A guide to Canon 35mm prime lenses

Whether you're a content creator starting out or an established DoP, this range of options will help you to decide which Canon 35mm prime lens is for you.
A filmmaker with a Canon Sumire Prime lens.

While zoom lenses dazzle with their versatility and convenience, prime lenses hold a different kind of magic – a purity of vision realised by the simplicity of the design. Prime lenses offer a fixed focal length, encouraging photographers to embrace precision.

Canon’s range of 35mm prime lenses are designed to offer unique benefits depending on whether you are shooting video, hybrid, macro or portraiture. Read on to discover which lens is best suited to your creative vision.

Canon RF 35mm F1.4L VCM: Our stills and video hero

If you are a hybrid content creator, then the ability to shoot high quality video content whilst getting stunningly sharp stills – all using the same camera and lens – is ideal. Fortunately, the Canon RF 35mm F1.4L VCM, a lightweight and compact lens, does exactly that.

This lens allows for seamless switching between stills and motion with minimal aberrations, distortion, or flare. Designed for video first, the RF 35mm F1.4L VCM features a dedicated iris ring which, combined with a new optical design, minimises focus breathing and allows finer control of aperture.

RF 35mm F1.4L VCM

Canon RF 35mm F1.4L VCM

This prime lens is ideal for both stills and video, plus remarkable low-light performance.

The Nano USM unit, in combination with the VCM (Voice Coil Motor) unit, result in a quiet, high-speed Autofocus which is near-silent – perfect when filming interviews or skittish wildlife.

On top of this, the lens also features an ultra-low refractive index layer on the lens called Air Sphere Coating and anti-reflective Super Spectra Coating, minimising any ghosting and flaring.

The f/1.4 wide aperture allows users to achieve a shallow depth of field and for shooting in low-light conditions, while producing an artistic, creamy bokeh effect. Its other features include a weather-sealed construction, ensuring durability and reliability in harsh shooting conditions. This means that in whatever situation you use it in – whether it’s a night-time wedding video, an interview with mood lighting or a night-time landscape – you can rely on the RF 35mm F1.4L VCM to produce the footage and shots you need.

A person stands with a cow and a dog on a dimly lit street at night, captured by Noriaki Fukushima using a Canon RF 35mm F1.4L VCM RF lens, highlighting the lens's low-light performance and detail resolution.

A nighttime street scene captured by Noriaki Fukushima using a Canon RF 35mm F1.4L VCM lens, showcasing the lens's ability to capture vivid details and colours even in low-light conditions.

Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM: An impressive macro lens

Macro photography invites us to explore the intricate textures, delicate patterns, and vibrant colours of subjects often overlooked by the naked eye. By unlocking the details of an often-overlooked item, you get the opportunity to view objects from a whole new perspective.

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM is optimised for the demands of modern EOS R System mirrorless cameras, satisfying the needs of photographers present and future. It features a compact and lightweight design that makes it much easier for shooters to manoeuvre, therefore making filming less strenuous. Its lead feature, however, is its remarkable macro capability, which allows photographers to explore the world of close-up photography with a high level of precision and magnification.

A Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens.

Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM

This prime lens is ideal for macro photography, and built to last.

With a minimum focusing distance of just 0.17m and a maximum magnification of 0.5x, this lens enables photographers to capture intricate details and textures with astonishing sharpness. Its quiet, smooth STM autofocus (AF) motor ensures fast and accurate focusing, rendering this lens equally well-suited for both photography and videography.

The Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM also features Canon's innovative Optical Image Stabilization (IS) technology, which provides up to 5 stops of stabilisation correction, and 7 stops when used on EOS R System cameras equipped with IBIS.

A woman wearing a yellow dress and garlanded with flowers, captured by the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM.

Exquisite detail is picked out on this model using the Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM: Perfect for portrait

In portrait photography, selecting the right lens is crucial to capturing the essence of a subject with the necessary depth, clarity, and emotion. While an older stalwart of Canon’s range, this lens is still a solid choice for those shooting still portraits when mounted on EOS R System cameras using an EOS R Adapter.

At the heart of the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens lies a fast and bright f/1.4 aperture, delivering stunning background blur and a creamy prime lens bokeh, which elevate portraits to a new level of visual poetry. This wide aperture not only allows photographers to achieve exquisite subject isolation, but also enables shooting in challenging lighting conditions, ensuring crisp, vibrant images even in low light. The EF 35mm also includes professional-grade build quality and weather sealing, making it suitable even in challenging conditions.

A Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM lens.

Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens is renowned for its exceptional optical quality, delivering stunning images with minimal distortion and superior colour rendition – perfect for portrait photography.

Another of the defining characteristics of the EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens is its remarkable optical quality, which sets a high standard for excellence in portraiture. With its advanced optical design, including two aspherical elements and one UD element, this lens delivers edge-to-edge sharpness, minimal distortion, and superior colour rendition, capturing every nuance and detail with breath-taking fidelity.

The right lens for portrait photography should capture the essence of the human spirit with authenticity and depth, and it’s clear to see that this lens has been around for some time due to its impressive features and ability to capture high quality stills. Such features make this lens ideal for someone shooting stills alone, however if you’re looking to shoot both stills and video, the RF 35mm F1.4L VCM might be a better investment over time, as you get the luxury of both with just one lens. In particular, its combined Nano USM and VCM provide a much smoother and quieter video recording capability, allowing you to capture sensitive moments without interruption.

A coastal scene, taken on the Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM.

The Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM can also be put to other uses, capturing sublime landscapes and cityscapes.

Canon 35mm cinematic options

In the world of cinema, every frame tells a story.

The Canon Cinema lens range is a cinematic powerhouse with exceptional image quality and cinematic versatility, enabling creators to tell their stories with 4K optical performance.

Designed for professional shoots where high production value is essential, these lenses perform great in low light, allowing fine creative control over depth of field, while offering spectacular 4K image quality in full frame.

A Canon Sumire Prime 35mm lens, featuring detailed focus and aperture markings, designed for high-end cinematic applications.

Canon CN-E35mm T1.5 FP X

The Canon Sumire Prime 35mm lens, inspired by the delicate beauty of the Japanese sumire flower, offers exceptional optical performance and stunning, cinematic image quality.

As an example, the CN-E35mm T1.5 L features industry-standard 0.8mm pitch gears for precise mechanical control with accessories such as follow focus units. The range has a consistent front diameter size and length amongst the entire prime series from 14mm to 135mm, which allows for seamless switching between lenses on set, making it the perfect choice for filmmakers who demand reliability, performance, and versatility in any shooting environment.

This is important as often the calibre of work will mean that people are working in large teams as opposed to from one camera or lens (focus is therefore controlled by a focus puller and using a Steadicam or gimbal for stabilisation). For native RF mount support, you can also consider the Canon CN-R 35mm L F, which boasts capabilities designed for larger scale video productions.

In video production, the lenses used in a production will impact the overall look of the film so choosing correctly is important. The CN-R 35mm T1.5 L F’s sophisticated coatings, consistent with Canon’s other cinema lenses, produce warmer colours in general and pleasing skin tones when recording scenes of people. Furthermore, with its precision-engineered optics, including multiple high-precision glass elements and advanced coatings, this lens delivers pristine image quality with unparalleled sharpness, contrast, and colour reproduction, capturing every detail and nuance.

So which lens is for you?

Canon RF 35mm F1.4L VCM

  • A great hybrid option, shooting both stills and video at high quality
  • Its f/1,4 aperture makes for superb lowlight photography
  • The silent auto-focus, optical design and dedicated iris ring allow seamless video shooting
  • The weather-sealed construction makes this lens very durable
Canon RF 35mm F1.8 MACRO IS STM
  • Compact and lightweight, always a plus for shooting on the go
  • The excellent zoom capability and precision makes this lens ideal for macro shooting
  • Manoeuvrability is another bonus allowing for extra ease of use
  • Most affordable in this lineup
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM
  • A tried and tested lens, this model is one you can rely on for quality stills
  • Its optical quality makes it perfect for portrait photography
  • Works perfectly well on RF mount cameras using the EF to RF Mount Adapter
Canon 35mm Cinema Lenses
  • Exceptional image quality is a key benefit
  • Best used therefore for filmmaking and large-scale production, and for those wanting a more cinematic look
  • Works best in professional set-ups, including additional rockers and dials

Not all prime lenses are created equal. Summarising the suggestions above, each lens is suitable for different intentions, depending on the creative vision. The beauty of art is in its variety, even within the same creative practice.

Mabinty Taylor-Kamara

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