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


  1. I agree with your review of this little gem of a lens. It is a wonderful standard lens on crop sensor cameras and I have one mounted on my 450d. The colors, contrast and sharpness are very good plus distortion is nearly non existent.

  2. I can share my experience with buying a sigma lens. I wanted to buy a standard 2.8 zoom lens and was considering the Tamron 17 50 2.8 but eventually bought the sigma 17 70 2.8-4 just because of the sigma service we have over here in Israel. You can schedule an appointment to get your new sigma lens and camera calibrated.they will take the lens, put it on a special bayonet and calibrate it using a PC application. Now my Sigma is actually even sharper and more calibrated than my other 3 Nikons.
    You have a great blog - keep on the good work !

  3. Thanks efik for sharing your experience with us, I wish we had Sigma dealers here in Egypt, or Canon for that matter.

  4. Nice review shafik, I didn't use a 35mm f/2 yet, and I want to upgrade. The 35mm f/2 is an excellent choice. But my requirement is a little bit different than yours. So allow me to share my thoughts about normal/wide lens upgrade.

    For me my requirements for the upgrade is to have a lens wider than 50mm for landscape and group photos. It must be fast for low light photos. it should have a very good autofocus performance, and excellent image quality.

    I am too spoiled by the sharpness and low light magic of my 50mm 1.8, but autofocus performance of 50mm f1.8 in dim light is not spectacular. and handling the focus ring of the 50mm 1.8 is a real pain.

    I am thinking about 28mm f/1.8 USM as an addition to my collection. for two reasons:

    1) The 28mm f/1.8 has a USM focus and full time manual override. I like the FTM focus cause I generally do not trust autofocus shooting portrait in dim light and I always need to adjust the focus. And I use manual focus for shooting video. Cause canon EOS do not do video continous autofocus yet, and switching off the autofocus button for manual override and forgetting to turn it back on, made me loose many important shots.

    2) The second reason for choosing the 28mm 1.8 is that's it's wider that 50mm which give me a chance to shoot group photos and landscape. I like the "post card perspective" the wide focal length of the 20-28mm lenses make on the crop sensors.

    I believe you already have efs 15-85mm which is wide sharp and an excellent performance lens. and that you may need the 35mm f2 as a light small and a bit wider 50mm replacement. That's why your choice is excellent.

    Anyway, It's nice to read your review and please post your flickr link to follow your photos stream. I already following Mic.

  5. Thanks Ibrahim, I agree with your reasons for choosing the 28mm, but I like the 35mm in that it's not too wide and I can shoot portraits without distorting the faces. One more thing that worries me about the 28 is the flare when there's a light source in the frame and it's relative softness.

    I believe you can shoot landscapes just fine with the 18-55 kit lens, it's sharp, small and has IS, and to gain a large DOF for landscapes you'll be shooting at f/8 or smaller. Same might apply for group photos, to get a suitable DOF you'll be using small apertures.

    Finally, I don't have a flickr stream, I only post my photos on this blog and sometimes on dpreview, the majority of my shooting are family photos, and those I don't share on the web.

  6. Hey, I know its a pretty old article but I'm interested in your opinion. I have a 60d with Tamron 17-50/2.8 non vc, I use this for indoor family photos mostly. I'm not happy with it at all, it seems to be soft at 2.8-4, and I have focusing problems with it too (front focus sometimes, cant reproduce too often but its there). I'm looking for a prime lens for indoors (low light) use, thats how Canon 35/2 came up. I'm wondering if its a good choice or not (I'm considering to look at the new sigma 34/1.4 or new canon 35/2 is too, even if I know they are a bit expensive). I know you had this 35/2 lens, would that solve my problems, what do you think?


  7. oh and one more thing: since I'm not happy with my 17-50 (cant calibrate it here, no tamron service in the country), what would you replace it with? 24-105? 24-70 ? (I dont consider 15-85, its efs) I know you are out of this upgrade race, but maybe your experiences can help me to choose.

