Tuesday, December 13, 2011

[Review] Canon 35L vs. Canon 24L II - The Battle of Wide-Angles


(Top: taken the 35mm 1.4L, Bottom: taken with the 24mm 1.4L II)
Disclaimer: The body I used in this review is solely on a 5D Mark II (full frame sensor).

Why even consider these two lenses?
- f/1.4 is fast
- Auto-focus
- Wide-angle
= pratical

Who would have known 11mm focal-length difference can make such a huge impact. This post will compare the two fast wide-angle primes from Canon.

Canon 24L II
Bottom-line: Awesome walk-around lens for lanscapes and architecture
Pros:  Better perspective, awesome color, weather sealed, and better perspective (with emphasis)
Cons: Learning curve, heavier wide-angle distortion, people might look small (if you are shy), heavy vignetting, AF quality control issues (one that has no problems is a keeper), metering is difficult!

Canon 35L
Bottom-line: Awesome walk-around lens for people, street photography
Pros: Film-like darker colors (due to tendency to underexpose your images), bokeh, sharper at 1.4, less wide-angle distortion
Cons: build quality (not saying it is bad, just not weather sealed, plasticy compared to the 24mm II), less flexible in perspective

My history with these lenses:
I have been using both these lenses since 2009/2010. These two lenses are the most used lenses in my arsenal. I have been through a buy/sell/buy relationship with both of these lenses. Why did I sell? Because they are expensive to keep. Why did I buy? Because both are that darn good for their purposes.

Canon 24mm 1.4 II Discussion
Bottom-line: Wow in the perspective
* Flexibility in perspective- this is important. It gives you more of the wow photos where the subject is large and the background is small. You see much more of the background and the wide-angle distortion is absolutely fascinating for landscapes and even for people. I found this extremely useful in tight areas. For people photography, it will force you to be creative with the background and reframing (such that the subject is not always in the center). The wider perspectives give more of the "wow."
* Weather sealed and very well built- this is a heavy 24mm lens. It is well build and weather sealed. I've taken this lens to many places- no dust inside (knock on wood).
* Subject is tinier- unfortunately, wider focal lengths also means the subject looks "farther" away from you. This causes a larger learning curve for taking photos of people and animals because you have to move closer. Sometimes it is too close for comfort!
* AF is essential- because you have less pixels in the frame of the subject, AF is essential. Unfortunately, making a 24mm 1.4 AF work super precise is an engineering challenge. The AF accuracy is very crucial.
* Bokeh- 24mm also means that the background is smaller. If bokeh is your background, it is also smaller. Therefore, this lens is designed to "show" more of the background without too much bokeh. To achieve high levels of creaminess, you need to be very close to the subject and the background needs to be pretty far. Moreover, the bokeh is harsher. Because of the aspherical element (that controls aberrations on wide-angle lenses), the bokeh is a bit rougher
* Not everyone's cup of tea - I want to emphasize the fact that the 24mm 1.4L is not very easy to use. Many times when you want to take pictures of pets or people- the lens requires you to get very close. That isn't for everybody. Metering is pretty difficult to get it right when you have inconsistent lighting in your frame. At 24mm, lots of different kinds of light will get into your frame, making it difficult to get a rightly exposed image!

Taken with the 24mm 1.4 II - beyond great for landscapes

Canon 35mm 1.4 Discussion
Bottom-line: Wow in the versatility and bokeh
* Versatile and easy to use - This is great for people, walk-around, daily, landscapes, and street photography. 35mm 1.4 is the magical focal length- absolutely magical. It does give you the wide-angle perspective.
* Bokeh - the bokeh is creamy. Not as creamy as the 50mm 1.2, but the perspective/bokeh trade off is placed very balanced at 35mm 1.4.
* Film quality and darker colors- this is simply due to the fact that the 35mm 1.4L tends to under expose a bit. This can easily be compensated by adding a few notches to the exposure. But as default, this makes darks dark- giving a unique feeling to the image.
* Distortionless - it is not super wide such that wide-angle distortions come into the play. Moreover, the pitching is not very noticeable. This lens is optically excellent and sharp.
* A bit too tight - many times when I walk around, I find 35mm a bit too tight. Taking photos of buildings, landscapes, and in tight spaces does pose a bit of an annoyance.
* Very old lens- this lens will be replaced soon as we speak.
* Build quality is plasticy- not weather sealed and the plastic does get you worries about rain and sprinkles
* AF is a bit antiquated - makes a good swoosh sound

These are both very very good lenses. They both have their goods and flaws. With just 11mm focal length difference, these two lenses are two entirely different animals. It is good to start off using a zoom-lens with these focal lengths and find out what best suits your need!

Taken with the 35mm 1.4L - great for people photography

Taken with the 35mm 1.4L - notice the lack of distortions and deep darks

Some alternatives:
Canon 16-35mm 2.8L
+ has both of the focal lengths
- soft on the 35mm side
- 2.8 is slow compared to 1.4

Canon 14mm 2.8 II
+ much wider focal length
- very specialized use (14mm is not used very often)
- protruding front element - ahh!

Canon 50mm 1.2L
+ Creamier Bokeh
+ closer to subject
+ f/1.2
- softer than both 24mm and 35mm
- not a wide angle

Canon 24mm TSE II
+ Tilt Shift
+ Sharper than the 24mm 1.4L II
- no AF
- speciality lens


  1. Great quick comparison/review. Thanks so much. This helps out a lot with lens purchasing decisions. I'm going to see how long I can hold off for the nest 35 1.4 which should be arriving any time now.

  2. thank you so much for the review.. i'm choosing 24mm..