The Canon EF 16-35 mm f/2.8 L II USM is the ultra wide angle zoom lens for professionals with an SLR camera with a full frame sensor. A constant aperture of f/2.8 makes this lens very capable of operating in low light and for playing with depth of field. However, this lens cannot only be used on full frame cameras. For example, there are professional photographers who demand a camera with an APS-C sensor as a second camera. If you put the lens on such a camera, this lens changes in terms of angle of view from an ultra wide angle zoom to a wide angle to a standard zoom lens. We reviewed this zoom lens on a Canon 650D. The Canon 16-35 mm II is then, thanks to the fixed f/2.8 aperture, an alternative to a large set of bright lenses with a fixed focal length (24 mm, 28 mm, 35 mm and 50 mm).
The field of view of the Canon 16-35 mm II on a camera with an APS-C sensor, such as our Canon 650D, is roughly equivalent to a 24-50 zoom lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. The 2x zoom range seems limited, but it works quite well, as you can see in the images above. In terms of price, size and zoom range, the Canon EF-S 17-55 mm f/2.8 is a more attractive alternative for use on a Canon APS-C camera. Also the Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 zoom is a fierce competitor to the Canon 16-35 mm II on a Canon camera with an APS-C sensor.
Construction and autofocus
The Canon 16-35 mm II comes with a soft case and a flower-shaped lens hood. The body is built as we have come to expect of a professional L lens: very solid with a metal mount and sealed against dust and moisture. The USM autofocus is fast and quiet and may be manually overruled at any time, without you needing to flip a switch. On the lens there's 1 switch for manual focus or autofocus. It is also increasingly fashionable for wide angle lenses to have built-in image stabilization, but the Canon 16-35 mm II doesn't have that. The Canon EF-S 17-55 mm f/2.8 does provide built-in image stabilization and it therefore makes an attractive alternative to the Canon 16-35 mm II if you only use cameras with an APS-C sensor.
The center sharpness is from f/2.8 to f/11 high at all focal lengths. At f/2.8 the sharpness in the corners is visibly below the center sharpness, but that's after 1 to 2 stops stopping down. It's a good performance, but on this point the higher price commanded by the Canon 16-35 mm II compared to the Canon EF-S 17-55 mm 2.8 or Sigma 18-35 mm 1.8 isn't really earned.
In terms of vignetting the Canon 16-35 mm II scores in this test-no surprise-better than lenses designed specifically for use on cameras with an APS-C sensor. Because the Canon 16-35 mm II is designed for use on a camera with a full frame sensor, on a Canon 650D, you use only the center of the image. That has the advantage of making vignetting at all focal lengths and apertures vanishingly small. As we more frequently encounter when testing lenses on a Canon camera, the vignetting in uncorrected RAW files is lower than the vignetting in jpg files. In these cases the differences are so small, that in practice, you don't get anything other than a smooth, blue sky.
At a focal length of 16 mm, barrel-shaped distortion is clearly visible. Above 24 mm you don't suffer from distortion. At a focal length of 33 mm, with an angle of view equivalent to a 50 mm standard lens on a camera with a full frame sensor, the Canon 16-35 mm II stands head and shoulders above the competition. We usually measure distortion using a test map of almost 2 meters in size. At a 16 mm focal length (corresponding to an angle of 26 mm on a camera with a full frame sensor), it was clear to see that the distortion was greater as you still got closer. Software correction for distortion, at the expense of some extra noise, is easy to apply.
The Canon 16-35 mm II has a circular aperture and a large lens opening. In theory those are favorable factors for a nice bokeh. However the bokeh of the Canon 16-35 mm II disappointed us a bit. The background looked in practice not as quiet as we had hoped. Also in the shots of our standard bokeh setup, the bokeh has clear rings (move your mouse over the image on the right). On this feature the Canon is trumped by the cheaper and brighter Sigma 18-35 mm 1.8.
In general, the Canon 16-35 mm II, thanks in part to the application of Super Spectra coatings, is resistant to flare. It's not for nothing that the lens hood is included. This lens consists of a large number of groups and lenses and has a large front lens. If a bright light source is in or just out of the picture, then you small ghosts, such as the sample shown here, appear in your pictures. Because the included lens hood is designed for use on a camera with a full frame sensor, you could use a smaller lens hood to limit the flare some more if you use the Canon 16-35 mm II on a Canon camera with an APS-C sensor. If you shoot straight into the sun or a lamp post, then the diaphragm with its 7 lamellae forms a nice 14-armed star.
Chromatic aberration Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM II
The same applies for chromatic aberration as for vignetting: because the Canon 16-35 mm II lens is designed for use on a camera with a full frame sensor, this zoom lens performs very well on this part. Lateral chromatic aberration is always for each lens more visible in the corners, in the form of purple and green spots in strong contrast transitions (branches against a gray sky). With a camera with APS-C sensor you only use the center of the image, and you will never suffer from chromatic aberration with the Canon 16-35 mm II.
Conclusion Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L IS USM II review
WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you store the files in the camera as jpg, where you have all available in-camera lens corrections applied. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: "What you see is what you get".
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens when the files are stored in the camera as RAW files. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera.
Very solidly built and sealed against dust and moisture
Extremely large angle of view (on a camera with a full frame sensor)
Incl. soft carrying case and lens hood
Less attractive bokeh
Big and heavy
More expensive and optically inferior to the Canon EF-S 17-55mm
There are many professional photographers who value the qualities of the Canon 16-35 mm II as an ultra-wide-angle zoom lens on a camera with a full frame sensor. On a camera with an APS-C sensor, the choice for a Canon 16-35 mm II is less obvious than the choice for a Canon EF-S 17-55 mm 2.8 or Sigma 18-35 mm 1.8. Both alternatives offer better image quality, while the Sigma offers higher brightness and the Canon EF-S lens distinguishes itself with built-in image stabilization. That said, the Canon 16-35 mm II remains on a camera with an APS-C sensor a good wide angle to standard zoom lens with a rock-solid construction and image quality.
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Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.