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Another 35mm Lens for Canon

Published December 13, 2012

It seems we had barely finished testing the new Sigma 35mm f/1.4 lens when the first shipment of Canon 35mm f/2 IS lenses arrived. I’d describe my feelings as more interested than excited. This finishes (I think) the Canon wide-angle IS consumer-grade lens trilogy.

We’d found the previous members, the Canon 24mm f/2.8 IS and Canon 28mm f/2.8 IS good lenses at premium prices. We had some interest in the Canon 35mm f/2 IS, although I have to admit that Sigma’s preemptive strike with an excellent 35mm f/1.4 at almost exactly the same price had dampened that enthusiasm a bit. For those of you who don’t have a scorecard handy, this is the current autofocus lens lineup at 35mm if you’re shooting Canon.


Canon 35mm f/2Canon 35mm f/2 ISCanon 35mm f/1.4Sigma 35mm f/1.4

For those who don’t mind manually focusing, there are also the Zeiss 35mm f/2 ($1117) and f/1.4 ($1843) lenses, and the RokiBowYang 35mm f/1.4 at $479. Nice to have choices, isn’t it?

OK, let’s start with a comparison shot in the Luxurious Lensrental’s Lab (yes, that is indeed an authentic particleboard work table). The new Canon 35 f/2 IS is a bit bigger than I expected, and has a plastic barrel, but seems solidly made. I’m not sure it’s meaningful, but the 6 people here who’ve handled it to a person commented on the manual focus ring feeling a bit different. Several said, “It feels like a Nikon lens” which isn’t a bad thing, just different.

Left to right: Canon 35mm f/2, 35mm f/2 IS, 35mm f/1.4 L, and Sigma 35mm f/1.4

 Today’s Testing

We did our usual Imatest work today, but also are going to look at some results from our new optical bench that we’ve been playing with testing. This gives us, in addition to our Imatest results, the ability to evaluate lenses focused at infinity, test without using a test camera, and access to some data we haven’t had before.


Aaron, pretending he knows what he’s doing at the Wells bench.


As always, this isn’t a review; I’m not a lens reviewer. It’s the results of putting the lens through our normal intake tests. Well, and this time doing a few extra things in the name of further education.

Also, as always, my summary comes first, for those of you who have trouble reading more than 150 words without a picture.

This is a nice lens with a very nice IS system at a fairly high price. If you need a 35mm Image Stabilized lens, this is the one for you. If you don’t need an Image Stabilized lens, it’s not. Not when you can get the Sigma for the same money. Or you can get the still-surprisingly-good-and-a-real-bargain 35mm f/2 for less than half the money.

On To the Tests

We had only 5 copies of the new Canon 35mm f/2 IS, and pulled 5 copies each of the Canon 35mm f/1.4 and Canon 35mm f/2 Canon lenses, as well as the 35mm f/1.4 Sigma in Canon mount.

First I’ll put up our usual graph of Imatest results. These were all shot at f/2 to equalize things. Center sharpness is the horizontal axis, 13 point average sharpness the vertical axis, measured in line pairs / image height from 5D II raw files.

The biggest reason I included this graph was as an example that bad lenses are really different then lens-to-lens variation. You can see one of the 35mm f/1.4 lenses was bad, all alone down there at the bottom. How bad? You would have passed it looking at an online-size jpg, but at 100% on a monitor it was clearly not sharp.


From a resolution standpoint it is pretty clear that the Sigma 35mm has the best MTF50. The Canon 35 f/1.4 L shot at f/2 maybe is a bit better than the new f/2 IS which is probably a bit better than the old 35mm f/2. They’re all close, though, that may just be hair splitting. But charting the numbers (throwing out the bad 35L, of course, and replacing it with a good copy) provides a bit more detail.


 Center MTF50Avg MTF 50Corner MTF 50
Canon 35mm f/2835685240
Canon 35mm f/2 IS840715390
Canon 35mm f/1.4 @ 1.4660565345
Canon 35mm f/1.4 @ 2830725490
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 @ 1.4775665445
Sigma 35mm f/1.4 @ 2915775545

Looking at the average (mean) for center, average, and corners shows a bit more about the lenses. The old 35mm f/2 does quite well in the center and mid-lens areas, but it’s pretty awful in the corners. The new 35mm f/2 IS and the classic 35mm f/1.4 L do much better in the corners, with the 35 L (stopped down to f/2) clearly better than the new f/2 IS. But the Sigma does better than any of them.

As always, remember these are just one measurement of resolution. There’s a lot more to a lens than resolution, of course.

Our new toys let us do some other measurements as well. Chromatic aberration is low for the Sigma and the new IS f/2 lens at 0.7% and 0.9% respectively at the lateral edges. The Canon 35mm L is higher at 1.3% and the original 35mm f/2 far worse at almost 2%. The Sigma also had the lowest distortion at 1% barrel, with the 35L higher at 1.3%, and both the new and old 35mm f/2 versions at 1.4%.

