As a Canon user, owning a high-quality same brand, wide-angle zoom lens is a must. Luckily, Canon produces a variety of wide-angle zooms in their L-series which go from 16mm, 17mm, and 20mm upwards and are all great performance. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM adds to the lineup with the latest optics and some other goodies thrown in for good measure. Here we will see if this version can outperform the rest.
Like all lenses from Canon’s L lineup, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM is built to last and includes the best optics. Breaking down the specifications, the ‘III’ means this is Canon’s third 16-35mm f/2.8. It features 16 elements in 11 groups, having 2 aspherical elements and lots of special coatings in the form of Fluorine, Sub-Wavelength and Air-Sphere. All the elements move internally when zooming, so you can fit all those circular filters at a large 82mm.
Inside the lens are nine rounded diaphragm blades for producing nice highlights, with an aperture range of f/2.8 – f/22. Focusing is done with Canon’s usual Ultrasonic Autofocus Motor. A petal shaped hood is included and everything weighs in at 790g. As a last note, if you use this lens on a crop sensor camera the focal length will be 26-55mm.
Simplicity is the key with the layout on Canon lenses. There’s a big front focus ring which has manual focus override, the regular Canon distance scale, and a switch for auto and manual focus. Lastly, the zoom ring is just as smooth and easy to use with not much trouble going from 16-35mm. Everything here is fully weatherproofed.
The most common uses for a wide angle zoom will be for landscapes and architecture. In this realm, sharpness is key and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM definitely delivers on this front. It’s surprisingly sharp, even when wide open, and in the corners at both 16mm and 35mm. It really brings in the happiness factor when reviewing images on a big screen, as there are far more keepers with pin sharp detail. I just wish all lenses were this sharp across the whole range.
Bokeh or background blur is something you want on a f/2.8 lens. With a wide-angle lens it’s usually not as critical as with a telephoto, but it’s there if you need it. There’s enough bokeh to punch your subject out from the background, with elements being smooth enough to not be distracting. In other words, for a wide angle lens, the bokeh is very good.
Distortion wise, there are the typical amounts as you would find in a wide angle lens with the most prominent being at 16mm with some pincushioning at 35mm. This can usually be easily corrected with the right lens profile in software.
Although the lense’s closest focus distance is only 0.9 feet (0.28 meters), it still does a good job of pulling in the detail from close-up subjects. As the lens is so sharp, you can easily crop down an image to get the detail you desire.
As for things like chromatic aberration, they are literally non-existent, everything being rendered as naturally as possible. Even stopped down from f/11 onwards, flaring is minimal and the lens can produce some rather pretty sun stars.
In many ways this is the sharpest wide-angle lens when fully wide open that the manufacturer produces, meaning if you want to just go off sharpness alone, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM is a no-brainer purchase.
How Does the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Compare?
You could argue that the 16-35mm f/4 L IS USM is just as sharp and has image stabilization which you don’t get on the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM. If you’re only shooting still subjects and are looking for half the price tag, then the slightly smaller 16-35mm f/4 L IS could do the job. The Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 L II had arguably softer corners, but a little stopping down cured things. Again, not a concern for those who are shooting still subjects.
For a cheaper alternative, there is the Tokina 17-35mm f/4 which has good optical quality, but can’t match that of the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM.
|Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III||Tokina 17-35mm f/4|
|Diaphragm Blades||9 rounded||9 rounded|
|Elements||16 elements in 11 groups||13 elements in 12 groups|
Although this lens doesn’t have image stabilization, it makes up for it with an aperture of f/2.8. This lens is not cheap by any stretch and its large, but its big selling point is not only the usual L-series construction but also its ultra sharpness across the range. Being sharp at f/2.8 may not be a big deal in a wide angle lens to some, but having the peace of mind that no matter how wide you set the aperture, images always being sharp is a good thing.
In this regard, the 16-35mm f/4 L IS is just as good with central sharpness, costs less, is much lighter and has image stabilization. This means that the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM adds action shooting into its repertoire along with sharp still images.
Cost will always be a factor with any lens purchase and at this price point you may even be looking at offerings from the likes of Zeiss. The problem here is that you’re in the land of primes and if you’re a Canon body owner, it’s more than likely that you’re going to go for same brand lenses. In this regard buying into a do-it-all, wide-angle zoom that will keep on performing for many years is a worthy investment, especially if you are a semipro and upwards and all production shots matter.
This lens is expensive, but you’re also getting the top performer in its range and one of the sharpest from Canon. If you want a lens that can cover all bases in the wide-angle end of the spectrum, then you can’t do much better than the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM.