In a world where zoom lenses are far more practical and the best they have ever been, it’s easy to overlook prime lenses. However, when it comes to optical quality and depending on the model, a prime lens can provide that extra optical zest you can’t quite get with a zoom lens.
If you’re looking for a very wide-angle prime, then the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM is at the top of the heap. Built to have Canon’s top L-series features and arguably the best you can get at this focal length.
As expected with a Canon L-series lens, the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM is built like a veritable weather-sealed tank. The only downside is the bulbous front end which doesn’t allow a protective filter to keep all the nasty elements out fully. However, a rear gelatin filter holder is provided. Also, worth mentioning is that the focal length works out to be 22.4mm on a crop sensor camera.
Inside, the lens has two high-precision aspherical elements and two UD-glass elements. In total there are 14 elements in 11 groups. The lens also has six aperture blades with an aperture range of f/2.8-f/22. There’s also a minimum focus distance of .2m.
The focus ring doesn’t turn when autofocusing and the lens can go into manual focus mode at any point. The barrel also contains a distance scale and the usual autofocus and manual switch.
Providing protection for that bulbous front element is a new plastic cap with pinch clips to clamp in place as well as an integrated lens hood. Finally, the lens also weighs in at 645g, 85g more than the previous version.
Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM in Use
One thing for sure, the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM is extremely sharp, even when wide open. There is some shading in the corners when fully wide open, but when stopped down to f/5.6 the lens hits its zenith. The lens is also a vast improvement over the older version, which suffered from soft corners. Canon has built on the foundations of the original version and improved not just optical quality, but all the features throughout.
Stopping down to f/8, like many lenses, is a sweet spot for sharpness and other distortion factors. This is not so much a problem with very wide-angle lenses, as the usual subject matter is static and can be more considerable with a stopped down aperture.
Flaring is usually a big factor for wide-angle lenses, but the Canon handles this extremely well. The same goes for Chromatic Aberration, with only a small amount of purple fringing with high contrast subjects. The same for barrel distortion which is only noticeable very close-up and as per usual, can be easily corrected with software.
Background blur or bokeh is usually not a big consideration with wide-angle lenses and you have to get really close up to blur out the background. The six aperture blades do the job and background blur is acceptable, but not the calling card of this lens.
As for general overall image quality, you really cannot fault the lens for the images it produces. You can have a lot of fun with a very wide-angle lens, producing large depths of field and a distorted view of the world at the same time. This lens will probably attract more landscape and architectural photographers than anything else and will definitely serve them well.
How Does It Compare?
To get wider than the Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM in the prime lens department, then the Canon 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye could be a good choice. Obviously being a fisheye lens, the resulting images will have a much wider field of view, more like 180 degrees, thus the typical fisheye look. This means that it will inherently have softer corners when turned into a rectilinear view in software.
The other option is the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens if you want to go down the zoom lens route. An unfair comparison if you consider that one of the lenses is a prime and the other a zoom. However, the 16-35mm f/2.8L II has nearly the same optical quality with the added advantages of more focal lengths. In many ways, the decision will come down to versatility vs. ultimate optical quality.
The original Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L USM is worth mentioning as it still has great qualities, but not on the level of the newer lens. If you want to stray away from the Canon camp, then the options are lenses like the Sigma 14mm ƒ/2.8 EX Aspherical HSM.
The Sigma is far cheaper than the Canon and is on a par with the older version for optical quality and also has seven aperture blades. On the other hand, there is the Tamron 14mm f/2.8 Aspherical IF SP AF which costs a bit more than the Sigma with comparable optical quality. These two options will probably fall into the camp of more budget versions from the Canon offerings.
|Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM||Canon 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye|
|Elements||14 elements, 11 groups||8 elements, 7 groups|
If the question is should you upgrade from the original Canon EF 14mm f/2.8 to the new version, then the answer is definitely yes. Improvements have been made across the board with the newer version and it’s definitely worth the extra outlay of money.
If you own a crop sensor body, then there are other alternatives – like the Canon 10-22mm as you can take advantage of the extra width. For full-frame bodies and for those who want the ultimate quality, then this lens should be shortlisted.
As with any top-end Canon prime lens, it’s not exactly cheap, but you have to consider that a lens with this level of quality is going to last for many years and in that respect is worth every penny.