One other thing that’s interesting is to compare sagittal and tangential MTF lines from center to corner on the lenses. Below are the measurements for Canon 35mm f/2 IS and the Sigma 35mm f/1.4. Notice that these show MTF30, not MTF50 as we reported above, so the numbers are different. I didn’t put the graph of the Canon 35L up, but it’s nearly identical to the f/2 IS graph below.

Canon 35mm f/2 IS



Sigma 35mm f/1.4 @ 1.4


Notice the Canon horizontal and vertical lines are very equal and even, while the Sigma shows much more astigmatism (this is true on multiple copies, not just the one used in the example). I’m not the world’s authority on such things, but this may well explain why some people are finding the Sigma’s bokeh (out-of-focus highlights) less attractive than the Canon’s. Hopefully some of the readers who are more bokeh knowledgeable than I will comment on this.

On the other hand, here’s one of the interesting advantages of being able to also test at infinity now. Below is a graph of MTF at various frequencies from the optical bench, so this is at infinity, rather than 12 feet like Imatest result above was. This shows the Sigma (on the left), with almost no astigmatism at infinity.

It will be interesting to see if bokeh appearance varies with shooting distance with that lens. It may not, of course, there are lots of other factors that contribute to bokeh.


Left to right: Sigma 35mm f/1.4, Canon 35mm f/1.4, Canon 35mm f/2 IS


Don’t ask me about the 35mm f/2 original version because I didn’t check it. I really do have stuff I’m supposed to do besides play with the testing equipment and new lenses.


I’m afraid this is a rather dull and boring post that doesn’t tell you anything you probably hadn’t already assumed. If you like to shoot 35mm and need Image Stabilization for the type of shooting you do, this will be a very nice lens and worth the money. Otherwise, you’re probably better off with something else.


Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz

December 2012


Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in New Items
  • TLN

    I see many people prefer the Sigma, especially with it’s price. But would you swap L for sigma? Or there’s no reason, once you have either of theese?

  • Interesting indeed! I quite like the Sigma 35mm offering, and I’m definitely looking for a new wide-ish prime sometime soon…

    35 f2 IS or Sigma 35mm 1.4.

    Right now, both are $850 new…

    Low-weight, IS, plastic and smaller but one less stop…

    Vs Solid construction, more light, but heavier, no-IS and not as pleasing bokeh?

    I’m definitely interested in the Sigma… Perhaps I’ll play with both and then decide… I’m headed to CES I can play there too! 🙂

  • The Canon 35 f2 image stab is for hand held low light movie footage. If you put the sigma up against the canon in the previously mentioned senario would be apples to oranges.

  • Roger Cicala

    TLN – I have only had it out for a day for real shooting and the AF conditions weren’t the toughest. But right now I’d go with the Sigma. I would recommend waiting a couple of weeks if you can, just to let more copies get out there and see what others say.

    But right now I’d prefer this lens straight up, and I really prefer it given the price difference.


  • L.P.O.

    People who are interested in 35 mm lenses for Canon (or Nikon) might be interested in this very positive Sigma 35/1.4 review by LensTip from two days ago. At least it got _me_ going “Hmmm…”:

    Quote from their summary for those who can’t read 150 words without (etc etc): “The Sigma has the best results of all 1.4/35 lenses, tested by us so far in the categories of resolution, distortion, chromatic aberration and coma correction. It also fares very well in the case of astigmatism correction and the autofocus accuracy, being one of the cheapest lenses in this class of equipment. I think I don’t have to add anything more…”

  • A

    Thankyou for the info Roger; I’m glad you were able to fix it 🙂

    I wish I could send all my lenses in for you to check… For some reason I trust you a lot more than I do the manufacturers service centres!

  • Zlatko

    Thank you very much for the interesting test results. I would be curious to learn how the new Canon 35/2 IS compares with the Leica 35/2 Summicron-M ASPH. The Leica lens can’t be used on a DSLR, but it may be the most highly regarded 35/2 for the 35mm format, and thus may be a good reference standard.

  • Tony

    You guys should offer lens repair and calibration services. So much more thorough than the repair depots of the manufacturers.

    Sort of like putting your car engine on a dyno…a lot of people would really like to know if their specific copy of a lens is performing up to snuff.

  • TLN

    I’m really interested in your opinion on going from canon 35L to Sigma 35. I personally think that’d some kind of downgrade, even Sigma have better resolution. But i haven’t hanlded it yet.
    What do you think about it?

  • Aaron


    Wow, that’s some PDF. I’ll have to take the time to read it this weekend. Thanks!


    So the Sigma looks like it has some great potential, what do you think of the shots taken with it? AF speed, actual images, things like that?

