Join+

This post was originally published on my patreon feed, and over there it includes extras like sample raw files. My patreon has exclusive and in-depth image deconstructions, what’s in my bag details, live streams, and many other photographers that participate in discussions from all over the world – all without ads.

Join+
Canon 35 1.4 VCM Lens Ratings
  • Value - 7/10
    7/10
  • Build - 9/10
    9/10
  • Image Quality - 7/10
    7/10
  • Video Performance - 9/10
    9/10
  • Autofocus - 9/10
    9/10
  • Sunstar Effect and Flare - 7/10
    7/10
  • Bokeh - 8/10
    8/10
8/10

Quick Summary

After waiting almost a decade after the release of the RF mount, Canon has finally delivered a red ring L series 35mm f/1.4 VCM lens. But, it turns out they pulled a sneaky move leaning into a massive amount of distortion for the sake of better video quality… and that’s a bad thing for still photographers.

Pros

•Impressive Autofocus

•Outstanding Video Stabilization

•Weather Sealed

•Beautiful Bokeh

Cons

•Mandatory Distortion Correction

•Aperture Ring Works In Video

•Durability Concerns

•Flare and Sunstar Effects

First Impressions

what's that *sound*?

Upon receiving the Canon 35mm F1.4 RF L Series VCM lens, my initial excitement was tempered by some concerns. The first thing that struck me was the unsettling rattle of the floating element inside the lens when it was detached from the camera. This noise, which I assume is caused by the Voice Coil Motor balancing internal elements, initially made me worry that the lens was damaged in transit. However, the noise disappeared once the lens was attached to the camera body and powered up.

A Canon 35mm camera lens is captured in mid-air above an outstretched hand inside a rustic, wood-paneled structure, seemingly as if suspended by auto-draft magic.

 

Build Quality and Features

The exterior build quality of the lens is excellent, as expected from Canon’s L series. However, the inclusion of an aperture ring is a bit of a mixed bag. While it’s a fantastic feature for videographers, allowing smooth aperture changes during filming, it’s less useful for still photographers… in fact it doens’t work at all while shooting stills. Most photographers I know rarely use manual aperture rings, and the previous EF Mount 35mm F1.4 L Series lens managed just fine without one. The aperture ring adds to the size and weight of the lens, making it bulkier compared to its EF counterpart.

A person holding a Canon camera with a 35mm lens on the left and a close-up of a Canon RF 50mm lens on the right, both set on a wooden surface, perfect for those diving into the Canon 35 1.4 VCM lens review.

Performance in Still Photography

One of the most significant drawbacks I encountered was the inability to disable image distortion correction in-camera. This feature is always applied, which can be problematic for photographers who prefer to see the true representation of their images before editing. In Adobe Lightroom Classic, the distortion becomes evident upon importing the raw files. While it can be corrected, it often results in a significant crop, reducing the resolution and altering the composition.

For instance, here’s a client photo where the distortion is noticeably strong:

A couple is walking outdoors, holding hands. The woman is wearing an ornate orange dress and traditional jewelry, while the man is dressed in a patterned vest and white outfit. Trees and greenery surround them, creating a scene that could be perfectly captured with a Canon 35 1.4 VCM lens.

While the bokeh is beautiful, the distortion correction process crops the image, leading to a loss of resolution. This forced correction feels like a step backward, especially when I compare it to the performance of my old 35mm F1.4 EF lens, which had much more acceptable distortion levels.

Image Quality

The distortion on this lens is substantial, and correcting it in post-processing means losing some of the native resolution of your images.

Comparison of two images labeled with timestamps, showing a wooden plank wall with a ventilation vent and outlet. The left image, taken using a Canon 35 1.4 VCM lens, has a resolution of 6000x4000, while the right image has a resolution of 5460x3640.

This is a significant issue for a lens priced at $1,500-$1,600. The lens does produce sharp images with beautiful bokeh, but the persistent distortion and the need for corrections detract from the overall experience. When comparing raw files, the difference in distortion between this lens and the older EF version is stark. The EF version, even with an adapter, maintains a more natural look without the exaggerated distortion.

EF Version w/ no distortion correction at all:

A wooden wall with horizontal plank design features two rectangular air vents near the bottom, reminiscent of the detailed craftsmanship discussed in a Canon 35 1.4 VCM lens review.

35 1.8 RF w/ no distortion correction:

Close-up of a wooden wall with a horizontal panel design, featuring two white air vents placed near the bottom, captured beautifully using the Canon 35 1.4 VCM lens.

35 1.4 RF VCM w/ no distortion correction:

Wooden wall with horizontal planks captured beautifully with the Canon 35mm 1.4 VCM lens review, showcasing two rectangular air vents near the bottom.

