Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II Lens Review

by admin on January 24, 2012

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II Lens

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II Lens

The Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II is a professional grade ultra wide angle lens that produces perfectly sharp and color saturated images. This lens is the second revision of 16-35mm wide angle lenses Canon has produced. With this revision, Canon set out to create a tool that could produce images with as little distortion and as much contrast as possible over the entire range of ultra wide focal lengths.

The results of this revision are amazing. With the 16-35mm f/2.8 II, quality, sharpness and contrast are perfect from corner to corner of every image. Additionally, the seven blade circular aperture of the 16-35 f/2.8 II create wonderful background blur effects and an ideal depth of field for many wide angle focal length applications. With this lens, Canon has set a standard for wide angle zoom lenses.

While expensive, the 16-35 f/2.8 II is a vital piece of equipment for any high level amateur or professional photographer who is looking to utilize one of the absolute best tools for versatile wide angle photography. The Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens is Canon’s top of the line ultra wide zoom lens for full frame SLRs. Like its version I predecessor, it carries Canon’s L series designation, and is an excellent choice for those wanting an ultra wide angle focal range, especially in low light scenarios with its fixed maximum aperture of f/2.8. It is an EF mount, so it will fit any Canon digital SLR or film SLR with the EF mount.

The lens comes with a very wide petal hood, which attaches on the end of the barrel with a bayonet mount. The short focal length of this lens will not allow for a deep, protective hood, so not much protection can be expected from it, but it can block some light coming from directly perpendicular to the lens. A leather pouch is also included with this lens.

Lens Specifications

Focal length 16-35mm
Maximum aperture f/2.8
Lens construction 16 elements in 12 groups
Diagonal angle of view 108 degrees (at 10 feet) to 63 degrees
Focus adjustment AF with full-time manual
Closest focusing distance 0.92 feet
Filter size 82mm, P=0.75mm/1 filter
Dimensions 3.5 inches in diameter, 4.4 inches long
Weight 1.41 pounds

Physical Attributes

This lens is solidly built, with smooth focus and zoom rings, and is weather sealed (although a filter is required to complete the sealing). The filter size is a large 82mm, the largest screw-on filter size of any Canon lens. The large filter means more expensive as well, so don’t be surprised if a quality filter for this lens costs over $100. The front objective element extends and retracts as the focal length changes – it is contained within the inner barrel however, so there are no protruding parts. There is a gasket to seal it, but full sealing is only present when a filter is screwed onto the end. Speaking of filters, if you do choose to use one, be sure to pick a slim filter instead of one of regular thickness. This will cut down on the amount of vignetting at 16mm (more on vignetting later).

The 16-35L II’s constant max aperture of f/2.8 is on par with all of Canon’s fastest zoom lenses, such as the 24-70L, and 70-200L II. It has a circular 7 blade design, which yields smooth background blur and circular out of focus highlights.

The zoom and focus rings are both smooth moving, well damped, and have a nice feel to their rotation. This lens has full time manual focus as well, although the auto focus accuracy and speed are impressive. The ultrasonic motor (USM) makes for quick, accurate, and silent auto focusing.

Performance and Image Quality

Image quality with the 16-35 II is impressive. Color and contrast are fantastic thanks to its superior optical design and lens elements. Its sharpness in the center is spot on, even when shooting wide open. Center sharpness improves marginally when stopped down, but is not very noticeable in the center of the frame. The corners are rather soft when shooting at f/2.8 (especially on a full frame sensor SLR), but corner sharpness does improve as the lens is stopped down.

Barrel distortion is noticeable at 16mm , and there is slight pincushioning at 35mm, but the barrel distortion is much more prevalent. Between 20mm and 30mm there is no distortion to speak of. One thing that this lens suffers from is vignetting when shooting at f/2.8 at 16mm. It is another attribute that is mostly seen only on a full frame camera, and it is prevalent in the picture shown, however it does improve greatly when the lens is stopped down to f/5.6 or smaller. As mentioned before, using a filter will further vignette the image.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Barrel Distortion and Vignetting

Barrel Distortion and Vignetting

Flare and chromatic aberration are both handled very well. Slight flare is becomes apparent when shooting directly into a bright source of light or with the light source just outside of frame. CA is evident mostly in the corners when shooting at 16mm, but is not something I worry about at all when shooting with this lens.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Flare and Chromatic Aberration

Flare and Chromatic Aberration Samples

This lens has a minimum focusing distance of less than one foot, so subjects very close to the camera can be in focus, which can yield interesting perspectives and unique angles that only a very wide angle lens can provide. The 16-35 is compatible with Canon’s extension tubes to decrease minimum focus distance and increase magnification if you wish. It is not compatible with any of Canon’s EF extenders.