  • george

    Interesting, I have found that IS only helps a little in my low light work, easily holding the image steady at 1/8, human subjects are often blurred in a sharp surrounding (humans do move which the camera can’t compensate for)

    Also, Canon’s new 40 2.8 is very impressive, (nearly a 35 mm focal length), (could not pass it up when it was on sale for 150). Even at $200 it is possibly the best buy for the money ! Very sharp, and much faster than my f-4 zoom lens. Almost no distortion (none that was noticeable in my first use). With a 21 megapixel camera it is sharp at 100% view (i shot about 200 images at f-5). The 2 frames i shot at f2.8 look good also.

    My thoughts are if you can live with f-2.8, go with this one, and it weighs almost nothing (with all day work that a factor).

  • Roger Cicala


    No data for the crop 35 f/1.4. We have so much trouble with focusing on that lens (or at least we did) that we carry very few copies of it. It’s really good when it’s good, but often it’s not good at all in the real world. If you get a copy that matches your camera well, it’s golden. Otherwise it’s random.

  • Roger Cicala


    It’s a bit different – not as sharp in the center but better in the corners than the Canon 35 f/1.4, so designed a bit differently.

  • Bob

    “Hopefully some of the readers who are more bokeh knowledgeable than I will comment on this.”

    The people at Zeiss have written about this. There is a good discussion on the last page of this pdf about why you can’t use MTF curves to make inferences about bokeh quality.$File/CLN_MTF_Kurven_EN.pdf

  • Any ideas on how the Nikon 1.4 stacks up against these?

  • Andrew

    Interesting results. Do you have data for the crop-sensor Sigma 30mm f/1.4? As with the comparison to the Sigma 35mm f/1.4, I wonder what price is paid (if any) for IS, compared to a non-IS faster prime stopped down to f/2.0. If it’s sharp enough, it could be a killer normal lens on crop.

  • pieter kers

    Roger , very nice test- also like the new ways you can test; I would be very interested in the performance change from nearby to infinity…and the sagittal and tangential MTF lines difference is striking
    About the resolution tests it seems Sigma is the clear winner, but in real life- since these are all AF lenses it would be interesting to see how much of the potential is used if the lens is auto-focust.. ergo the AF quality will determine for a lot of images what lens is sharpest…

  • Dull and boring? NO WAY!

    Plus: I’m a bokeh nuthead, as long as sharpness is good enough I’m much more interested in this. Can’t wait to see what comes out of your new methods regarding this.

  • Nqina Dlamini

    If I were in the market for a 35mm, I’ll probably get the old 35mm/F2 instead of the IS and if I had a little bit more money Sigma would be on my list. Thanks for the write up, always a great read.

  • Feng Chun

    Very useful results, especially the new infinity test. Roger you rocks!

  • Roger Cicala

    It was a problem with the second element being slightly tilted. It’s all better now.

  • A

    As always, thankyou for your hard work Roger!

    As a matter of interest, did you find the cause of the bad results on the out-of-kilter Canon 35mm f2?

  • Roger Cicala


    I’m really excited about that. It will take some months for us to get our database filled up on the bench like we have on Imatest, but it will make a huge addition to our testing. That and testing at infinity should reveal some very interesting things.


  • Walter Freeman

    The fact that it looks like you can do “MTF vs. frequency” curves is very, very exciting … since it can show the difference between “decent sharpness, bad contrast” (image looks gauzy but there is detail somewhere in there) and the opposite.

  • Roger Cicala

    Thank you intrnst. Not sure how that got past spell check. My usual ‘and’ for ‘an’ and stuff I can understand.


    Peter and Richard, there just wasn’t time to do f/4 and 5.6 runs. If this lens plays out like the 28mm and 24mm IS it won’t peak until f/5.6 while the f/1.4s will stop improving at f/4. In other words there will be little difference at f/5.6.

  • intrnst

    Hi, Roger
    I think you would like to change “in the name of further eductaion” for “in the name of further education”.
    Unless it was an ‘eduction’ and I didn’t get the sarcasm…
    Either way:
    – Bless you, son.

  • Peter

    Nice write-up, Roger, thanks.

    Like Richard, I am also interested in knowing how the f/2 IS compares at f/2.8 and f/5.6.

  • Siegfried

    it’ll be very interesting to see how lens performance varies with the distance (and for different designs like triplets, tessars and so on), should you have a chance to dig into this.


  • Richard

    Nice summary.

    It would be nice to see the MTF for the lenses @ f/2.8. It’s apples to oranges comparing moderate fast wide angles to fast wide angles wide open but the f/2 IS is better wide open than the L is when wide open and basically better than the Sigma is when wide open (even the old f/2 is better than the two f/1.4 lenses wide open). Let’s level the playing field a bit and test them all stopped down. I’d also like to see how much the IS lens improves. And then maybe stop them all down to f/5.6 or f/8 to level the field even more and move them all away from max aperture even farther.

  • Thanks Roger. It seems like the Sigma is shaping up to be a real winner. Now that we have some idea what the 35 2.0 IS is like, I think the Sigma will become quite popular

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