Canon just announced the release of its new EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens. I admit it, I’m pretty jazzed about this, in a way I’ve never been jazzed by a Canon wide angle zoom lens before. Over the years I have expressed my frustration with wide angle options for Canon cameras. Canon’s previous forays into this focal range, the 17-40mm f/4 and two versions of the 16-35mm f/2.8, have all suffered from edge and corner softness. Sure, the 16-35mm II was a significant upgrade over the first version of the lens, but the increase in image quality was mostly in the center, with the corners seeing little improvement. In my search for edge-to-edge sharpness, I went as far as adapting the superlative Nikon 14-24mm lens to my Canon camera. I used this unwieldy combo for quite some time, but I’ve all but given it up in the past few months as I find using filters on this lens to be a total pain in the arse (and an expensive pain in the arse at that). I travel mostly international these days, and it was getting too unwieldy to lug this gargantuan lens around with its mastodonic filter holder. So lately I’ve been using the comparatively filter-friendly Canon 16-35mm, and I’ve just been putting up with its corner fuzziness.
I haven’t had my hands on the new Canon 16-35mm f/4, but Canon has published MTF graphs for this lens which look really good—much better than the pricier 16-35mm f/2.8, especially in the edges. Finally, a Canon wide angle zoom that doesn’t go to mush in the corners! The lens also features image stabilization, which should make it a great walkaround lens. But I’m mainly interested in using this for wide-angle landscapes, and what I’ve always wanted from Canon was a corner-to-corner sharp f/4 lens (I almost never need f/2.8 for landscape work—heck, I almost never go wider than f/8). Hopefully this lens will deliver! Only time will tell, but you can be sure I will order one as soon as the lens becomes available for shipment. If it is as good as it looks on paper, I’ll be selling my 16-35 f/2.8—any takers?
I’ve included the Canon MTF graphs for each lens below, so you can make your own comparison. If you’ve never read an MTF graph before, here’s all you need to know: the closer to the top all the squiggly lines are, the better the lens. The left side of the graph represents the center of the lens (where the lens is usually sharpest), the far right edge is the lens’ corners (where most lenses are weakest). The black lines measure lens quality when the lens is shot wide open, whereas the blue lines measure lens quality when the lens is stopped down to f/8. It seems pretty clear that this new lens is a significant step up from the f/2.8 II lens. Hence my excitement.
Please, Canon, don’t disappoint me again! The 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender was a home run, and showed the kind of innovation Canon used to be known for. I have high hopes that, after a few years of floundering around like an alleyway drunk, Canon has gotten its act together again and will be pushing the standard of excellence higher with significant new product introductions. By the way, Canon, we’re all still waiting for a 40+ megapixel camera that will clean Nikon’s clock …
Of course, rumors abound that Canon will release an answer to the ultra-wide Nikon 14-24mm lens. If they do release something to compete head-on with the 14-24mm, I hope that it isn’t an f/2.8 lens. Why? Because that means it is almost certain to be a “popeye” lens with a bulbous front element, making filter use ridiculously difficult. Canon, just give us a sharp f/4 or f/5.6 ultra-wide zoom WITHOUT the bulbous front element! A super sharp ultra-wide that can easily accept filters is, to me, the Holy Grail of landscape lenses. For now, I’ll just have to live with going no wider than 16mm. Sigh.