Hands On with the New Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens

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When the Canon 16-35mm f/4L lens was first announced, many photographers were disappointed that it wasn’t a new version of the already existing 16-35mm f/2.8 with image stabilization. I can assure you that, during my time with this lens, I didn’t once wish that I could turn that wheel past f/4 to f/2.8. For my purposes, this lens was spectacular.

Above image: 16mm, 13 seconds, f/16Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Viewing Manhattan from Long Island City.

There are definitely situations in which this lens might leave some photographers wishing for that extra stop, especially when shooting with the intention of selective focus. For instance, if you’re photographing a person or object close to the lens and you want some separation between the foreground and the background, having the option to go down to f/2.8 would definitely be beneficial. However, with this wide-angle zoom lens, shallow-depth-of-field-shooting will be minimal, so that loss of one stop is mainly a concern when it comes to shooting in low light. That concern is answered by a combination of Canon’s high ISO performance and the lens’s built-in Optical Image Stabilizer.

16mm, 1/2 sec, f/11, Canon EOS 5D Mark II, handheld. The Clock in Grand Central Terminal.

Throughout my time shooting with this lens I really wanted to test the limits while shooting handheld to see just how slow a shutter speed I could use. With a good stable stance, I found that I could shoot at 1/2 of a second while still making sharp images.

As with other L-series lenses, the build quality of this 16-35mm feels solid and strong. The zoom ring has the perfect amount of friction and rotates smoothly. The focus ring has less friction than the zoom ring, yet it’s not so loose as to turn accidentally. At both ends of the focus range, there are clicks to notify you when you have hit the minimum focusing distance and infinity. I tended to shoot at the wide end of the lens, as this is what really makes the lens special. 16mm on a full-frame camera is very wide―wide enough that I could get a group of seven groomsmen who were standing only three or four feet in front of me into the frame. This lens is perfect for tight spaces, such as interior shots for real-estate illustration, or for sweeping images of wide landscapes.

Zoom Test: Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Lens. Radio City Music Hall.

16mm, f/8.0 20mm, f/8.0 24mm, f/8.0 28mm, f/8.0 35mm, f/8.0

Wedding photographers will love this lens for getting shots of the entire ceremony room and reception hall, and it also comes in handy on the dance floor for large group shots or large family portraits. It will also find itself in the bags of many photojournalists, as well, due to its versatility and speed.

At first glance, it might seem as if this lens were simply a slower version of the 16-35mm f/2.8 with the addition of an Optical Image Stabilizer. However, one reason that upgrades to lens lines should almost always be a welcome sign is the addition of better glass and coatings. This lens adds a fluorine coating to both the front and rear lens surfaces, which helps reduce flare and ghosting, while also boosting image contrast. I shot with this lens directly toward the sun, about an hour and a half before sunset, and the amount of flare and ghosting was minimal. In fact, it was so small that it could easily be removed in post processing.

16mm, f/11, Canon EOS 5D Mark II. The Sky Above Madison Square Garden and Penn Plaza.

Speaking of post-processing, one thing to consider when shooting at such wide angles is that distortion is very prevalent. Of course, if you are making portraits of people, you want to keep them as close to the center of the frame as possible, and the same goes with straight lines if you’re photographing architecture. Luckily for us, post-processing software has become so adept at fixing distortion that not only can it correct pincushion and barrel distortion, it can also remove vignetting and adjust perspective. Some software is so good at this, it has decreased the need for a dedicated tilt-shift lens, allowing you to get great architecture shots with a lens like this 16-35mm.

Canon’s ring-type Ultrasonic Motor uses an internal-focus design that focuses quickly and, just as important, quietly. As impressive as it is necessary, the speed of the autofocus is almost instantaneous. Even in low light, I had no trouble getting the lens to focus where I needed it to focus. As with the f/2.8 version, this lens allows you to override the autofocus manually by simply grabbing and turning the focus ring. If you prefer to shoot in full-time manual mode, a simple switch of a button on the lens barrel makes the change from auto to manual simple. The same goes for turning the image stabilization on and off, that button is located just below the M/AF button.  


16mm, f/16, Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Times Square.

As compared to the 16-35mm f/2.8, both lenses are very similar in size and weight, with the new lens offering 77mm front filter threads instead of the 82mm size of the f/2.8, which might offer some photographers greater compatibility between filters for different lenses. The overall performance of these two lenses is comparable―however, I would give the edge to this new lens because of the inclusion of the Optical Image Stabilizer, fluorine coatings, and the lower price point.

Overall, the EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM was a joy to shoot with; it performed well in all situations, focused fast when I needed it to, even in low-light, and most importantly, it produced great images. If you’re thinking of a wide-angle lens for your full-frame Canon, or if you want an alternative from the f/2.8 to get the benefit of the OIS, I would definitely recommend it. This lens will be a great addition to any gear bag.

16mm, f/11, Canon EOS 5D Mark II. Rockefeller Center.

Still images by Matt Sinclair

Focal Length 16 - 35mm
Aperture Maximum: f/4
Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type Canon EF
Format Compatibility 35mm Film / Full-Frame Digital Sensor
Angle of View 108° 10' - 63°
Minimum Focus Distance 11.02" (28 cm)
Magnification 0.23x
Elements/Groups 16/12
Diaphragm Blades 9, Rounded
Image Stabilization Yes
Autofocus Yes
Filter Thread Front:77 mm
Dimensions (DxL) Approx. 3.25 x 4.44" (82.6 x 112.8 mm)
Weight 1.35 lb (615 g)

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What post processing software do you recommend to remove the distortion, especially in architectural photography.  I use Lightroom and it is just OK at this task.

I would recommend either using the Canon Digital Photo Professional software that is included with your Canon camera, which would have built-in lens corrections for all Canon lenses.  Otherwise, other options would include DxO Optis Pro 9 (either Standard or Elite), or Phase One Capture One Pro 7 software, both which have built-in optical correction options.

This lens Canon EF 16-35 mm f/4L IS USM is perfect and i like it very much. I hope so one day on future, that i will can to buy this equipment. I'm one passionate for photos and i was in New York City in 2012, July and i was in BH store. Tanks for opurtunity for to talk witch you.

Mário Luz

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