by Jim McGee

Canon 16-35mm f2.8L USM
Filter Size: 77mm
Lens Hood: EW-83E incl.
Weight: 21.2 oz.
Dimensions: 3.3″x4.0″
Front Rotate w/Focus: No
Groups/Elements: 10/14
Close Focus: 11 inches Macro: No
Street Price: $1,400 to $1,500
 

Verdict: Thumbs Up

We’ve come to expect great things from Canon’s pro level “L” lenses. This is especially true of a lens slated to replace a perennial favorite such as the 17-35mm f2.8L USM. The 16-35mm f2.8 did not disappoint.

The first thing you notice when you mount this lens is how well balanced it feels on the camera body. Though it’s slightly heavier than its predecessor the 17-35m has a nice heft and balance when mounted. The wide rubber grips of the zoom and focus rings fall easily to hand and are silky smooth in operation.

In autofocus mode on a D60 we found focus speeds to be quick and surprisingly quiet. The designers of this lens clearly had digital shooters in mind. Slightly wider at the low end at 16mm it provides Canon digital shooters with an effective focal range of 24-52mm. And though autofocus was fast, manual focus override is always available if you want to touch up focus.

Images were as sharp and contrasty as you would expect from a lens with a street price of around $1,500 – meaning they were tack sharp. Canon put a lot of design horsepower behind making it so. The 16-35mm includes three aspherical lens elements and is the first EF lens to do so. Additionally there are two UD elements to reduce chromatic aberration or color bleeding along the edges of the subject.

Want to shoot wide open? Go ahead. To improve the soft backgrounds created when shooting wide open Canon has included a new electromagnetically controlled automatic diaphragm. This design ensures that at apertures between f2.8 and f5.6 the diaphragm makes a perfectly round opening. That in turn guarantees that the out of focus elements in the background to be soft and free of distracting elements.

While the 16-35mm is not a macro lens it has the ability to focus down to 11 inches, which opens up tremendous possibilities for landscape and product photography. The ability to focus this close means that you can frame a landscape with a strong foreground element and tremendous apparent depth of field yielding dramatic images.

Speaking of drama, one of the drawbacks of lenses this wide is the fact that they often vignette when photographers use filters to create added drama in their images. Canon addressed this issue by providing a drop in gelatin filter holder at the rear of the lens. A nice feature and one that we hope other manufacturers will emulate.

You still have the option of using a 77mm filter at the front of the lens; and those who plan on doing just that will be glad to hear that focusing and zoom of the 16-35mm does not rotate the front element. All focus and zoom movement is internal to the lens.

This lens is no lightweight. Part of the reason obviously is it’s advanced optical formula. But another reason is the fact that this lens is built to a high standard of ruggedness. The weather-resistant construction includes the lens mount, switch panel, zoom ring, and focusing ring. All are sealed against moisture and dust allowing the 16-35mm to function in harsh environments. How harsh? The 16-35mm is designed to withstand the same environmental conditions as the EOS 1V and EOS 1D which means it’s a tank.

We only had a chance to use this lens with an EOS digital so we didn’t get a chance to check for edge to edge sharpness or light fall off in the corners with one of Canon’s 35mm cameras. But Canon says that this lens improves on the performance of the 17-35mm in both of these areas – and that lens was no slouch. So we’re comfortable in speculating that most photographers would be pleased with it’s performance in those areas. Sharpness during our time with the lens while mounted to a D60 was never an issue, nor was lens flare, which is the bane of many wide-angle designs.

In Conclusion This lens isn’t for everyone. Its heavy weight and heavy price tag will both shock amateur photographers. But for pros and serious amateurs this is a lens to add to your camera bag. It’s good balance, fast focus, easy handling, ruggedness, and tack sharp images make it an easy choice. You won’t find another lens in an EOS mount that matches its performance.

We found street prices ranging from $1,400 to $1,500 and no problems with availability. Let the lusting begin.

Speaking Canon 
Each manufacturer has it’s own jargon to describe its lens manufacturing techniques.

L – Lenses are Canon’s professional series of lenses. They are built to a higher standard. In general they’re faster focusing, sharper, and more rugged than their non-L series counterparts.

UD Glass elements are found only in Canon L series lenses. UD stands for Ultra Low Dispersion glass, meaning that these lenses are made to a high standard with a low refractive index and low light dispersion. That means that the lens will produce images with sharp edges and no “light bleed” at those edges. Light bleed can be seen as a softening halo effect around the edges of an image when views at high magnification. It can be especially noticeable at sharp breaks between black and white edges.

Flourite lens elements are used to correct essentially the same problems as UD elements, however fluorite elements are primarily used in telephoto lenses.

Aspherical lenses have become common in recent years, as computer design and manufacturing techniques have made this once exotic and difficult to execute design much easier to produce. Aspherical lens elements are useful in preventing distortion at the edges of the image. Their use has enabled zoom lenses to be more compact and wide-angle designs to be simplified. Today every lens maker has aspherical lens designs in their stable of lenses.