Seattle, WA


B.S. Bio/Chem, College of Idaho

Ph.D. Biology, Johns Hopkins

photography exp.

15+ years


16-35 vs 16-35 II Shootout

Posted on by davegkugler

In April 2007 Canon announced an update to one of my favorite lenses, it is the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM super wide-angle lens. Yeah I am a little behind the times, but I tend to be cautious and patient about most of my camera purchases and don’t make them until I do the heavy research and read all of the reviews.

Well, this lens has been out more than a year and a half and I still haven’t found a satisfactory answer to my simple question — is it really improved? I have found a lot of very good reviews, including those from Digital Picture and multiple users on Fred Miranda, but I have yet to see an in depth side-by-side comparison of the two (they may be out there, but I haven’t found one yet). The general consensus appears to be it is, but it is marginal. I haven’t found that result very helpful in deciding if I should upgrade my v1 of the lens.

Canon claims this lens has been entirely redesigned, with 16 elements in 12 groups (here is a link to the block diagram). In their words: “It has been specifically designed for improved edge-to-edge image quality that will meet the strict requirements of professional and high-end amateur photographers.

So, I finally decided to put my wallet into the equation and see for myself. I ordered one over the holidays and it arrived right before my NY trip for New Years. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate and my camera didn’t get much use (a few pictures here). It is time for a little more of a close look and a controlled comparison between these two. Just to set the background, I am comparing a USxxxx (2004) manufactured lens that I purchased in late 2004 before my Antarctica trip to a UWxxxx (2008) lens.

For the comparison I locked my 1Ds Mark II to a tripod, with MLU (mirror lockup), and used a remote trigger. All shots were at ISO 100. The camera was set to aperture priority, and each lens was sequentially mounted to the camera for the test scene below (note: I shot multiple test scenes, but this one is quite representative of my findings). As a landscape photographer I care most about edge performance, and not just sharpness, but overall clarity, color, and control of aberration. Here’s a 700px version of the scene and representative 100% crops.

16-35 @ f/8
900px Version

100% Comparisons: center, edges

Unfortunately the new lens back-focuses significantly — to the point where determining any differences in image quality (IQ) becomes a mute point. The options now are either to send the lens into Canon for repair, or simply to return the lens. I will do the latter, as if the problems are more than focus there is no reason to keep the lens and I will be outside of the window to return. I’m sad and a bit disappointed. =[ Look for another review when I receive the new copy.

UPDATE 11-Jan-09: This past Friday I received a new copy of the Canon EF 16-35 II, and it correctly focuses via AF. Yeah! I repeated the test and here are my updated conclusions.

Revised Conclusions:
My latest copy of the 16-35 II performs better at 16mm than my original 16-35 (which I think was a pretty darn good copy!) in terms of sharpness (center & edge), color rendition, and especially in CA. Yippie! They are quite close in center sharpness at f/8 and smaller apertures, although I give a slight edge to the new version. At 35mm, the two versions are almost indistinguishable — this is at both the center and edges. It looks like I have updated my arsenal and have a v1 for sale.

Here are the test results and images for comparison. In this revised test, I shot two scenes. While auto-focus (AF) was performing correctly on both lenses I instead shot the comparison with manual focus (MF) to avoid any discrepancies in focus and solely examine image quality. To note: the difference in apparently field of view is due to the 16-35 II being 8.6 mm longer in length than the 16-35 (which changes your view, even though you have locked the camera to a tripod)!!

Comparison @ 16mm

Backyard –
Full scene @ f/8 (1500px version): 16-35, 16-35 II.
100% Crops: center, edges

Brick Wall –
Full scene @ f/8 (1500px version): 16-35, 16-35 II
100% Crops: center, edges

Comparison @ 35mm

Backyard –
Full scene @ f/8 (1500px version): 16-35, 16-35 II
100% Crops: center, edges

One Response to 16-35 vs 16-35 II Shootout
patrick says: January 19, 2009 at 1:18 pm

You are lucky to get a good one on your second order. I went through 20 copies to get to find one I THINK it is a good copy and this one will not go anywhere. Canon needs to work on the QC.