Canon Ultrawide Sharpness Comparison
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Lenses Compared Here
Let's compare the sharpness of all current Canon ultrawide lenses, which are the Canon 20mm f/2.8 USM introduced in 1992, the 17-40mm f/4 L of 2003, the 16-35mm f/2.8 L II of 2007 and the newest 16-35mm f/4 L IS, introduced in 2014.
The biggest difference among ultrawide lenses is how sharp they are in the corners, so I'm only going to look in the corners. The centers are all similarly excellent in all these lenses, so I won't bore you with a slew of identical crops from their centers.
These are only small crops from the farthest upper-right corners of the images. If these are about 6" wide on your screens, the complete images would be 60 x 40" (150 x 100 cm) if printed in their entirety at this same high magnification. At smaller sizes, these differences would be much less obvious.
This page uses special display technology that rearranges the images to fit your screen, so maximize the size of your browser window to see as many of these images on-screen at the same time.
Click any image to get to that lens' detailed review.
Since the 20mm lens doesn't zoom, I compared all of these at their 20mm settings.
Since the f/4 lenses can't go to f/2.8, I compared them all at f/4. The f/2.8 lenses get even softer at f/2.8 than they are here at f/4.
f/4, Corner Corner: f/4 f/11 top
f/11, Corner Corner: f/4 f/11 top
The biggest difference in lenses is in the corners, wide open. Only idiots shoot wide-open in broad daylight and then look at the corners this close, but if you want to see differences between lenses, this is the way to do it.
By f/11, most of these look the same.
These were all shot at the same time at ISO 100 at 1/1,000 at f/4 and 1/125 at f/11.
The 16-35mm f/4 L IS is so new that there was no lens correction profile available as of test time, so I it was shot without any corrections.
The lens profiles correct lateral color fringes and light falloff. The three older lenses have strong lateral color fringes when shot without profiles, and they look fine here because the profile corrected this.
The newest 16-35mm f/4 L IS is so good that even without a profile it's still sharper than all the others, and have no visible lateral color fringes. In other words, the new 16-35 IS is better uncorrected without a profile than the older lenses are after correction!
I didn't show it here, but the older three lenses look much worse without the Canon lens profiles I used. I was trying to be kind since the older lenses, especially the most expensive 16-35mm f/2.8 L II, since they look awful without using a lens profile.
All these lenses are fine for most uses, especially when stopped down to f/11.
If you demand that every pixel be its sharpest, the newest 16-35mm f/4 L IS is by far the sharpest in the corners at all apertures. It is Canon's only pixel-sharp ultrawide lens.
While the older lenses are swell for news and sports, especially the faster f/2.8 lenses, for nature, architecture and landscapes the 16-35mm f/4 L IS is clearly superior.
Remember that the f/2.8 lenses will be even softer when shot at f/2.8 than they are at f/4 as shown here, and that I didn't use a lens profile with the newest 16-35mm IS, while the older lenses are actually were improved by using Canon's lens profiles with them.
If these all were compared without profiles, the older lenses would have had nasty color fringes in the corners, while as you can see the new 16-35 IS is super clean.
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