    1. Hi Jozsef, thanks for checking in, I might have sold my Canon equipment, but everyone around me (brother, cousin, friends) still use Canon stuff, and I am their technical advisor.

      Well, let's break-down your inquiries to several parts:

      1. You're not happy with the Tamron 17-50, might be a focusing issue, and your 60D doesn't have focus tuning, and there are no Tamron service around, same situation as in Egypt.

      That's why I would go for the Canon route, there are the 17-55 and the 15-85, but you don't want EF-S (I don't get that, while your Tamron is already crop-sensor only, same as EF-S), but by buying the 24-105, you lose a lot of the wide-end, try your Tamron on 24mm and see how would you live with that as your widest angle, if it's ok, you will like the 24-105, it's one of Canon's most reliable lenses, and very robust with good IS and weather proofing. The 24-70 is more expensive, has been discontinued and has a very large sample variation, you might not want to test your luck on an expensive lens.

      2. You're wondering about the 35 f/2, have you carefully considered that focal length? Again, try living with your Tamron on 35mm for a while and see if you like that focal length, or would like it a bit tighter, or wider. If you decide you like that, here are a few things to consider:

      - Canon 35 f/2 (non-IS) is not the sharpest lens at f/2, it is ok, but not WOW sharp, it gets quite good @ f/2.8 and much much better @ f/4. It is very small, has "L" lens colors and contrast and very pleasant to use.

      - Canon 35 f/2 IS, I have not read a lot about this one, but it is larger than the original one and much more expensive, I am not sure if it's better than the Sigma f/1.4, I couldn't help you with this.

      - Canon 35 f/1.4, very large, heavy and expensive, but people seem to regard it very highly.

      - Sigma 35 f/1.4, it seems an incredible choice if price is not an issue.

      - Sigma 30 f/1.4, if you have a Sigma dealer and would be able to send your camera with it for caliration, it is incredible, but it won't work on full frame.

      - Canon 40 f/2.8, a tiny pancake, and not much tighter than 35mm, very cheap as well, $150, it is incredibly sharp as well, but f/2.8 is the same as your kit lens.

      If I were to choose today, I would go for largest aperture first, minimum size and quality, my choices would be in the following order: Sigma 30 f/1.4 (if there is a Sigma dealer), Sigma 35 f/1.4, Canon 35 f/2.

    2. thanks for the detailed answer! I'll do as you suggested: set my Tamron to 35mm (and 24) and see how I like what I see. Brilliant and safe :) My problem with efs is not too serious (locking myself out from FF world, but I dont want to change to FF anytime soon anyway), so I'll conside those too.

      Also thank for the info about 35mm lenses!

  8. 28mm is much better for a crop frame Canon body

  9. good job on the review. I use the 1.4L version for work, but when I travel I would bring this f2 version instead. its so light and small, being 1 stop slower than the 1.4 is a small sacrifice i'm willing to make. the noise does not bother me much, the very fun to use canon 15mm fisheye makes exactly the same noise too.

  10. I own a Canon 7D, and purchased the 28mm USM. I wanted to upgrade from my nifty-fifty, and the colors on the 28mm seemed distorted in comparison to the 50mm. I also thought the image quality of the 50mm 1.8 was better. (Maybe I got a bad copy)? For paying nearly four times the price, I was very dissatisfied, and ended up purchasing a Tamron 28-75 zoom instead, which I like very much. Again, though, I think my image quality was better with the 50mm, but I always felt like I did not have enough comfortable space being on a crop sensor, so I am going to try out the 35mm f/2 is usm. I photograph newborns and babies often, so now that the USM version is available, I opted for the quieter version. I am hoping I love it, as a good friend of mine uses a Nikon 35mm and it produces amazing images.


Thanks for your comment. It will be published as soon as we get a chance to review it, sorry for that, but we get lots of spam with malicious links.