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Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens Review

Gary Wolstenholme reviews this new ultra wide-angle lens from Canon for full-frame cameras.

| Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM in Interchangeable Lenses

Handling and Features

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens Review: Canon EF 16 35mm F4L IS USM Lens (4)

This new ultra-wide angle zoom lens should replace Canon's venerable 17-40mm f/4L optic in their line up of professional lenses. It sports a zoom range of just over 2x and a constant maximum aperture of f/4. Unlike most Canon lenses with a constant maximum aperture of f/4, this lens is actually more expensive than the f/2.8 offering covering the same focal range. It does include a four-stop image stabiliser, but that can't be all that justifies the more expensive price, can it? In this review we'll take a look at how the lens performs and whether it is worth the extra expense.


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Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Handling and Features

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens Review: Canon EF 16 35mm F4L IS USM Lens (3)

The design and build of this lens is typical of Canon's L series, with tough black finished metal and plastics used throughout its construction. The lens is designed to take the rigours of daily professional use, so it is sealed against dust and moisture, as you might expect. Even with the excellent build quality, thanks in part to the constant f/4 maximum aperture, this lens only weighs 615g, and it balances perfectly with the Canon EOS 5D Mark III used for testing.

Autofocus is powered by an Ultrasonic motor, that allows manual focus adjustments to be made at any time, and AF speeds are very fast as a result. Applying manual focus adjustments is a pleasure, thanks to the smooth, precise and well damped focus ring. Closest focus is 28cm throughout the zoom range, which is great for the occasional wide-angle close up image, or for shooting in claustrophobic environments.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens Review: Canon EF 16 35mm F4L IS USM Lens (6)

As focusing is performed internally, the 77mm filter ring does not rotate, which makes the lens ideal for use with graduated and polarising filters. A petal-shaped hood is supplied with the lens, which attaches via a bayonet fitting. The button on the hood that releases the lock is quite easy to engage accidentally when removing the lens from a case or bag, so care may need to be taken not to lose the hood.

The image stabilisation system fitted to this lens promises to allow sharp images to be taken at shutter speeds four stops slower than would be possible without the system enabled. Sharp images can be produced around half the time with shutters speeds as low as 1/2sec at 35mm, which is roughly four stops slower than the usual rule of thumb would allow for hand held shooting.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens Review: Canon EF 16 35mm F4L IS USM Lens (5)

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Performance

As far as sharpness is concerned, this is one of the best zoom lenses we have tested so far. Between 16mm and 24mm, sharpness is already outstanding across the frame from maximum aperture, with none of the soft corner issues found with the older 17-40mm optic. Stopping down at this focal length will purely be a creative decision, based on your required depth of field, as the levels of sharpness attained by this lens are only limited by diffraction as the aperture is closed with this lens. Sharpness remains excellent across the frame until the lens is stopped down beyond f/11.

Even when the lens is zoomed to 35mm, sharpness remains excellent across the frame at maximum aperture, and remains so until the aperture is closed down to between f/8 and f/11 for this focal length.

How to read our charts

The blue column represents readings from the centre of the picture frame at the various apertures and the green is from the edges. Averaging them out gives the red weighted column.

The scale on the left side is an indication of actual image resolution. The taller the column, the better the lens performance. Simple.

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


Chromatic aberrations are extremely well controlled for a lens of this type, just exceeding half a pixel width at f/22 and 16mm. This low level should cause very virtually no issues, even in large prints and harsh crops from the edges of the frame.

How to read our charts

Chromatic aberration 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 minimize the problem, hence they usually cost more.

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


Falloff of illumination towards the corners of the frame is reasonably well controlled for a lens covering such a wide angle of view, with the corers only being two stops darker than the image centre at 16mm and 1.6 stops darker than the centre at 35mm. However, as the lens is stopped down, illumination in the far corners never seems to even up with the rest of the frame entirely even when stopped down to f11, or f16, where you would normally expect uniform illumination from corner to corner.

Distortion is reasonable for a lens of this type. At 16mm 4.26% barrel distortion is present, which is replaced by 0.984% pincushion distortion at 35mm. The distortion pattern is not uniform across the frame at 16mm, with a slight wave being present in straight lines parallel to the edge of the frame.  This may make applying corrections in image editing software afterwards tricky, unless the software you use has a preset distortion profile to use.

Even without the supplied petal shaped lens hood, resistance to flare is high and contrast is excellent, even when shooting into the light.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Sample Photos

Value For Money

It's quite strange that this lens costs around £1200, when Canon's 16-35mm f/2.8L USM can be picked up for around £50 less at around £1150. Although the f/2.8 lens lacks image stabilisation, it does have a faster, constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. It's just not the way Canon's lens lines are usually priced.

Those after a bargain, who don't need an f/2.8 maximum aperture, don't need image stabilisation, and can live with softness in the far corners may also look to the older 17-40mm f/4L lens, which can be picked up for around £600.

The closest equivalent currently available from third party manufacturers is Tokina's 16-28mm f/2.8 AT-X FX lens, which does cover a shorter zoom range and lacks image stabilisation, but sports a fast constant f/2.8 maximum aperture and costs around £600.


Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Verdict

There can be no doubt that from an optical standpoint, this is one of the finest wide angle lenses Canon has produced to date. Images are razor-sharp across the frame from maximum aperture and CA levels are kept well under control.

The slightly wavy distortion pattern, and vignetting that never seem to go away may put some people off this lens, but at least these issues can be corrected by software afterwards. The price will be the bitterest pill to swallow, especially as the f/2.8 lens from Canon is actually less expensive at the moment. The price will probably settle at a more reasonable level as time passes though.

