Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro...the Ugly Bokeh KING?

LSXPhotog

EOS RP
Apr 2, 2015
317
119
www.diossiphotography.com
Back in September I made the decision to purchase a 35mm prime to finally round out my primes which already consisted of a 24, 50, 85, 100, and 135. I got my hands on the EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM lens as a rental and it was pretty easy to fall in love with that big guy. While I make a living using my gear, I am also realistic when it comes to priority of spending money. As a 50mm shooter through and through, I didn't think too keenly about the price tag for a lens that I already knew wouldn't see the level of action I get from my 50mm and 85mm on a weekly basis. The new RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro seemed like it might be a good idea for keeping the costs down and the macro capability might be really useful when I shoot food for local restaurants I work with. I rented the lens in early December and started messing around with it - bringing it with me to NYC on my vacation last week. My findings were...disappointing to say the least.

Results:
Before I left for NYC I was already messing around with the RF 35mm around the house and was really shocked how ugly I thought the photos were looking. The bokeh falloff was honestly very sloppy and was distracting in some shots. It was very clear that this lens is designed with shorter focus distances in mind, so images taken of closer subjects honestly look really nice. It isn't until about mid-range and general walk-around photography subjects are captured that you see what this lens does...and that is create some really harsh bokeh. Sadly, this performance has me shying away from buying the lens at this time, as I don't think I would personally have much use for it beyond food photography - which I'm sure this lens will excel at greatly. If you want a beautiful walk-around lens for portraits, events, weddings, and travel, I don't think this is a very good lens for that because of the bokeh quality. It's honestly some of the worst I've ever seen and it makes me sad. It's a pretty darn sharp lens great for grabbing details and shorter range subjects...but it can really create some dud shots.

Samples all shot wide open at f/1.8 on EOS R.
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After taking this image walking my dog, I instantly knew I wasn't going to like this lens. The subject isolation is extremely poor and the backgrounds preserve a LOT of detail and have too much busyness going on.

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100% crop shows that the lens performs very well in terms of sharpness and aberration control, but WOW...this is really ugly falloff for an f/1.8 prime.


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When grabbing detail shots, this lens really does an excellent job creating a beautiful and sharp image. THIS is where the lens shines.

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100% crop shows how nice the background is rendered and how sharp it is at shorter focusing distances.

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Globally, to my eye, this image doesn't look very good at all. There is a nerviousness to the transition areas out of the depth of field and it doesn't look horrible, but it doesn't look smooth either. Look toward the top of the frame how the buildings and tree branches look in spite of being much further away from the chair I focused on.

EOSR3808edcrop.jpg

100% crop shows the sharpness once again. It's a pretty sharp lens - no surprise - but at f/1.8 and this distance to focus on the subject I would have expected a smoother background.

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This photo was the nail in the coffin for me with this lens as I think it tuns in an absolutely ugly performance. I'm focused on the sign and the falloff is not only poorly defined, but it doesn't look like an f/1.8 shot and the background is incredibly busy and messy looking. It honestly looks like a "portrait" mode shot from a cell phone.

EOSR3834edcrop.jpg

I don't think bokeh performance can get much worse than this. THIS IS f/1.8!!! Instead of creating a nice blur we have image doubling. Everything looks hazy and distracting no matter how far away from the subject things in this shot get. Move your eyes from the ropes on the right, to the garbage ca, to the two people next to the parking meter. There is a solid 10-15 feet distance in depth between each of them and they are all roughly represented.
 
Mar 14, 2012
2,241
135
The last shot looks like some shots that I've gotten from the 70-200 f/2.8 II IS when IS is on. Did you try it with IS off?

I've only used the lens indoors for a couple dozen shots, so I haven't seen what you've described yet. The reviews I've seen so far have commented that the bokeh isn't as smooth as it could be, but I wonder how much better the 35L II could have done under the same conditions at f/1.8. Maybe I'll try a couple shots with trees in the backyard with the two lenses. Will have to wait until the weekend though.
 

YuengLinger

EOR R
Dec 20, 2012
2,242
272
Southeastern USA
First shot is awful in all respects, and with the horrendous glare on the lake (and a lot on the grass too), using it to judge bokeh makes no sense. A side by side with another lens in this crazy stress-test situation would be helpful!

For an approximately $500 lens, I think the bokeh in the shot behind the closeup of the figurine looks smooth and pleasant. No complaints here.

