Which Canon Wide Angle Lens is the Best ?

I help a client choose between the Canon EF 17–40 f/4L USM & the EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II USM

How to choose the best wide angle lens:

Canon has sev­er­al qual­i­ty lev­els of lens­es, as well as some pret­ty sub­tle dif­fer­ences in fea­tures. A client asked me to help her choose between the Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II USM and the Canon EF 17–40 f/4L USM, and here’s what I said.
The first thing to remem­ber is that with Canon in gen­er­al any­thing ‘red ring’ lens is the pro ver­sion and good. When you see the red ring on the lens, it has weath­er­proof­ing, bet­ter build qual­i­ty, etc. Both of these lens­es are part of Canon’s pro red ring line and are well reviewed for qual­i­ty.
As always, you need to con­sid­er the use. If you want the lens most­ly for land­scape pho­tos, the F Stop isn’t that crit­i­cal, as you’ll prob­a­bly be using it at F8 or 11 most often any­way. If you are indoors with­out flash, the F stop real­ly mat­ters. One oth­er note is to remem­ber that if your cam­era isn’t ‘full frame’ like Rebel series and oth­ers, you won’t get full advan­tage of the lens at the wide range… it’ll nev­er be quite as dra­mat­i­cal­ly wide as on a full frame like the Canon 5D series.

Saving Money on Canon Lenses:

When we buy, we like to check Canon’s offi­cial refur­bished site. Same war­ran­ty, and they are OK’ing the qual­i­ty. Often they are just ‘open box’ returns.
image of a black Canon lens with a red ring around the end
This is the updat­ed ver­sion of my lens, refurb on Canon’s store: HERE. 

Image Quality is Tricky on Wide Angle Lenses:

I don’t love my lens full open at F2.8. The prob­lem with wide angle lens­es is how sharp they are at the edges, and how weird the dis­tor­tion is when ful­ly wide. I usu­al­ly don’t feel my old ver­sion 1 16–35 is sharp enough at 2.8, so I usu­al­ly just use it at F4 to be safe. I am hap­py with it though for lack of extra dis­tor­tion at the full wide zoom… and some of that is watch­ing what sub­ject con­tent you put at the edges of your shot. This new ver­sion II 16–35 lens gets good reviews on sharp­ness wide open, so you might real­ly use it at F2.8. Both images above were tak­en with my 16–35 F2.8, so it’s a very use­ful lens, indoors and out.
If you do a lot indoors and in dim light, like we do for the­atre, that extra stop might be nice. Remem­ber, the small­er the F num­ber, the more light it lets in.
And any lens that does­n’t change it’s F num­ber as you zoom in (shown as like F 4–5.6) is a great plus. It’s the worst… just when you often want the most light/stable image avail­able by zoom­ing in on some­thing, the lens makes it hard­er to get the shot by need­ing more light. That’s one rea­son those non-pro lens­es are less expen­sive.

Why Buy the Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II USM:

The upside is you get a stop brighter for only $80 with the refur­bished… but this one on B&H (they are great, as is Adorama.com) is also well reviewed & it has Image Sta­bi­liza­tion (shown as IS on lens info)— which can help get sharp images at slow­er shut­ter speeds. Quick note for video:  Image sta­bi­liza­tion is NOT good to have on for video using the camera’s inter­nal mic BTW, you can hear it work­ing on an inter­nal micro­phone. If you don’t need the audio from the cam­era though, it’s ter­rif­ic for video as well.
Photo of a black canon lens sitting up with a red ring on the end
The Canon 16–35mm F4 has the added benefit of Image Stabilization. A great plus.

To sum up though— the Canon 16–35 F4 is a great choice:

So, tech­ni­cal­ly, the refurb 2.8 is a more valu­able lens, but the F4 with IS is a very good choice, and a tad less expen­sive— plus image sta­bi­liza­tion that you’ll love to use if at slow­er shut­ter speeds, in dim light, etc.
The good news is, you don’t have to be afraid to get the F4— and check out the 2.8 if you’d like the extra light in a dark­er room… it’s the dif­fer­ence between using 3200 ISO at F2.8 and 6400 ISO at F4 (1 stop of light brighter for the F2.8).
A hap­py result… either is good, and when the refurb is avail­able, they are even almost the same cost.
Don’t be shy about reach­ing out to me on social media with any ques­tions  (Twit­ter).


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