Review EF 16-35mm f/2.8L Vs kit lens

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#1
Before I start, two things. Firstly, this isn't a proper in-depth review because I don't have the experience to write such a review. This is just from a newbie's perspective. Secondly, by 'kit lens' I'm referring to the EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6.

I'm going to begin with the most important point for me - sharpness. Frankly, I couldn't see any difference. Sorry if that's photographic blasphemy but I really couldn't tell that the 16-35mm was any sharper. Certainly not nine hundred-odd quid sharper, anyhow.

Here are two straight comparison shots. Both are 100% crops and taken straight from the RAW file with no processing. I set up the 20D on a tripod with the 16-35mm attached. Framed the shot. Autofocused. Set the aperture and shutter speed manually. Took the shot in self-timer mode. Changed the lenses. Autofocused again and took the second shot. The camera wasn't moved and the settings weren't changed between shots.

18-55mm @ 24mm, f/8, 1/80s, ISO 100:



16-35mm @ 24mm, f/8, 1/80s, ISO 100:



If I'm missing something please point it out but those two look hardly any different to me apart from a bit of difference in the distortion. But the sharpness seems to be remarkably similar.

Right... That's the most striking thing (from my perspective) out the way. Now for some pros and cons of the 16-35mm.

Pros
Wide (f/2.8) aperture is really handy. You can stay in ISO 100 even when it's cloudy.
Focusing is whisper-quiet and very fast indeed.
Static front end is great for polarisers (not that I had a 77mm one handy, but still).
Weather protection means it's nice not to have to worry about your lens when it starts spitting.

Cons
The price - even on onestop-digital it's £750.
It weighs a tonne.
Distortion is quite severe at the 16mm end but I guess that's to be expected.
And, of course, as I said above... I can't see that it's any sharper. But that's IMO, I grant you.

In summary, I think if I was going to invest in an L-series zoom lens I would be prepared to pay the extra for one that had a maximum aperture of f/2.8. I did find it very handy and I could easily see myself getting used to having the increased speed available. But while that would sway me to choose this over the 17-40mm f/4L, I still can't believe that I wasn't able to notice any extra sharpness when comapring an L-series with the kit lens.

Maybe it's a zoom/prime thing rather than an L/cheapie thing but I guess I was expecting something quite noticeable. Or maybe it's just me being a newbie. Either way I'm not likely to invest in anything with an 'L' in the name for a little while yet. Which is good news for my bank balance, but maybe bad news for my eyes because I'm beginning to think they must be broken, the way everyone raves about L glass.
 
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stepheno

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#2
Enjoyed reading the write up Jamie. If anything, on my monitor, I think the 16-35 just has an edge on sharpness. However, I would agree that 750-900 oncers is a lot mullah for a little difference.

regards
 
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#4
Fingerz, I'm not going to argue with you on value for money.
The kit lens is exactly that, value for money.

With the 20D crop factor and shooting at f8 the kit lens puts up a good show against the 16-35. But these two lenses were developed for different types of cameras. Most lenses will perform well at f8 and at the center of the frame ( i.e. your 100% crop). Where the money comes into it is wide open and at the edge of the frame. Bear in mind the 16-35 will perform well on a full frame camera as well as a 1.6 crop.

As a balance ( and in fairness to the 16-35 ) can we see a 100% crop of the corners with the lens wide open ?

Cameron
 
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#5
stepheno said:
Enjoyed reading the write up Jamie. If anything, on my monitor, I think the 16-35 just has an edge on sharpness. However, I would agree that 750-900 oncers is a lot mullah for a little difference.

regards
Oh yeah... Don't get me wrong. I can see a tiny bit of difference here too. But make no mistake, it is tiny. I enjoyed using the lens but I shan't be investing until I know enough to work out why I can't see much difference.

On that day, hopefully, I'll look back and laugh at my primitive comparison test and wonder how I could've been so naive. But for now I'll save the money.

Edit - Garnock... Those crops are actually from an area near the bottom left of the picture. But I'll do some wide open and corner-cropped in a bit (about to eat). They'll be indoor shots though so not sure what I'll shoot. Might have to be my record collection or something.
 
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#7
Right, these are all 100% crops taken from the bottom right corner of the frame. I know they're not totally identical frame-wise. I think it's because it's hard to get the focal length exactly the same. Also when dealing with corners of an image I guess the distortion thing comes into effect. Anyway here you go. I've included the 16-35mm at both f/3.5 and f/2.8 as I didn't know whether you wanted a like-for-like comparison or a properly wide open comparison so I did both.


