Top critical review
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Disappointing once I got past the first impressions
on 13 August 2014
Firstly to provide some context to this review, I reviewed this lens alongside the Samyang 24mm lens using a Canon 5D which has a full-frame sensor (and therefore no CCD cropping).
As a child when I first got to play with cameras, I had a 50mm and 35mm lens. Having then moved to zoom lenses I didn't think I would go back but there's three big advantages of prime lenses:
1. You can get seriously shallow depth of field (that lovely effect of the background being blurred, which is caled bokeh)
2. They are fast glass (because the aperture can really be opened up, it means you can get the exposure/aperture combination to take the photo without being underexposed (especially at dusk) for risk of having too long an exposure which may blur or show movement)
3. It makes you think (you have to move to the right location to get the image you want rather than cropping what you have once you're home.)
At the more professional end of the market the bigger the aperture (lower f number) the more expensive the lens. In essence, this lens is competing with the Canon EF 35 f/1.4 but at a price closer to the Canon EF 35 f/2. Or is it...
The key thing to be aware of is that this lens is completely manual and does not integrate to Canon's EXIF tags (the information stored on digital photos to help you remember what you did in terms of settings). Focus is manual (although the ring is nice and secure and the aperture setting to highlight depth of field is well shown). Aperture is also manual, and given the aperture and lens name (which would tell you the focal length) is not recorded with the photos you have to write down what you have taken if you want to try and learn how to improve on your photos.
The lens is plastic but it feels quite well made and the mount is metal. The lens is very heavy, a good 20% heavier than the Canon f1.4 equivalent and about double the weight of the Canon f2.
In terms of the tests, I was focused on low light photography and also portraits trying to get the background nicely blurred. In terms of the portraits, with the manual focus and manual aperture (and a child as a subject who did not stay still for too long) I struggled to get the face fully in focus with an aperture wider than f2.8. This was not a big surprise but as I will explain below it is important. The bokeh was really good though even at this level, far better than I can get from a Canon 24-105 f4 lens which is my standard portrait lens.
I found for low light photos, I was using f4 so was not really getting the best value out of the camera. From other reviews I have seen, however, sharpness and clarity does fall away at less than f2.8. The results, however, were excellent.
So overall, I liked the solid feel of the lens, I liked the bokeh at f2.8, and I enjoyed the challenge of the prime lens paradigm of moving to get the photo.
However, I cannot recommend this lens. Given the very manual nature of this lens, the fact I struggled to use it with a very wide aperture (and that this is not seemingly that well thought of for this lens), the weight (double the Canon f2) for the money I would get the Canon f/2 equivalent with autofocus and half the weight (which at the time of writing is a similar price). If I had a specific need for f/1.4 I'd shell out on the Canon lens which is considerably more expensive.