How Good is the Image Stabilisation (IS)?
Canon claims 4 stops and I found that to be about right. I am fairly steady, but found that results at 1/8th of a second were always sharp unless I was not taking care to be steady. All four frames were sharp. At 1/4th of a second, they were also all sharp, except from one where I felt myself fail to release the shot smoothly. What surprised me was ½ a second, where 3 of four were still sharp and half were sharp at a second (a few examples of each being show below). That’s ridiculously good for full-frame. For static scenes, when you are able to shoot multiple frames, you can obtain perfectly pixel sharp images at one second. Wow. I was standing up with no support when I shot the test and have no doubt that leaning on a wall, or sitting down with elbows on knees would help further.
The Canon EF 35mm f2 IS is an absolute belter of a lens because it combines so many wonderful qualities into one optic. It is plenty sharp wide open, but not ugly wire sharp. It has a lovely bokeh and general fingerprint. It focuses accurately and quickly with little noise, color is very nice and the stabilization is class leading. The price of £400 may seem high to some people, but what other lenses compete? None. No, not even the f1.4 lenses, because although they gain a stop of subject isolation, they lack stabilization, they’re heavier, bulkier and more expensive, don’t all have such pleasant bokeh and they cost 2-3 times as much.
Personally, I think this lens hits a sweet spot. f2 allows for decent subject isolation where you are likely to desire it, but keeps size and price sensible, while allowing for IS. The end result is that the person looking at f1.4 optics to shoot in low light is actually far better off with the Canon EF 35mm f2 IS, because it gives up to three more stops of low light performance. The only downside would be moving subjects where the f1.4 lens would deliver faster speeds. From my experience with documentary work, I think this lens would actually be far more useful, but YMMV.
I have yet to use a 24mm or 28mm f2.8 IS, but can’t help but feel that they are less ‘stand-out’ products, by virtue of being one stop slower than the 35mm f2 IS and so only one stop faster than the zooms. Whereas the EF 35mm f2 IS is shown as outperforming the best zooms by a fair amount at comparable apertures, the same cannot be said for the 24 and 28mm versions, which appear slightly weaker than the EF 24-70 f4 IS L and EF 24-70 f2.8 L II in the outer field, judging by the tests I have seen. The advantage they offer is that they are still one stop faster (which helps somewhat with backgrounds for people shots and could get you out of trouble in low light) and are very much smaller (even than this 35mm f2 IS). They’re also quite a bit lighter at 260g for the 28mm and 280mm for the 24mm. I would like to use them to make my own mind up, but on paper I see them as less appealing choices.
A few more bokeh examples, where the background has edges and is quite close to the left flower)
I think the Canon EF 35mm f2 IS is a hugely compelling choice for wedding photographers, photojournalists, documentary shooters and perhaps some landscape photographers. In overall terms, I prefer its rendering to my Sony Zeiss 35mm f2.8 FE and think it has something of the Leica 35mm f2.5 Summarit-M about it (sharp, but smooth) and I can think of no higher compliment than that (other than the fact that it does all this with the addition of IS and at a fraction of the price).
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