18-55mm @ 24mm, f/3.5:



16-35mm @24mm, f/3.5:



16-35mm @24mm, f/2.8:



I think the f/2.8 one looks slightly brighter just because I was changing shutter speeds to compensate for the shots at different apertures and I must've gone a click too far or something.
 

CT

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#8
Don't forget that if you shoot in RAW, no sharpening is applied in processing anyway. It's also generally agreed that the 20D tends to produce images out of the camera a tad on the soft side, so to properly compare the two lenses you'd need to process for optimum sharpening of images from both lenses to make a fair comparison - the resolving power of the lens is there with digital, but just needs bringing out in processing.
 
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#10
CT said:
...to properly compare the two lenses you'd need to process for optimum sharpening...
Ok, this probably isn't what you meant but I re-did the two shots of the house and this time I gave the images an unsharp mask using exactly the same settings for both pics. It begins to become more apparent that the 16-35 is sharper. It's not a small difference but it's not a huge one either. And bear in mind we're looking at a 100% crop and talking about a good £700 price difference at least.


18-55:



16-35:
 

CT

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#11
That's a better test by far Jamey. I see a huge difference there now mate to be honest. You'd really see the difference in making large prints from the two lenses, much more so than viewing the pics on a monitor. The other thing is that the image contrast in the dearer lens is miles better, no doubt due to superior glass and better lens coatings. Just look at the difference in the visble shadow detail on the right of the shots!

It's a lot of dosh I know, but you really do get what you pay for where lenses are concerned. You just have to decide if you can justify the price based on your anticipated use of the lens. Given your leanings towards street photography, I would have thought you'd use it a lot?

It's not a race mate - wait till you can afford it, but don't be tempted into a cheaper alternative just because it's more affordable, that way lies long term regret.
 
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#12
I'm pretty sure I would use it a lot, yeah. Not least for the added freedom of having f/2.8 handy. But given my preference for sharpness I think I should probably test a L-series prime at some point. Or even a midrange prime (how different are midrange primes to L-series ones?). I'd rather walk backwards and forwards and have the extra sharpness, the benefit of f/2.8 and save money at the same time.

Am I right in thinking that on a sliding scale, with 1 being the sharpest, it goes roughly like this:

1) L-series primes
2) Midrange primes (eg EF 100mm f/2.8 macro)
3) L-series zooms
4) Cheap primes (eg 50mm f/1.8 Mk II)
5) Midrange zooms
6) Cheap zooms

Or am I mistaken?
 

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#13
Yep - that's about the right pecking order - theoretically at least. You can always get a poor specimen however much you spend, but all things being equal, that's the order of what you should expect from a lens depending on what you go for. I'd just point out though than an L series zoom could well out-perform a mid range prime.

17-40L? A proven excellent razor sharp lens - and a lot more affordable. ;)
 
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#14
Performed a similar experiment between Nikon 18-70mm kit lens & the 50mm f/1.8 lens. Results here at f/5.6 & pure crop shots from original with no post processing.


As written elsewhere I moved to Nikon D70 due to better kit lens than on the Canon 300D at time. The above shots show just how good the 50mm f/1.8 lens really is for sharpness :thumb:
 
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Steve

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#16
Jamey have a look at the Tamron 28-75 F2.8 XR Di IF. Its far cheaper than what you have been looking at, is f2.8, is made well and the results are stunning. Oh and its also small and light making it ideal for street photography.

Speaking from personal recomendation this lens is supurb.
 
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#17
Thanks Steve.

When you say stunning... I'm assuming it's not going to be sharper than the 16-35. Although the price does look tempting. But I'm prepared to sacrifice zoom-ability to get greater sharpness.

In my quest for a 'walking around' lens to replace my kit lens at some point before the end of the year, my order of priorities is as follows:

1) Sharpness. Above everything else. I want to be able to crop and still have good detail.

2) Wide (f/2.8 or better) maximum aperture.

3) Fixed front end (for ease of using CPF filters) and weather proofing would both be nice but not essential.

Everything else is a luxury. So I'm quite prepared to take a medium-length prime (say, somewhere in the 25-60mm range) and do some legwork to get the framing right on non-street stuff.

Given all that, you might ask why I don't just stick with the 50mm f/1.8. Well to be honest, I fully intend to for the time being. But while it's sharper than the kit lens (will do my own test soon, maybe tonight), I'm sure there must be sharper primes around. Especially at wide apertures. So what are people's recommendations?

I know the EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro is meant to be good but it's a bit long for walking around town.

