Canon EF 16–35mm f/4 USM L IS: Wide, Steady, Go!

Canon EF 16–35mm f/4 USM L IS

Canon EF 16–35mm f/4 USM L IS

With the ultrawide zoom segment already stacked, Aditya Nair finds out where the stabilised Canon EF 16–35mm f/4 USM L IS fits in.

There is a special place in my mind for the kind of imagery that can be achieved with a ultrawide lens. By that I mean the exaggerated field of view and distorted perspectives they offer. By stretching the distance between background and foreground, the subject appears to leap out. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait to start testing the Canon EF 16–35mm f/4 USM L IS.

The centre-to-edge sharpness is excellent, and colour rendition is quite pleasing. Exposure: 1/60sec at f/2.8 (ISO 1250) Photograph/Aditya Nair

The centre-to-edge sharpness is excellent, and colour rendition is quite pleasing. Exposure: 1/60sec at f/2.8 (ISO 1250) Photograph/Aditya Nair

There are numerous lenses that offer a similar focal length, both from Canon and third party manufacturers. But, there is something truly special about this lens.

In Canon’s own lineup there is the EF 16–35mm f/2.8 USM L II (Rs. 1,13,995) and the older EF 17–40mm f/4 USM L (Rs. 58,995). There is also the cheaper Tokina 16–28mm f/2.8 (Rs. 62,500) and the far cheaper Tokina 17–35mm f/4 (Rs. 45,000) to consider as well.

To start off, the 16–35mm f/4 can give you about 4 stops of IS, which means you can shoot handheld even with a shutterspeed as low as 1sec at the widest focal length! At 1sec, in our tests, the IS worked well only about 60% of the time, so you are better off keeping the shutterspeed at 1/2sec, at least. The IS does a good job in video too.

The lens has a ring-type USM AF system which is extremely fast and almost silent. But we would expect nothing less from a lens like this. It offers fully manual override as well, but I never really had to use it, as at 16mm almost everything is sharp even at the widest aperture.

Photograph/Aditya Nair

Photograph/Aditya Nair

It is an extremely sturdy lens with smooth controls. Though, it did feel like the middle portion of the lens was made of plastic. It is designed for harsh climate, being dustproof and weathersealed. Overall, it is only slightly smaller than the Canon 16–35mm f/2.8

Focusing and zooming mechanism are all internal. The lens doesn’t jut out in either case. This, along with near silent AF, makes it a great lens to get really close without disrupting the scene too much.

The front element doesn’t rotate either. It has also been coated with fluorine to make it oil and water repellent. The lens hood works well to minimise flare as well.

The 16–35mm f/4 is an extremely sharp lens. While its predecessor had great centre sharpness, both the 17–40mm f/4 and the 16–35mm f/2.8 have faced problems with edge sharpness. This is not the case with this lens. That said, at 35mm the edge sharpness does suffer slightly.

It uses three glass-molded aspherical lens elements and two UD elements, to minimise distortion and chromatic aberrations. Despite being an ultra-wide angle lens, the 16–35 does an incredible job at minimising flare.

Fringing is virtually absent as well. Some amount of vignetting can be seen throughout the zoom range at f/4. But stop down by one stop and its is almost entirely taken care off.

As with any ultrawide lens, there is a fair bit of barrel distortion at 16mm, which is gone by 24mm. At 35mm, slight pincushioning can be seen. But the distortion is easily correctable.

While bokeh is not something usually considered for an ultrawide, bokeh quality is rather good with the 16–35mm f/4. It uses nine aperture blades, which is two more than the 17–40mm f/4 and the 16–35mm f/2.8.

This is probably the sharpest Canon ultrawide lens, even better than the trusted 17–40mm f/4.

Photograph/Aditya Nair

Photograph/Aditya Nair

There is no doubt it is the sharpest ultrawide angle lens in Canon’s current lineup. Additionally, it also has IS and quiet AF, making it a great lens for cinematography, shooting events indoors, landscape and street photography. The easily-correctable distortion makes it good enough for shooting interiors as well. And it is priced quite well too. 

So, what’s the problem? The problem is that while I am writing this review, at photokina 2014, Tamron has a newly announced the SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD lens. Of course, it’s much bigger, but it is wider and faster, despite having image stabilisation. Given Tamron’s history of aggressively pricing their lenses, it is a serious threat for this lens. That said, the Canon 16–35mm f/4 remains an excellent lens and the best available ultrawide zoom lens for most Canon users.

 Features: Fast and silent AF, IS, excellent sharpness, can shoot handheld at widest end  16/20
 Performance: Good centre sharpness, minimises flare well, handles vignetteing well  34/35
 Build Quality: Weatherseasled, dustproof with sturdy build  23/25
 Ergonomics: Smooth controls  13/15
 Warranty & Support: Several number of sevice centres  4/5

MRP: Rs. 77,995

Who should buy it? Landscape and street photographers looking for a good ultrawide lens.

Why? The lens is the sharpest ultrawide in Canon’s current line up, designed for harsh climates and rough use.

Tags: Aditya Nair, Canon, Lens, sharpness, canon lens, ultrawide zoom, Canon EF 16–35mm f/4 USM L IS, f/4 lens