The ultra wide angle perspective can provide very unusual perspectives, and some care and foresight must be used when shooting at 16mm on a full frame. Straight lines can bend, peoples’ faces can become distorted, and sometimes your feet can be seen at the bottom of the frame if you’re not careful. Using a flash can also be tricky – if your flash has a pop-out diffusion panel, I would definitely use it to prevent uneven lighting from your flash. Don’t confuse this lens with a head and shoulders portrait lens, but it can be great for capturing people in their environments. When you shoot a person up close with this lens though, body parts can start to look funny and misshapen.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Focal Length Perspectives

Perspective Examples

Compared to Other Lenses

The main differences between the 16-35 II and the 16-35 I are improved sharpness across the board, throughout the entire focal range, and from the widest aperture to the narrowest aperture. The differences are most noticeable in the corners at 16mm at f/2.8, and are negligible in the lens’ “peak performing” focal length and aperture. Barrel distortion is reduced in the version II, though pincushioning is slightly increased. Contrast and color are both improved with its redesigned optical configuration. Flare and CA are both reduced, but only somewhat. Vignetting is also marginally improved as well. Its size and shape are also different than the version I’s – the filter threads are increased from 77mm to 82mm, and it is slightly larger. Its weight, minimum focus distance, and focus/zoom rings are unchanged.

Many people considering a Canon ultra wide zoom compare the 16-35 f/2.8L to the 17-40mm f/4L. Firstly, the 17-40 is nearly half the cost of the 16-35, so if the 16-35 is simply out of your budget, the 17-40 is an excellent alternative. It is a very nice lens, and gives the 16-35 a run for its money in terms of image quality. The biggest, and most obvious difference is the full aperture stop – the 16-35’s maximum aperture of f/2.8 has twice the light gathering capability than that of the 17-40’s max aperture of f/4. F/4 may not be fast enough for low light environments or situations in which you would need a faster shutter speed to freeze motion. Another obvious difference is the focal length difference. Vignetting is handled better by the 16-35, and corner sharpness is generally better as well, but only marginally, especially when shooting wide open. Center sharpness for the 16-35 is slightly better than the 17-40’s throughout the range of focal lengths. CA is handled a little better with the 16-35 (mostly in the corners), but flare is actually handled better by the 17-40. Barrel distortion is also handled somewhat better by the 17-40 at 17mm, but the 16-35 has less than the 17-40 at 20mm. If you’re a landscape shooter that primarily uses narrow apertures, I would recommend the 17-40, simply because you won’t need the extra stop of f/2.8, and the 17-40 will save you hundreds of dollars. If you shoot in low light and use a full frame sensor camera body, the 16-35 will have a noticeably improved performance and image quality due to its faster aperture and corner image quality.

Pro’s and Con’s

Pros: Cons:
Fast, constant f/2.8 max aperture Price
Build quality and weather sealing Edge softness at wide apertures
Image sharpness, color, and contrast Vignetting at 16mm


If you own a 1.6x crop factor SLR (APS-C), I wouldn’t recommend this lens. Instead, I recommend the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM lens. It has a much more useable focal range and is image stabilized as well. The 16-35 was really designed to be an ultra wide zoom for a full frame, and not really a general walk around lens for a camera with the 1.6x crop factor. The 16-35 focal range is somewhat limited, but it definitely a fantastic part of a kit, and would make an excellent compliment to the 24-70 f/2.8L. Whether you use it for landscapes, architecture, real estate, or weddings, it provides a great wide perspective to “take it all in” and can perform very well in low light as well. It is not cheap by any standards, but I definitely recommend it.

Sample Picture

Canon 16-33 f/2.8L II USM Lens Sample Photo

Canon 13-33 f/2.8L Sample Photo

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