaped highlights.

Kuala Lumpur Airport, 1/40, f/4, ISO 1600


The build quality of the lens is good for a lens of this price and size, it has a metal mount, a distance scale and a good focusing ring, although it is not weather sealed, it feels very robust and strong. One thing I like about this lens is that when you have the focusing switch on AF, you can turn the focusing ring freely without breaking the focusing mechanism.


This lens doesn't have USM focusing, and it is famous for it's buzzy auto focusing motor. I find that the sounds it makes during auto focusing are not that noisy unless you're in a very quiet environment. Focusing is also very quick and very accurate on my 60D, I tend to use other focus points than the center one and I never had a problem. I have compiled a quick video that would show you the focusing sound of this lens.

One more benefit of this lens is the minimum focusing distance, it can focus as close as 25cm which enables you to get shots like these:

Little Hands, 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 1600, notice the smooth bokeh

1/1250, f/2, ISO 100, notice the sharpness and the smooth bokeh

Candle Lights, 1/250, f/2.2, ISO 1600


All in all, I find this lens superb for what it does, first of all it is cheap (~ $300) and it is small and light enough, as I mentioned before, this is my most used prime lens, I usually pick it up when I'm going out and not sure about the situations that I am going to encounter. With the 35mm I can shoot portraits, I can shoot close ups or I can shoot semi-wide angle shots, I can shoot in low light and I can have a shallow DoF at will. In my opinion, this is my all-purpose lens (more so than the 15-85mm zoom), and I would encourage anyone to buy this little gem, thanks Kirk for bringing this lens to my attention.

I will now show you some general pictures I took with this lens, if you have any questions or comments please don't keep them to yourself and share them with us all here.

Dusit Thani Hotel, 1/60, f/2.8, ISO 125

Dusit Thani Hotel, 1/50, f/2.8, ISO 100

Spectra Restaurant, 1/250, f/2, ISO 1600

Go Kart, 1/80, f/2.5, ISO 800

Smart Village, 1/2000, f/4, ISO 100

Kuala Lumpur Downtown, 1/30, f/2.8, ISO 640


Canon Lenses Chat - Part 1: Standard Zoom Lenses
Canon Lenses Chat - Part 2: Telephoto Zoom Lenses
Canon Lenses Chat - Part 3: Prime Lenses
Macro Talk: Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro USM
Quick Review: Canon 85mm f/1.8
Canon EF Lenses Chat: Canon EF 200mm f/2.8L II USM Review
Canon EF Lenses Chat: Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Review