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Canon 16-35mm L
EF USM (2001-2007)

© 2012 KenRockwell.com

Introduction    Specs    Performance    Compared     Recommendations

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Canon 16-35mm

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L (77mm filters, 0.9'/0.28m close focus, 21.1 oz./599g, about $1,000 used). enlarge. This free website's biggest source of support is when you use these links, especially this link to them at Amazon or this link directly to them at eBay (see How to Win at eBay), when you get anything, regardless of the country in which you live. It helps me keep reviewing these oldies when you get yours through these links, thanks! Ken.

January 2012, December 2006    Canon Reviews    Canon Lenses    All Reviews


How to Use Ultrawide Lenses

Canon Ultrawide Lenses Compared


Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II (2007-today)

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L (2001-2007)

Canon 17-40mm f/4 L (2003-today)

Canon 17-35mm f/2.8 L (1995-2001)

Canon 20-35mm USM (1993-2007)

Canon 20mm f/2.8 USM (1992-today)

Canon 20-35mm f/2.8 L (1989-1995)

Tokina 17-35mm f/4 (2011-)



Introduction    Specs    Performance    Compared     Recommendations

In a Nutshell

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1.) Great image quality.

2.) At 16mm it really is much wider than the Canon 17-40mm f/4 L or any other top-brand zoom. On the full-frame cameras for which it's designed the 16mm is worlds wider than my Nikon 12-24mm is on the 1.5x sensor cameras on which the Nikon works. (The 17-40mm Canon is also wider than my 12-24mm on my Nikon). See Crop Factor if I just lost you.

3.) Solid metal filter threads make changing filters a breeze.

Bad News:

1.) Big, heavy and expensive ($1,499 MSRP).

2.) Complex distortion, typical of every other superwide zoom, difficult to remove if you're trying to replace a view camera.

3.) Inconsistent results shot to shot (focus isn't always dead-on), so try the one you get to make sure you're happy with it.

2.) Fuzzy and has coma in the corners at 16mm at large apertures, similar to 17-40mm L and every other ultrawide zoom.



This 16-35mm f/2.8 L lens is, quite literally, Canon's heavy-hitter professional ultrawide zoom. It competes directly with Canon's lighter and half as expensive Canon 17-40mm f/4 L which does pretty much the same thing.

Both these lenses are intended for use on film and full-frame cameras, as well as the professional 1D series with the 1.3x sensors.

The advantage of this 16-35mm f/2.8 is that it really does go significantly wider than the 17-40mm f/4 L, and wider than the 10-22mm EF-S on a 1.6x camera. (Rebel, 20D, 30D etc.).

View at 16mm. Roll mouse over to see 17-40mm at 17mm (full-frame)

Of course the 16-35mm f/2.8 and 17-40mm f/4 work great on the 1.6x sensor cameras, but for those cameras the 18-55mm EF-S lens, for one fifteenth the price, is lighter and more agile. None of these is wide on a 1.6x camera. Even this 16-35mm on a 1.6x camera only covers a range similar to what a 26-57mm lens would on a 35mm film camera. For these cameras, you have an easy choice: get the 10-22mm EF-S, which covers the same range on those cameras that this 16-35mm lens covers on full-frame cameras.

Since this 16-35mm and the 17-40mm L do the same thing on full-frame cameras that the 10-22mm EF-S does on 1.6x cameras, I'll be making constant comparisons throughout this review. I have one of each of them in my hands for which I'll be writing equally detailed reviews as soon as I can type them up.



Introduction    Specs    Performance    Compared     Recommendations



Name: Canon calls this the Canon Zoom Lens EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM. This means:

   EF: Electronic Focus. All modern Canon lenses do this.   L: Expensive.   USM: Ultra-Sonic Motor: It focuses silently.

Focal Length: 16-35mm. Used on a 1.3x camera it gives angles of view similar to what a 20-44mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera. On a 1.6x camera it gives angles of view similar to what a 26-57mm lens would give on a 35mm film camera.


Maximum Aperture

f/2.8 at all focal lengths.



14 elements in 10 groups, including three aspherics and two of UD glass.

UD glass is the same as Nikon's ED glass, which helps reduce color fringing.



7 mostly straight blades stopping down to f/22.


Filter Size

77mm, the pro standard.

Solid metal filter threads.


Close Focus

11" (0.28m) from the image plane (the back of the camera).

Since the lens sticks out 5-3/4" (14.5cm) from the image plane, that means I measured close focus at only 4" (10 cm) in front of the lens!



3.286" x 4.067 " (83.46 x 103.30 mm) diameter x extension from flange, measured.



