Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3
Wow, it’s a bit big! That was the first thought I had when getting hold of this lens for the first time – I thought for a second the lovely Leanne at Calumet Manchester had given me 24-70 by mistake.
It’s longer, fatter in the barrel and somewhat heavier than its Mk2 predecessor – but is it any better?
I suppose I can be a bit more objective than most reviewers of this lens when it comes to Canon wide glass because I never use it!
Canon has always seemed to have a different ethos to that of Nikon and TPMs such as Zeiss when it comes to wide glass design.
For sports/photojournalism they have always functioned perfectly well because they are usually quite light, fast to use, versatile, cheap(ish) and adequately sharp for the job -and they’ve sold millions over the years…and rightly so.
But if you wanted a high resolution wide angle with good micro contrast and superb sharpness then, as a landscape photographer for example, you’d be struggling.
Low resolution, poor contrast, vignetting, axial and lateral chromatic aberration, extreme corner distortion and coma are typical faults with wide angle lenses across the board, but Canon wide glass has had more exemplars of these faults than most.
Don’t get me wrong, Nikon have produced some real ‘dogs’ too – just not quite as many!
Let’s face it, no Canon wide could slip into a line up of of Zeiss glass and go optically unnoticed.
When Nikon brought out the 14-24 f2.8 why did Novoflex start flogging mount adapters to Canon shooters?
The only folk who will argue with me are those that have never tried Nikon or Zeiss.
As Canon WA glass goes, the 16-35mm f2.8 Mk2 does an OK job with landscapes, and for the most part produces results very much like the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 when both lenses are shot at around 26mm to 32mm, but it leaves more than a bit to be desired when being shot wide open.
Its worst fault for me, shooting wide open, is the vile level of COMA. There’s been many a wide-field astro shot consigned to the bin because if it.
So, is the new Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 an improvement – it needs to be for the price.
The Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 takes the same 82mm screw mount filters.
There is a newly re-designed lens hood.
Typical of this style of wide zoom, even though its an internal FOCUS lens, like its predecessor, it’s not strictly an internal ZOOM. The front element moves in and out as the zoom ring is rotated, being furthest forward at 16mm, furthest back at around 26mm and then creeping forward again as we go to 35mm.
Designs like this have ‘compromise’ stamped all over them. The legendary Nikon 14-24mm does the same sort of external zooming with its front element group, but is furthest forward at 14mm and furthest back at 24mm. The Nikon is a super wide zoom while the Canon is a super wide to standard wide zoom. Standard wide angle requires a different element design and layout – so COMPROMISE!
This moving front element makes all lenses designed this way ‘suckers and blowers’ so the cautious among you might want to put one of those lens protect filters on the front.
If you do, then PLEASE, don’t pay thousands for a lens and then be a cheapskate. You lose light with every air/glass surface you place in the optical pathway. And a lot of these filters SAY they are optically correct when they are most definitely NOT. The finest lens in the world turns into a turd if you stick a cheap filter on it.
So let’s take a look at vignetting. We’ll do that in two ways.
Firstly, let’s see how the vignetting at f2.8 changes with focal length, with the Mk2 on the left, and the Mk3 on the right:
Next, let’s stay at 16mm focal length on both lenses and look at the vignetting through the aperture range:
Now these vignette results didn’t leave me in a state of shock and awe in the slightest.
You need to view the images at 100% to see the subtle improvements in the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3.
In the first test – maximum aperture vs focal length, the new variant looks equal to or slightly worse than the Mk 2 at 16mm.
But things begin to improve a bit once we are getting towards 24mm.
On the second test – 16mm vs aperture range, again we see the awful maximum aperture vignetting compared to its predecessor.
From f5.6 to f16 it’s perhaps a sliver better than the Mk2. But, notice that the images are a bit brighter. This is most likely to do with the improvements made to the multi-coatings.
Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 vs Mk2 Image Comparisons
Let me begin by saying this – 16mm on the Mk3 is NOT the same 16mm that the Mk2 has!
Mouse over the slider – see what I mean?
Both shots are 16mm @ f11 on the Canon 5DMk4. The camera was locked down on my heavy Gitzo, and the camera was triggered with a Canon TC-80N3 – in other words NOTHING moved!
The images have not been adjusted in any way – no lens correction profiles – as shot.
Notice the Mk3 image has greater ‘contrast’ and is less flat-looking?
Okay, so let’s look at the ubiquitous ‘brick wall’ test.
We are doing shots on the 5DMk4 using both Mk2 and Mk3 lens variants.
- at 200ISO
- at f2.8, f5.6 and f11
- at 16mm, 25mm and 35mm
- at a fixed ‘Cloudy B1’ manual camera white balance
- manual focusing
- the camera has been re-focused using x10 live view between each frame.
