Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Monday July 09 2012

Lens Review
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM is the ultimate wide-angle lens. It allows photographers to take pictures with unusual angles and in tight spaces. But the lens was tripped up in DxOMark testing in one important category.

While Canon updated its EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM in 2007, the ultra-wide-angle lens still remains popular among photojournalists and other professional photographers for its ability to focus just centimeters away from their subjects. The lens also allows for sweeping wide-angled pictures, making it an ideal piece of glass for lanscape photographers looking to be the next Ansel Adams. As an added bonus, the lens’ f/2.8 aperture helps users excel in lowlight and nighttime environments.

But how does this lens compare to its replacement – the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM? Or how about alternative lenses like Sigma, or rivals like Sony and Nikon? DxOMark has some answers.

Measurements

Strengths of the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM include:

  • Good resolution, especially at the center of images.
  • Well controlled distortion with measurements around 0.5%. However, distortion is notable at the edges of photographs, especially at wider focal lengths – a common effect in wide-angle lenses.
  • Vignetting was kept in check, especially at higher apertures.

Weaknesses of the lens include:

  • Chromatic aberration – an effect that can create color fringing, especially at edges where dark and bright contrast meet – was unacceptably strong, particularly at the widest aperture of 16mm.

Comparisons

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM vs EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

From the surface, Canon’s EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM largely resembles its 2001 predecessor. The biggest physical differences of the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM come down to its extra 40 grams of weight and an added centimeter in length. More striking differences between the two pieces of glass can be found  inside the lenses, with the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM making improvments overs its sibling in:

Much better control of chromatic aberration, a defect that dogged the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM.

Lateral chromatic aberration in the image field at 16mm focal length and aperture f/5.6

The roughly $1,700 (USD) lens also made small improvements in brightness. It also better contained vignetting.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM vs. Sony Vario_Sonnar T* 16-35mm F/2.8 ZA SSM and Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR

How does Canon’s EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM compare to similar wide-angle lenses made by Canon’s biggest rivals and the camera industry’s other titans – Sony and Nikon?

Chromatic aberration was much better controlled in Sony’s Vario-Sonnar T* 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM and Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR. But it is important to note that this defect was rectified in the newer Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. Canon’s older 16-35mm was still able to compete with the best, standing up to its rival in nearly every other category. It equalized Sony’s score for resolution, and trailed Nikon’s lens by just 4lp/mm. It ran in the middle of the pack for brightness and vignetting.

Other advantages of the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM include:

  • It is more lightweight and compact than Sony and Nikon’s 16-35mm.
  • Good control of vignetting.

Perks of the 2009 released Sony’s Vario-Sonnar T* 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM include:

  • Its brightness, making it an excellent wide-angle lens for for lowlight conditions, and those considering a Sony camera body.
  • Chromatic abberration, which was very well controlled in this lens.

Strenghts of Nikon’s AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR are:

  • Its strong resolution, besting both Sony and Canon’s 16-35mm lenses.
  • Its affordability, priced the lowest among the three.

However, it’s important to note that the widest the Nikon AF-S Nikkor 16-35mm f/4G ED VR’s aperture reaches is f/4. With its tested transmission score of 4.6 T-stop, the lens will struggle in the dark and lowlight conditions.

Conclusion

The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM is a dependable and bright lens with sharp resolution and good control of vignetting. However, the camera’s big weakness is chromatic aberration, which will create unflattering pictures for photographers who frequently work in high contrast conditions. Canon lovers should consider ponying up the extra money to spend on the updated version of the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM, the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM. The latter does a more superior job at putting chromatic aberration in check.