Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Lens Reviews / Canon Lenses i Lab tested
16-35mm $1,307
average price
image of Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Lab Test Results

  • Blur
  • Chromatic Aberration
  • Vignetting
  • Geometric Distortion

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Buy the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

(From Canon lens literature) A superb lens that covers nearly every professional wide-angle task. Outstanding optical performance comes from three Aspherical lens elements, and (for the first time ever in an EF wide-angle zoom lens) two Ultra-low Dispersion UD elements. Weather resistant construction, a rear gel filter holder, close-focusing to 11 inches (0.28m), and a circular diaphragm are among its many highlights.

Test Notes

This is one of Canon's famous "L" series lenses, but we found its performance at maximum aperture a little wanting. Depending on the focal length, it ended up somewhat soft when shot wide open, either in the corners, or on one side or the other. In a lesser lens, the degree of softness here would probably pass with little comment, but at a street price north of (US$)1400, we think photographers have a right to expect better performance. (And do note that our tests here were on an EOS-20D body, with an APS-C size sensor: On full-frame SLRs, softness in the corners would almost certainly be worse.) Not at all to say that this is a "bad" lens though: Stopped down to f/4, sharpness and the uniformity thereof improve significantly, and at f/5.6 it's excellent by any standard. Another plus: While sharpness suffers at its minimum aperture of f/22, it's still better than most other lenses out there, even at much larger apertures.

Chromatic aberration is on the low side of average across most of the focal length range, but does increase quite a bit at the 16mm setting. Vignetting is very low, 1/4 EV wide open, decreasing to 1/10 EV or less at f/4 and smaller. Geometric distortion is on the high side at 16mm, at about 0.8% barrel, decreasing more or less linearly to almost zero at 35mm.

The bottom line on this lens is that it's really not that great an option for dSLR owners. If you're shooting with a camera with an APS-C size sensor (any of the Rebel series, or the EOS-10D or 20D), you'd do much better with the spiffy little 10-22mm EF-S model. It covers the effective focal length range that the 16-35 was originally designed for (on full-frame film cameras), with much improved sharpness and low distortion, at almost half the price -- Albeit not with as fast a maximum aperture, nor with vignetting levels as low. For full-frame shooters (1Ds or 5D owners), the 16-35 will indeed provide very wide angle coverage, but almost certainly with even further degraded image quality in the corners. We'll know more once we collect some full-frame test data on it, but it's hard to imagine that it will be a good choice for such usage. (Stay tuned, we're hoping to begin full-frame testing of Canon-mount lenses soon, using the EOS-5D as our test bed. Our test sample of the 16-35mm went back to Canon some time ago, but we'll request another copy to test with the 5D.)

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

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Buy the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM User Reviews

7.6/10 average of 13 review(s) Build Quality 9.8/10 Image Quality 7.3/10
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by fergusonjr (15 reviews)
    Big Aperture, Superior Build-Quality
    Pricey, Barrel Distortion,

    Canon's 'L' lenses are known for their exceptional build quality, and this lens is no exception. Both the zoom and focus rings operate smoothly and solidly.

    The focal-length range may seem rather tight and limited (it amounts to barely more than a 2X zoom), but I still found it be very versatile and was able to use it for a whole range of tasks. More zoom would be nice, but more focal length range tends to result in negative tradeoffs.

    The f/2.8 fixed max aperture is what makes this lens so attractive. I found that at 2.8 at ISO 800, the lens was a very realistic indoor, available-light lens. The 16-35mm focal range is also a much more useful indoor range than, say, a 24-70mm.

    Some problems I encountered with this lens included obvious barrel distortions at at the wider focal lengths and lens flares. Taking pictures of buildings resulted in fairly substantial barrel distortions. While this is something that can be corrected in Photoshop, it's an annoyance that makes this a much less attractive lens for architectural photography. I also found it to be essential to use the petal hood in order to avoid lens flares, particularly in the sun.

