Every photographer has a lens or two that they love to use. In my day-to-day work that would be my Canon L Series zooms but when I am shooting quieter and more personal pictures I reach for a very basic and non-L series Canon EF 35mm f2 IS. I am going to try to explain what it is about this lens that makes me love it and I guess that the fact that I have had lenses of that focal length for pretty much my whole life as a photographer (amateur, student and working professional adding up to 38 years or maybe more) and that I appear to know precisely what kind of picture I’m going to get from a 35 make a good start. Canon make an L Series 35 – the 35mm f1.4L but that’s a big, expensive and heavy lens which, at f1.4, is really hard to focus. When I owned one I always shot at f2 or f2.8 even when the light was poor or even when I wanted shallow depths of field because the amount of sharp images that I could get at f1.4 was too low. That was probably due to shortcomings in my technique rather than the lens itself because so many photographers whose work I love are very happy with it.
There was a previous Canon EF 35mm f2 but the one that I have come to love is the 35mm f2 IS. And there’s another reason why I love this lens – it has up-to-date image stabilisation which allows me to hand-hold it down to some pretty slow shutter speeds. I know that IS doesn’t freeze action but it does eliminate camera shake to quite a frightening degree and I can now get a higher percentage of sharp frames with a DSLR than I did with my Leica back in the old days. It’s not a small lens but it is pretty light and, most importantly, it balances on either a 5D MkIV or a 6D really well.
Aesthetically the images produced with this 35mm f2 IS are lovely. The lens has a good compromise between punchiness and subtlety and when you shoot at f2 there is a beautiful and subtle vignette. If I don’t want the vignette then the built-in lens correction in Adobe Camera RAW for this lens loses it effortlessly
Lots of my friends and colleagues swear by the Sigma Art lenses. I wouldn’t argue against their choices but I found them to be heavy, a bit too contrasty and less well balanced on the smaller form bodies than this lens. The added benefit of being relatively cheap makes the Canon 35mm f2 IS a complete favourite. I have tried to explain why I like this lens so much but in the end it has a magical quality and that’s the real bonus. It suits me and it suits the kind of pictures that I shoot with it and in a world where taking OK pictures just keeps getting easier having a bit of magical glass is just what we all need.
In fact, don’t go out and buy one – let’s keep the magic just for me!