Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS USM Review

lensAs a landscape photographer most of the time I use wide angle lenses, either zoom or prime ones, and have a nice and ever growing collection of them. Recently I added a new item to this collection – Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS USM. Main problem with other Canon ultra wide angle lenses was that although they offered great sharpness in the middle of the frame they were rather soft in the corners. This model according to other tests is sharp corner to corner. Such opinions made me decide to get it.

Another interesting thing about this lens is that Canon decided to offer Image Stabilization with it. You might think that it is unnecessary addition as ultra wide angle lenses are used with a tripod most of the time. That’s true but not always. Read on to find out my view about this.

All tests were performed on a full-frame Canon 5D MK III DSLR (which I reviewed here).

Parameters & Pricing

Let’s start with a short summary of lens parameters and price. Good news is that this lens uses 77 mm filter thread which is pretty standard nowadays (so no need to buy filter specifically for this lens). Also price is very good when compared to eg. Canon 16-35 f/2.8 II USM (which costs 500 USD more).

Focal length
16 – 35 mm
Apertures f/4 – f/22
Field of view 107 – 63.4 degree
Minimum focusing distance 25 cm
Filter thread 77 mm
Dimensions 11.28 cm × 8.26 cm
Weight 615 g
Number of aperture blades 9
Auto-focus YES
USM YES
Image-stabilization YES
Price 1,100.00 USD

Sharpness

First thing I noticed after taking a few images with this lens was how sharp it was! No matter where I looked, whether it was middle of the frame or any of the corners the results were simply outstanding! Prime-grade I would say. In the corners the difference between this lens and any other wide angle zoom lens I used is really huge.

Below is a sample photo:

IMG_0506From which several crops were taken to show how sharp this lens is. Please note that lack of bottom-left corner isn’t because lens performed bad there. There is moving water, so the result is a little blurry due to the movement.

Center of the frame Top-left corner Top-right corner Bottom-right
IMG_0506-6 IMG_0506-3 IMG_0506-4 IMG_0506-5

Vignetting

Vignetting, that is darkening of corners of the frame, is quite visible at 16 mm wide open (it isn’t a problem with other focal lengths). Here are sample images taken at 16 mm and varying apertures. Vignetting is rather strong at f/4.0 but at f/8.0 and f/11.0 it reaches acceptable level:

f/4.0 f/5.6 f/8.0 f/11.0
IMG_0953 IMG_0954 IMG_0955 IMG_0956

Chromatic aberration

Chromatic aberration, also known as “colour fringing”, is an unwanted optical phenomenon caused by the fact that lens is unable to bring all wavelengths of light to the same focal plane and/or those wavelengths are focused in different positions in the focal plane. The result is that there might be noticeable color edges (red, green, blue, yellow, purple or magenta) around objects especially in very high-contrast situations.

For many lenses chromatic aberration is a serious problem and ultra wide angle lenses are even more prone to it. In this category Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS really surprises. Even in very high-contrast situations there is very little to none color fringing. In fact I had problems with finding an image that would clearly show chromatic aberration! After some searching I found a little bit of purple fringing in the corner of one of the images and it looks this way:
IMG_9017

It’s not bad at all! There is a little of purple around the leaves and some branches but for ultra wide angle lens I would say this is an excellent result.

Also there is virtually no color fringing in the middle of the frame even in very high contrast scenes.

Auto Focus

Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS USM uses ultrasonic motor meaning auto focus is fast and silent. In my tests it was also very accurate and reliable.

Image Stabilization

Some photographers claim that you don’t need image stabilization on an ultra wide angle lens. Most of the time it’s true because you will probably use it with a tripod most of the time. And “most of the time” is the key here. Sometimes you simply can’t do that: it can be forbidden to use tripods (many museums prohibit them) or it might be impossible due to eg. very strong wind. Or even if it’s possible you might decide not to use it as in some cases using tripod makes you less flexible (eg. in documentary photography). In such case image stabilization might make a real difference, a difference between decent photo and completely blurry mess. Not to mention videographers – for them this is almost essential feature.

Canon promised 4 stops of image stabilization here and from my tests it seems that image stabilization is really powerful on this lens. My best result so far is 2.5 seconds exposure taken hand hold what’s really insane. This, however, was taken when I was well rested and at home. After a several kilometer walk, when I was tired and there was wind I could take perfectly sharp photo with 0.3s – 0.5s exposures. Still not bad.

Generally speaking, for me it seems that Image Stabilization works very well and offers about 3 – 3.5 stops of light (I got about 66% – 75% of sharp photos in such case). When I tested it against 4 stops of light number of sharp photos dramatically decreases for me and it was only around 25% – 33%. Still not that bad but I have to bear in mind that I need to take more images in such case.

Sunburst & Flares

For landscape photographer this one is an important factor too – what kind of sunburst or sun star effect the lens will produce. And sunburst produced by Canon 16-35 f/4 L IS is truly beautiful one:

IMG_7948-Edit_2

Lens flares in 99% of cases aren’t a problem even when shooting directly into the sun but there are rare situations where they can appear and be quite severe like in the picture below (please note that it’s the only picture I found having such issues and I already took a few thousand photos with this lens):

IMG_9854-HDR

Summary

Summing up, it’s the best ultra wide angle lens I’ve ever used. Sharp corner-to-corner, with excellent contrast, well-controller chromatic aberration and just a little of flares. Image stabilization is a great addition making this lens even more powerful. Also given that this lens is much cheaper than Canon 16-35 f/2.8 L II USM (which costs around 1,600 USD) it becomes a must have lens for anyone serious about landscape photography (and using Canon cameras of course).

For some this lens would be too slow as many expected that it will be f/2.8 prior to its announcement. However, for me it’s not a problem as I rarely shot with such wide aperture. And if I need it (eg. for star photos or night documentary type of photos) I prefer to use Canon 24 f/1.4 – it gives me 4 times more light than f/2.8 would 🙂

Pros:

  • Excellent sharpness corner to corner
  • Very well-controller chromatic aberration
  • Image Stabilization
  • Accurate Auto Focus
  • Very little flares

Cons:

  • Vignetting could be smaller at 16 mm wide open

2017-01-17T19:42:32+00:00 May 5th, 2015|Posted in: lens, review|