The prime lens EF35mm f/1.4L II USM has made a big difference to the world of astrophotography. It delivers groundbreaking image quality through the use of Canon’s proprietary new technology. A professional photographer tests out the amazing performance of this prime lens. (Reported by: Tatsuya Tanaka)
EOS 6D/ EF35mm f/1.4L II USM/ FL: 35mm/ Manual Exposure (f/1.4, 10 sec.)/ ISO 2000/ WB: Auto
Astounding performance even at maximum aperture of f/1.4
Astrophotography captures two very different subject matters of celestial bodies and scenery in one photo, enabling depiction of a world that the human eye cannot envision.
A wide-angle lens with bright maximum aperture is often used when shooting at night with extremely low light levels. My go-to lens for such shoots is the EF35mm f/1.4L USM because the focal length of 35mm means I can get a composition close to what the naked eye would see. However, even though the lens have a bright aperture, the aperture has to be decreased to obtain high image quality without aberrations. This brings us to the lens at the centre of this article: the EF35mm f/1.4L II USM.
In astrophotography, the ideal shot is one in which all the stars captured in the photo are depicted as bright specks of light of about the same size. When shooting a starry sky at a maximum aperture with the predecessor model EF35mm f/1.4L USM, aberrations in the four corners of the frame are particularly noticeable. Often, stars that should appear as round specks are distorted into ovals and the stars have purple fringing. These are called “sagittal halo” and “chromatic aberration”, and all lenses will have some degree of them. When you are actually shooting, there is no other way but to decrease aperture and select an f-number that will not result in visible aberrations.
However, chromatic aberrations and distortion of stars in the four corners of the frame are greatly improved with the EF35mm f/1.4L II USM even at maximum aperture, enabling stars to be depicted as uniform bright specks of light throughout the image by utilising the newly developed compound lens called Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics (BR) lens elements, and two aspherical lens elements. The BR optics in the middle of a BR lens successfully corrects for chromatic aberrations by greatly refracting the blue light that results in chromatic aberration.
Learn more about BR lenses at the following:
BR (Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics) Lens Elements
Must-have item for astrophotography today
My work at the top of this article is a shot of a sky full of stars from the Amami Island archipelago located among the Ryukyu Islands. To freeze the movement of the stars, I set my aperture to a maximum of f/1.4 and my shutter speed to a short 10 seconds. I was able to shoot the starry sky at a maximum aperture of f/1.4 partly because of the shortened exposure time.
Stars are constantly moving an angle of fifteen degrees every hour. It is therefore important that you choose a suitable shutter speed for capturing stars as bright specks of light, especially when shooting from a fixed point with only a tripod and camera. On that note, this lens, which makes sufficiently high quality images possible even at a maximum aperture, also enables astrophotography at fast shutter speeds, more so than its predecessor.
When I was checking my shots at the shooting location, I was first surprised when I magnified the four corners of my shots. As I inspected the magnifications, I noticed how the aberrations in the image captured by this lens clearly looked different from that captured by its predecessor. I saw for myself the remarkable depiction quality of wide angle prime lens today. The issue of aberrations is said to be inherent in optical lens systems, but the introduction of BR lenses may change perceptions moving forward. This lens has become indispensable for me in astrophotography.
New: EF35mm f/1.4L II USM (100% magnification of image and perimeter)
Old: EF35mm f/1.4L USM (100% magnification of image and perimeter)
The great depictive prowess of this lens evident with astrophotography, can also be seen with other types of landscape photography. You will see the high depictive performance, a reduction in defocused points, reproduction of beautiful tones and various capabilities necessary for photographing your works. I will introduce them here.
EOS 5D Mark II/ EF35mm f/1.4L II USM/ FL: 35mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/13, 1/100 sec., EV-1.0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Decreasing aperture results in crisp images right to the four corners of the frame
A gushing waterfall in the mountains is captured as a crisp image by increasing the f-number to f/13, which puts the entire image in sharp focus. The contrast between the highlights of the greenery and shadows of the rock surface creates an elegant image.
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF35mm f/1.4L II USM/ FL: 35mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/1.4, 1/500 sec.), EV+0.3)/ ISO 100/ WB: Auto
Charm of flower brought out with maximum aperture of f/1.4
Large begonia flowers in full bloom rivalling each other in beauty were shot up close at the closest focusing distance of 28cm with a maximum magnification of 0.21x. The lush bokeh effect reproduces the charm that the flower exudes.
EOS 5D Mark II/ EF35mm f/1.4L II USM/ FL: 35mm/ Manual Exposure (f/8, 1/80 sec.)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Fine depictive performance detailing rich gradation in tones of clouds
I photographed the sun setting among foreboding clouds in the western sky from a hedge, with a large tree fern as the foreground. In addition to the high-contrast conditions, the numerous gradations in highlights and shadows were changing by the second. Although it was challenging to find the right exposure, I managed to depict the variety of gradations without blowout or black crush.
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Born in 1956, Tanaka is one of the rare photographers who produce works across a wide variety of genres from an original perspective. These genres range from objects in our daily lives, such as insects and flowers, to landscapes, skyscapes, and celestial bodies. Besides photography, Tanaka has also developed his own approach in post processes including retouch and printing.