    If you really need a solid wide-zoom with the versatility of a 2.8 aperture, this is a hard lens to argue against, particularly if you don't care so much about the barrel distortions. If you don't need the more robust and solid-feeling L-quality body, the 17-55mm f/2.8 IS may be a better choice, as it offers extra zoom, better sharpness, as well as image stabilization and a slightly lower price tag.

    reviewed January 23rd, 2007
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by kzr63g (6 reviews)
    L guality build, splash-proof
    soft corners at 2.8

    Corners are soft on my D60 at F 2.8.
    Build quality very good.

    reviewed January 9th, 2007
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by gadgetguy (62 reviews)
    ultrawide and ultrafast
    expensive, not "bang for the buck"

    If you need a fast (f/2.8) ultrawide zoom, and your budget will allow it, this is a great lens to have in your kit and I wouldn't hesitate recommending it. Corners are a little soft wide open, but hey - this is a 2.8 ultrawide zoom, don't expect miracles.

    For those on a smaller budget, Canon's 17-40/f4L is less than half the price of this lens but is *almost* there in performace (sans 2.8, course).

    reviewed December 30th, 2006
  • 7 out of 10 points and not recommended by Matthew Saville (21 reviews)
    Build quality, fast apeture, field of view
    sharpness, cost

    This lens has the reputation as one of Canon's most over-priced L lenses. This is probably because of the disappointing sharpness, or lack therof.

    I used it a bunch on a 20D, and so the extreme corners were hidden so to speak. (but you would hit them on a 5D etc.) On the 20D the sharpness is pretty good, perfectly fine stopped down and decent / use-able wide open.

    The only problem is that you can get a 17-40 f/4 L for half the price. People say that you should only get the 16-35 f/2.8 if you need the apeture, otherwise get the 17-40. But I say, you're probably better off under-exposing with the 17-40, getting a sharp image, and then pushing the exposure. Especially with the amazing high ISO performance of Canon DSLRs.


    reviewed December 29th, 2006
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by photogjack (9 reviews)
    Useful zoom range, reasonably sharp
    not as sharp as primes

    This is a good lens for a photojournalist - it covers an excellent working range. It is quite a bit sharper than the 17-35 was and it focuses a lot closer. I don't think it's as sharp as wide angle primes. Flare is extremely well controlled, especially for such a wide lens.

    For day to day use, I prefer the 28mm f1.8. I haul this out when I am covering spot news.


    reviewed December 16th, 2006 (purchased for $1,500)
  • 8 out of 10 points and recommended by cjbowlsby (17 reviews)
    good focal length range, bright, solid construction, fast focusing
    heavy, a bit soft wide open, not as wide as I'd like

    Using this on my 20D, I kept wanting it to actually get wider than it was. That 1.6x crop factor is a bummer sometimes.

    I really did like how fast it would focus, and for outdoor shooting where I had enough light to stop it down it was really a pretty solid performer.

    But for true wide angle bright, I found myself renting the 14mm 2.8 L instead.

    reviewed November 28th, 2006
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by lord_malone (2 reviews)
    Good usuabel WA zoom range, outstanding color, contrast. Quality L build.
    Cost is a killer.

    I traded in my 17-40L for this lens. I found myself really needing that extra stop in certain situations. This lens did not disappoint. However, I found that the 17-40L performed as good, if not better in some cases, than the 16-35L and at almost half the price. I would only recommend the 16-35L over the 17-40L if you absolutely without a doubt needed that extra stop. I've examined shots taken wide open with this lens, and though it may appear a little soft when compared with shots taken with my prime lenses, the differences are negligable. As someone already pointed out, it's a WA zoom. Softness at maximum aperature is inherent in these types of lenses. I think people expect too much from this lens. It does what its designed to do, and for what it is, performs exceptionally well. For the price paid, I can see why people would expect this lens to perform better than primes and cook their breakfast for them too.

    reviewed February 20th, 2006 (purchased for $1,250)
  • 7 out of 10 points and not recommended by harvej (1 reviews)
    Light weight, modest size, great build, look&feel.
    Way too costly for only reasonable optics.

    I have used this lens for 8 months on a Canon 350D.
    The comments in this site's test are dead on for this lens. And that's a shame, because the look&feel of this lens are ideal for my small 350D. I really have to work hard to get a sharp image, and the results can be inconsistent. If I avoid shooting wide open, keep the ISO low, the shutter speed above 160, and shoot longer than 16mm, I can ALMOST depend on getting a good, sharp useable image. Even better if I fire up the Speedlite. But you cannot push the optics on this lens at all and stil expect quality.

    reviewed February 19th, 2006 (purchased for $1,100)
  • 6 out of 10 points and not recommended by homecinemaman (1 reviews)
    Excellent build quality, fit, finish, feel all first rate. Pro construction.
    Soft and expensive for results obtained.

