Canon EF 16-35 f4 IS L vs. Tokina 16-28mm f2.8
The large Tokina 16-28mm f2.8 is a very well regarded lens and I own a copy that impressed me away with its performance a few years ago. However, it has some downsides; it is large, heavy, the AF is not as quiet or slick as that found on Canon lenses and it cannot use screw in filters. That bulbous front end certainly does make it somewhat prone to flare too. I find mine razor sharp on centre from wide open, but at distance it does take time to pick up in at the edges. In comparison, I find the Canon better or equal in every performance parameter: the Canon 16-35 f4 IS L is lighter, quieter, smoother and more reliable to autofocus, produces slightly better colour and contrast, better performance at f4 at most distances and is more flare resistant. Files have more ‘pop’ and vibrancy as a result. I’m not knocking the Tokina though: its a superb lens in pure optical terms and I shot much of my first Iceland trip with it on my Sony A7 and A7R.
It also handles like you expect it to, because it comes from the same stable as other recent Canon lenses. In short, you’d need a really good reason to buy the Tokina at this point. Also, the days of people adapting Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 G lenses to get ‘great wide angle performance’ is long since gone. The Canon may lose 2mm at the wide end and a stop, but for most scenic and landscape photographers, its by far the more desirable lens because it equals the Nikon in performance in a smaller, lighter cheaper package.
Canon EF 16-35 f4 IS L vs. Sony Zeiss 16-35mm f4 OSS
I cannot really say in detail, because I have never owned the Zeiss; however, from the samples I have worked with in LR, the Canon is a noticeably better performer at the margins of the frame and in the corners. The Canon also keeps its performance at an exceptional level throughout the focal range, but it is also larger. The Zeiss is 150g lighter, smaller and of course native to the Sony FE system. However, quite a few Canon and Sony users have opted for the Canon lens instead, simply because they can use it with both systems (via Metabones or similar adaptor for the Sony) and they can enjoy a more rounded optical performance for a limited weight penalty.
This lens demonstrates that Canon has made a huge leap in its super-wide lens designs. It has managed to combine everything people love about the 24-70 f2.8 L II (while including Image Stabilization) for half the price of the 24-70 L II, simply by dropping a stop. I imagine they realized that most people are better off with IS than a wider aperture and now that prices have fallen, its little more expensive than the weaker non-stabilized 17-40mm L was about a year ago. Based on growing chatter on various rumor forums, it seems that Canon may have a 16-35mm f2.8 L III around the corner, but you can be sure it will be larger, heavier and much more expensive.
If you can live without the f2.8 aperture, the 16-35mm f4 IS is the perfect super-wide zoom. It is lightning fast, not too heavy yet built for decades of hard use, silent, the stabilization works flawlessly, it sharp as a tack from wide open, color is great, CA is limited and by L series standards its relatively affordable. In fact, now that I am thinking about all of these qualities combined, I’d go far as to say it may justify the title of ‘best overall zoom lens in the world’. It’s that good.
More fascinating but carefully selected test subjects coming up below….