16 May
2014

OK, I’m Finally Excited: Canon Announces New EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens

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.

Canon-EF-16-35mm-f4L-IS-USM-lens

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.

Canon-MTF

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 …

Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender – See more at: http://www.ianplant.com/blog/2013/11/25/canon-ef-200-400mm-f4l-is-usm-extender-1-4x-lens-review/#sthash.wFuXCjKe.dpuf
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Lens with Internal 1.4x Extender – See more at: http://www.ianplant.com/blog/2013/11/25/canon-ef-200-400mm-f4l-is-usm-extender-1-4x-lens-review/#sthash.wFuXCjKe.dpuf

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.

Ian PlantAbout Ian Plant (393 Posts)

Ian Plant's photographs and instructional articles have appeared in a number of books, calendars, and magazines, including Outdoor Photographer and Popular Photography. Ian writes a regular blog column for Outdoor Photographer online, and he is the author of numerous instructional eBooks and videos. Ian leads several photo tours each year.


28 Comments

  • That’s really good news, because that filter really looked goofy in your (extra large) bag. At one point I owned both the Nikon 14-24 and the 16-36, and I sold the 14-24 because of the filter issue. The Nik 16-35 is 98% as sharp, with more distortions on the wide end though, but easily fixable in LR. If Canon can match the Nik 16-35, you will be happy !!

    • Ian Plant

      There’s so much about me that looks goofy. Maybe having that huge filter set was actually a good thing, as it distracted people from the rest of my goofiness!

  • I have the 17-40 that might be looking for a new home too if the real world reviews prove promising.

  • I hope this new lens creates a comparable sun-star to the current 16-35!

    • Ian Plant

      Very good point Eric – I got so excited by the MTF charts that I forgot to consider the sunstar!

      • And there lies the catch. The Nikon 16-35 is substantially more prone to flares than the 14-24. It also produces rather poor sunstars. At least on Nikon a 2.8 lens makes it possible to see through a 10ND filter in most circumstances, where a 4 lens does not. I originally bought the 16-35 over the 14-24 because of filters. Lately I find myself using less and less filters other than ND on account of the D800’s amazing DR. With the Fotodiox kit now available I just bought a used 14-24 and am sufficiently impressed that I may end up keeping it. For those that shoot a lot of stars a 2.8 wide lens is an almost must have.

  • The sunstar should be good-as good as the Nikon I would think. The new Canon has 9 aperture blades, just like the Nikon 14-24. The 16-35 2.8 II has 7, which is good (better than 8), but 9 is even better!

    • Ian Plant

      Thanks Chip for chiming in on this – very helpful info!

    • It’s not just the blade count. On the Nikon side both the 16-35 and the 14-24 are with 9 blades yet their sunstar abilities are markedly different, at least in my hands.

  • Sup? I have to admit to being a bit giddy about this lens too. The MTF charts look good, the price looks ok and 77mm filters- awesome!

    • Ian Plant

      Sup Dirk! Haven’t seen you pop up in awhile – always good to have your comments!

      • No worries, I’m a faithful blog reader. I’m always checkin out the sweet pics here. Just haven’t had anything exciting to say! Have a good summer, although I think it’s still winter here in MN…

        • Ian Plant

          Naw, it’s at least 50 degrees today – that’s t-shirt and shorts weather for MN!

  • Looks very good. I pre-ordered mine from B&H today :-) Will be selling my 17-35/4 shortly on Ebay.

  • What aperture do you use when you take your night photos? I know most of the photos and tutorials I’ve seen specify to use f/2.8. Do you think you’ll still get adequate star photos using the new lens at f/4.0?

    • Ian Plant

      It depends what you are shooting. Most of my night photos have some foreground, so I often stop down to f/5.6 or f/8 for depth-of-field. If you are just photographing stars (and going for static stars rather than star trails), then you will want f/2.8 (or faster). I don’t do much of the static star thing myself so having a f/2.8 lens isn’t all that important to me. Personally, I’m more interested in night shots which involve moving elements over time (stars, clouds, etc.), and I usually incorporate nearby visual elements, so I need more depth-of-field and don’t worry too much if my exposure time is longer than 30 seconds.

