I’ll be honest here and say straight off the bat that I prefer to shoot with zoom lenses. I have heard the arguments “prime lenses have better image quality”, “prime lenses are better made”, “prime lenses never go wrong” etc. but I started off with zoom lenses, I have never had issues with zoom lens image quality or build quality, and I have never had issues with zoom lenses giving up the ghost and failing. Consequently, I stuck to zoom lenses until recently.
Recently I bought a Canon 35mm f2 IS prime lens and I have to admit it is a cracking lens and one I find I am using more and more in my photography. There are loads of reviews about this lens but rather than give a long, drawn out account of my experience using this lens, as well as my thoughts and opinions I thought I would draft a few pros and cons I have found during my ownership of this lens.
Pros of the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens
1) It’s sharp but not too sharp. Super sharp lenses show minute details such as spots, pimples, blemishes and variations in skin tone, therefore they are not ideal for portrait photography. That said, you still need a sharp lens for portraits otherwise the photos are too soft. The key is getting a lens that is sharp but not so sharp to show the blemishes etc. and this is where this lens sits.
2) It’s small and lightweight. I needed a small and lightweight 35mm lens and this fits the bill perfectly. Whilst the lens is small it is not so small that changing from AF to MF and then manually turning the focusing ring is cumbersome. Some lenses are too small to use manual focusing quickly and efficiently, however this does not apply to this lens. The size of the lens means it doesn’t intimidate models and I can get in nice and close and stick the lens right in front of the model and they barely batter an eyelid.
3) It’s well made. Even though the Canon 35mm f2 IS isn’t an L series lens it is still exceptionally well made. The lens not only looks like it is well made but also feels like it is well made too. This lens feels nice and solid and is bullet proof. This lens is top quality, almost to the same standard as an L series lens, and you won’t get better value for the money.
4) The f2 aperture. The f2 aperture is fast and shooting wide enables me to capture a tack sharp subject against a nicely blurred out background, even when there is not the space available to pull the model away from the background. This lens is also plenty sharp enough used at wide apertures, and the bokeh is gorgeous. An f2 aperture is obviously narrower than an f1.4 aperture but it is still plenty wide enough for portraits.
5) The image stabilisation technology. Many photographers don’t think you need image stabilisation on a 35mm prime lens, however I have to say I disagree. The image stabilisation means I can shoot at slower shutter speeds and still get tack sharp handheld shots when light levels start to fade. It is also great for photos in alley ways, under bridges, in the shadow of buildings and all other places where light levels are restricted.
Cons of the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens
1) It’s not an f1.4. When it comes to portrait photography it is generally a case of “the wider the better” and whilst this lens is wide enough for most situations there are times when you really need a lens that will open up to f1.4.
2) It’s not an L series lens. L series lenses are awesome. They are made from the best materials, they contain the best optics and they are weather sealed. L series lenses are the ultimate but this lens isn’t one. That’s not to say it isn’t very well made or have good optics though. It just means it isn’t quite up there with the L series lenses.
3) It doesn’t come with a lens bag. A minor point but it is annoying when you go and drop a few hundred bucks on a lens and then have to get your wallet out again and buy a lens bag or lens case. This lens doesn’t come with any type pf lens bag or lens case so you need to factor in the cost of one of these in the purchase price.
4) All things considered the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens is a cracking lens and, if it suits your shooting style and subject matter, one I highly recommend. Is the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens for you? Only you can answer this however before making your final decision I suggest you take a trip down your local camera shop, try one out, take a few test shots and see for yourself.
Why I bought the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens
I think I made it pretty clear at the start of this article I prefer zoom lenses, so you may be reading this thinking to yourself “if he like zoom lenses so much why did he buy the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens?
