Lens Review: Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L - Part I March 01 2016, 0 Comments

Shooting Landscape & Architecture Photos with Canon's Classic Wide-Angle Zoom

[divzi media just returned from a trip to Spain, where he used the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L to shoot a wide variety of scenes.  All photos and text by divzi media.]

When I planned my trip to Spain, I knew I had to bring an ultrawide angle lens with me. I knew I'd be surrounded be scenic landscapes and people whom I would want to photograph. So the question quickly became which ultrawide would be best.

While I own the impressive super-wide zoom Canon 11-24mm f/4L, this was immediately taken off the table, as I knew I would be very active and in large crowds. The strength of the large protruding bulbous front element was not something I wanted to test. I was convinced I wanted the 16-35 f/4 for it's sharper corners, but what I really wanted (without knowing it) was the 16-35 f/2.8 II.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Wide-Angle Zoom Lens

Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 34mm, 1/200th, f/11, ISO 200

I've used this lens before while shooting events and was never very impressed, one of the main reasons I bought the 11-24mm. But for this trip it worked out perfectly as it doubled as my workhorse for landscape shots AND environmental portraits.

I took this lens, the Canon 6D for its Wi-Fi and GPS capabilities and a 100 L Macro. Out of the 3300 or so non-smartphone shots from the trip, 99% were taken with the 16-35. It's incredibly versatile and works great if you need one wide-angle lens to do everything and you want to keep size and weight to a minimum. 

I'll start this review on the kind of shots I knew I would be taking most -- landscape. Traveling from NYC to Barcelona to La Rioja (4 hours by train to the west) then back to Barcelona there were plenty of opportunities to shoot beautiful landscapes. Even the train station in our final arrival city of Logroño was impressive.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Wide-Angle Zoom Lens

Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 16mm, 1/160th, f/11, ISO 200 

The architecture of most every building we saw made me want to grab the camera and shoot. Some of the most inspirational was the Frank Gehry designed Marqués de Riscal hotel.

 

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Wide-Angle Zoom Lens

Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 16mm,1/25th, f/2.8, ISO 1600

 

What was great about the 16-35 was that with a max aperture of 2.8, I could get a shot like this without having to up my ISO to much noisier levels. At 1600 ISO, even printing full size, the noise is minimal with a shot like this.

Focusing on the undulating metal wings of the building (which were at a focal point close to infinity) kept most of the frame in focus, even at such a large aperture. The corners do get mushy at 16mm shooting wide open, but in a dimly lit scene in no way do I find that distracting in this image.

Without a tripod and without IS, this shot is the best I can get handheld assuming all similar lens options in this focal length. Here's another shot with similar exposure settings of a building in Barcelona. 

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Wide-Angle Zoom Lens - Barcelona

Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 25mm, 1/100th, f/2.8, ISO 1600

 

Again, shooting wide open provides enough focus that I don't need to stop down and can keep my noise lower by shooting at a relatively lower ISO (also 1600 in this case)

Pro Tip:  One of the great things about shooting with ultra-wide lenses is that it's so much easier to get everything in the frame in focus. You don't need to stop down as much as long as you focus on something that's a midpoint in the focal range or even close to infinity and are shooting around f/5.6 or f/8-ish. If you try that with a telephoto lens, you'll have nothing but lots of bokeh and you'll need to stop down significantly more to get more of the frame in focus. 

In this shot, I stopped down.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Wide-Angle Zoom Lens

Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 16mm, 1/160th, f/10, ISO 200

 

While exploring Logroño, we came across this area, which seemed very quiet and picturesque as far as European urban environments go. Here, at f/10, that corner mushiness I mention above is nearly gone. If you have enough light to stop down to somewhere around f/11, you’re able to get both the entire frame in focus and minimize some of the soft edges that are a weakness of this lens. Here's another example.

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Wide-Angle Zoom Lens - Barcelona

Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 21mm, 1/1600th, f/8, ISO 200

 

At f/8 even shooting at a slight angle, I was able to get most of the mural in focus. The corners are less sharp here than they are at f/11, but the shaded areas of 3 out of 4 of the corners prevent that from being an issue and serve as a vignette for the main focal point: the mural. 

Here's a couple more examples of shooting at smaller apertures:

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Wide-Angle Zoom Lens - Barcelona

Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 35mm, 1/200th, f/11, ISO 200

 

Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM Wide-Angle Zoom Lens - Barcelona

Shot with the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II at 34mm, 1/200th, f/11, ISO 200

 

As you can see, for shooting landscape, most of the shots were around the f/11 range. These settings work great when there's plenty of available light. At night, opening up to 2.8 usually works well enough to get the desired results.

Conclusion

This lens has a lot of positives. It’s sharp when stopped down, easy to handle and focuses fast. But, for Landscape shots, this lens would not be my first pick unless I knew I needed it for something else as well (covering an event and/or environmental portraits which we will discuss in the next post). That being said, this lens performed much better than I expected for that task. I love that it takes front filters (the 11-24 does not) and that it's relatively light compared to the 11-24. It's easy to handhold and relatively easier to maneuver in tight spaces where you'd be most likely to use it. 

Overall, I would use this lens again if I wanted to take just one lens for a trip involving scenic landscapes AND people. If only landscape shots are in your future, don't pick this lens. Go with something sharper in the corners like the 16-35 f/4. If you need versatility, make sure you pick this lens. I’m very glad I was able to take it along for this trip.

Be on the lookout for part two of this review where I discuss the strengths and weaknesses of using this lens for environmental portraits... 

 

Editor: You can rent the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II with a Bokeh Fire PRO Membership for just $225 / month.  

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