Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Review

John Riley reviews the new Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM wide-angle lens for full-frame Canon EF mount cameras.

| Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM in Interchangeable Lenses

Handling and Features

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Review: Canon 16 35mm F2,8 L III Front Oblique View

Canon 16-35mm L lenses have an enviable reputation for quality and we now have the latest incarnation as the Mk III version. With a useful f/2.8 constant aperture and ultra-wide 16mm focal length this would be a versatile lens for much general work, including architecture, weddings and reportage. Let's see how it performs and whether it is worth its not inconsiderable price tag.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Handling and Features

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Review: Canon 16 35mm III (1)

The lens was coupled with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV for this review, and the two are a perfect match for each other. The quality of construction is very high and the balance of the combination just about perfect, making the lens feel much lighter than its 790g. The lens is weather sealed, a huge advantage when shooting outdoors. The bayonet lens hood fits precisely and a catch has to be released to remove it, making it secure. There is an 82mm filter thread. It is possible to use filters, but in the case of polarisers it is unfortunate that the lens hood has to be removed to rotate the filter. This is not as efficient as having a removable slot or even a sliding access panel as some other makes provide.

As we move closer to the camera body, we next find the wide and smoothly operating manual focus ring. This operates even when AF is engaged, making full-time manual focus possible. This can be used, for example, to tweak the focus position after AF has been achieved. Focusing is down to 0.28m (0.92 feet) and at 35mm offers a maximum magnification of 0.25x, or 1:4. Focusing is via a ring type USM motor and is fast, efficient and accurate.

There is an AF/MF switch and, behind a small window, a focusing scale marked in feet and metres. There is also an index mark for infrared photography, as IR light focuses at a different plane to visible light unless a lens is specially corrected.

Finally, the zoom ring is also smooth in operation and clearly marked. The markings are very accurate and a particular length can be set with a high degree of accuracy.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Review: Canon 16 35mm F2,8 L III With Hood On Canon 5d Mark IV

The 9 bladed diaphragm gives a more circular aperture than the previous model's 7 blades, aiming to improve the quality of the out of focus areas or bokeh.

Optical construction is 16 elements in 11 groups, with an extremely interesting large-diameter glass moulded double aspheric group at the front of the lens. Traditionally ground aspheric elements are also in the formula, as well as using ultra-low dispersion glass. Coatings are described as sub-wavelength and air sphere, the intent being to reduce any internal reflections or flare to the absolute minimum.

Handling soon reveals this to be a beautiful lens to use. The focal length range is not overly large, but nonetheless covers some very useful areas. 16mm is definitely ultra-wide and 35mm often considered to be a wide standard lens, so there is plenty of scope from vast interiors to street photography.

Dust and moisture sealing are most welcome, but the absence of IS (Image Stabilisation) less so. Fortunately, wider lenses do not have the same problems with camera shake that telephoto designs do, so although still desirable it is not essential. Canon also says that the lens is not compatible with extenders, which is probably not a great loss as this is not the sort of lens that would be routinely used in such a way. Extension tubes can be used at the 35mm setting.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Review: Canon 16 35mm F2,8 L III Rear Oblique View

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Performance

At 16mm, the centre shows an excellent degree of sharpness from f/2.8 to f/11, remains very good at f/16 and still retains good quality at f/22. The edges are excellent from f/2.8 to f/8, very good at f/11 and f/16 and it is only at f/22 that the image becomes soft.

At 20mm there is a very similar picture. The centre is excellent from f/2.8 to f/11, very good at f/16 and good at f/22. The edges are excellent from f/2.8 to f/11, very good at f/16 and soft at f/22.

At 24mm the centre is again excellent from f/2.8 to f/11, very good at f/16 and good at f/22. The edges start off very good at f/2.8, are excellent from f/4 to f/11, very good at f/16 and good at f/22.

At 35mm, the centre is excellent from f/2.8 to f/11, very good at f/16 and good at f/22. The edges are very good at f/2.8, excellent from f/4 to f/8, very good at f/11 and f/16 and good at f/22.