"Bryant Park," with as busy as a background can get, reminds me of the bokeh of the old ef 85mm 1.8, and, for 35mm, seems pretty good to me. The ball with lights doesn't seem too far back for a 35mm lens to produce a lot of bokeh at 1.8. A side by side with the ef 35mm 1.4L II could help your case. Here it's clearly a matter of taste and, perhaps, expectations.

Finally, the sidewalk shot does show what I hope is an aberration, as it is odd. It would be great if you could tell us exactly your settings and other variables so somebody can try to reproduce the effect on another copy of the lens.

Overall, this series seems to show the bokeh is fine when the backlighting is not extreme.
 
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LSXPhotog

EOS RP
Apr 2, 2015
317
119
www.diossiphotography.com
First shot is awful in all respects, and with the horrendous glare on the lake (and a lot on the grass too), using it to judge bokeh makes no sense.

For an approximately $500 lens, I think the bokeh in the shot behind the closeup of the figurine looks smooth and pleasant. No complaints here.

"Bryant Park," with as busy as a background can get, reminds me of the bokeh of the old ef 85mm 1.8, and, for 35mm, seems pretty good to me. The ball with lights doesn't seem too far back for a 35mm lens to produce a lot of bokeh at 1.8. A side by side with the ef 35mm 1.4L II could help your case. Here it's clearly a matter of taste and, perhaps, expectations.

Finally, the sidewalk shot does show what I hope is an aberration, as it is odd. It would be great if you could tell us exactly your settings and other variables so somebody can try to reproduce the effect on another copy of the lens.

Overall, this series seems to show the bokeh is fine when the backlighting is not extreme.
Please read all of my captions and they should answer your questions.

The first shot makes a lot of sense to show bokeh! Haha This could easily be a shot of someone standing next to a lake - the glare did not altered the bokeh. It was done deliberately to see how it worked with harsh light in the frame and it did extremely well. If that's a person standing there, this is not a good image. I'm returning the lens tomorrow and do not have the time to make more images to satisfy all conditions. I can safely say that the majority of photos I took with the lens were not pleasing.

Please understand that the entire intention of these photos is to show how the image renders in various conditions. I didn't say I was looking to win awards with these photos because they're all garbage and were only taken to see how the lens would perform. It did poorly.
 

LSXPhotog

EOS RP
Apr 2, 2015
317
119
www.diossiphotography.com
The last shot looks like some shots that I've gotten from the 70-200 f/2.8 II IS when IS is on. Did you try it with IS off?

I've only used the lens indoors for a couple dozen shots, so I haven't seen what you've described yet. The reviews I've seen so far have commented that the bokeh isn't as smooth as it could be, but I wonder how much better the 35L II could have done under the same conditions at f/1.8. Maybe I'll try a couple shots with trees in the backyard with the two lenses. Will have to wait until the weekend though.
I didn't try the lens with IS off. I don't know if it would have made much of a difference or if that should help. The majority of photos captured where I focus on something about 10+ feet away tend to have really poor bokeh.
 

YuengLinger

EOR R
Dec 20, 2012
2,242
272
Southeastern USA
I did read your captions.

Again, I think you'd make a stronger case with side-by-side shots.

And I know these are test shots. But even if you don't have another similar lens on hand for comparison, you could have tried a few shots of the backlit tree from slightly different angles. Even a bokeh "king" such as the ef 50mm f/1.2L gets similar jittery bokeh in certain situations at f/stops between f/1.8 and f/2.8, but in others is dreamy.

Clearly, you don't like the results. If you don't need IS and macro at 35mm, there is a much better choice!

BTW...Did you have a UV filter on this lens? That could cause something like what we see in the sidewalk shot (and cause issues with ultra-harsh, over-the-top backlit shots too).
 
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LSXPhotog

EOS RP
Apr 2, 2015
317
119
www.diossiphotography.com
I did read your captions.

Again, I think you'd make a stronger case with side-by-side shots.

And I know these are test shots. But even if you don't have another similar lens on hand for comparison, you could have tried a few shots of the backlit tree from slightly different angles. Even a bokeh "king" such as the ef 50mm f/1.2L gets similar jittery bokeh in certain situations at f/stops between f/1.8 and f/2.8, but in others is dreamy.

Clearly, you don't like the results. If you don't need IS and macro at 35mm, there is a much better choice!

