At the end of last year after an extended struggle, my good old crappy YongNuo 35mm F2 lens finally fully imploded and I had to find a replacement. That eventually ended up being a Canon 35mm F2 IS USM and I have been using that ever since. The 35mm is my most used focal length, by a huge margin, therefore it is very important that it works well. So, I thought after about 5 months of use, it would be good to do a little review – as usual, not pixel-peeping, but being very subjective and unscientific.
Choosing a New 35mm Lens
I knew that I needed a replacement for my 35mm, but it isn’t that easy to choose what to put in the YongNuo’s place. That’s an 80€ plastic-fantastic lens that does surprisingly well, but is loud, slow and not very sharp. However, other than buying another one of those, there aren’t any other options for anywhere near that price. It was time for an upgrade. My options were to choose between getting a used Sigma 35mm F1.4 Art, a Tamron 35mm F1.8 VC, a new Canon 35mm F2 IS USM or a really, really beat-up used Canon 35mm 1.4L (Mark I). These are all in the 400-650€ range, although the 35mm 1.4L would have to be very beat-up to fit in there. In the end it came down to price and convenience and I went with a new Canon 35mm F2. Yes, it would have been nice to have a slightly wider aperture, but honestly F2 is more than enough and the image stabilization is a big plus. So, let’s see how well it has worked since I got it!
The lens is pretty damn big… It feels great in the hand, but I am surprised how it is not a lot smaller than its F1.4 competitors. It is many times larger and heavier than my previous lens. That isn’t really a problem, but it just surprised me a bit. Compared to full-frame zoom lenses, it is quite small!
The focus is fast. So fast in fact that it seems like my good old Canon 5D Mark II camera can’t really match the lens in speed, so the focus sometimes ends up off because it seems to “try to find focus too fast,” for lack of a better way of describing it. Generally, it is quite accurate, quiet and quick.
Let’s start with what I don’t like about it… There is only one thing that genuinely annoys me about this lens: how the lens cap is so badly designed! It keeps falling off the lens all the time and it is a major pain in the ass. Oh, and that the lens doesn’t come with a lens hood, but Canon tries to sell it separately for about 50€, which is a brutal ripoff for a small piece of plastic! But I got a 3rd party replacement that seems to be holding up pretty well so far.
One odd thing that I noticed is that shooting wide-open the lens has really strong vignetting. Photos have super dark corners coming straight-out-of-camera when shooting F2.0 with backlit subjects. Honestly, it is something that doesn’t disturb me, because it is a half-second fix in Lightroom with lens profile corrections which cleans it up. It just surprises me how the old YongNuo plastic-fantastic lens or my simple 50mm F1.8 does better than this.
What I Like
The lens feels really solid. It is not a professional L-series lens, but it has plenty of weight to it and feels very well put together. Unlike some of my other pieces of equipment, I haven’t accidentally crash-tested it yet (other than a few light knocks) so I can’t comment on how well it holds up to abuse, but I am sure it isn’t half bad at it. The focus is fast, although it struggles sometimes when the subject is back-lit, but I have a feeling that’s at this point more my camera’s fault than the lens’.
It is also a real joy to use – the 35mm is my favorite focal length and it felt right at home in my hand. I got used to shooting it in no time, producing really cool images. The colors and the vibe of the photos are perfect for my style and it has been my most-used lens in the last 5 months. In fact, I rarely even take any other lens with me.
Canon vs. YongNuo 35mm
Well, comparing this lens to my old YongNuo lens which cost maybe 1/5th of its price seems a bit unfair to me. This lens is nicer, faster, more accurate and better to use in almost every aspect. But there is one very important thing that I can compare them in… Flares! I love shooting backlit portraits around sunset, so having nice lens flare is pretty important. The old YongNuo lens produced some really beautiful crazy flares, but usually at the expense of sharpness. This was what I was slightly afraid of with the new lens, but it seems to be doing very well. Focusing is of course a challenge in such a situation, but it is way more accurate and sharp, and produces great-looking, albeit slightly less crazy flares.
It is no surprise of course that my new lens out-performs my old one that was a fraction of its cost. That’s like saying water is wet! But comparing to the other options, this is still a fairly affordable lens – after all, photography is an endless money pit. Was the upgrade worth it? I definitely think so, but I still think that the little YongNuo is one of the best deals for Canon full frame lenses, however you have to be willing to live with a ton of compromises. My advice is that if you have money, buy a better lens, if you don’t, then you obviously won’t. I am very happy I upgraded, and this is a lens I plan on using for many, many more years!
PS: I’m so glad I didn’t drop the lens off the terrace to get that shot for the cover of this blogpost… That would have been so damn embarrassing!