      • The Rokinon/Samyang/Bower 14mm f2.8 lens is a remarkably sharp lens for the price ($300 +/-) and is free of the coma that plagues the Canon 16-35 lens in regard to ‘starscapes’ (and everything else that requires a 14mm lens, actually). I’m looking forward to the release of this new Canon lens, but will only bite the bullet if it can produce those brilliant sunstars that are so appealing with the 16-35 f2.8 lens. Thanks for the heads up!

    • Ian Plant

      Thanks Antonio for sharing this link!

  • Ian Plant

    Uh oh, this got really technical, really quick! All this stuff is important, of course, but I would be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone of my Kirk vs. Spock post http://www.ianplant.com/blog/2013/11/22/kirk-vs-spock/#sthash.g1BLDeJC.dpbs

    • Well, those of us that can’t quite cut it as photogs (and I include myself in that lot) live to put up smoke screens of techno talk :-) But seriously, the MTF does look awesome on the wide end and spectacular on the tele end. Looking forward to what you will do with it mounted on that D800 killer due RSN.

  • Not interested in your 16-35. Any takers on a 17-40?

    Seriously though, I’m in the same camp with disliking the softness, and the chromatic aberrations, around the edges of the current 17-40. It’s been my main complaint with the lens. To the point that I feel let down when viewing images, and I’d prefer to not be a pixel peeper.

    The current 16-35’s has been interesting, but not interesting enough to purchase due to all of the new filters and adapters the 82mm threads would require. The fact that this is 77mm is super tempting. The f/4 vs f/2.8 comparison doesn’t personally matter since my wide angle lens rarely sees below f/8 as well. The narrower f/4 is actually preferred because of the lower cost and lesser weight.

    Currently the main benefit of the 17-40 was the focal length overlap with the 24-105 that helps prevents some changes in the field. The possible loss of 5mm isn’t enough to really matter though.

    Something tells me one of these will be finding it’s way into my bag very soon. It’s always a benefit when your wife tries and talks you INTO a lens purchase after she hears how it’s an improvement over your current one. Just gotta try one out personally first.

  • Hallo Ian,
    have you had this lens yet? This is my favorite as a new wide lens. Can you write me/us please your experiences about this lens after use it? Thank you.

  • Got my hands on this today Ian. I just thought I would pass on the info that it is in fact sharper, more contrasty and has better overall color than the f/2.8 II. Sharp all the way to the corners. It’s a beauty.

    • Ian Plant

      Thanks for the update Aaron! I’ll have to wait to get my hands on one until I get back from Africa.

  • Don’t hold your breath, I got mine 2 days ago , The macro contrast is really great, very similar to the
    24-70 f2.8 but the corners at 16mm are soft/ fuzzy depending on your subject to camera distance.
    Huge disappointment. I ordered this lens as soon as it was announced, hoping for the best.
    Further tests with less complicated subjects tomorrow may persuade me to keep it, The interiors
    were fine, ie not trying to keep infinity in focus in the shot.

  • Just read a stellar review of the lens by Alex Nail… I’m sold. Unfortunately my two 17-40 are not yet sold.

    If you’re curious about the sunstar flare for the lens check this out….
    http://www.alexnail.com/blog/reviews/review-canon-16-35-f4l-is-vs-16-35-f2-8l-ii/

  • Just purchased the 16-35mm f4LIS.

    I am a professional of 21 years and have spent the last few days extensively testing the lens under different lighting conditions.
    The improvement in sharpness and contrast over the previous models (16-35mm2.8LII and 17-40mm4L) is outstanding.

    I am especially amazed with the corners of this lens. Even from f4 the corners of the image at 16mm are sharp and improve slightly at 5.6 or 8.
    Thats BRILLIANT news to me and about time.

    I have also own the Canon 14mm II and 17mm TSE and Zeiss 21mm ZE.
    I find this new 16-35mm f4L IS zoom to have stepped up several leagues in performance from previous generations

    Well done Canon..5 stars and a keeper at a very very reasonable price indeed.
    I would have gladly paid $1500+ for this level of image quality, especially after seeing how clean the corners of the images are.

    Great stuff