Canon and the 35mm Mid-Range Niche

Canon has announced two new EF lenses that appear to improve on existing offerings. One of which finally fills the gap between a $300 lens and a $1,500 one at the versatile 35mm focal length.

The first is a 24-70mm f/4 L zoom lens. With a list price of $1,499, the lens is a little out of my price range at the moment, although it’s an intriguing option were I to afford the yet-to-be-released Canon EOS 6D.

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The second lens is a bit more intriguing. It appears to be an upgrade to its 35mm f/2 prime lens. The lens adds an ultrasonic motor, which is long overdue. I used to have a 35mm f/2 lens, and it was a great starter prime lens for me. But the slow, and not to mention loud, auto-focus mechanism pushed me towards the 28mm f/1.8 USM lens. The puzzling thing about this lens is the price. It is listed at $849, which is over $500 more than the existing 35mm f/2 lens. The rationale for this hefty premium might be because of better optics, the ultrasonic mechanism, and presumably a better build quality. The 35mm lens felt very close to the 50mm f/1.8 (a.k.a. the “nifty fifty”) in terms of build quality: a little light and a little fragile. But it could also be because of the addition of image stabilization. I understand that it can be a great feature for long lenses, but it seems unnecessary for a 35mm wide-angle lens. Judging this lens is premature without having used it or seen it, but I can already identify that this is not a necessary upgrade for me, since I’m perfectly happy with the 28mm USM lens.

Canon must have released these knowing that they are filling particular niches. Indeed, Canon finally has a 35mm lens that fits between the old f/2, at $319, and the f/1.4 L, at almost $1,500. Those of us who wanted to upgrade the Canon 35mm f/2 would have to go to a different focal length, either 28mm or 50mm or upgrade to the L glass. But now Canon gives its users another option for very a versatile focal length and should satisfy users of both full-frame and cropped-sensor cameras.

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