Review of Canon 16-35 f/2.8L II Lens

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Ever since I switched to the Canon 6D I’ve been interested in the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II lens, it seemed like the perfect combination of all the factors I need in a super wide angle lens. I was looking for a lens that has a large aperture of f/2.8 for night photography, and accepts screw on filters for using nd filters for long exposures, this is where the Nikon 14-24 andTokina 16-28 fell flat for me, their bulbous front element prevents you from using filters (yes, there are adapters available but they are expensive and bulky). I also wanted something that wasn’t too heavy. I wanted the ultimate all-around lens that I could use during the day and night. There is plenty of information out there on how sharp this lens is for landscape photography, in short it’s not as good as the Nikon 14-24, but it is very sharp and I am quite pleased with it. Most of the focus of this review will be on it’s use for night photography since I couldn’t find much information on it’s performance.

I will say right off the bat that this is not the best lens for night photography, the Rokinon lenses and the Nikon 14-24 perform better, BUT read on to understand why this will be my go-to lens…

First thing I noticed when shooting at f/2.8 was the coma in the corners and the strong vignetting. Below are a ton of sample images taken at different focal lengths and apertures.

16mm @ f/2.8  16mm @ f/2.8 16mm@ f/3.2 16mm@ f/3.2 16mm @ f/3.5 16mm @ f/3.5 16mm @ f/4 16mm @ f/4 20mm @ f/2.8 20mm @ f/2.8 20mm @ f/3.2 20mm @ f/3.2 20mm @ f/3.5 20mm @ f/3.5 20mm @ f/4 20mm @ f/4 24mm @ f/2.8 24mm @ f/2.8 24mm @ f/3.2 24mm @ f/3.2 24mm @ f/3.5 24mm @ f/3.5 24mm @ f/4 24mm @ f/4 35mm @ f/2.8 35mm @ f/2.8 35mm @ f/3.2 35mm @ f/3.2 35mm @ f/3.5 35mm @ f/3.5 35mm @ f/4 35mm @ f/4

You can see this lens performs very well at f/4 and okay at f/2.8, as I said earlier, not the best for night, but it is very good. With the Canon 6D I can easily take shots at ISO 12,800 to compensate for this loss of light at f/4. The images above taken at f/2.8 were shot at ISO 6400, the shots at f/4 were taken at ISO 12,800 and I can see very little difference in the amount of noise. If you don’t have a camera capable of this high of ISO you can still shoot this lens at f/2.8 and come away with good results.

Next I test vignetting and overall quality….

16mm @ f/2.8 16mm @ f/2.8 16mm @ f/4 16mm @ f/4 20mm @ f/2.8 20mm @ f/2.8 20mm @ f/4 20mm @ f/4 24mm @ f/2.8 24mm @ f/2.8 24mm @ f/4 24mm @ f/4 35mm @ f/2.8 35mm @ f/2.8 35mm @ f/4 35mm @ f/4

Here you can see the vignetting is quite strong at f/2.8, but clears up nicely at f/4. For comparison the Rokinon 14mm has similar vignetting and the Nikon 14-24 has very little vignetting. You can also see how many of the stars are brighter at f/2.8, this is due to the coma making the stars bigger, it may look good at this small size, but I can assure you at larger sizes it’s not as appealing.

This lens does not have much distortion to deal with as you can see above with the lens profile applied to fix the distortion. The 14-24 has less and the Rokinon 14mm has extreme mustache distortion

A big factor for me was being able to use filters, I use the Lee Foundation Kit with a Wide Angle Adapter along with a Lee Big Stopper (10 Stop ND Filter), a Lee Little Stopper (6 Stop ND Filter) and a Lee Polarizing Filter, I can also use the Tiffen Fog Filter at night. The only negative is the 82mm filter size, all of my lenses previously were 77mm so I had to do some upgrading.

Another factor to consider is the beautiful sunstar created by the 16-35, this is created by stopping down the aperture to f/16 or f/22 when shooting into the sun. The 16-35 is considered to have the best sunstar out there, although the 14-24 is very good as well. 

The close focusing distance is very nice at 11.2″, this allows you to get extremely close to subjects to create unique compositions.

To conclude this review I have to say that I absolutely love this lens, it will never leave my bag. For landscape photography it’s stunning and a joy to use. For night photography it’s okay. I won’t be selling off my Rokinon 14mmRokinon 24mm or Sigma 35mm, these are still my dedicated night lenses. When I’m backpacking or hiking though, this is the perfect lens that I can use during the day and night when weight is a major consideration. If you hate the idea of carrying around 3 lens for night photography this is the lens for you. The Nikon 14-24 is still the gold standard for night photography in the 14-20 range and for landscape photography it is sharper, but it doesn’t accept filters. There’s always trade-offs when looking for an all-around lens, in this case I think the trade-offs are quite reasonable, I highly recommend this lens.

 Buy now from B&H

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David Kingham

David Kingham

David is a professional landscape and nature photographer originally from Loveland, Colorado who is now traveling the American West full-time in an RV with his photography and life partner Jennifer Renwick, and their two cats. David has published an eBook called Nightscape and has in-depth videos on post-processing. David and his partner Jennifer Renwick find joy in teaching others photography in their photography workshops, and through their blog.


2 thoughts on “Review of Canon 16-35 f/2.8L II Lens”

  1. Excelent comparison of 3 nightscape and day landscape lenses. I have Samyang 14mm but i consider to sell it becouse of distortion (i know i can fix it in camera raw but i’m loosing resolution) and horribly vignette. I shoot mostly landscapes at day and night. Greetings – Thomas from Poland.

    p.s. it’s weird but i can’t find good reviews and atrophotography tutorials in my own language, my most knowledge in landscape photography coming from people like You and other foreign photographers. Thank you a lot for reviews and keep writing!

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