Canon’s 35mm f/1.4L VCM Lens is the First in a New Series of Hybrid Primes

A Canon 35mm camera lens with a sleek black design. The lens features a red ring near the top, a focus adjustment ring, and a control ring. The brand name "Canon" and the number "35" are printed in white on the front. The background is plain white.

Canon announced the 35mm f/1.4L VCM prime lens which is designed to work equally well for both video production and photo capture. Canon says it is the first in a series of new primes that are meant to appeal to both types of content creators.

“This lens is the beginning of a new hybrid lens series and with its fixed focal length, fills a gap as there is not a fixed focal length lens wider than 50mm in the L-series — until now,” Canon says.

It weighs 1.2 pounds (555 grams) and measures 3.0 by 3.9 inches (diameter by length), or 76.5mm by 99.3mm. Compared to Canon’s RF-mount 35mm f/1.8, the new L-series prime is heavier and larger, as is typical of the faster aperture and L-series branding; the 35mm f/1.8 Macro IS STM weighs 10.7 ounces (305 grams) and measures 2.93 by 2.57 inches (74.4mm by 62.8mm).

The company adds that the 35mm f/1.4L VCM is ideal for low-light capture and features an external de-clicked manual aperture (or iris, for cinematographers) ring. Oddly, this option is only available in video capture mode; when taking photos, aperture can only be controlled from the camera.

Additionally, Canon promises that it has very little focus breathing (this refers to a shift in perspective when focus is changed) and that it has the “outstanding” L-series optical design. The button on the side of the lens isn’t just for AF lock but is also customizable for other functions, which is a nod to the hybrid nature of the design.

A black Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM lens is shown against a white background. The lens features a wide focus ring, a control ring, and an image stabilization switch. It has a red ring near the front element, indicating its L-series status.

The lens is constructed of 14 elements arranged into 11 groups including two ultra-low dispersion glass elements and two aspherical optics. It also features three coatings: Canon’s ASC (Air Sphere Coating, SSC (Super Spectra Coating), and Fluorine coating. The front filter size is 67mm and it has an aperture range of f/1.4 through f/16 via an 11-bladed diaphragm. When combined with an EOS R3, Canon says that it has seven stops of shake correction.

The 35mm f/1.4L VCM features a combination of Canon’s Nano USM (ultrasonic motor) and a VCM (Voice Coil Motor) — hence the name of the optic — to drive the autofocus system and when equipped on an EOS R5 or R6 camera, covers approximately 90% of the Dual Pixel’s horizontal plane and 100% of the vertical. The VCM is responsible for moving four relatively heavy lens elements and that works in tandem with the Nano USM to create a coordinated dual system rather than a single main focus group.

This is the first time that Canon has released a lens with a VCM — and is additionally unusual thanks to the novel design of the coordinated movement with the USM — which is very simialar to the linear actuator autofocus systems from Sony and other manufacturers. Canon says it used this design because it works well for both photo and video applications.

For manual focus, the control ring has the dual function of being able to control that as well as be programmed to perform other features (such as changing the ISO) from the attached camera’s menu.

A close-up view of a Canon camera lens. The lens features assorted switches and markings and is mostly black with a red accent ring near the end. The inner glass elements and electronic contacts on the mounting side are visible.

The Canon 35mm f/1.4L VCM is expected to be available in June for $1,500. That makes it one of the most expensive 35mm mirrorless autofocus lenses on the market behind the Leica Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 and the Leica APO-Summicron-SL 35mm f/2 ASPH.

A Signal to the Market?

The 35mm f/1.4L VCM is meant to be looked at as a high-level performance standard lens option for video and still users; equally performant on both the R5 and R6 series as well as the C70 and the new C400 cameras, for example. While Canon has released RF-mount zoom lenses that are framed this way — the 24-105mm f/2.8 is one such example — the 35mm f/1.4L VCM is the first prime lens it has released with this description since the move to mirrorless.

A Canon camera lens with a black body and red ring near the front. The lens has a ridged focus ring, a button with a switch, and a hood attached to protect the lens. The Canon logo and specifications are visible on the body of the lens.

Canon has, of course, manufactured prime lenses that are suitable for use in video applications, but the company’s language around the 35mm f/1.4L VCM indicates that this is the first time the company is releasing a “hybrid” prime where the performance when used for photo and video capture is equal. The emphasis on video can be seen in the optical design that limits breathing, the customizable button, the de-clicked external aperture ring, and the fact that Canon is announcing it alongside the C400 at CineGear, an exhibition specifically aimed at cinematographers.

At the same time, it’s not a “cinema lens” and is clearly meant to be ideal for photographers, too. If nothing else, Canon’s language and choice of venue are clear signs to the industry that it intends to take the idea of “hybrid” far more seriously moving forward — especially considering that it has signaled this is just the first of a series of coming optics.

Update 6/5: Added a line explaining that the aperture ring is not usable in photo mode.

Image credits: Canon