21.145 oz. (599.4 g), measured, naked. This is 4.440 oz. (125.8 g) more than the 17-40mm L.



EW-83E for full-frame cameras.

Try a smaller hood like the EW-83DII for smaller sensor cameras.





December 2001.

It replaced the EF 17-35mm f/2.8L of 1995. The 16-35mm f/2.8L II announced in March 2007 supercedes both of these.



As we'll see, MTF falls like a stone at the far corners at 16mm.



Introduction    Specs    Performance    Compared     Recommendations

Autofocus  Bokeh  Color  Color Fringes  Construction   Distortion   Falloff

Filters   Flare   Flash    Macro   Serial Number    Sharpness    IS    Zooming



The 16-35mm L is a heavy professional lens with performance to match.


FOCUSING   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Focusing is superb. It's fast and quiet. Just grab the ring at any time for manual control. It has Canon's ring-type USM (Ultra-Sonic Motor)



AF speed is plenty fast, as with most wide lenses.


Sound and Noise

It's almost silent.


Manual Focus: Plastic on plastic.


Autofocus: About the same.



Excellent! It just works.


Autofocus Accuracy

It's less consistent than other lenses. This means that if I'm shooting at f/2.8 in good light that I occasionally get shots that are out of focus on my 5D. The Canon 17-40mm f/4 L is much better at this. I suspect this is why some people aren't happy with their 16-35s.

I usually get fine results at every aperture. Being a complex zoom with lots of bunches of glass moving around with finite tolerances, any errors I saw were more random than skewed one way or the other. When I got errors they were usually to focus behind the intended subject.

The worst I see is shots that are soft everywhere at f/2.8 as opposed to being misfocused.

I discovered while testing macro abilities (a silly venture with an ultrawide lens) that closer than two feet feet at 35mm the 16-35mm is inaccurate. It rather consistently focuses behind the subject. Focus manually if you can for best results.

Be careful and practice. If you think you have an issue, be sure to make many shots to get a better idea of what's going on. It isn't unusual for me to get a single unsharp shot, so if you only make one test shot, you may see something unrepresentative.

Be sure to experiment thoroughly with your 16-35mm L to ensure you're happy with it on your camera.

My friend humanitarian photojournalist Karl Grobl has owned one of these for years and beaten it around about 45 different filthy, war, famine and disaster ravaged countries as well as safer places like Afghanistan to Zimbabwe and he's never seen a problem, if that puts my squeaky science-lab photos in perspective.


Manual Focus

Excellent! Just grab the ring at any time. You may switch it to full-time manual mode with the AF / MF switch, but you don't have to.


Focus Breathing

Breathing is a motion picture term which refers to what happens as you pull (change) focus from near to far. In movies we do this as the conversation goes from one actor to the next. As a viewer you don't notice it because your eyes are also going between actors, but if you pay attention, you can see focus move from near to far. There are people called focus pullers whose sole job is to do this.

It doesn't matter in still photography, but I still look for it.

Ideally nothing happens and the image size doesn't change when focus is pulled from near to far. This distracts audiences if the image changes size slightly as the conversation goes from actor to actor.

The Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L does a weird thing I've seen in my Nikon 17-35mm zoom: look at a line along the bottom of the frame as you focus and you'll see it change shape as the distortion changes!

Fun, but not significant.


BOKEH   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

(what is Bokeh?)

Bokeh is good. It's quite neutral, a pleasant surprise since most other advanced aspherical optics of this class usually have hideous bokeh. This 16-35mm is quite good.

Bokeh is never a big deal for ultra wides since everything is usually in focus, but if you have a subject two feet away here's what you'll see:

canon 16-35mm
canon 16-35mm
Full image, 5D, 16mm at f/2.8
Full image, 5D, 35mm at f/2.8

canon 16-35mm

100% crop from my 5D, 16mm at f/2.8


canon 16-35mm

100% crop from my 5D, 35mm at f/2.8


canon 16-35mm

100% crop from my 5D, 16mm at f/4


canon 16-35mm

100% crop from my 5D, 35mm at f/4


(Lateral Chromatic Aberration or LCA)

back to Performance or back to Introduction.

On a full-frame 5D, it has some color fringes at the wide end and none at the longer end. Here are the full guide images from which the crops are taken:

Canon 16-35mm LCA Canon 16-35mm LCA at 35mm
Full image, 16mm
Full Image, 35mm

My hand is my lens shade. The sun was in the image and dropping a flare blob on the gazebo. It's subtle, but I took my hand away for the other shots, but still got a bit of a brown veil over the 24mm shot below. If you look at the full images there is some flare, but tough, that's not the subject of this test.

