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Review: Canon EF 16-35mm f4L IS Lens

Canon EF16-35mm f4L IS Review

As a professional landscape photographer, a wide-angle lens is a very important tool in my bag. I had never been particularly impressed with any of Canon’s wide-angle zoom lenses, and the Canon EF 16-35mm f2.8L II has been the weakest lens in my bag for some time, being only fractionally sharper than the EF 17-40mm f4L. However, I like to get my compositions just right in-camera, and I like to work quickly, so I put up with its average performance rather than switch to using prime wide-angle lenses.

canon ef 16-35mm review landscape
The new lens (on the right) is slightly bulkier than both the EF17-40mm f4L (left) and the EF16-35mm f2.8L II (centre).

I also use neutral density and polarising filters a great deal with wide-angle lenses, so that ruled out adapting Nikon’s acclaimed 14-24mm to Canon fit due to the cumbersome filter adaptors needed to accommodate its bulbous front element. For my work the EF 16-35mm f2.8L II was just about acceptable and it has been my main wide-angle lens for landscape photography for the past six years. I have been keenly awaiting a replacement!

In early June this year I took delivery of the new EF 16-35mm f4L IS and, having now used it extensively in many different situations over the course of seven months, I feel qualified to review its performance.

First Impressions

Solid construction and wide, nicely dampened zoom and focusing rings give this lens a high quality feel. In a review by LensRentals, they disassembled the lens to examine its construction. Their conclusion was that, compared to Canon’s previous wide-angle zooms, more robust parts have been used and it would be easier to adjust the optics if necessary, which is reassuring.

Optical quality

The new lens offers a considerable improvement in optical quality over its predecessors, resolving fine detail right into the corners of the frame. In terms of image sharpness it’s performance is on a par to that of many prime wide-angle lenses and also Nikon’s 14-24mm. Only the very best prime wide-angles can better it, and even then it would be a close call.

canon ef 16-35mm
It’s highly detailed landscape scenes like this one of Buachaille Etive Mor in the Scottish Highlands where the much improved corner sharpness of the new lens is most evident.

I was most interested to see how the new lens and my old 16-35mm f2.8L II compared at my most used apertures of f8, f11 and f16 at the 16mm focal length. At these apertures there is a very noticeable improvement in corner sharpness with the new lens. In fact the new lens offers consistently good sharpness across the whole frame at all apertures, including remarkably good results wide open at f4.

Barrel distortion and vignetting are comparable to the old lens, but there does seem to be a little less colour fringing around areas of high contrast. Of course all of this is easily corrected in Lightroom.

canon 16-35mm ef f4L IS review
A slim 77mm polarizing filter causes no vignetting at all, even at the 16mm end of the zoom, as illustrated in this distant view of Dore Holm in the Shetland Islands.

Flare Control

I like to shoot a lot of my landscapes into the light, often including the sun in the frame. The EF 16-35mm f2.8 L II produced a very pleasing star burst when stopped down to f16. One of my main concerns with switching to the new lens was whether the star burst would be as good, as the new lens has a nine-blade aperture diaphragm compared to the old lens with only seven blades. Thankfully the starburst is ok, although perhaps not quite as good as the one produced by the older lens. It has eighteen points compared to the old lens which had 14 points, but it’s a nice clean star and the points don’t split like they do with EF 17-40mm f4 L. Contrary to other reports I have seen on this lens I notice no significant flare issues when shooting into the sun, something I have now tested repeatedly.

canon ef 16-35mm review starbust
By shooting into the sun using a small aperture, the new lens creates a pleasing starburst effect, as seen in this shot of Sgwd Eira in Wales.

Comparisons

Since obtaining the lens, I have had many opportunities to shoot highly detailed landscape scenes, often with fine detail in all four corners of the frame. In many cases I have also been able to shoot the same scene using both the older EF 16-35mm f2.8L II and the new lens, comparing like for like at the same focal length, aperture and point of focus. All my tests were done by focusing manually in live view (using 10X magnification) on a 5D mkIII with the camera mounted on a very stable tripod using the 2-second self-timer and Silent Shoot mode 2, so my results were as consistent as they could be in the field. In every case the new lens significantly outperformed the older f2.8 version.

canon ef 16-35mm f/4L IS review
At the 16mm end of the zoom, an aperture of f11 provides enough depth of field to capture front to back sharpness in this view from the Brecon Beacons in Wales.

I can’t comment on the addition of the image stabiliser, as I never switched it on and doubt that I ever will! One thing that may be an issue for some photographers is the f4 maximum aperture. When shooting at night a faster maximum aperture can be very useful, especially for stars or the Northern Lights. However, the new lens remains sharp across the frame even at f4, so at least this is a very useable aperture.

Conclusion

From a landscape photographers point of view the results from this lens are excellent. It doesn’t resolve quite as much detail as the superb Zeiss 21mm, but it’s close enough for me to choose the EF 16-35mm f4 L IS over the Zeiss for it’s compositional flexibility. So far the lens has exceeded my expectations and it is quickly becoming one of my favourite lenses.

Specification 

  • Weight: 615g
  • Dimensions: Max. diameter x length (mm): 82.6 x 112.8
  • Filter thread: 77mm
  • Minimum focusing distance (m): 0.28
  • Maximum magnification (x): 0.23 (at 35mm)
  • Image stabilizer: mk4
  • Weather sealed: yes

Buying the Canon EF 16-35mm f4L IS Lens

This lens is available from the following reliable retailers:

 

Summary
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Canon EF 16-35mm f4L IS Lens
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Visit Guy's website

Guy Edwardes has been a professional landscape and nature photographer for twenty years, supplying several top image libraries including Getty Images and NaturePL. He has a Degree in Photography and now runs over thirty photographic workshops around the world each year. He is the author of two successful books on landscape and nature photography.

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