Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Comparing the new Canon EF 16-35mm f/4 USM IS lens to my older Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 II USM lens - Should I switch?

A little while back Canon announced a new Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens and my first thought was, "I don't need that since I have the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 version." But then I started hearing from others that the new f/4 lens was sharper than the f/2.8 lens and this got me thinking that maybe it was time to switch. good friends at Canon were nice enough to loan me the new f/4 lens so that I could use it for a couple of weeks to see if it were worth making the switch.

Here are the two lenses next to each other, with the newer f/4 lens on the left.

Assuming that you have read other reviews from me, you know that I am not the type of person who wants to look at graphs and charts to determine if a lens is better. I want to take it out and give it a real world try! Since I had a couple of events to shoot, I removed my 16-35 f/2.8 lens from my rolling bag and replaced it with the new f/4 loaner from Canon.

Here is a shot taken with the Canon 1Dx and the new f/4 lens. I was wondering if the loss of light (not having 2.8 as an option) would effect the images, but this was not an issue. I typically shoot at a high ISO, if needed, and use the Canon 600EX-RT flashes to add additional light. This image was taken at an ISO of 640 in order to maintain the colors in the dance floor. The remote flash helped freeze the DJ even at a shutter speed of 1/40th of a second. And for those of you wondering why everyone is relatively sharp, even when taken at a wide aperture of f/4, wide lenses provide a wider depth of field.

The new f/4 version of the 16-35mm lens also has image stabilization, which the older lens does not have.

After shooting with the new lens for a couple of events, I decided to mount my Canon 5D Mark III up on my tripod and do a side-by-side test to compare them in a controlled environment.

The first thing I noticed when comparing the images side-by-side (using Photo Mechanic), is that the older 16-35mm was able to shoot slightly wider than the new lens at 16mm. Notice how, even with the camera mounted in the exact same position, you can see the handles of the drawers on the image to the right (the f/2.8 lens) but not in the image on the left (the f/4 lens). This is not a huge deal for me, but I found it interesting that 16mm is different on the two lenses.

If you look at the bend of the image, you will notice that both lenses have about the same amount of distortion.

You can see the distortion in this photo, with the girl's foot (on the left) looking out of proportion compared to the rest of her and the others. In some situations, this is problematic, but can be corrected in Photoshop. In this case, I like the distortion and feel that it makes the photo more interesting.

I then rolled the zoom for both lenses and compared the images at 35mm and felt that they were comparable.

When zooming in and looking closer, you will notice that at f/4, the older lens (on the right) is sharper than the newer lens.

At f/22 the clarity was comparable and almost indistinguishable between the two.

One thing that I did not expect was the difference in focus between the two lenses. With the newer f/4 lens, I could focus on the helmets at 16mm, and then zoom into 35mm with almost no loss of focus.

With my older f/2.8 lens, when I zoomed in from 16mm to 35mm, this is what I got. The image was wildly out of focus! This is a clear advantage for the new lens.

Speaking of advantages for the Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens, here is my summary:

* First and foremost, the f/4 lens costs $500 less than the f/2.8 lens. If the price was similar it would be a difficult decision, but for anyone looking for a great wide angle lens, I would recommend the f/4 since it is equally sharp in most cases and costs less.

* The lens has Image Stabilization which is always handy for those slow shutter shots. It is less important on a wide lens, but still an advantage.

* The lens is very sharp from the center to the outer edges of the frame.

* This new lens has a diameter of 77mm (vs 82mm in the older lens) which I really like. Since most of my other lenses are 77mm diameter, this means that I could use all of my existing 77mm Tiffen HT filters.

* The f/4 lens is only slightly lighter than the f/2.8 version, but feels better balanced (less front weighted) in your hands.

If you are like me and already own the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 lens, it is probably not worth switching to the new f/4 lens, but if you do not own the f/2.8 version or are looking to upgrade from the Canon 17-40mm lens, I would highly recommend the new Canon 16-35mm f/4 lens. You will save money and have an excellent wide angle zoom lens in your arsenal.


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Anonymous said...

What are your thoughts on the SIGMA 18-35mm f/1.8 compared to these lenses? I am looking for a lens in this range and I am leaning towards the SIGMA, but your review was interesting and has given me more to think about.

Jeff Cable said...

I have not tried the sigma yet, but hope to soon. :)

Shashank S Kshiteesh said...

Sigma is good when you are using crop sensor cameras. It is incompatible with full frame cameras.