Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A real world comparison of the new Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III lens vs the older Canon 16-35mm II f/2.8L lens

When Canon announced the new Canon 5D Mark IV camera, they also announced the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III and the Canon 24-105mm f/4 II lenses. All three of these announcements were exciting to me, but the product that intrigued me the most was the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III.

Here are my reasons why I was so interested in this new lens:

* I use the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II at every event I shoot. It is my "go-to" lens for all wide angle shots, and I shoot a ton of wide angle shots or people dancing at parties.

* After shooting with ultra sharp lenses, like the Canon 70-200mm 2.8mm II, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II, the 16-35mm f/2.8 II lens always seemed a little soft to me.

I received my new Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III from B&H photo the morning I left for the PhotoPlus show in New York. So...my testing of this new lens was delayed by my travels and other commitments. If you have read my other reviews, you know that I like to use the new products for a little bit before writing a review. This way I can see how it performs in real shooting conditions and see if there are other things I like or dislike, that were not apparent at first look. But now I have had a chance to put it to it's test and give you all the results. If you read the last blog post, where I had the once in a lifetime chance to shoot from the top of the Golden Gate Bridge, you know that I chose this new lens as my lens of choice. It was the perfect place to put this lens to the test! If you look at those photos, you see that the lens performs really nicely...but...how does it compare to the older version II lens?

I started the test in my home office, pointing the Canon 5D Mark IV and both lenses at one of my autographed helmets. I had the camera body mounted to the Acratech ball head on my Gitzo tripod and just swapped out lenses for each test. I also removed my Tiffen HT filters for the test, even though I don't believe I lose any quality from these top grade filters.

I have posted all photos in this blog post at full resolution so that you can open the full-res file and see the comparison for yourself. Note: I have not sharpened or adjusted the RAW files in any way. These are all straight out of the camera.

Version III (Click to see full resolution)
These first two images give you a comparison of the newer and older lenses, close to my helmet and set to f/2.8.

Version II (Click to see full resolution)
If you look closely, you will see that the newer lens is sharper than the older lens, but it is not a huge difference. After shooting these photos, I realized that these do not tell the full story. I needed to find an object with fine details and wide enough to test the edge-to-edge sharpness of the lenses.

After walking around my house, looking for a new test subject, I decided to use a painting that I picked up on my last trip to Tanzania. It has a lot of detail, and also happens to be nice and wide. I also decided to print out a "label" letting me know which lens I was testing. This made it easier for me to keep track of which lens I was testing.

Version II (Click to see full resolution)
Here are two photos that I used for most of my comparisons. Both were taken with the Canon 5D Mark IV set to AV mode, ISO 160 and f/2.8. The image from the older (version II) lens is above, and the image from the newer (version III) lens is below.

Version III (Click to see full resolution)
When looking at new lenses, I am most concerned with their sharpness, and we are going to get to that in a minute. But, before we zoom in and look at sharpness, do you notice any difference between the two images? Notice that the new Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III has more light fall-off along all edges of the image, while the older lens did not do that. I find this interesting, but not a big deal, since it is easily correctable.

What is not correctable is the sharpness of the lens. Let's look at that comparison.

UPDATE: I just updated my Lens Aberration Correction on the camera, and this has removed the light fall off that you see in the images above. If you want to update your Canon camera, check out this link.

(For all the photos below, the older model is on the left and the newer lens is on the right)

Comparison at Center of lens at f/2.8 (Click to see full resolution)
This first image shows the detail near the center of the painting, and the difference is very visible. The clarity and sharpness of the new Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III is very apparent. Even in this small preview image, you can see the advantage of the new lens, but zoom in and really take a look.

Comparison at right edge of lens at f/2.8 (Click to see full resolution)
As I mentioned earlier, I was most interested in the clarity of this lens from edge-to-edge. With this in mind, I moved the zoomed image to the far right of the frame, and once again you can see a big difference in the clarity of the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III lens vs the older model.

Comparison at left edge of lens at f/2.8 (Click to see full resolution)
I then moved the zoomed image to the far left of the frame and saw an even bigger difference in quality!

Comparison at right edge of lens at f/16 (Click to see full resolution)
After seeing such a big difference in edge-to-edge clarity of the two lenses at f/2.8, I decided to do the same test at f/16. The photo above shows the comparison of the two lenses at a narrow aperture of f/16, and you will notice that the delta between both lenses lessens. As interesting as this is, this does not matter to me very much, since most of my use for the 16-35mm lens is for events in low light, and I am almost always shooting at f/2.8. The only time I use this lens at an aperture below f/5.6 is for landscapes, and that is not the bulk of my business.


As you can see, the difference between the new Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III lens (left) and the older Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens (right) is pretty dramatic. The new lens looks and feels more like the newer Canon 24-70mm II lens than the older 16-35mm lens. The new lens maintains the same 82mm lens size but feels more solid. The version III does weigh a little more than the version II, but it feels more balanced in the hand. I like that.

All in all, the new Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L III performs really well and is a welcome newcomer to my camera bag. This lens does not come cheap, at a price of $2200, but since I rely on the 16-35mm for all my wide angle shots, I am willing to invest the money to get my clients the best possible images possible. For the last couple of years, I have been saying that this focal range was the weak spot in Canon's lineup, and I am thrilled to be shooting with the newer and sharper lens now.

Anyone want to buy the older version II lens from me? :)

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1 comment:

Angela Williams said...

I would love to buy that "old" lens!!!