BTW...Did you have a UV filter on this lens? That could cause something like what we see in the sidewalk shot (and cause issues with ultra-harsh, over-the-top backlit shots too).
The only other 35mm lens I have is an FD 35mm f/2 - which actually looks nicer. I could do some quick comparison shots with that lens. I have a 35mm Art lens arriving Thursday, but I won't have the RF lens at that point. I do, however, have extensive experience with many various lenses and could tell very quickly that this lens wasn't going to do what I was looking for - which was provide good subject isolation at an affordable price in the 35mm focal length.

Every lens creates bad bokeh in various situations and conditions. I felt this lens more often than not would produce poor bokeh quality.

I didn't like the results, yes. And I wanted to share them because I wanted to show what kind of images I was getting with this lens. It appears many other reviewers are getting the same results and reaching similar conclusions.

There was no UV filter on the lens.
 

Viggo

EOS 5D SR
Dec 13, 2010
3,879
433
I wanted to disagree when I saw the title of the thread, but I agree completely, it looks seriously horrible... the closeups are great, but everything else is just, no....
 
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Larsskv

Enthusiast with Canon related GAS
Jun 12, 2015
748
158
As stated in another thread, I think the bokeh of the RF35 is pleasing in my shots, but I have to admit that they are all shot with less than 1,5 meters to the subject, and probably most of them around 1 meter or less. I agree that the bokeh doesn’t seem impressive in the test shots above.
 

Larsskv

Enthusiast with Canon related GAS
Jun 12, 2015
748
158
Just now I looked around for any 35LII shots that could be compared to the test images in the startof this thread. I haven’t found any pictures at f1.4 with the focus point as long away from the camera, but those I did find did not look fantastic in terms of bokeh. I’ve found that the 35LII has better and smoother bokeh than the RF35, about a 2/3 stop advantage. F2.5 of the 35LII is comparable to f2 of the RF35. My point is that one cannot expect fantastic bokeh from a 35mm lens, if the focus point is +3 meters away, and the background is busy.

I will try to do another 35LII and RF35 bokeh comparison soon.
 

YuengLinger

EOR R
Dec 20, 2012
2,242
272
Southeastern USA
I took a walk late this afternoon with an ef-s 35mm Macro IS on an 80D. I didn't get any shots backlit as harshly, but some of the other shots have bokeh remarkably similar to some to what you posted, Larsskv. I'll post a few soon.

But I will say that if I tried my hardest to make a lens look bad, I would have taken that first shot of the tree by the lake. The glare is the horrendous part. It's not the kind of afternoon or morning light that most photographers would use for portrait work. It looks late in the morning to me, closer to noon than dawn by a few hours. This is why I don't think it's helpful.

I did get a hint of the ghosting in extreme corners when shooting with a UV filter, quite similar to your sidewalk shot.
 

YuengLinger

EOR R
Dec 20, 2012
2,242
272
Southeastern USA
My final point, if I was too harsh judging your test shots and quick judgments. Sorry! I do not believe the shots you shared offer more than a tiny data point about the RF 35mm f/1.8, but just a couple weeks ago I returned a Tamron 45mm f/1.8 within two days. It was awful in terms of AF ability, being soft even when focused as well as possible in LiveView, and with having massive CA wide-open, and still clearly visible at f/5.6. I concluded that I got a bad copy. People here on CR have written positively about it, and reviewers I trust, such as Dustin Abbott and Chris Frost praised it and showed excellent samples. Go figure.

I wonder how many photographers choose an inexpensive, relatively wide macro lens for backlit portraits?
 

jd7

EOS 7D MK II
Feb 3, 2013
701
80
I understand even the best of 35mm lenses have their challenges when it comes to bokeh, but I'm pretty sure the OP's shots - particularly the first and last - have ended my interest in the RF 35. I would have expected better from my old 35 2 IS. Perhaps adding the (semi) macro mode meant something else in the design had to give? Anyway, the close focus shots show the RF 35 is capable of producing very nice images, so it's not a bad lens - it just seems it's not as good for as many uses as it might first have appeared.
 

Larsskv

Enthusiast with Canon related GAS
Jun 12, 2015
748
158
I did a few shots at f1.4 with my 35LII mounted to the EOS R on my way to work today, with the focus point approximately 3 meters away. These pictures are straight from my phone via Wifi, not edited. It should be no doubt that the 35LII has better bokeh than the RF35, but people shouldn't have high hopes for fantastic bokeh from any 35mm lens, if the focus point is more than maybe two meters away.