    This lens and the 100-400mm "L" made me switch from Canon to Nikon.

    I was very impressed with the construction of this lens. Built from the same mold as the great classics of the 60's and 70's. However my sample was soft all over. I first noticed soft images hand held using good shooting techniques. Unhappy with the results I performed a series of outdoor tests with my Manfrotto CF tripod. Using various apatures and focal lenths I realized that the 16-35 was IMHO a unacceptable performer.

    I had the same experience with my 100-400 "L". These two lenses along with the poor autofocus in dim light of the D30 and D60 plus the miserable flash system were enough reasons to force me to sell all of my Canon gear. This was not easy.

    That said, I had the 50mm f1.8 and the 70-200 f4 'L' and got great results. I would feel that I had bad samples of these two lenses (16-35 & 100-400). However, there were to many reports in the field of problems with them. I have found the "Kit 18-70 Nikkor" to out perform this lens. I have also used the Nikkor 17-35 and there is no comparison, the Nikkor win hands down.

    Buyer beware. Test before you purchase.

    reviewed January 13th, 2006 (purchased for $1,250)
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by McDphoto (1 reviews)
    Color, sharpness, coverage, versatility
    Weight, corner distortion at widest angles

    This has been my favorite walk around lens for years. It has earned the spot with great color fidelity and corner to corner sharpness across 28-35-50mm view (@1.6) on D30, 10D and 20D. The 5.6-8 sweet spot delivers stunning results. Overall, a very versatile and reliable performer.

    reviewed December 5th, 2005
  • 9 out of 10 points and recommended by magicbutton (2 reviews)
    size, wide angle, sharpness

    I cannot share the feelings in the previous two reviews of this lens.

    This lens is excellent. I've used this for over a year on a 10D in all weather conditions and many different shooting situations (action, portrait, low light, landscape) and it has operated perfectly.

    Even though the 10D has a crop factor, the 16mm makes a big differnce and I am glad I have the W/A available. My only gripe is that I wish they made a W/A like this that went out to 50mm or even 100mm since I find myself in need of more a zoom at times (I switch off with the 70-200L 2.8). This is not the fault of the lens though (I knew the stats before I bought, right?). I looked at the 24-70 but i wanted the W/A . Pluse the 16-35mm is a newer design, ligher, shorter and ,frankly, it just felt better. Comes with a nice lens hood.

    Very nice walk-around lens. The W/A of this lens enabled me to get many shots that would have been impossible at other W/A focal lengths available. 24mm looks particularly nice on a 1.6x factor sensor.

    I always get sharp photos from this lens handheld or not. In *some* lighting situations the image is a bit softer wide open than if stopped to f5, f8 etc. , but what lens doesn't exhibit this? It's a W/A zoom! If you want the sharpest image possible, buy a prime. However, this lens produces very sharp, saturated and contrasty images-a prime just doesn't make sense in it's case for me. AF is micro-second fast. It deserves the L designation.

    (I plan on mating this with a full frame sensor body soon, so the EFS lens with the 'wider' wide-angle don't attract me. This is a future proof lens for me)

    reviewed December 2nd, 2005 (purchased for $1,250)
  • 3 out of 10 points and not recommended by jballiett (1 reviews)
    constant f/2.8 aperture
    poor optical quality

    Very soft at the edges. I sent it back to Canon twice for them to "tweek" the optics and it did improve from it's out of the box performance but still poor compared to Nikon's 17-35mm. Why does Canon tout their full frame sensor when they can't seem to produce a first class wide angle lens and Nikon makes some wonderful wide angle lenses but only APS size sensor. A true photographic catch 22.

    reviewed November 7th, 2005 (purchased for $1,399)
  • 7 out of 10 points and not recommended by sivrajbm (12 reviews)
    USM, 2.8, great color
    2.8 soft, 4.0 ok

    I took this one back.
    I'll just keep my little Tamron 17-35.
    My Tamron was slightly sharper @ 2.8, better @ 4.0 and equal every where else. The Canon is faster focusing and constant with a warm tone. I thought if it was shaper than my Tamron I'd keep it. Not a chance. The Tamron is a much better buy for the money.

    reviewed October 24th, 2005 (purchased for $1,399)