Canon 16-35mm LCA at 16mm

Canon 16-35mm LCA at 20mm
100% crop from 5D at 16mm
100% crop from 5D at 20mm


Canon 16-35mm LCA at 24mm
Canon 16-35mm LCa at 35mm
100% crop from 5D at 24mm
100% crop from 5D at 35mm

These were shot in program mode, f/6.3 at 1/160, ISO 50. Considering you'd need a 44" (1.1m) wide screen to see the entire images, I'd say this is pretty good.

You may click on any of them to download the camera-original 4 MB Normal Large JPGs to see for yourself. (© Ken Rockwell; other uses prohibited.)



Color rendition is neutral and matches my other lenses.



back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Construction quality is excellent.

It has a metal mount and internals, and even the front filter thread and bayonet hood mount is anodized aluminum. This makes it a pleasure to attach screw-in filters, unlike the other 90% of today's lenses with sticky, easy-to-strip plastic threads. I use a lot of filters, and love this about the 16-35mm L. They spin on fast and sure; you don't have to give them seven twists.

It has a rubber gasket on the lens mount to keep crud out of your camera.

It has a plastic exterior and switches to save weight and save pros from wearing off the paint. It also saves your fingers from freezing to it in the cold.

Here's what would happen if the whole lens was metal. You can see the anodization scratched off the edge of the filter ring on this loaner lens:

Worn Filter Ring on Canon 16-35mm

Worn anodized aluminum filter ring on Canon 16-35mm.

Made in Japan.

The Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 AF-S is also metal. The Canon 17-40mm f/4 L has a plastic filter ring.


DISTORTION   back to Performance or back to Introduction.

Of course things at the sides and corners appear to be stretched out at 16mm, that's the whole point of a 16mm lens.

I'm speaking about rectilinear distortion, or the tendency to curve lines which are supposed to remain straight.

The distortion of the 16-35mm L is typical for an advanced ultra-wide zoom, which means that it's complex and difficult to correct completely. This is because instead of curving lines into simple curves, it subtly bends them several ways at once.

It's unlikely you'll ever notice this unless you look for it with deliberately devious tests. For example, here's a typical shot loaded with straight lines that looks great:


Vertigo. Canon 16-35mm at 16mm and f/4, full-frame Canon 5D.

Shots like this are the reason to own a 16mm and a full-frame camera: this is only a one-story staircase! Ultrawides exaggerate depth. The black dot on the bottom center it the tip of my big foot!

Vertical lines at the sides of horizontal images remain nicely straight:

Canon 16-35mm distortion at 16mm

Manufactured Apartment Homes. Canon 16-35mm at 16mm, full-frame Canon 5D.

Note how nicely straight the far left vertical lines are. Vertical lines in the middle left or right don't fare as well.

The usual devious way to show distortion is with a brick wall. Even more devious is to use the tiled wall in the bathroom of our favorite Greek restaurant, which throws lenses for a loop since they aren't designed to correct distortion as well at close distances. Shooting at f/2.8, which has a lot of falloff, exaggerates the effect:

Wall at two feet at 16mm, full-frame 5D.

Roll your mouse over to see it after correction in Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter

This looks pretty good for a worst-case test. I'm two feet (60cm) from the wall. The complex distortion makes it tough to correct completely. Even after simple correction the far-away lines at the sides curve in and the closer lines along the top and bottom curve out. This required an extreme filter setting of +7.0.

Here's what the proverbial bad photographers' wall of shame looks like at a more reasonable distance:

16-35mm at 16mm
at 20mm
At 16mm, full-frame 5D
At 20mm, full-frame 5D


at 24mm
at 35mm
At 24mm, full-frame 5D
At 35mm, full-frame 5D

This looks reasonable, and distorts as much as other ultra wide zooms. Here's the shot at 16mm, the worst focal length, before and after Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter using a value of +3.0 (roll your mouse over):

Bad Photographers' Wall of Shame. At 16mm, full-frame 5D.

You'll see residual waviness in the after image. Better distortion correction tools can fix this, but I don't have them.

The table below shows the figures I calculated for correcting this with Photoshop CS2's lens distortion filter. These figures are for you to enjoy in your photography. This is all © and registered, so you'll need permission to use these figures for anything else. Thanks! Ken.

10' (3m)
20' (6m)
50' (15m)
16 mm
20 mm
24 mm
28 mm
35 mm


CONTINUED: Performance Page Two    top   

Introduction    Specs    Performance    Compared     Recommendations

Autofocus   Bokeh    Color Fringes    Construction    Distortion    Falloff

Filters   Flare   Flash    Macro   Serial Number    Sharpness    IS    Zooming


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