Conclusion

 Pros Cons
  • Very, very sharp, best in class
  • Outstanding performance from F1.4, right across the frame
  • Aberrations well controlled. BR Optics layer works well at reducing both lateral and axial CA (purple/green fringing)
  • High resistance to flare
  • Attractive bokeh, with 18-pointed stars from specular highlights
  • Very efficient AF - fast, quiet, unfailingly accurate
  • Military-grade build quality, now weather-resistant
  • Large and heavy compared to rivals
  • No image stabilization
  • Expensive

Canon has thrown everything it's got at the 35mm F1.4L USM MkII, with a ground-up remake of the MkI original from 1998. This is a lens with the most advanced and innovative optics, heavy duty construction, and lightning autofocus - the whole nine yards. It is priced accordingly.

Every aspect of performance is best in class, and it's the joint-sharpest lens we've ever tested (this side of mega-bucks big tele-primes). It's especially impressive at F1.4, with very high sharpness extending right to the edges. The new BR Optics layer does its job of keeping chromatic aberrations under control, with unusually low levels of axial CA (typically seen as purple or green fringing in front of or behind, respectively, the focal plane).

We're indebted to Lens Rentals for the teardown exposé, revealing the full extent of Canon's endeavors under the hood. It sets a new standard of robust build quality, now with a high level of weather resistance, too.

With the extra glass and beefed-up build, it's hefty for a 35mm F1.4, significantly more bulky than its predecessor, and actually nearer the size and weight of the Canon 24-70mm F2.8L USM MkII. Yet it balances well on the larger full-frame cameras that best exploit its full potential.

There is no image stabilization. Canon has that option very effectively covered with the non-L 35mm F2 IS USM, and it would add yet more bulk and cost.

None of this comes cheap and the Canon MkII is easily the most expensive 35mm F1.4 on the market. The street price is well over double its nearest rival, namely Sigma's formidable 35mm F1.4 Art - the previous class leader in terms of optical performance.

The final word

This is the best 35mm F1.4 prime currently available. On performance overall, it leaves all-comers floundering in its wake with outstanding image quality, especially at F1.4, and extra-robust build. Some rivals come close optically, but none offers a total package to match the Canon 35mm F1.4L USM MkII.

Its only real weaknesses are the high price and weight, and while it still represents decent value when all aspects of performance are taken into account, it's hard to ignore the appeal of much cheaper alternatives. The Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art gets near optically, and Canon's own non-L 35mm F2 IS USM offers a different take on things with a slower F2 maximum aperture, but very efficient image stabilization and much lower cost. Along the same lines, the Tamron 35mm F1.8 VC is another appealing candidate, albeit with considerably more axial CA.

Canon EF 35mm F1.4L II USM
Category: Wideangle Lens
Optical Quality
Build Quality
Autofocus
Ergonomics and Handling
Value
PoorExcellent
Conclusion
The 35mm F1.4L II USM is a fantastic lens from Canon. Ultra-sharp and impressively free of aberrations at all apertures and across the frame, it tops the class. Exceptional build quality raises the bar still further, but it all comes at a cost. Much cheaper rivals also offer great image quality, some with image stabilization too, but when only the best will do, the Canon 35mm F1.4L USM Mark II stands alone.
Good for
Reportage, weddings and environmental portraits. Unparalleled sharpness when used wide open, good for blurring backgrounds and subject isolation, or in low light. Robust build when the going gets tough.
Not so good for
Those on a tighter budget, or wanting image stabilization, or looking for something lighter.
91%
Overall score

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