Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM
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August 13, 2014
by Andrew Alexander
A new lens from Canon, the 16-35mm ƒ/4L IS USM is a complement to the existing 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L and 17-40mm ƒ/4L lenses, offering image stabilization and Canon's latest lens technology including glass-molded and UD lens elements, and an enhanced fluorine coating.
The lens is built around the EF lens mount, and will work on all compatible Canon cameras. It takes 77mm filters, ships with a petal-shaped lens hood, and is available now for approximately $1,200.
While the 16-35mm ƒ/4L is indeed a sharp lens -- sharper than the 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L -- it only produces tack-sharp results on a crop-sensor camera body. On a full-frame body, it does not feature a combination of aperture and focal length that provides corner-to-corner, tack-sharp results. It gets very close, but not quite.
The lens performs very well on a crop-frame body such as the Canon 7D, as any corner softness is not observed by the smaller sensor. Even wide open at ƒ/4 there is only a trace of corner softness, and stopping down doesn't actually affect results in a tangible way. Diffraction limiting sets in at ƒ/11; at ƒ/16 and ƒ/22, we note generalized softness across the frame.
On a full-frame sensor body like the Canon 1Ds mkIII, the corners show distinct softness when used wide open at ƒ/4; stopping down is required for additional sharpness. The widest angle, 16mm, doesn't show any benefit until ƒ/8, while 20mm and longer is better at ƒ/5.6; the sharpest combination seems to be 20mm at ƒ/8, where results are sharp indeed.
It is probably quite difficult to get tack-sharp results out of a lens that features both a considerable wide-angle zoom range and image stabilization, but Canon does well here, certainly better than they've done with previous efforts.
The 16-35mm ƒ/4L does well to control chromatic aberration; the only area of concern would be when the lens is used at its widest settings (16-20mm). At these focal lengths, we note some magenta-green color shifts, in areas of high contrast, in the corners.
With the lens mounted on the Canon 7D, the 16-35mm ƒ/4L shows no real signs of corner shading. On the 1Ds mkIII however it's a different story: the worst results are observed at 16mm and ƒ/4, where the extreme corners are 1 1/4 stops darker than the center. Still at 16mm, no matter how much you stop down, there will always be at least a 3/4 stop differential; other focal lengths are a bit better, but only at 35mm is there only tangible evidence of corner shading.
Like most wide-angle zoom lenses, the Canon 16-35mm ƒ/4L shows evidence of both barrel and pincushion distortion, when zoomed out and in, respectively. It's pleasantly balanced around the 24mm mark, where a certain parity is achieved, and there's only a slight trace of pincushion distortion in the extreme corners.
With its USM (ultra-sonic motor) designation, it doesn't get much quieter and faster when focusing the 16-35mm ƒ/4L IS USM lens. Going from infinity to close-focus takes well less than one second, and point-to-point focusing is lightning quick. Focusing results can be adjusted at any time by just turning the focus ring, and focusing operations do not rotate attached 77mm filters.
With a close-focusing distance of just under one foot, and a magnification of 0.23x, the Canon 16-35mm ƒ/4L provides passable results for macro: there are definitely better, purpose-built lenses if you are looking specifically for a macro lens. That said, the lens is compatible with the 500D close up diopter lens and EF12II / EF25II extension tubes, but only at the 35mm end of the zoom range.
Build Quality and Handling
As an L-class lens, Canon doesn't spare much in the way of expense to ensure that these lenses keep going and going. The 16-35mm ƒ/4L IS USM is weather- and water-resistant, employing several rubber gasket seals. The front element employs a fluorine coating to reduce fingerprints and smears; the design of the lens consists of 16 elements in 12 groups, including 3 aspherical and 2 UD elements. The aperture composed of nine curved blades.
There are two switches on the lens: one switch to enable or disable autofocus on the lens ("AF / MF") and another switch to activate and deactivate image stabilization. A window provides distance information in feet and meters: there is no depth-of-field scale, but there is there an infrared index at the 16mm focal length setting.
The large focusing ring is composed of rubber with small ribs about a 1 3/8" wide. The ring provides excellent manual focusing fidelity, with a slightly smooth resistance and plenty of travel. The ring ends in soft stops on both ends of the focusing spectrum.
