The Canon RF 35mm f1.4L VCM is a high-end wide-angle prime lens for EOS R cameras. Canon describes it as a hybrid lens, optimised for photo and video. In my tests so far it’s very sharp across the frame out of the gate and outperforms both the older EF version as well as the cheaper RF 35, as you’d hope for the new high-end 35 in the system. It’s also nice to see Canon pricing it similarly to the old model at launch. Check back soon for my full review!

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Canon RF 35mm f1.4L VCM review so far

The Canon RF 35mm f1.4L VCM is a high-end wide-angle prime lens for EOS R mirrorless cameras, announced in June 2024. I tried out a final production model and in the video below will show you what’s new along with sharing some test shots and comparisons against the older EF 35 1.4L and RF 35 1.8 STM. This is my review so far and I plan on updating it with a full in-depth review soon.

Canon describes it as a hybrid lens, their second after the 24-105 2.8, with both being optimised for photo and video, but I don’t think we’ll see a separate version aimed more at photography.

I think like most manufacturers this is simply Canon recognising video performance becoming more important and factoring that into the feature-set and optical design. So unless there’s a 1.2 being developed, I’d just consider it their high-end 35 prime in the RF mount.

It’s actually Canon’s second RF prime with this focal length, following the earlier RF 35 1.8 Macro STM, seen here, which helped launch their full-frame mirrorless system back in 2018.

The RF 35 1.8 STM remains one of the smallest and lightest full-frame RF lenses in the system, but is aimed at a much lower price-point, roughly $500 or pounds, making it around one third the price of the new L version. It measures 74x63mm and weighs 305g.

RF 35mm f1.4L VCM: 77x99mm, 555g // RF 35mm f1.8 STM: 74x36mm, 305g

A closer match is of course the older EF 35mm f1.4L II which you can see here adapted to the R6 II. This highly respected lens from 2015 was priced at around $2000 or pounds prior to the launch of the new RF version, so it’ll be interesting to see how that varies now. 

But as an almost ten-year-old lens, you can find plenty on the used market for around $1200 or pounds. And of course if you’re thinking of adapting an older EF lens to a mirrorless camera, you could also consider third party alternatives like one of Sigma’s Art models.

With the new RF 35 1.4L on the left and the old EF 35 1.4L on the right, you can see they’re in a similar ballpark in size, although the RF version is tad smaller, 3mm narrower and 7mm shorter. Pick them up and you’ll notice a more significant difference in weight though, with the new model around 200g lighter.

RF 35mm f1.4L VCM: 77x99mm, 555g // EF 35mm f1.4L II USM: 80x106mm, 760g

Of course that’s for the bare lenses. If you intend to mount the EF version on a mirrorless body, you’ll need to add an adapter, with the most basic Canon version adding 24mm to the length and 110g to the weight. This now makes the EF lens 31mm longer and just over 50% heavier.

In terms of controls, the RF 35 1.4L starts with an aperture ring running between 1.4 and 16, and permanently declicked for smooth operation.

It’s interesting to remember Canon doesn’t traditionally equip lenses with aperture rings, but added one to the RF 24-105 f2.8 to appeal to videographers. So as their second hybrid lens, there’s one here.

Unlike Sony and Sigma, you may be wondering why there isn’t a switch to make the aperture ring clickable, but like Canon’s 24-105 Z lens, it sadly can’t be used for photo modes, so Canon kept it smooth only. 

Instead photographers are expected to set the ring to the lockable A position and use one of their body’s dials to control it. I think this is a shame as I’d certainly like to use the aperture ring for photos, with an option to click or declick as preferred, what do you think?

Sandwiched between the aperture and focusing ring are the Iris lock switch, a customisable focus hold button and an AF MF switch.

Next is the free-spinning motor-assisted manual focusing ring which like all L lenses is silky smooth to turn.

Compare it for a moment with the older EF version which not only is at the end of the barrel, but coupled to a focus distance window at the top of the lens.

Meanwhile the cheaper RF 35 1.8 STM has a much narrower and less smooth manual focusing ring.

Returning to the RF 35 1.4L and at the end of the barrel there’s a customisable – and clicky – control ring. The 35 1.8 STM also has a similar control ring, but of course the EF version does not.

In terms of filters, the RF 35 1.4L has a 67mm thread, versus 72mm on the EF lens and 52mm on the 1.8 STM version.

As you’d expect for L lenses, both the new RF and old EF 1.4L models are weather-sealed with rubber grommets at the mount, whereas the 1.8 STM is not.

Moving onto focusing, these three 35’s all use different motors: the old EF used USM, the budget RF uses STM, while the new RF 1.4L becomes Canon’s first lens to use a Voice Coil Motor, hence VCM in the title.

Canon claims VCM working alongside Nano-USM allows the lens to drive a larger optical group better than Nano-USM can alone, and when shooting side by side with the old EF version, it certainly snapped into focus faster. Plus it’s very quiet.

I hope to do a more detailed focus test in the future, but for now, here’s how it looks for video on the R6 II, wide-open to f1.4 of course. I use a bright 35 for all my b-roll and pieces to camera and it strikes a good balance of capturing your surroundings but with minimal distortion and decent separation.

Speaking of which, here’s a quick portrait taken with the RF 35 1.4L, again at f1.4 on the EOS R6 II using face and eye detection. When viewing the whole frame, you can see the potential for background blur, while taking a closer look reveals a tremendous amount of sharp detail around my eyes and a soft fall-off to my ears and beyond.

Moving onto a distance test, here’s the RF 35 1.4L at f1.4 again on the R6 II. No need to angle this as there’s already details in the corners. 

But let’s take a closer look in the middle first where, at f1.4, the details look crisp out of the gate. Closing the aperture to f2 brings a minor boost in contrast, but I’d certainly be happy shooting this lens wide-open.

Let’s return to the f1.4 sample and now compare it to the older EF 35 1.4L II on the right, again at f1.4. Side by side you can see that while the older lens is certainly very good, it’s not as crisp as the newer lens when both are wide open. In fact I had to close the EF lens to f2.8 to better match it.

Let’s now swap the EF lens for the cheaper RF 1.8 STM on the right, here at f1.8. Again when pixel-peeping in the middle, the new RF 1.4L on the left is delivering crisper details out of the gate, and I’d say you’d need to close the STM lens to at least f4 to come close, and even then it’s lacking the ultimate detail and contrast.

Ok, so now back to the RF 1.4L, still at f1.4 and let’s head into the far corners to see how it performs. And the answer is very well. If you’re really pixel-peeping, you may notice a fractional reduction in sharpness, but it’s really minimal.

As I close the aperture, you’ll see that vignetting quickly dissipates, although there’s little to be gained in sharpness and contrast. This lens is performing very well across the frame with the aperture wide-open.

But how does it compare to the other lenses? Here’s the new RF on the left and the old EF on the right, both at f1.4, and the difference in their corners is quite obvious. The older EF lens is failing to deliver the same sharp details in the corner wide-open, and closing it to f2 doesn’t make much difference. 

At f2.8 the quality has greatly improved, but I’d say you’re looking at closing it to around f4 to roughly match the new RF version when it’s wide-open.

Next let’s swap the old EF lens on the right for the budget 1.8 STM model, and you’ll notice a different portion of the subject as this lens actually captures a slightly narrower field of view than the two L lenses. But I’m still showing you the same portion of the actual frame for a direct comparison.

Here the difference is unsurprisingly even greater with not just greater softness, but some chromatic aberrations too. Closing the aperture sees the colour artefacts mostly gone by f2.8, while the corner sharpness becomes roughly matched from f4. Note the contrast looks a little higher here, but the weather conditions were changing.

Before wrapping-up, a quick focus-breathing test, first with the new RF 35 1.4L, racking from infinity to its closest focusing distance of 28cm and back again. Here you can see a small amount of magnification, but it’s pretty well-behaved which will please videographers.

For comparison, here’s the old EF 35 1.4L again racking focus from infinity to its closest distance, coincidentally the same 28cm, where you’ll notice the field reducing more due to breathing. While this actually gives it a mildly greater magnification of 0.21x versus 0.18x on the new lens, it will be more noticeable during focus pulls in video.

Oh and as a macro lens, the 35 1.8 wins the reproduction contest, delivering greater 0.5x magnification than either of the L models. Plus it has optical stabilisation too, lacking from both L versions.

As I wrap-up, here’s a few extra samples taken with the new lens. I plan to get the RF 35 1.4L back for an in-depth review at some point in the future, but for now I hope these tests have given you a flavour of the new lens and what it’s capable of.

Certainly it’s very sharp across the frame out of the gate and outperforms both the older EF version as well as the cheaper RF 35, as you’d hope for the new high-end 35 in the system. It’s also nice to see Canon pricing it similarly to the old model at launch.

Oh and before I go, the lens was also launched alongside a new flash, the Speedlite EL-10, shown here on the rightm next to the older 430EX it replaces on the left. The new model has a guide number of 40, recharges faster in 1.5 seconds, can be controlled via the camera connect app on your phone, and requires a recent body with a Multi-Function accessory show, like the R3, R6 II, R7 and R8.

PS – See my Canon RF 35mm f1.4L VCM sample images at Flickr

Check prices on the Canon RF 35mm f1.4L VCM at B&H, Adorama, WEX UK or Alternatively get yourself a copy of my In Camera book, an official Cameralabs T-shirt or mug, or treat me to a coffee! Thanks!
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