A Visual tour of Canon’s 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

A Visual tour of Canon’s 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM

In this post Dave Powell gives a visual tour of Canon’s 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM.

Useful technical information: filter diameter: 82mm
minimum focusing distance: .28m/.09 ft.
minimum aperture: f/22
Cost: ~$1,500USD (currently close to $1400USD at Amazon)

This is by far one of my favorite lenses.  I find when I am shooting photos of my son I tend to use this lens more often than any other lens.  I love this lens for a couple of reasons; with focusing distance of less than 1 foot you can get right in with your subject and engage them into the picture, with such a wide angle you are able to open up to 16mm allowing you to zone focus and snap some great candid shots.  

When I am waiting to cross the street when out for a walk with my son, I like to to just hold the camera down at his level and snap off a few shots.  If I was shooting with a different lens, I would need to back up to get this shot and probably would have missed it.


Using an Ultra Wide allows you to get in close.  My son Kai loves cars and loves driving them.    I want to capture the experience; the steering wheel, him in the driver’s seat, the joy that comes across his face as he steers the car.   A narrower lens wouldn’t have allowed me to capture the entire moment and convey the complete story.


He also loves shopping for cars and testing driving them.   A wide angle lens is required if I want to be able to capture Kai as he tries out his future Lamborghini Gallardo and inspects the tires on his Mercedes Mclaren SLR.




The same holds true if you are living and a city and want to capture the experience of walking up steep narrow steps such as these in Golden Gai or coming upon an all night Karaoke Bar in Shinjuku, Tokyo Japan.   You need to get into the scene so you can capture what it is like to be there.   In there.  Not as a outsider looking in but as a participant.   If you were using a narrower focal length such as 50mm or 85mm you would be your too far into the scene to capture the experience, if you stood back it would put you too far out of the scene to capture the feeling of actually being in it, participating.



I love to try to take photos from my son’s perspective and try to enter ‘his world’.    A wide angle lens is a great way to do this as you can see when we were mailing to Santa, during our Sunday shopping or out on the town.  This lens has become a stable when we go out together.





If you are trying to capture a crowd, this is the perfect lens as well.   You can see another lens would not have been able to capture the atmosphere of the closing of a house building with Tabitha in Cambodia.


This is also a great lens for photographing sports up close.   I was trying to shoot this skateboarder in Komazawa Park in Tokyo and it would have been pretty dangerous getting under him and trying to frame and focus a shot.   Opening my zoom all the way to 16mm and using zone focusing I was able to capture a great silhouette shot safely.


I also think it is great for taking candid portraits.    It allows you to really fill the frame in an interesting way.    I won’t use this if I was creating ‘official’ portraits for someone as it often distorts features, but it can make some great people photos.



Lastly these lenses are perfect for landscape photography as you can see from these landscape shots in Yoyogi and Shinjuku Parks in Tokyo.  



This lens accounts for about 25% of all of my photographs while my 24-70mm accounts for a staggering 50%.  

I was actually surprised to find out that I shoot 75% of my photographs with only 2 lenses considering I own 8.    

The good thing about knowing this is I always know which lenses to pack but it also tells me that I need to spend a little more time with my other lenses to learn to be creative with them as well.    Have a look at the metadata in the photos in your catalog to get a feel for which lenses you are using.  

If you are using Abobe Lightroom, you can simply go to library – find, or click Command F on a Mac and select metadata and look under lenses.  Here you can get a count of how many photos were shot with each lens.  Your own results might surprise you.   If your results don’t have you shooting a 16-35 then I suggest you go and pick one up, you’ll be glad you did.

Get a price on this lens at Amazon.

Dave Powell is a photographer based in Tokyo, Japan.   He writes Shoot Tokyo photography blog.   You can see more of his work at www.shoottokyo.com or follow him on Twitter (shoottokyo)

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Some Older Comments

  • Manas December 23, 2010 09:19 pm

    On a budget I think a Tamron 17-50 F2.8 VC lense would just be fine. What's your opinion on this ?

  • Lars December 11, 2010 06:38 pm

    ken rockwell thinks the canon 16-35 mm was never very good optically.

    he thinks the new tokina 16-28mm f2.8 is much better and cheaper.

    ok you lose something on the long end but what counts is sharpness and color and contrast..

    ........Canon shooters don't have it so good. Canon makes no zoom as good as any of these lenses. Canon's best, the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II, isn't that great, which is why many crazier people use adapters to jam the Nikon 14-24mm onto their 5D Mark IIs for superior performance, with a lot more effort.