The zoom ring is composed of rubber with large ribs, about an inch wide. The zoom ring has a relatively short throw to go from 16mm to 35mm, and again, the ring is very smooth, firm but not too tight; it requires two fingers to move. With its internal focusing, zoom creep and lens extension won't be problems for this lens.
The EW-82L lens hood is petal-shaped, attaches via a bayonet mount, and adds about 1 1/2 inches to the overall length of the lens. The interior of the hood is flocked to reduce any stray light, and there's a locking mechanism to keep the hood attached to the lens. The cap employs the new front-pinch design and is much easier to use.
Canon claims up to 4 stops of hand-holding improvement when using image stabilization for this lens. The IS worked quite well, though we didn't quite see the 4-stop improvement that Canon advertised. Rob, our lens technician, has very steady hands, so your experience with IS may vary. Typically IS isn't seen on such a wide lens, however, IS can be very useful, especially for video shooters.
There was a time when both Sigma and Tamron produced a 17-35mm equivalent lens in the Canon mount, but both companies have discontinued these lenses.
Canon EF 17-40mm ƒ/4L USM ~$850
A stalwart lens and a favorite in many a shooter's bag, the 17-40mm is a very comparable lens. The 16-35mm is a bit more expensive for about the same focal length and aperture, but comes complete with the latest technical innovation, and image stabilization. Optically, the new 16-35mm is sharper at wider apertures, but stopped down, they're not much different.
Canon EF 16-35mm ƒ/2.8L II USM ~$1,700
Canon's flagship wide-angle zoom is actually starting to get a bit long in the tooth - introduced in 2007, its performance shows that Canon has come a long way with lens design. It's not as sharp as the 16-35mm ƒ/4, but then, it has that wider aperture capability for extra light-gathering and greater out-of-focus backgrounds. It does not have image stabilization; at comparable apertures, the 16-35mm ƒ/4 comes out a bit better.
Sigma 12-24mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 II DG HSM ~$950
Sigma used to produce a 17-35mm lens, but it's been discontinued, so if you're interested in a third-party lens in the same vein, you won't find something truly equivalent: the 12-24mm ultra-wide lens is about as close as you'll get, and it doesn't sport image stabilization. We haven't yet tested the version II of this lens, but the previous version was fairly good, if you didn't mind some fantastic corner shading and softness when used on full-frame.
The 16-35mm ƒ/4L IS USM occupies an interesting niche in Canon's line up of wide-angle zoom lenses. Some may question the usefulness of having IS on a wide-angle lens, but it does come in handy both for movie-making, and for when you don't want to lug around a tripod. The lens itself is well-made, and produces superior results, with only some excessive corner shading being worthy of note when used on full-frame.
The VFA target should give you a good idea of sharpness in the center and corners, as well as some idea of the extent of barrel or pincushion distortion and chromatic aberration, while the Still Life subject may help in judging contrast and color. We shoot both images using the default JPEG settings and manual white balance of our test bodies, so the images should be quite consistent from lens to lens.
As appropriate, we shoot these with both full-frame and sub-frame bodies, at a range of focal lengths, and at both maximum aperture and ƒ/8. For the ''VFA'' target (the viewfinder accuracy target from Imaging Resource), we also provide sample crops from the center and upper-left corner of each shot, so you can quickly get a sense of relative sharpness, without having to download and inspect the full-res images. To avoid space limitations with the layout of our review pages, indexes to the test shots launch in separate windows.
Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM User Reviews
9 out of 10 points and recommended by gabrielvines (17 reviews)Sharpness center to corner, image quality, color, Stabilizationf4 (f2.8 is always handy)
I have had the 17-40mm, the 16-35mm, 16-35mm f/2.8 II and then this one. When I saw the MTF charts, I made a leap of faith and sold my 16-35mm f/2.8 II. AND i do not regret it.reviewed January 20th, 2015 (purchased for $1,200)
The new 16-35mm f/4L IS is sharper in the corner and even when used on the 36 mpixels A7R, it produces sharp images. It has IS which is great when, for example, you are on a trip to Europe, in an old town with narrow streets requiring a very wide lens and you do not want to use a tripod, or in other places where you are not allowed to use a tripod like some churches or museums.
I would say this one is as sharp in the center (or almost as sharp at some focales) as the 16-35mm f/2.8L II. But in the corners, it's the new king.
Matched to the new 24-70mm f/4L IS and the 70-200mm f/4L IS, you've got a new light Trilogy for the landscape travellers.
