Introduction

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM was first announced in February of 2007 and replaces first generation 16-35mm f/2.8L lens. Priced at about US$1,400 (as of September 2007) this is fastest as well as the most expensive ultra-wide zoom in Canon's current lens arsenal.

The optical construction of the lens consists of 16 elements in 12 groups. including 3 aspherical lens elements and 2 UD elements. Canon claims that the new (compared to the previous model) optical design significantly improves corner performance. Like all L marked lenses, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM sports superb build construction with weather sealed barrel. The lens sports internal focusing mechanism, meaning the lens cams do not extend during focusing/zooming. There's no wobbling inside and both focusing and zoom rings are fully rubberized for improved grip.

The lens offers fast ring-type USM AF as well as full-time manual focusing system controlled by an AF/MF switch on the side of the barrel. Canon also added circular aperture for improved, natural looking bokeh at wider apertures. The lens is not the smallest ultra-wide zoom on the market but is certainly no monster either - it weight 640g (1.4lb) and measured 88 x 112mm (3.5 x 4.4in). Like all modern Canon lenses, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM does not have a dedicated aperture ring for manual aperture controlled - all settings are controlled electronically from the camera. The minimum supported aperture is f/22, while the minimum focusing distance is 28cm (0.92ft). The lens accepts 82mm filters.

 

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The factory box includes Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens, front and rear lens caps, LZ1319 soft case and petal shaped EW-83E lens hood along with registration card and manual. Since the lens is designed for full-frame EF mount lenses, on APS-C (EF-S) type cameras with 1.6x crop factor, the field of view of the lens resembles that of a 26-56mm lens on a full-frame body, thus loosing its ultra-wide aspect.

 

Summary
Lens Composition 16 elements in 12 groups
Angular Field 108 - 63 degrees
Minimum Focus 28cm/0.92ft
Focusing Action AF/MF, USM
f-stop Scale f/2.8-f/22, camera-controlled
Filter Size 82mm
Lens Hood EW-83E (included)
Weight 640g/1.4lb
Dimensions 88x112mm/3.5x4.4"
Lens Case LZ1319 (included)

 

Field Tests

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM showed outstanding performance in the field, with excellent performance both in the center as well as around borders pretty much throughout the zoom range. This actually came as a total surprise, since the lens has moderately fast maximum aperture and I expected it to produce somewhat softer results around borders. After all, this is pretty common for the majority of ultra-wide lenses, zooms and fixed focals alike. Well, I'm glad this was not the case and the images the lens produced were crisp, albeit on a warmer side, which is common for Canon lenses.

 

 

Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (16mm)
Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (16mm)

 

Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (35mm)
Vignetting @ f/2.8 - full frame vs 1.6x crop (35mm)

The lens showed very pronounced vignetting on a full-frame Canon 5D at the widest aperture level. Amount of vignetting is reduced towards the longer end of the zoom range, but it never completely disappears at wide apertures. As always, stopping down the lens reduces vignetting and by f/5.6 it becomes quite minimal. And on an APS-C camera, the lens shows practically no vignetting throughout the zoom range. Surprisingly (for an ultra-wide zoom that is), the lens showed negligible amount of chromatic aberration, even at its widest aperture level, and held its ground against flare!

 

 

ISO 100, 1/1000, f/2.8, 16mm (100% crop)
ISO 100, 1/1000, f/2.8, 16mm (100% crop)
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM image gallery...

 

Lab Tests

Please note that MTF50 results for APS-C and Full-Frame cameras are not cross-comparable despite the same normalized [0:1] range used to report results for both types of cameras.

 

Canon APS-C: The lens showed superb results in the lab, excelling on the wider side of the zoom range, where both center as well as border performance was outstanding straight from f/2.8. Center performance actually remained on a consistently high level throughout the zoom range and at all tested aperture levels. Surprisingly, overall border quality was best at 16mm, but borders became slightly softer at f/2.8 towards longer end of the zoom range (border quality did not really deteriorate - it just was not on the same level as at 16mm). And once stopped down to f/5.6 and beyond, the lens performs pretty consistently throughout the zoom range. At its peak the lens is capable of producing outstanding 19in and very decent 24in prints, which can put to shame even most ultra-wide fixed focal lenses. Conclusion? This is so far the best performance I benchmarked from an ultra-wide zoom lens in EF mount!

 

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 16mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 16mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 16mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 16mm

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 24mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 24mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 24mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 24mm

 

MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 35mm
MTF50 (Line Width/Inch on the Print) @ 35mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm

For an ultra wide zoom lens, chromatic aberration was quite well under a control on an APS-C camera. CA never exceeded 0.5px in the center across the zoom and the tested aperture range. CA around borders was somewhat higher, but not the worst you would see in an UWA lens - CA averages ~1.2px throughout the zoom range at the widest aperture setting, and is reduced to ~1px (throughout the zoom range) once stopped down to f/8 and beyond.

 

 

Image borders @ 16mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 16mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Image borders @ 24mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 24mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

Canon FF: The lens showed practically identical performance on a full-frame Canon 5D! Center performance remained outstanding throughout the zoom and aperture ranges. Overall border performance was best at 16mm, and the quality degraded a little bit towards longer end of the zoom range (primarily at the widest aperture level, and from f/5.6 through f/11 the lens shows very similar, and solid, performance throughout the supported zoom). Conclusion? Consistent performance is always good, but consistently good performance is simply exceptional and Canon EF 17-35mm f/2.8L II USM is by all means an exceptional lens!

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 16mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 16mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 24mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 24mm

 

Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm
Normalized raw MTF50 @ 35mm

The lens managed to maintain CA on a relatively low level even on a full frame Canon 5D. CA was pretty low in the center at 16mm, averaging ~0.3px across the aperture range, but increased to ~0.6px (across the aperture range) towards the longer end of the zoom. More importantly, CA did no exceed 1px around borders throughout the zoom and aperture ranges - quite a good result for a wide zoom lens.

 

 

Image borders @ 16mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 16mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Image borders @ 24mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 24mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

 

Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8
Image borders @ 35mm (100% crop): f/2.8 vs f/8

Alternatives

Canon currently offers three other ultra-wide zoom lenses, one of which, Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM (review) is specifically designed for APS-C cameras and has a reduced imaging circle, while the remaining two, Canon EF 20-35mm f/3.5-4.5 USM and Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM (review) are traditional full-frame lenses.  Neither of these three lenses offer as good performance as Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, but all three are significantly cheaper and thus can appeal to someone on a budget who is willing to accept a performance hit. If you own an APS-C camera, then Sigma 10-20mm f/4-5.6 EX DC HSM (review) can offer a comparable to Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM performance at a slightly lower cost. As would Tokina AT-X PRO AF 12-24mm f/4 (review).

 

Recommendation

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM is one very impressive in all aspects lens! With top notch image quality pretty much throughout the zoom range, outstanding build quality and fast maximum aperture, this is the lens to own when looking for an UWA zoom. Granted, the somewhat high price might put it outside of the budget of some consumers, but then again, there's no such thing as a free lunch (or something like that).