As can be seen, there is a hint of slightly lower performance at longer lengths, but far less so that most other zoom lenses. The quality is maintained very well and although the figures do change, the actual visible difference is very small. This is actually a very high level of performance and a credit to Canon's lens making ability.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM MTF Charts

How to read our MTF charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution as LW/PH and is described in detail above. The taller the column, the better the lens performance.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV using Imatest.


Let's look at CA (Chromatic Aberration), which reveals a stellar performance throughout. At 16mm the centre of the field is virtually fully corrected. The edges a little less so, but even at worst less than 1 pixel. Any residual CA can easily be removed in software.

At 20mm the CA correction is even better, with the edges also being almost fully corrected over the wider apertures. At worst, the edges at f/22 are less than half a pixel adrift.

By 24mm, correction centre and edge is amazingly low and this continues up to 35mm, where the centre is still approaching zero CA. The edges at 35mm show a little more deviation, but this is still an excellent result. Colour fringing should not be evident except in the most challenging circumstances.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Chromatic Aberration Charts

How to read our CA charts

Chromatic aberration (CA) is the lens' inability to focus on the sensor or film all colours of visible light at the same point. Severe chromatic aberration gives a noticeable fringing or a halo effect around sharp edges within the picture. It can be cured in software.

Apochromatic lenses have special lens elements (aspheric, extra-low dispersion etc) to minimise the problem, hence they usually cost more.

For this review, the lens was tested on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV using Imatest.


Distortion is in evidence as expected, measuring -3.14% barrel at 16mm. This will be visible where straight lines are near the edges of an image, but it is easily corrected in software. At 20mm -1.17% barrel distortion is found, this changing to +0.245% pincushion at 24mm. At this point correction is excellent. Pincushion distortion then increases gradually until it reaches +1.16% at 35mm. Generally, this is not enough to be a problem, but where correction is needed, perhaps for architectural subjects, software will do the job easily.

The excellent performance continues with flare resistance. It is very difficult to induce flare at all, so the design and coatings are clearly doing an excellent job.

Bokeh, the gradation and smoothness of the out of focus areas, may not be as dramatic as with a telephoto lens, but where differential focus is achieved it still looks very good indeed.

Zoom lenses are extremely challenging to the lens designer as lenses not only have to be good at all apertures and distances, but we add the changing of focal length to the mix. Canon has done a superb job with this lens.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Sample Photos


Value For Money

Value for money might well be difficult for some, as the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM lens is priced at a very substantial £2349. This compares to the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM at £1359 and the one stop slower EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM at £999. The last of these also has IS, which some may deem an advantage.

Alternatives could be the Tamron 15-30mm f/2.8 SP Di VC USD (£929) and the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 AT-X PRO FX (£549).

For users of other marques, there are the Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR (£1019), Nikon AF-S 17-35mm f/2.8D IF (£1549), Zeiss Vario-Sonnar T* 16-35mm f/2.8 ZA SSM II (£2025) and HD Pentax-D FA 15-30mm f/2.8 ED SDM WR (£1499).

Where the new lens scores well is, of course, its stellar performance but in terms of cost, it is simply way above the general price levels for lenses of this type, some of which may even offer IS. However, there is still that stunning image quality, so it is certainly a lens to be aspiring to.

For more options have a look at the Top 15 Best Canon EOS lenses, or have a look at the Top 15 Wide-angle Landscape Lenses.


Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Verdict

We have weather sealing, outstanding performance, solid construction and a very high price. We lose IS, but that may be more acceptable in wide angle lenses. Really the question is not so much is the lens worth the price, it quite probably is, but whether or not our budget can justify the large margin between it and the alternatives.

If that equation can be satisfied for the individual photographer, then certainly the lens will not disappoint.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Pros

  • Excellent sharpness throughout
  • Excellent CA correction
  • No flare
  • Consistency of performance
  • High-quality manufacture
  • Weather sealing
  • Close focusing

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Cons

  • No Vibration Reduction
  • Very high price

Overall Verdict

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Canon EF USM
Focal Length16mm - 35mm
Angle of View54° - 98°
Max Aperturef/2.8
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size82mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus28cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsNo Data

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