Review Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM


A bright 16-35mm zoom is a lens that many documentary photographers cannot do without. The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM was introduced in 2016 simultaneously with the Canon 5D mk4. The large field of view and the high brightness ensure that you can still get your subject in frame well in small or busy spaces and in poor lighting. The time that documentary photographers were satisfied with less sharp corners is over, however. High requirements are also set for these kinds of documentary zooms today. To respond to that, Canon has released a third version of this popular lens.


SHARP AND BRIGHT: Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

The Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM is already the third generation of Canon’s 16-35mm ultra-wide angle zooms. It is the first to follow the EF 17-35mm f/2.8, which was the successor of the EF 20-35mm f/2.8. It is thus a lens with a long history. You would expect that these kinds of lenses have thus long have reached a certain degree of perfection. That was not the case until recently. While the zoom range has grown, sensors have also gotten ever-more pixels. In combination with the high brightness, that ensures that the designers had difficulty making the perfect wide-angle zoom. The previous generation 16-35 f/2.8 had trouble with corners that were never really sharp. Recently, a 16-35mm from Canon with a brightness of f/4 has appeared that in terms of optical quality resembled the brighter lens. This EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM is the perfect wide-angle zoom for photographers who find the weight and dimensions (and price) more important than the highest brightness. Those who are not satisfied with f/4, however, still have to make do with the less optically good but more expensive f/2.8 version. It was thus high time for an upgrade. The new 16-35mm f/2.8 L III is a big step forward.


EF 16 35 mm f2.8L III USM FSL

The new EF 16-35mm has again grown a bit relative to the old model. The dimensions of the old one are 88.5×111.6mm, and the weight is 640g. The new lens measures 88.5×127.5mm and weighs 790 g. It is thus more than one and a half centimeters longer and one and half ounces heavier. The lens construction does not seem to have gotten much more complex. The old lens has 16 lenses in 12 groups, the new one, 16 lenses in 11 groups. The shortest setting distance has remained the same at 0.28 centimeters. What is different is the number of aperture blades. The new 16-35 has 2 more of them, coming to 9. That should deliver just a bit nicer background blur. The lens feels, actually just like all Canon L lenses, very solid and is well sealed against dust and (splash) water. As was already the case with the prior 16-35s, the lens does have to be equipped with a screw-on filter on the front to make the sealing complete. But that serves as protection for the front lens, so it’s not a bad idea anyway. That front lens element has also undergone an important improvement. It is now fitted with what Canon calls SubWavelength and Air Sphere Coating. This coating should make the lens even more resistant to radiation. It is a real mouthful, but it does work. The 16-35 f/2.8 is not fitted with image stabilization. Canon has worked on making the lens even more shock resistant by limiting the number of groups that is involved in zooming (and that thus move). This is a lens that should continue to perform under the harshest conditions. {insertgrid ID = 289}



The new EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III scores very well in our tests. Especially in jpeg, there is only a very small decline in sharpness from the center to the corners. In RAW, the graphs show a bit different picture. There, the corners, especially at 16 mm and full aperture, seem to score less well. That is because in RAW we test without lens corrections.


Move your mouse over the picture for the Imatest results for unedited RAW files

The vignetting that is present in the RAW files creates reduced contrast in the corners. And that in turn creates a lower score on the test card. Those who correct the RAW files for vignetting get more brightness and thus more contrast in the corners. And that produces a higher impression of sharpness. The removal of the vignetting naturally comes at a price. By brightening the corners, the noise increases. The scores for the sharpness in jpeg are thus high and nicely even. At 16 and 24mm, those values are the highest, and at 28 and 35mm, they are a fraction lower. The lens is thus at its best where you will probably use it the most.


 Move your mouse over the picture for the Imatest results for unedited RAW files

Vignetting in jpeg is actually only visible at 16mm and at the three largest aperture openings. Especially at f/2.8, it is significant even when corrected, with more than 1.6 stops. In RAW, it is clearly visible across the whole zoom range with two to one and a half stops from 16 to 28mm.


Now, not every photographer finds vignetting to be a problem. It can also be a great means for drawing the attention to the center of the photo. But if you want to correct, then it does help to have a modern sensor with a big dynamic range. You currently find that in the EOS 80D and the EOS 5D Mark IV. Distortion is also present in the lens. In RAW at 16mm, more than one percent barrel-shaped distortion to one percent pincushion-shaped distortion at 35mm. The jpegs with correction have about half a percent of pincushion-shaped distortion across the whole zoom range. That is not really important in practice. 



Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM  reviewBokeh Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM  @ 16mm f/2.8

The 9 aperture blades ensure round bokeh balls in the background. The edges are fairly sharply limited and they are a bit noisy in the center. It is not the greatest bokeh in the world, but for a super-wide angle lens, this is not a bad result.

Bokeh Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM reviewBokeh Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM @ 35mm f/2.8

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ConclusiON Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM op Canon 5D mk4

WYSIWYG score: This table shows the performance of this lens if you save the files in the camera as jpg, where you have applied all available in-camera lens corrections. This score gives you for this lens/test camera combination: “What you see is what you get”.
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{loadmodule mod_custom, LensConclusion} {insertgrid ID = 308}
Pure RAW score: This table shows the performance of this lens if the file in the camera is stored in the camera in RAW format. This score approaches the intrinsic quality of the combination of lens and test camera. If you use Photoshop, Lightroom or SilkyPix for the conversion of RAW files, then the RAW scores are equal to the jpg scores. {loadmodule mod_custom, LensConclusion} {insertgrid ID = 309}



  • High image quality to the corners
  • High, constant brightness over the whole range
  • Good auto focus
  • Solid and well-sealed
  • Suitable for filters
  • More expensive than its predecessor
  • A bit bigger and heavier

“Canon EF 16-35MM F2.8L III USM is optically really better than its predecessor.”

The optical performance of the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM is now so good that it is comparable with lenses with fixed focal lengths. Where the previous lens was always recognizable from a bit of blur in the corners, especially at full aperture, the new lens stands out positively due to good center sharpness that decreases little in the corners. There is clearly some vignetting present if you do not turn on the lens correction in the camera, and there is still some distortion to be seen. But the latter is not very much, and it is easy to remove. A great deal of progress has (again) been made in the area of coatings. The nano coatings that were introduced a few years ago clearly work even better than the multi-coatings that were used before that. Even lenses with convex front lenses today have hardly any trouble with flare or ghosting. The new EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L III is so resistant to flare that it is very difficult, even nearly impossible, to get light spots in your picture, even with the sun directly in the photo. You do pay a hefty price for all that. The new 16-35mm f/2.8L III is going to cost a great deal more than the old f/2.8. We recommend the EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM to those who are looking for the best price-to-quality ratio. This only has one stop less brightness and image stabilization, and it costs less than half as much as the new f/2.8. But those who are not satisfied with that brightness and per se want a f/2.8, or those who simply want the most beautiful and the best only have one real choice.

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