  • Luke December 11, 2010 03:59 am

    I must have a dud, because my 16-35 has about a 30% focus failure rate (on 5D MkII body), which is totally unacceptable for the price tag and has caused me to miss some critical wedding scenes (to get around this, I tend to use AI servo & take 3 shots for each scene with this lens, to try and get a clean focus).

    Shots are also very soft from F2.8 until about F5.6 - as you can see from some of the images in this article. You really need to stop this lens down to get sharp images.

    I am considering swapping mine for a wide prime & digitally zooming. I would recommend the same. Almost all of my favourite shots have come from either my 50mm F1.4 or my 70-200mm F4. Only one or two with this lens.

  • Marijan December 10, 2010 08:09 pm

    I have this lens since 1 year ... i do video and pictures with this one, a very nice lens !

  • Dave December 10, 2010 02:58 pm

    Yes. All pictures were taken with a Canon 5D MKII (full frame)

  • Lensman December 10, 2010 01:04 pm

    I had the 17-40L which differs to the 16-35L by the 1 f-stop and 1/2 the price.

    If this 16-35L has an IS mode, I will gladly consider the upgrade. This pair of hands aren't as strong as it used to be.

  • Peter in PDX December 10, 2010 05:54 am

    Great article / Great lens. I assume these were all shot on a full frame as opposed to a crop?

  • g.w. bush December 10, 2010 05:51 am

    16-35 on a aps-c ??
    come on guys.... thats 16x1.6.. now do the math.

    it´s nice for FF but you guys seem to have no clue at all......

  • Catherine December 9, 2010 12:39 pm

    Thanks for the article. I am currently wanting to purchase a wide-angle lens and am in the process of researching, so the timing of your article is much appreciated!

  • Luis Garcia December 8, 2010 08:24 pm

    I haven't had the pleasure of owning a 16-35, but I have used it and I had a blast with it. Since I'm on a crop sensor, I use a 10-22 to get a similar field of view. I can't wait to get my own copy of this lens... as soon as I get a full-frame camera.

    On another note, the price for the 82mm filters has to hurt - that glass is expensive enough as it is.

  • Sagaya December 8, 2010 06:38 pm

    Hi Dave,

    Would an Olympus lens 14-42 mm be able to capture similar shots? I do have one but have not used it much as its faulty after it fell once. I like the shots you have taken with this Canon lens. I am aware that the A for the Olympus in rather smaller but guess it would he worth repairing it and tryin it. Appreciate your advice.


  • Karel December 8, 2010 05:56 pm

    Nice article! That made me look at my lens usage.
    I do not own a 16-35 (it's on my wishlist...), but a 17-40 f/4. I shoot around 25-30% of my photos with this lens.
    And my 24-70, which I just bought in September is already counting for 10% of my total shots in 2010.
    Before that I used my 24-105 f/4 for almost 40%. So I guess my 24-105 is being replaced a lot with my 24-70, unless traveling.

  • Scapevision December 8, 2010 02:53 pm

    One thing to hate is the 82mm filter size :)

  • Dave December 8, 2010 02:21 pm

    Hi Tracy. I love this lens and think it is a great addition to any rig but you will need to take the crop factor into account. I believe your view will be more like ~24mm vs. 16mm. You can see some shots at 24mm on my blog to give you perspective.

  • Tracy December 8, 2010 02:08 pm

    WANT!!! What camera are you using with this lens. I've got a Canon 7D, although not full frame, I think the 16-35 would be a nice addition to my 7D rig. Thoughts?

  • Kiran December 8, 2010 11:46 am

    Love the photos and the narrations that came with it. I have a kit lens and 18-200mm. So far, I'm loving both so much :)

  • Frank T December 8, 2010 09:07 am

    I've found very little spherical aberration with this lens from about 22mm on out. (note on the "out of focus" - probably because this is an f/2.8 and it was being shot indoors, the DOF was fairly shallow)

    Any aberration I have had can easily be fixed fairly well in Lightroom using the lens corrections area of the development module.

  • quicoto December 8, 2010 07:48 am

    There are some examples out of focus, aren't they?

    Nice lens anyway.


  • fortunato_uno December 8, 2010 07:34 am

    It's pn my wish list, so if you see Santa mention it to him.
    Nice examples of the various uses of the lens. I love the sharpness.

  • John December 8, 2010 06:55 am

    I rented this lens a couple weeks ago and I love it.

  • Dean December 8, 2010 06:24 am

    love the article... and short stories that came with it :D ... and yes I love using a fast wide angle lense (mine is of a different brand) too which I recently used for outdoor/indoor night photography...