Canon 16-35 f4L IS Review by David Clapp

If you’re a full frame Canon user you need to sell your wide angles and buy one. There you go I said it. If you’re busy right now and don’t have time to read the rest of this article (until later I hope!), here’s the urgent message I need to convey – the Canon 16-35 f4L IS is absolutely remarkable and yes, it’s a complete game changer… and here’s why.

I am a self-confessed wide-angle junkie and have been for many years. Originally my wider angled approach started as many landscape photographers do, by placing a ‘rock in foreground’ and shooting a coastal scene at f11. Does that sound familiar? After happily using my first serious wide angle, the Canon EF 20-35 f3.5-4.5, the purchase of a Canon 5D put a stop to an otherwise happy foreground relationship. The lens was good, but the 5D revealed some less than positive technical flaws that raised the bar to purchase a 17-40 f4L. I have owned that lens for nearly eight years but along the path my shooting changed to architecture, churches and interiors. I have experimented with them all – Zeiss 21mm Distagons, the newer 21mm Zeiss, an adapted Nikon 14-24 f2.8, adapted Olympus Zuiko glass and more.

Old Faithful

During these love affairs, I still come back to the faithful 17-40f4L. Why? because it’s sharp and it’s light, but sadly it’s not particularly versatile in this modern world of wide angles. The Nikon 14-24 changed everything for me with it’s edge to edge sharpness at f2.8, something the 17-40f4L could reach until f11. Well ok, the Nikon cheated a little, by treating a full frame sensor like a crop sensor, in other words it has an image circle somewhere between full frame and medium format. This sharpness comes at a cost and the bulbous glass front element and excessive weight take their toll, but none more than using a special Canon > Nikon adapter. Auto aperture and autofocus are lost, so unless you’re comfortable with strange metering issues, uncommunicative Live View, gigantic and expense filter systems and being tripod mounted for most of the time, it has a somewhat limited fan base.

Then Canon bought out the 16-35 f2.8L, to replace the aged mk1 version, but despite being a step in the right direction, the lens was only marginally better than the 17-40. With an 82mm filter ring I found myself gazing at my 77mm ND’s and sighing – another major upgrade expense. So I kept the 17-40 and lived in hope that some day, Canon would bring out the killer lens to trounce the competition and end all this manually adapted mayhem. That day has come.

The Day Has Come

You can imagine the design criteria – we need to build a lens that’s sharp side to side wide open with our best image stabilisation ever. It has to be light, well built and designed to fit the popular 77mm filter system. Let’s make it so correct that there is literally no vignetting, no chromatic aberration and virtually no distortion…… It sounds like a dream doesn’t it, but I can hand on heart testify that it’s a dream come true.

I trialled the 16-35f4L IS on a week trip to Brittany to shoot lighthouses and rocky coastline with my good friend Andy Habin, but this was to include lighthouse interiors and other tight spaces perfect for a test. In other words I was going to need everything the lens was capable of.


When looking at the RAW’s on my hotel bed the first thing that hit me was that the images look post processed. The contrast and bite is so utterly fabulous that when combined with a modern body like the Canon 6D, the lens is allowing the sensor to run at its optimum. I shot Cathedral in St Malo earlier that day – with the IS engaged I did my usual breath held burst of three images, keeping the shutter speed at 1/30th just in case. Every shot was sharp, side to side at f8. So I experimented slower and slower to find myself shooting an 1/8th even a 1/4sec with amazing results! Then I lowered the aperture to f4 there it was – the game changer. Side to side sharpness wide open, the myth was true.

My ideas extended into the night, shooting lighthouses on clifftops into the early hours. The sharpness the lens is capable of makes checking those corners a little OCD (obsessive corners disorder?!). Reliability is the key here and its comforting knowing that the only mistakes you see on computer will be your own, certainly not the lens.

france_brittany_petit_minou_02 copy

What I love about Canon IS lenses is that I can leave the tripod in the hotel until later. My travel photography no longer sees me lugging a tripod all day, thanks to incredible image stabilised technology and the 16-35f4L IS has superb technology. It’s a marriage made in heaven alongside my other favourite IS lens the Canon 24-70 f4L IS. Many photography friends have an unnecessary hang up about pro glass, as though only f2.8 glass is for professionals, but I don’t use a single f2.8 lens in my kit bag. The 16-35f4L IS, 24-70f4L IS and the 70-300 f4-5.6L IS are surely the killer team

So now back in the UK, you guessed it, I am selling all my wide angle lenses to fund a 16-35f4L IS – the lens that has changed it all. Light, powerful and discrete, with no need for adapters – the Canon 16-35f4L IS is the lens we all dreamed about and now the dream is a reality.

brittany-echkmul-01 copy

This review was commissioned and sponsored by Canon UK

Categories: Reviews

Tagged as:

4 replies »

  1. I’m a bit confused by the claim that “It’s the most wide angle lens ever made by any company” surely the Nikon 14 – 24 refered to in the review is wider? It does sound like a great lens but keep in mind the writer is basically saying there is now a Canon lens that’s as good as the Nikon 14 – 24 we’ve had for 8 years.

  2. I have to agree, this is a VERY sharp lens, I sold the f/2.8 model as it was so heavy and use the 16-35 and 24-70 f/4.0 Camon lenses, which are much lighter, have the same filter size and the image stabilising is amazing. Two great lenses for travel, landscape and weddings.

  3. Review? Be aware of the declaration at the bottom of the piece, “This review was commissioned and sponsored by Canon UK”.

  4. Should this be termed Promotion rather than Review given that it was sponsored and commissioned by Canon UK? I love Canon stuff, but think the title is misleading. Also I know a load of wider lenses than this – can you clarify what you mean by widest ever made given that it’s not?

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: