I love shooting with prime lenses. Something about the simplicity of having to ‘zoom with your feet‘ combined with a lighter weight and usually better value for your wallet makes them an obvious choice for many photographers. I shoot a lot of portraits and generally gravitate towards the 50mm. However, for environmental portraits and even the odd landscape image, I will often reach for the 35mm prime lens. On a full frame camera, it’s a fantastic focal length for street photography.
So I was curious to find out how Canon’s native full frame RF mount 35mm f/1.8 lens stacked up. It has 5 stops of Optical Image Stabilisation and 1:2 macro capabilities. But, at $499, for a prime, it’s not especially cheap. So I was keen to find out how good it could be. I tried it out on my Canon EOS R.
The Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM is described as being compact, lightweight, and close-focusing. It’s a wide-angle prime lens that “mixes the versatility of a general wide lens with the speciality of a 1:2 macro optic”. With an RF mount, this lens is specifically designed to use with Canon’s lineup of mirrorless full-frame cameras.
Additionally, it has a Super Spectra coating which helps to control flare and ghosting. This gives greater contrast and colour accuracy when working in bright or backlit conditions.
The lens can focus pretty close to the subject as well. It’s capable of focusing down to 6.7″ (17 cm) at half-life-size. That makes this lens extremely versatile and is capable of shooting anything from close-ups of plants and insects to street scenes and landscapes. The aperture range runs from a bright f/1.8 all the way up to f/22. It also features a five-stop-effective optical image stabilization, which minimizes the appearance of camera shake for sharper handheld shooting.
An STM motor affords quiet and smooth autofocus performance and full-time manual focus override. Additionally, a configurable Control Ring lets you adjust exposure settings, including ISO, aperture, and exposure compensation, from the lens itself.
Overall look and feel
The lens is pretty much what you’d expect, right out of the box. It is pleasingly weighty enough to not feel plasticky or cheap without being too big or heavy. It still feels a good bit better quality build than the cheaper off-brand 35mm prime lenses that I’ve used. It has a nice matte feel with a good grip on the solid focus ring and control rings.
This lens actually has fantastic image quality. It performs well across the whole range of apertures. Of course, like any lens, the sharpest zone is in the mid-range of f stops from f/8 to f/11. However, even shooting at its widest at f/1.8 you can still achieve a high-quality image.
The lens has no obvious colour cast. The colours were true to life and particularly produced nice creamy skin tones.
Autofocus and sharpness
The STM auto-focus system is fast, accurate and sharp, even with moving subjects. The 5-stop Image stabilisation (IS) is also very useful and makes a difference, particularly when shooting close-up subjects, handheld. The only issue I had was when shooting the close-ups outdoors. With the subject moving around in the breeze the autofocus struggled a little. However, that is to be expected and a normal limitation with many lens focus systems.
The sharpness in the centre of the image was very very good. You can see from these two zoomed-in images at 100% that the centre is somewhat sharper than the edges and corners. However, this isn’t a large difference in my opinion.
The lens produced pleasing bokeh shooting at wide apertures. However, at narrower stops from around f/4 you can begin to see a slight hint of flat edges – the 9 blades becoming slightly visible.
Some visible purple fringing or chromatic aberration appeared in areas of high contrast. Honestly, this was quite minimal, as you can see in the image below. The purple fringing is only visible around a few of the metal railings.
As far as I could see there was little visible sign of vignetting in the corners, and if there is it is ever so slight.
This lens touts itself as a macro lens. However, you need to realise that at 1:2 it’s not a true macro. For serious macro shooters, you really want a 1:1. Additionally I find that 35mm is rather too wide for a macro lens. Anything above 50mm would be preferable in my opinion, with my own preferences going from 85mm to 105mm.
Saying this though, you can get very close to your subject. 17cm focus distance is pretty good, and as a walking-around lens, it’s fun to see what you can shoot at close distances.
One way around the wide focal length is to crop into the image in post. Today’s cameras with high megapixel counts and phenomenal quality mean that you can crop in and zoom without an obvious loss of image quality.
Pros and Cons
- Fast and accurate autofocusing
- Quality build
- Light and small enough for carrying
- High image quality
- Little distortion or vignetting
- Not cheap for a prime lens
- Not a true macro lens, only reaches 1:2
This is a great addition to the RF lineup of lenses, and as a prime is obviously more affordable than wide-angle zooms. It’s an extremely usable focal length for a multitude of genres. Great for travel, street photography, landscapes, portraits, and having fun with close-ups, this lens is extremely versatile.
The macro capabilities function well but at 35mm and 1:2, it’s good for a bit of fun but not so much for serious macro shooters. However, it’s easy to use, and its fast-focussing abilities and overall great sharpness make this a brilliant quality general walking about lens. The wide aperture of f/1.8 just adds to this lens’ versatility along with the IS making it perfectly suitable for shooting in low light.
In terms of value for money, there are cheaper 35mm prime lenses out there. However, having a native lens is always going to function better, and this is a very good lens. Sure, you could save $80 and buy the EF f/2 version and use the adapter. But I think it’s worth the extra investment for the RF mount. All in all, I’d be more than happy to add this to my arsenal of native RF lenses.
You can buy the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM Lens for $499.