Corner Bokeh Quality of Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS vs. Canon 35mm f/1.4 ii

Some eight months after buying the Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS lens, I’ve sold it to upgrade to the new Canon 35mm f/1.4L ii.  In many ways, it’s with some regret.  The f/2.0 IS served well on the whole.  I’d bought it primarily to shoot submissions for my Getty Images stock library; a nicely portable lens that could shoot a variety of subjects, in low light when needed, with the ability to blur away the more distracting elements of an unwanted background.  Over the eight months I used it, shots like these made their way into my Getty gallery.

Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS - Smoke Without Fire
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS – Smoke Without Fire
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS - Hazard
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS – Hazard
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS - Rain Without Sky
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS – Rain Without Sky
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS - Hard Light & Water
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS – Hard Light & Water

For all the successful shots, however, the Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS has a significant weakness; the quality of the corner bokeh.  Especially exposed when shooting close up with a wide aperture for a shallow depth of field, the corners can take on a weird geometric pattern.  Giving images the sense that they’d been poorly photoshopped, and incredibly hard to remove, the effect was something I could not live with.  Here are some examples;

Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS - Strobist cow parsley
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS – Strobist cow parsley. Geometric pattern widespread in top corners.
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS - Girl picking blueberries
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS – Girl picking blueberries. Geometric pattern evident in top corners especially.
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS - Girl picking blueberries
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS – Girl picking blueberries. Geometric pattern widespread.
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS - Girl at Kimmeridge
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS – Girl at Kimmeridge. Geometric pattern evident on cliff’s behind girl’s head, and through waves/rocks on left.
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS - Girl running in Paris fountains
Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS – Girl running in Paris fountains. Geometric pattern evident in buildings, especially far left.

Whilst more or less apparent from image to image, in some cases the strength of the pattern was such that the image was essentially unusable for commercial purposes.  When the new Canon 35mm f/1.4L ii was launched then, my first question was whether this issue would be fixed.  Most articles compare the old and new f/1.4, or compare the new Canon f/1.4L with the Sigma 35mm f/1.4 ART lens.  For those f/2.0 IS users experiencing similar issues as those I faced, I hope the following images from the new 1.4 ii help inform their thoughts on a potential upgrade.

The short story is that I have yet to see this issue with the new L lens.  Here are some examples, shot as tests rather than portfolio pieces.  Many were shot on the evening the lens was first delivered, at night and therefore ISO 1600.  As such I would not use these as examples for sharpness necessarily.

Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii - Test shot
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii – Test shot
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii - Test shot
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii – Test shot
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii - Test shot
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii – Test shot
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii - Test shot
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii – Test shot
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii - Test shot
Canon 35mm f/1.4 L ii – Test shot

More to follow as I continue to shoot with the new lens.

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6 thoughts on “Corner Bokeh Quality of Canon 35mm f/2.0 IS vs. Canon 35mm f/1.4 ii

  1. Thank you for the examples, Matt – I can see what you mean about the geometric patterns and they are indeed quite disappointing. It’s similar to what my 50mm 1.8 produces, despite the considerable price difference! The test shots with the new lens look much better, enjoy 🙂

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    1. Thanks! Agreement about the patterns! Good news is they don’t appear on all pictures, as evidenced by the selection at the top. Unfortunately when they do occur they’re hard to get rid of, and they tend to appear in images where you want them least (e.g. when you’re trying to drop a background!).

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    1. Hey Cash – well, it’s worth noting I generally shoot at max aperture, and so the DOF is narrower on the new lens, making for a not entirely level playing field with the f/2.0. That said, the shots where I generally notice missed focus are on “things that move” (chiefly, my children (who are popular with Getty Images stock, and thus important subjects for me above the emotional side of things)). The faster aperture allows for faster shutter speeds, perhaps balancing the narrower DOF in our comparison. All in, with these caveats noted, I see sharper shots (generally I mean sharper eyes) with the new lens. Also, slight misses degrade less. I’ve just moved to the 5D mkIV, so look forward to testing correction with Dual Pixel tech. Hope these notes help!

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