When Canon released this lens, many people complained that they really wanted a replacement for the 16-35mm f2.8 L II. An f4 aperture was regarded as too conservative; however, now that it has been out for some time, the market seems to have recognized it for what it is: a class leading stabilized 16-35mm zoom for everyone who doesn’t need f2.8 on a super-wide (which is most people). The vast majority of consumers/prosumers who buy ’16-35mm’ lenses use them for scenic, travel and landscape work in which case f2.8 just brings more weight and expense. The f2.8 versions are however coveted by wedding and commercial photographers.
The general impression one gets from reviews is that this lens is noticeably better in overall terms than the Zeiss 16-35mm f4 OSS for the Sony FE mount and also superior the Nikon 16-35mm f4 G. With falling prices, it is also substantially cheaper than either the Nikon or Sony Zeiss offerings and can now be found in the US for around $1050 (£650 pounds in the UK). With the painfully high price of the Canon EF 24-70 f2.8 L II (especially at launch), the price of the EF 16-35 f4 IS has proven a relief. In fact, its now available for little more than its predecessor, the non-stabilised EF 17-40 f4 L.
Here is the Canon USA EF 16-35 f4 IS L product page.
So just how good is it?
Please note that all files have been sharpened in LR with 70 points, 0.8 radius, 25 detail and 6 radius. CA removal has been ticked, but otherwise no profile adjustments have been applied. All images are 75% JPEGs of 1500 pixels on the long side.
The short answer is that is the second most impressive super wide-angle zoom lens I have ever used, but even that is being a little unkind; the Pentax 645 28-45mm DFA SR is a 1500g medium format lens that costs five times as much and doesn’t seem to have peers even among medium format zoom optics. So back to reality, it is the best full-frame wide-angle zoom I have ever used and I will explain why.
Resolution: Everything they say is true. This lens is razor sharp on centre from wide open. The edges and corners are also far better than they have any right to be at f4 and reach their peak at f5.6-f8, depending on focal length. There seems to be relatively little field curvature, so f4 really does deliver balanced performance across the frame and could certainly be considered usable for a wide range of applications.
I found this copy was just as astounding throughout the zoom range. Unlike the Sony Zeiss 16-35 f4 OOS, which is known to tail off in performance quite significantly in the 28-35mm range, the Canon just keeps on looking perfect. Always. I would say it is a hair weaker at the 35mm end, but not enough to have any material difference in practical use and you have to look hard to see it at 100% view.
Here is the same beautiful bit’o’wall used to test the Canon EF 35mm f2 IS. It is adorned with ‘optical moss’ and a ‘test rose’, not to mention the ‘resolution wire’ on centre.
**There are many more samples at the end of this review, at various focal lengths, apertures and distances.**
CA is very low. It does appear when provoked but its very well controlled compared to many lenses.
Colour is… superb. The lens has an amazing combination of rich saturated colours, superb clarity and strong resolution no matter the aperture. This really does grab your attention, because frame after frame just look great in every regard.
Flare resistance is excellent. It is far better than my 16-28mm Tokina.
Distortion is significant, but this is one of the trade-offs common with modern wide angle lenses. Its fixed in a blink in post, so personally I don’t give it any real consideration. How it would fare for serious architectural use is another matter and is not something I tested.
Vignetting is heavy at wide apertures, especially at 16mm, but clearly up nicely as you stop down. There is a big difference between 16mm and f4 and f5.6, for example. The only issue I had with vignetting was more to do with camera than lens. Because Canon files are not nearly as robust as many other brands’ files when lifted heavily in exposure, this can be an issue in the corners of frames with this lens. If the subject matter in the corners is already dark and then is even more underexposed due to the heavy vignetting, lens profile correction in post processing can result in corners that show all the signs of a Canon files pushed too far i.e. low contrast, noisy, milky colour and weak contrast. This does not show up often, but it certainly can show up by doing nothing more than applying the lens profile correction in Lightroom.
Fast. Silent. Typical Canon i.e. as good as it gets in full-frame. I found tracking AF to be superb too. You would expect it to do well with the wiggle room that that an f4 aperture gives on a lens this wide, but I found every single frame was tack sharp when chasing my kids around the bike track on the 5D III, including jumps and bikes closing at high speed then passing very close by and disappearing again. Did I say how unbelievably sharp this lens is wide open?
Handling & Build Quality
It weighs 600g, which is substantially less than the 800+g 24-70 f2.8 L II and 400g less than the Tokina 16-28mm, or the Nikon 14-24mm G for that matter. Its just 80g lighter than its opposite number at Nikon, the Nikkor 16-35mm f4 ED VR.
I cannot fault the build. Yes, its made of modern plastics, but to be frank, that is what I want for lenses like this. Metal is heavy and has no flex to absorb impacts. DSLRs and their lenses are already heavy enough, so I was delighted when Canon shifted to plastic for the Canon EF 24-70 f2.8 L II and saved 150g. Where are the stories of them falling apart or snapping in half? I personally haven’t seen one, but I have seen a number of reports of severe damage to the Nikon 16-35 f4 ED VR and 24-70 f2.8 G lenses breaking of otherwise coming apart. This is not a ‘Canon is better than Nikon’ comment but the suggestion that plastic does not equal poor build quality. What it does equal is less weight, better handling and fewer back and joint issues!
I found the manual focus action and zoom to be smooth and high quality. The whole lens feels tight and very well put together: typical ‘Canon L of the modern (plastic) era’.
For the next three test shots, I tried very hard to appear to be taking photos in the general direction of the railway station. I figured that photographing invisible trains would be less embarrassing than photographing building supplies. Naturally, I wore a disguise so that I would not be recognised.
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