Video Performance

This lens truly shines in video applications. The autofocus performance is excellent, making it a strong contender for videographers. The lens stabilization and autofocus tracking are top-notch, providing smooth and stable footage. The focus breathing is minimal (to non existent), and the VCM system ensures stable and precise focusing, making it ideal for professional videography.

The Floating Element

A notable feature of this lens is the floating element stabilized by (I’m assuming?) some kind of magnet. While this technology helps in achieving sharp and stable images, it also raises concerns about the long-term durability of the lens. The rattling sound when the lens is detached from the camera body might be disconcerting for some users, and it makes me wonder how well the lens will hold up under heavy use as still photographers hand-hold their bodies much more than videographers do.

Aperture Ring and Manual Controls

The aperture ring is a feature aimed squarely at videographers. It allows for smooth and silent aperture changes during filming, which is great for creating professional-looking videos. However, for still photographers, the ring feels like an unnecessary addition. It adds bulk to the lens and is not something most photographers will use frequently. The previous EF version of this lens managed without an aperture ring, and it was perfectly fine for still photography.

Autofocus and Image Stabilization

A couple, dressed in wedding attire, walks hand-in-hand under a canopy of sparklers held by friends and family in celebratory attire during a nighttime wedding event, perfectly captured through the crystal-clear optics of the Canon 35 1.4 VCM lens.The autofocus performance of the Canon 35mm F1.4 RF L Series VCM lens is excellent. It locks onto subjects quickly and accurately, making it ideal for both stills and video. The image stabilization is another strong point, providing smooth and stable footage, especially when shooting handheld. This makes the lens particularly suitable for videographers who need reliable performance in various shooting conditions.

Sunstar Effect and Flare

When I took a few pictures with the aperture stopped down, the sunstar effect was quite prominent due to the high number of blades in the aperture mechanism. This results in a well-defined and intricate sunstar, which some photographers might find appealing. Personally, I prefer fewer blades for a simpler sunstar effect, but this is purely subjective.

Close-up view of a Canon 35 1.4 VCM lens focusing on the aperture blades, showing various reflections and intricate details within the lens structure.

I also noticed some unusual flare characteristics when shooting into the sun. Even with a perfectly clean lens, the flare dispersed in unexpected ways, almost as if there were droplets on the lens. This can be a creative effect in certain situations but might be undesirable for those looking for a more controlled flare.

Overall Versatility

If you’re primarily a still photographer looking for a high-quality 35mm lens, the EF Mount version with an adapter might be a better choice. It offers a more natural look with less distortion and is more compact and lightweight. However, if video is a significant part of your workflow, the Canon 35mm F1.4 RF L Series VCM lens is worth considering for its superior autofocus and stabilization capabilities.

Final Thoughts

For videographers, the Canon 35mm F1.4 RF L Series VCM lens is a solid choice, offering impressive autofocus and stabilization. The lens excels in video applications, with features like the aperture ring and floating element providing added benefits for filmmakers. However, for still photographers, the persistent distortion correction and resulting resolution loss are significant drawbacks. The lens produces sharp images with beautiful bokeh, but the constant need for correction makes it less appealing.

While the Canon 35mm F1.4 RF L Series VCM lens brings innovative features to the table, its suitability largely depends on your primary use case. Videographers will find it a valuable addition to their kit, but still photographers might want to explore other options that better meet their needs.

At the end of the day, no matter how “correctable” something like distortion is… I simply don’t want the raw files coming out of my $1,600+ lens looking like this when photographing straight lines:

A man wearing a cap and harness leans against a brightly colored geometric mural on a building wall, holding a spray can, appearing to be the mural’s painter. Captured through the precision of a Canon 35 1.4 VCM lens, the scene blends artistry with vivid detail.

Youtube Chapters

00:00 Introduction and Lens Overview

01:08 Build Quality and Concerns

02:32 Usability for Still Photography and Videography

03:30 Distortion Correction and Image Quality

05:26 Autofocus Performance

11:29 Comparison with EF Mount Version

14:20 Sunstar Effect

16:16 Conclusion and Recommendations

Sam Hurd

Sam Hurd

Photographer
DC/NYC/Anywhere

Starting as a political news and celebrity portrait photographer in DC, Sam was instantly drawn to wedding photography as a space to promote more inventive ideas. Sam’s focus is on photographic techniques that are deceptively simple but have the potential to transform difficult or uninspiring shooting environments into one-of-a-kind opportunities for every photo made.

Most reviews, technical write-ups, and other photo nerd content is posted first, and exclusively, over on his patreon.