Two years of landscapes - a Canon 16-35L II review.

Started Nov 3, 2013 | User reviews thread
CanonGuy1980
CanonGuy1980 Forum Member • Posts: 63
Re: Two years of landscapes - a Canon 16-35L II review.

JoEick wrote:

Product: Canon 16-35L II

Type of use: Commercial landscape photography

Cameras used: 6D and 5D2

Website: http://www.johaneickmeyer.com

I've had this lens for nearly two years now and thought I would post a review of what I think is good and bad about the 16-35L II. I shoot 100% landscapes and have taken tens of thousands of shots using this lens. I have also owned the Nikon 14-24 and Canon 17-40.

If you want test shot comparisons, I recommend trying out this site. My review is based more on a culmination of extensive research and personal experience.
The Digital Picture

Handling:

I really love the way this lens handles and how reliable it has been with use in some rugged conditions. The zoom and focus rings are silky smooth even after many days and nights of use. They remain smooth in both hot and cold weather. The focus ring has a decently long throw from min to infinity which makes it easy to gain precise focus. I found the 17-40 was just as nice, but the 14-24 has much shorter throw in the focus ring along with a not very smooth action of the rings.

The front element moves back and forth when zoomed and at around 28mm it sits the farthest back into the lens for protection. I leave it at 28mm whenever not in use or when moving locations with the lens exposed.

I use a Lee 4x4 filter setup for both ND and polarizer filters. The filter holder threads on the lens with much ease and remains secure when rotating the filters.

Image quality:

This lens gets dogged on a lot for not having class leading image sharpness. In the center of the frame, the Nikon 16-35 and 14-24 are a bit better for similar focal lengths. In the corners, the 14-24 has a good lead wide open, but not as much when stopped down. The Nikon 16-35 though is about as bad as it can get for the corners where there is nearly no detail at all, just mush. What I do like about the Canon 16-35 II is that the sharpness is evenly spread across most of the frame and there is no dramatic falloff from center to edge sharpness. I find this to be very important for landscape photography. I am happy printing single frame shots from the Canon lens up to 40x60inches. I often stitch and focus stack my images, so it's rare to have any limitation when printing at any giant size.

When it comes to barrel distortion, the game seems to switch sides in favor of the Canon 16-35II. I have never once needed to correct distortion in the Canon lens for any landscape. While present, it looks very natural and well controlled. The two Nikon lenses are considerably worse in this regard and may lose some FOV when corrected. Even the Canon 17-40 has a slight bit more distortion at the wide end, which I found needed to be corrected in some cases.

When it comes to flare resistance, I find the 16-35 II to be about average for UWA zooms. I personally think the 17-40 and even the 10-22 Canon lenses to be better throughout the zoom range for general flare resistance. But, while the 16-35II is average for flare resistance, this seems to translate into a better sun star effect when stopping down the lens. I personally think the sun stars from the 16-35II are some of the best that any lens can produce. They are just amazing when done right with this lens.

For night time photography of stars, I find the 16-35II to be sub par, especially when compared to the Nikon 14-24. The most dramatic issue for me is vignetting when shot at f2.8. The Canon loses nearly 3 stops in the corners, which is a royal pain in the butt when shooting a 5D2. Lifting high ISO levels on the 5D2 resulted in disaster when pushed 3+ stops. Luckily the Canon 6D I have now, does a much better job at holding together when pushed hard at extreme ISO levels, but still just barely makes vignetting removal OK with the 16-35II. The Nikon 14-24 only loses a little over a stop in the corners wide open and is a better star lens by a large margin IMO.

Stitching images helps remove vignetting issues when overlapped by more than 2/3 for each frame.

Overall, I think the 16-35II holds its own pretty well when all factors are considered. I think too many people focus on center frame sharpness when comparing lenses for landscape photography, when in my personal experience things like distortion and sharpness evenness can be just as important. For a lens that does not have a giant front element, it does rather well to similar designs. The 14-24 does better in some regards likely due to the massive front element helping bring in more light and sharpness to the image sensor.

Extra notes:

The 16-35LII often gets compared to the 17-40. On the surface, this is a valid comparison for most people, but I think these are very different lenses when you get down to the details. If you don't shoot at the wide end most of the time, like having 40mm, and don't shoot at night often, then the 17-40 is a bargain lens. I personally find 16mm is noticeably wider than 17mm, and also has less distortion at 16mm than the other at 17mm. There is also slightly less vignetting when shot wide open with 16mm vs. 17mm. For nighttime shooting the extra stop of light gathering from the 2.8 lens can make a considerable difference to exposure times and/or noise levels. It also means that the vignetted corners don't have to be lifted as much in post production to gain an equal brightness level given the same time and ISO settings. There is also the 1 stop gain in viewfinder and LCD brightness when shooting in dim situations. I try to keep my camera bag limited to two zoom lenses for weight reasons, while maintaining as much versatility as possible in various shooting situations. I find the 16-35 offers me a more versatile package for my shooting style. The price difference should be expected as with any f4 and f2.8 variants on lenses, and I find the added f2.8 to be more useful for landscapes than most people give credit for.

I do wish Canon would release a 14-24 or similar lens with hopefully equal or better performance than the Nikon version, especially when it concerns barrel distortion. One problem with carrying such a lens though, is the added weight of both the body and the extra large filter kit needed for 14mm and the huge front element. I might find it hard to take such a setup over the 16-35II when my backpack is already pushing 50-60 lbs with camping gear alone.

I have to give it to you!! Amazing work.  What were the settings for the night shot? I may have missed it if it is already there? Aperture? ISO? Was this set to Manual? Was the lens on manual focus? What edits did you do in post? What was the exposure time and what was your focus point? One star in the sky?

Thanks!

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