Even with the odd niggle, they probably won't be enough of an issue to put most prospective buyers off what is currently Canon's sharpest wide angle lens to date.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Pros

Outstanding sharpness across the frame from maximum aperture
Excellent build quality
Relatively lightweight
Reasonably low distortion
Low CA
Image stabilisation
Fast autofocus
Dust and moisture resistance

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Cons

Distortion is wavy at 16mm
Far corners remain darker than the image centre, even when stopped down to f/16


Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM Lens Review:
The Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM is one of the finest wide-angle lenses Canon has produced.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM Specifications

Lens Mounts
  • Canon EF USM
Focal Length16mm - 35mm
Angle of View0° - 64°
Max Aperturef/4
Min Aperturef/22
Filter Size77mm
35mm equivalentNo Data
Internal focusingNo Data
Maximum magnificationNo Data
Min Focus28cm
Box Contents
Box ContentsLens hood, Lens cap, Rear lens cap, Case

View Full Product Details

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ChrisV 16 2.3k 26 United Kingdom
22 Aug 2014 4:19PM
Aside from the steep asking price I am incredibly underwhelmed by this optic. But then I'm not principally a landscape photographer, where IS ans a smidgeon extra sharpness may offer a more compelling reason to purchase.

We bought the 2.8 optic recently and for its main purpose it makes a lot more sense. That purpose is photojournalism style shots in restricted spaces. Firstly that wider aperture does make a difference at this sort of AoV, even on full frame, where at 16mm f4 will not give a great deal of scope for subject isolation. The other thing is that in dim conditions one stop more light gathering is actually more useful than several stops of image isolation. That's because if your subjects move [even slightly] it's better to open up and use a faster shutter speed than get a steadier shot at a slower one. Because the sort of shutter speeds we're talking about your subject has to be a living [or indeed actual] statue in order not to suffer the effects of motion blur.

If you are a landscape tog and want the ultra-sharp you'll probably mirror lockup anyway and stick your camera on a tripod, turning the IS off. The wider the lens the less useful IS is - for telephoto optics that's very useful, for an ultra-wide, not so much. There isn't even that much of a weight difference. This seems to me to be a step backward and at a price premium, at that.
Chris_L 9 5.5k United Kingdom
24 Aug 2014 4:31PM
That first sample photo looks horrendous, am sure it's capable of better than that
karl Plus
19 656 United Kingdom
25 Aug 2014 4:50PM
Hardly a step backwards, yes it costs more, but the 16-25 f2.8 isn't considered one of Canons best optically (I speak as an owner of one). Not had chance to have a play with the f4 yet, but by all accounts those that have put it way ahead of the f2.8 in IQ terms.
ElSid 14 11 United Kingdom
27 Aug 2014 5:40PM
Wait until the IS version of the f2.8 comes along - it won't look quite so misplaced pricewise then...Grin

To make a lens this sharp corner to corner to corner even wide open is not going to be cheap. Looks a bit like Canon have set out to achieve a standard and to hell with the cost...
29 Aug 2014 8:12AM
I think the pricing will change over the coming months. Already on line in the UK the f2.8 is running between £100 and £200 more expensive than the f4.

Mine has just arrived and very pleased as I got it for £800 on line. Will update when I have had chance to properly use it.
21 Jan 2016 3:17PM
Mine has just arrived last week and very pleased to own such a Canon. Its an excellent ultra-wide lens. The corner to corner sharpness even at maximum aperture is unbelievable, which can easily beat the Canon workhorse 16-35/2.8. I am really overwhelmed with its performance on my Canon 5D Mark iii.
1 Jul 2018 2:42PM
Everything in the article is true. The 16-35 f/4 L IS is (by far) the best ultra-wide zoom to date for freedom from aberrations, resolution and "sharpness". It vanquishes every previous ulta-wide to wide angle zoom for IQ, practicality and versatility. It is a great lens ...

... for a zoom!

But the difficulties of combining ultra-wide focal length, zooming and a fixed relative aperture have implications for weight, price, and IQ. Even the "ancient" 35mm f/2 EF matches or beats it for sharpness and contrast at all apertures that the two lenses have in common.

The zoom has the advantages of IS (Canon claims 4 stops better hand holding ability, but I see only 3 at most), weather sealing, and focal lengths out to 16mm. Practical conveniences are less need for a tripod, much wider range of focal lengths, and the ability to shoot from a fixed location, but still get the main subject as big as you like. It also works well with Canon's older APS-H cameras where it is equivalent to a 21-45mm range. The big IQ drawbacks are the insufficient blur and ugly bokeh in the out of focus areas at f/4.

And it is not a light lens. It is amazing, given its complexity that it is as light as it is. Neverthelss at 700g it is makes for a heavy combination with a full frame body. With Canon's lightest FF camera (6D) the combo is about 1.5kg. With a 1-series body it brings the combined weight of body and lens to more than 2kg. Fine if you are on assignment for National Geographic or being paid to cover an event. Rather a lot to lug around if you are travelling, backpacking or just out taking photos for fun, and rather conspicuous too.

The Prime is 1/4 or less of the price of the zoom, 30% (210g v 700g) of the weight and is tiny and inconspicuous. A 6D and 35 f/2 EF combo weighs under 1kg. The Prime lens goes to f/2 (2 stops faster than the zoom) which offsets most of the the zoom's IS advantage and makes a big difference to the attractiveness of the background blur, subject separation, and ability to get sharp captures of moving subjects. If that is not enough then for another 100g or so in weight, but a substantial hike in price, the 35 f/2 IS has a two stop advantage in hand-holding over the zoom, and is sharper and more contrasty than either the 16-35 f/4 L IS or the 35 f/2 EF. To go wider than 35mm it is often possible to shoot 2 or 3 frames in vertical format to make a panorama. Or add a wider lens and still have less weight to carry and less cash to lay out than buying the 16-35 f/4 L IS.

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