10 out of 10 points and recommended by kinematic (13 reviews)Landscape dream lens, 77mm Threads, Sharp images corner to corner even at F/4, IS, Locking Lens HoodNot really, but in specific astrophotography situations, the aperture is not wide enough.
Another winner by Canon.reviewed July 29th, 2014 (purchased for $1,200)
I find this lens very difficult to find faults with. In fact this might be the first time I could not come up with a Con for this lens.
Initially I thought the only possible negative I could come up with is that F/4 is not enough for certain astrophotography situations. I shot this on my Canon EOS 5D mark III, with High ISO and at 16mm and it was still very nice, but certainly having 1 more stop would have give me a little less blur if I wanted pin sharp stars.
Starting by build quality. I know some reviewers don't like the engineered plastic shell. I'm here to tell you that as an accident prone pro, I appreciate the polycarbonate construction over the metal lenses of the past (I've dropped my similarly built 100mm L macro 3 times onto concrete and it survived - no metal lens would ever survive that kind of tumble). The construction is a combination of metal and plastic shell. There is no wobble which is to be expected on an L class lens. Switches feel positive, and the locking lens hood plus the pinch caps are all very positive improvements that Canon has put on their pro lenses. Both focus and zoom are all internal (meaning there is no tromboning or extension of the front element).
I do wish there was a rear gel filter like the 17-40 F/4 or the 16-35 F/2.8 Mark I, but unlike the 16-35 F/2.8 Mark II with it's 82mm thread mount, this one comes with a more common 77mm thread.
Having the smaller thread is a huge benefit to me. Although I have 82mm threads, I also struggle with vignetting with filters that are too thick or larger than 100mm square filter systems. This lens doesn't have that problem. It handles the Cokin-P wide adapter with no issues and even thick screw on ND filters don't vignette. However the Standard Cokin-P does vignette, it is encouraging to point out unlike the 16-35 F/2.8 mark II lens, you can use the 100mm Cokin-Z filters with no issues.
As a previous owner of the 16-35 F/2.8 Mark II, I will make frequent comparisons to it. This F/4 lens is a major improvement over the F/2.8 version for clarity, sharpness, and CA control. Although the centre performance is almost identical to each other at F/4, the corners on this lens trump the F/2.8 version by a long shot. I actually got rid of the F/2.8 because of how bad it was and replaced it with the better performing and inexpensive 14mm F/2.8 from Samyang.
There is a little bit of circular vignetting wide open at F/4, but you quickly overlook that by the sharpness it produces at the corner. Flare control by the SWC coating is well managed. 9 bladed apertures make a beautiful 18 point star. The bokeh is also surprisingly pleasing.
If you are concerned by the slower F/4 aperture, don't be. The IS that was introduced to this lens is rather surprisingly useful. I thought initially that there is no point with having IS on an ultra wide lens, but after walking around shooting handheld wide angle shots at .3 second shutters with corner to corner sharpness was very enlightening. Simply not having a tripod around and hiking with this lens negates any benefit over smaller mirrorless cameras that would still require a tripod.
At 16mm this lens has little barrel distortion (pretty much similar to the F/2.8 lens). The little distortion that is there is barely noticeable at best, even when shooting brick walls (because we all do that). The 16mm is brilliantly sharp, and I'd even put it against the quality of a Zeiss 15mm especially at F/5.6 and up.
20-24mm is fantastic as well. Usually the middle range of a zoom is pretty dreadful, but it actually very good and no vignette is present at F/4.
35mm is like using a prime lens and feels like using a popular street lens.
One last point about this lens is the close up performance of it. I have been carrying around my 100mm L macro along hikes with this lens, but surprisingly, I choose to zoom out to 35mm and shoot close up images with it. It's not going to be as close as a macro by a long shot, but I've enjoyed using it for the odd close up shot both for my hikes and also for my professional work.
In conclusion this is the must have lens for landscapers. I will be keeping my Samyang 14mm for special circumstances, but generally I'm very happy with the range of the 16-35 F/4 for landscape. Having no need to bring a tripod along hikes is an added bonus and the edge to edge sharpness is the lens I was hoping for from Canon for a long time. It's already earned it's keep as I put it into commercial application for architecture work right away.
As I always do in my past reviews on here, here's a link to see the performance in my flickr album: