Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM review: A ‘fast’ wide-angle prime for the 21st Century

By Paul Carroll - Wednesday February 06 2013

Lens Review
Introduction | Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens performance | Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM versus competition | Conclusion

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM vs. Canon EF 35mm f/2: The new lens offers optical improvements

With a Lens Metric Score of 17P-Mpix compared to 15P-Mpix the updated Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM boasts a 15% improvement in Sharpness compared to its predecessor.

With the old 1990’s version available for just $320 there’s a chasm in price compared to the recent $849 version. So alongside the additional IS and USM features what does that extra $529 buy you in terms of performance. Well, dive back into our review of the old Canon EF 35mm f/2 and the main criticism was poor sharpness at the edges using wider apertures and that, thankfully, has been corrected.

With a DxOMark Score of 29 points for the new version, tested on the Canon 5D MKII, compared to just 22 for its predecessor, the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM delivers 30% more information. An increased Sharpness Score from 15P-Mpix on the old version to 17P-Mpix represents a 15% improvement in sharpness overall and although results in the centre are a bit better it’s in the corners where the big advances have been made. Edge Sharpness has improved 15% and although, like you’d expect from a wide-angle, there’s some drop off at the wider aperture settings the results are a significant improvement. If it’s homogeneous sharpness you’re after however then simply stop the lens down to f/5.6 and edge to edge sharpness is a reality all the way through to f/22.

The other big improvement is the brightness of the new Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM and with a Lens Metric Score for Transmission of 2TStop compared to 2.3TStop, this latest Canon 35mm lens is +0.4Ev brighter. Distortion, Vignetting and Chromatic Aberration are very similar between the two however with no discernable difference in real world terms.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM
With the aperture wide open at f/2 the updated Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM offers a big improvement in Edge Sharpness over its predecessor.
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM
The new Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM’s other big advantage is its brightness and with a TStop Score of 2TStop compared to 2.3TStop it’s +0.4Ev brighter than its predecessor.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM vs. Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM vs. Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM: Three wide-angle Canon EF lenses go head to head

So if you’ve ruled out the cheaper original version and decided to splash the big bucks is the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM the lens to go for, or is there a better Canon wide-angle prime available?

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM
Of the three Canon wide-angle primes released in 2012 the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM is the best with an Overall DxOMark Score of 29 compared to 26 for the 24mm & 28mm versions.
 

The $799 Canon EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM and the $849 Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM both offer a wider field of view than the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM but a smaller f/2.8 maximum aperture. With a DxOMark Score of 29 the Canon 35mm ranks best overall (tested on a Canon 5D MKII) but with 26 points the others aren’t far behind if you need a wider angle. In terms of Sharpness all three perform well but with a Sharpness Score of 17P-Mpix both the 35mm & 24mm versions have the edge, compared to 15P-Mpix on the 28mm version, and as such are around +15% sharper. That’s not the whole story though as at f/2.8 – the maximum aperture on both the 24mm & 28mm versions – the 28mm offers the most homogeneous performance, which could be an important factor depending on what you’re shooting. Offering the longest focal length of the three lenses the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM has the advantage in terms of physics and at f/2.8 it’s much brighter than its two rivals achieving a Transmissions Score of 2TStop compared to 2.8TStop, making the 35mm 1 Stop brighter overall. Lens shading is also more difficult to control at wider focal lengths and aperture settings so it’s no surprise that the Canon EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM has the worst Vignetting Score of -2Ev compared to -1.8Ev on the 35mm and 28mm versions with the effect at f/2.8 being controlled best by the Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM.

Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM
With equal Sharpness Scores of 17P-Mpix the 35mm & 24mm versions are +15% sharper than the 28mm version although the latter offers better homogeneous sharpness at f/2.8
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM
Offering the widest angle of view the 24mm version suffers the most from corner shading, which at the maximum aperture of f/ 2.8 encroaches heavily into the frame