Well, I was asked to take some portrait shots of a couple of friends in some urban surroundings. After a few test shots I realised 35mm was the ideal focal length and that I needed a small, light and discreet lens that wouldn’t attract too much attention. I also wanted a small lens so I could get up nice and close to the models without intimidating them. I have a Canon 28-70 f2.8L lens I usually use for portraits but this is a big and heavy lens, and not what I was after.
I also have a Canon 16mm – 35mm f4L IS lens, which is small and discreet but the widest aperture of f4 wasn’t going to produce a depth of field shallow enough in urban surroundings. I guess I could make sure I get the models as far away from the background as possible, but this is not always possible when out on location.
I was looking at a 35mm f1.4 lens but they are so damn expensive, and since this lens wasn’t going to be used that much (or so I thought at the time) I opted for the Canon 35mm f2L IS lens instead. The 1.4 got rave reviews and would have been the ultimate lens for the job but I simply couldn’t justify spending such a large amount on a prime lens. The 35mm f2 IS lens got great write ups and with its significantly lower price tag it seemed to be a viable alternative.
A few hundred quid is a lot of money to spend on a lens I wasn’t going to use much so rather than jumping on the internet and ordering the lens online I decided to go to the local camera shop, have a look at this lens in the flesh and take a few test shots. After a couple of shots I knew the Canon 35mm f2 IS lens was the perfect tool for the up and coming shoot.
If you are looking for a Canon 35mm f2 IS lens you may want to take a look at Amazon, where there are always loads of deals to be had. Try the Amazon search box for yourself and see if you can grab yourself a bargain.
If you found the above useful/informative below are some other posts detailing the pros and cons (from my personal experience) of other Canon lenses that may be of interest to you. Please do feel free to take a look.
“PROS AND CONS OF THE CANON 8 – 15 FISHEYE LENS” Since this lens can capture diagonal fisheye photos and full circular fisheye photos it is effectively two fish eye lenses in one, and without a doubt the best fisheye lens on the market for Canon cameras. It really is a cool lens.
“PROS AND CONS OF THE CANON 70 – 200 F4L IS LENS” This is not Canon’s top end flag ship 70 – 200 zoom lens however it is the best value for money and gives the biggest bang for the buck. If you want a 70 – 200 zoom lens and can live without the f2.8 aperture this is the lens for you. A truly excellent lens.
“PROS AND CONS OF THE CANON 16 – 35 F4L IS LENS” This lens is, without a doubt, the best wide angle lens for Canon cameras. It is cheaper than the f2.8 version, it is smaller than the f2.8L version and the image quality is better than the f2.8L version. If you want a wide angle lens for you Canon camera look no further than this.
“PROS AND CONS OF THE CANON 100 – 400L IS LENS” This is an affordable and versatile super zoom lens, and if you want a long reach this lens is right up your street. You may have to spend a few pounds to get one of these but is the best value for money super zoom lens around. Get one of these and I guarantee you will not be disappointed.
“PROS AND CONS OF THE CANON 100 F2.8L IS MACRO LENS” This is Canon’s flagship macro lens and when you see it, feel it and use it you will soon see why. If macro and close up are your thing you need this lens. If products and still life subjects are your thing this is your lens. This is the sharpest lens I own and when I use it I have to watch my fingers.
“PROS AND CONS OF THE CANON 28 – 300L IS F3.5 – 5.6 LENS” Many photographers give this lens a hard time and I struggle to see why. Okay, it is expensive but you get an L series lens that is bullet proof, has image stabilization, has excellent build quality and has the ability to capture a huge range of different shots. This is the perfect walkabout and travel lens, and one I carry around on my 6d all the time.
“PROS AND CONS OF THE CANON 24 – 70 F2.8L LENS” This is, without a doubt, one of the best portrait lenses of all time. This lens has been my workhorse for many years now and I wouldn’t be without it. I love this lens, and I am sure you would too.
Keen photographer addicted to cameras, lenses and everything photography related. Feel free to follow me in my photography ramblings, and if you have any thoughts, comments, queries or anything else to add I would love to hear from you.