In my opionon, those shooting a 35mm with the intention of good bokeh, without going close to their subject, should reconsider their shooting style, or choose a longer focal length.
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Larsskv

Enthusiast with Canon related GAS
Jun 12, 2015
748
158
Here are some pictures from the RF35 that I am pleased with in terms of bokeh and subject separation. They are all shot at f1.8.

1.jpg
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jd7

EOS 7D MK II
Feb 3, 2013
701
80
I did a few shots at f1.4 with my 35LII mounted to the EOS R on my way to work today, with the focus point approximately 3 meters away. These pictures are straight from my phone via Wifi, not edited. It should be no doubt that the 35LII has better bokeh than the RF35, but people shouldn't have high hopes for fantastic bokeh from any 35mm lens, if the focus point is more than maybe two meters away.

In my opionon, those shooting a 35mm with the intention of good bokeh, without going close to their subject, should reconsider their shooting style, or choose a longer focal length.
The OP's examples from the RF 35 really do not look good at all, and as you say the 35L II is clearly better, but you may be right about shooting style. No point in having unrealistic expectations of gear - better to understand its limitations and work to its strengths! Perhaps not unreasonable to adopt the approach of stopping down at least a bit any time you are a medium distance from your subject when shooting with a 35mm (I'm guessing it wouldn't be necessary if you were at infinity focus?).
I think I'm still going to struggle convincing myself to switch to the RF 35 from my 35 Art though :)
 
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YuengLinger

EOR R
Dec 20, 2012
2,242
272
Southeastern USA
I bought my ef-s 35mm f/2.8 IS Macro to have something lightweight on my 80D. Approximately the same framing as a nifty-fifty, fairly useful IS, convenient for snapshots and occasionally better photos of the family, a bit of street photography, nice shots of details while out on outings...I like its AF speed and IQ better than the ef-s 24mm pancake, along with its ergonomics. In short, a generally fun, flexible prime.

It is definitely not a substitute for the ef 35mm f/1.4L II.

This explains why I kind of jumped to the defense of the rf 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro--I see it as a FF bigger sibling to my ef-s 35mm f/2.8.

Nice shots of the family! I like the b&w here very much. Happy holidays!
 
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Larsskv

Enthusiast with Canon related GAS
Jun 12, 2015
748
158
The OP's examples from the RF 35 really do not look good at all, and as you say the 35L II is clearly better, but you may be right about that. No point in having unrealistic expectations of gear - better to understand its limitations and work to its strengths! Perhaps not unreasonable to adopt the approach of stopping down at least a bit any time you are a medium distance from your subject when shooting with a 35mm (I'm guessing it wouldn't be necessary if you were at infinity focus?).
I think I'm still going to struggle convincing myself to switch to the RF 35 from my 35 Art though :)
It has been years since I sold of my 35ART, but I would be curious to see how it perform bokeh wise at f1.4 and f1.8 at various distances, up to at least 3 meters from your subject.
 

YuengLinger

EOR R
Dec 20, 2012
2,242
272
Southeastern USA
The OP's examples from the RF 35 really do not look good at all, and as you say the 35L II is clearly better, but you may be right about that. No point in having unrealistic expectations of gear - better to understand its limitations and work to its strengths! Perhaps not unreasonable to adopt the approach of stopping down at least a bit any time you are a medium distance from your subject when shooting with a 35mm (I'm guessing it wouldn't be necessary if you were at infinity focus?).
I think I'm still going to struggle convincing myself to switch to the RF 35 from my 35 Art though :)
Why the desire to switch at all? Better AF? Macro? I liked mine while I had it, but got mega GAS when the ef 35mm f/1.4L II came out. The slightly faster Canon gives me quick and reliable AF with better bokeh. On the other hand, no IS, and it ain't petite.
 

LSXPhotog

EOS RP
Apr 2, 2015
317
119
www.diossiphotography.com
Hey there, gang. I went ahead and took some shots that I could easily reproduce tomorrow when I get my Sigma 35mm Art lens in the mail to directly compare bokeh quality at various focus distances. I took them next to my vintage FD 35mm f/2 S.C.C. lens, which is about 40 years old...and it appears to have performed better in terms of background smoothness - very sad but awesome for me because I love my FD lenses. LOL

Just looking through the shots I took it appears that this lens renders some very ugly bokeh from about 8-10ft out. When you focus on closer subjects, the lens does a magnificent job indeed.

Tomorrow when I get the Sigma in hand I will try to post the photos next to each other. Unfortunately for me, the weather conditions will change because it's lightly raining right now, so it will actually be MORE forgiving to the RF and FD mount lenses.