The above screen grabs give you a great ‘feel’ for all the differences in contrast and lens colour cast between the Mk2 and new Mk3 variants – these are quite significant. Even more so when when you look at the vignetting, distortion and AoV differences.
Moving on to the full resolution comparisons:
Again, no adjustments at all other than Lightroom standard profile sharpening, and we are looking at the frame centers at 1:1 ratio:
At 16mm @ f2.8 (above) the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 is noticeably sharper than its predecessor.
Stopping down to f5.6 @ 16mm yields a better sharpness on the older Mk2 variant. Is there a tiny bit of improved sharpness on the new Mk3 – perhaps.
Now at 16mm @ f11 both lenses seem ever so slightly less sharp. But that is not down to diffraction as you’ll see later with the 25mm and 35mm tests. I could be an error on my part when focusing, but for me to make the same mistake on two different lenses is a bit of a long shot. I’ve re-shot and got the same result – methinks it might have something to do with that ‘compromise’ I mentioned earlier on….or, it could be me!
Moving from 16mm to 25mm and 35mm:
Make sure you have viewed all the above screen shots at full resolution.
Okay, so we have visually covered iteration comparisons for the Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3 and its predecessor in terms of distortion, vignetting, field/angle of view and sharpness.
In terms of stopped-down sharpness, on the Canon 5DMk4 at least, I’d expect to get into the realms of aperture diffraction around f14 to f16.
Wide open the Mk3 version stomps all over the Mk2, and I think it stays ahead through to at least f11 across the entire focal length zoom range.
The Mk2 16-35 f2.8 has a somewhat noticeable chromatic aberration problem, so how does the new Mk3 version measure up in comparison – both shots are 16mm @ f11:
Compare the lamp post on the right and the window and alarm box on the left of the shots.
Though still present, chromatic aberration is much reduced on the new Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3. Along the middle axes of the image – especially the horizontal – there have been big improvements.
The Lightroom ‘remove chromatic aberration’ function cleans the raw file up beautifully without having to go anywhere near the manual corrections – just tick the checkbox. But doing the same to a Mk2 image usually leaves vestiges of both red and green fringing at the frame edges at 16mm.
What’s Coma? It’s a lens design flaw which renders ‘tails’ and ‘wings’ on off-axis points of light.
And here is a shining example, courtesy of the Mk2 16-35:
It’s not exactly the best time of year for Milky Way astro shots here in the UK – New Year as it is. But we ventured out at midnight the other night just to test this Mk3 version of the lens.
The area is fairly local and surrounded on all sides by huge light polution but it served the purpose of the test.
Shooting wide open f2.8 @ 6400ISO, stacking 8 shots done in quick succession here’s the truth about the coma on the new Mk3 16-35mm variant:
It’s not the best astro you’ll ever see, but it does show that the coma is still there, but it’s a lot less intrusive.
So there we have it – the new Canon 16-35mm f2.8 Mk3.
Is it better than it’s Mk2 predecessor? Well yes, it is – and in pretty much every aspect I’d say.
The vignetting at 16mm f2.8 is quite strong – nearly 4 stops darker than the image center. This WILL cause you problems if you have peripheral deep shadow areas, as even on the 5DMk4, pulling 4 stops will make the shadow areas go a bit noisy.
I also think that 16mm is now more like 18mm, but what’s a couple of mills between friends ehh!
Would I buy one? Well, that depends.
If I had a Mk2 variant and needed the lens format then I would be looking to trade in immediately.
Wedding, street, sports/photojournalism and events photographers would be mad if they didn’t have one of these in their bag. And I think wildlife photographers would benefit as well – I reckon it would be perfect on the 1DX Mk2 for just about anything.
Not being a Canon shooter for anything below a 200-400 I won’t be putting it on my ‘wants’ list at all, but if you are ‘Canon-only’ then I strongly recommend you have a look at this lens.
As for landscapes and wide field astro, erm…..let’s just say there’s more than one way to skin a cat, and some are better than others. Having said that, if you are a landscape shooter with a Mk2 variant and you can’t afford/ just don’t want a plethora of glass for specific tasks then it’s a big improvement on what you’ve already got.
Where to buy this lens in the UK – buy it here Calumet Photographic
Many thanks to Reece Piper, Leanne and Richard from Calumet for loaning this lens for the purposes of review.
And a big thanks to June Lown for the loan of the Mk2 to make the comparison.
17.5 hours that’s taken – Jesus, it’s like having a full-time job! If this review has been useful to you then please consider chucking me a small donation – or a big one if you are that way inclined!
Many thanks to the handful of readers who contributed over the last week or so – you’ve done your bit and I’m eternally grateful to you.
Happy New Year everyone!