Without lens hoods With lens hoods
Compared to the MkI version (left), the MkII has grown in both size and weight. With more glass inside, and beefed up build quality now with weather resistant seals, it's 31% heavier.

Size and weight both go up noticeably, due to the extra glass and more robust construction, including the welcome addition of weather resistant seals. The Canon MkII is now the heftiest 35mm F1.4 available, and at 762g and 106mm, it's 31% heavier and 23% longer than the MkI version that is more typical of the class average. In fact, the Canon 35mm F1.4 MkII is getting on for the same sort of overall dimensions as the Canon 24-70mm F2.8 MkII (807g, 113mm).

Externally, the barrel is made of engineering grade plastic to help reduce weight, but under the hood, build quality is on another level. It's above the already high professional standard expected of Canon's L-brand, and it's clear this is where a lot of the extra cost has been invested. We're grateful to our friends at Lens Rentals for their blow-by-blow teardown detailed in Roger Cicala's blog post, giving a close insight into what you're actually paying for.

It's built to last, with attention to detail and over-engineering of critical components. As Cicala says, "The weather resistance appears better than most... The mechanical construction is beyond impressive... It's built like a tank where it counts... Moving parts are huge and robust. Six big screws are used in locations where three small screws are common... Heavy roller bearings move the focusing group, it doesn't slide on little nylon collars... Things that will inevitably get damaged, like the front element and filter ring, are designed to be replaced easily."

LensRentals is also in a unique position to compare multiple copies from their huge stock, and Cicala noted good consistency and quality control when MTF checking ten copies of the Canon 35mm F1.4 MkII for sharpness – slightly above average.

"Nobody is engineering lens mechanics like the newer Canon lenses," says Roger Cicala of Lens Rentals, in his teardown of the Canon 35mm F1.4 MkII. Note the miniature roller-bearings for the focusing group (near hand, bottom-left) instead of sliding nylon collars. The MkII version now includes weather-resistant seals.

Handling and operation

Despite the extra heft, the MkII version balances nicely and handles well on larger full-frame cameras, like the Canon 5DS R used for testing. MkI version on left. 

The extra size and weight are less noticeable on the camera. The Canon 35mm F1.4 MkII is a well balanced and easy-handling match for the full-frame cameras that will realize its full potential such as the Canon 5D-series.

AF drive is Canon's USM ring-type ultrasonic, same as the MkI, but updated. In the near-to-far speed test it averaged a class-leading 0.3secs (2m to infinity, in good light on a Canon 5DS R) which is two-tenths faster than the MkI, itself no slouch. In fact, the actual mechanism is quicker than that but when it gets down to small fractions of a second, it's physically difficult to reframe the camera and operate the AF back-button any more rapidly. This lens will focus as fast as you can think. The only sound is a gentle little tap when it locks on to the sharp focus position, though it's barely audible.

There's full-time override manual focusing of course, plus AF/M switch. Manual focusing is smooth and just firm enough to avoid accidental movement. The long 150° throw provides fine control for better accuracy when depth-of-field is shallow.

There's full-time manual focus override with a smooth ring action that's nicely weighted and just a little firmer than one-finger light. Focus goes down to 28cm (11in) as measured conventionally from the sensor, or 13cm (5in) from the front of the lens, for a maximum magnification of 0.21x. That's in line with other same spec primes. Manual focus can be permanently engaged with the AF/MF switch, and the focusing ring turns through 150° from infinity to closest distance. This provides a good level of fine control and is a considerably longer throw than most zooms, but this lens autofocuses so well it's unlikely to be needed very often.

Focusing is down to 28cm (11in) from the sensor, for 0.21x magnification - similar to the class average. There's also a minimalist depth-of-field scale marked at F4, F11 and F22, applying to full-frame format. It's handy for hyperfocal distance setting, as shown for here F22.

There are abbreviated depth-of-field markings set against the focusing scale, applying to full-frame cameras (they're not accurate for APS-C format cameras, as sensor size affects DoF). Only F4, F11 and F22 apertures are marked and though not easy to read with any great accuracy due to the coarse distance increments, they're good for hyperfocal distance setting.

A petal-style lens hood is provided, made of tough plastic and lined with black flocking for good flare control. The ends have been squared-off so the MkII won't topple over when stood face-down, unlike the MkI. The MkII's EW-77B hood uses the newer Canon design, locking into position for extra security, released with an easy push-button.

Optical construction

Image via www.lenstip.com

The optical design features 14 elements in 11 groups, which is more than any other 35mm F1.4 lens, though the Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art comes a close second with 13 in 11. Compared to the Canon MkI version that has 11 in 9, the MkII adds one new low-refractive index UD glass element, and the number of aspherical profile surfaces has doubled to two.

The BR Optics layer is made of an organic material created by Canon, sandwiched between two glass elements. It is claimed to be particularly effective at reducing longitudinal chromatic aberration (LoCA) and certainly the Canon 35mm F1.4 MkII's high standard of CA control is unusually good. www.canon.com

This lens also debuts Canon's new BR Optics technology (full name Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics) for improved control of chromatic aberration (CA). This is a layer of 'organic material' that refracts blue light more strongly, sandwiched between two glass elements. It is not counted as a separate lens element and Canon describes it as having 'anomalous dispersion characteristics equal or greater than fluorite' which is a promising claim. Canon clearly has plans for BR Optics and it's already been glimpsed in a prototype Canon 600mm F4 DO BR.

In addition to Canon's usual multi-coating, there's SWC Sub-Wavelength Coating, similar to Nikon's Nano Crystal Coat. It's applied to the rear surface of the front aspherical element to specifically combat ghosting. Both external lens surfaces also have resilient and easy-clean fluorine coatings.

The aperture diaphragm now has nine rounded blades instead of eight, to slightly improve bokeh while ensuring that specular highlights form attractive 18-pointed stars, instead of eight from the MkI version.