Also, on the subject of the 17-40 f/4L... It's not sharper than the 16-35, is it? I thought the only real difference was the max aperture.
 
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#18
fingerz said:
Thanks Steve.

When you say stunning... I'm assuming it's not going to be sharper than the 16-35. Although the price does look tempting. But I'm prepared to sacrifice zoom-ability to get greater sharpness.
I can’t say I have compared the Tamron to a 16-35L but I have chosen it without hesitation in preference to my 17-40L whenever the need arose.

fingerz said:
In my quest for a 'walking around' lens to replace my kit lens at some point before the end of the year, my order of priorities is as follows:

1) Sharpness. Above everything else. I want to be able to crop and still have good detail.
I have cropped many images from this lens and my 10D and have always been pleased with the results.

fingerz said:
2) Wide (f/2.8 or better) maximum aperture.
It has that ;)

fingerz said:
3) Fixed front end (for ease of using CPF filters) and weather proofing would both be nice but not essential.
The front moves in and out when zooming but it doesn’t rotate. As to weather proofing I have used it during pouring rain for over 6 hours at an airshow. Proper weather proofing will only come into its own when used with a Pro body remember.

fingerz said:
Everything else is a luxury. So I'm quite prepared to take a medium-length prime (say, somewhere in the 25-60mm range) and do some legwork to get the framing right on non-street stuff.
I understand what you are saying but having some zoom range, especially for street work will be a benefit.

fingerz said:
Given all that, you might ask why I don't just stick with the 50mm f/1.8. Well to be honest, I fully intend to for the time being. But while it's sharper than the kit lens (will do my own test soon, maybe tonight), I'm sure there must be sharper primes around. Especially at wide apertures. So what are people's recommendations?
The general conscious is that the 50mm prime is one of the sharpest lenses available, however it does have a sweet spot and the wider you go on the aperture the softer the image gets. The 1.4 version may be a better buy for you if you want a cheap 50mm prime that is very sharp at low F stops.

fingerz said:
I know the EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro is meant to be good but it's a bit long for walking around town.
I have never used one so can’t comment.

fingerz said:
Also, on the subject of the 17-40 f/4L... It's not sharper than the 16-35, is it? I thought the only real difference was the max aperture.
It all depends on which review you read, so say it is and some say it isn’t, however it is slower being F4 and obviously cheaper.
 
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#20
One benefit I found of having the 17-40L, is that having just paid out a fair sized wedge, I thought I'd better start using the thing on a regular basis hence it's provided some motivation for me to get out & about.

People do tend to rave about that Tamron though.
 
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#21
If I can find somewhere to try it out I'll take a butchers.

Just noticed that the comparison pics I posted of the brickwork look much more similar on my home monitor than the one I used at work today.

My home monitor is an iiyama 19" CRT. Few years old (so not very old really) and still going strong. You can tell a bit of sharpness difference but the shadow highlights look exactly the same.

At work, it was a Dell TFT monitor... Think it was 17" and the main difference was that the shadow detail was more noticeable on the 16-35 shot. But you could also discren more brightness and sharpness too.

What's up with my monitor? I thought it was ok but I guess not.
 
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#22
Here's a quick comparison I just did with the 50mm f/1.8 against the kit lens. They're 100% centre crops. Don't have time to do corner crops right now. For some reason the camera metered about 1.6 stops darker with the kit lens on (no, I didn't have a CPF attached, before you ask) so I boosted the exposure of the RAW files for the kit lens shots by 1.6 stops to compensate.

 
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Sean_Mcr

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#23
I had the 16-35 for a few weeks, it did not sit right with me so i returned it. I have not used a zoom since, i just prefer primes.

Now i know the kit lens like the back of my hand, i know its limitations, strengths and weaknesses. Now to be honest, the kit lens is a much maligned lens but it's not as bad as people make out, to compare it to the 16-35 in the way you have in the tests here is too simplistic mate. No offence

Shooting bits of cardboard and brick walls are not real life tests, unless you make your living shooting walls and cardboard or have an interest in shooting them, but you don't need a £750 lens to do that, the kit would be more then enough for that.

Take both lenses out in to the field, dynamic situations in tone, colour movement & light-not to mention subject matter and the difference soon becomes apparent.

I'm no fan of the 16-35 but it just can't be compared to the kit lens
 
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#25
For me it leaps off the screen that the 16-35 is better, especially once you had applied the USM it made the difference even more so.
 

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#26
I've used the 17-40 f4L a lot recently and often wished it was a 2.8. Mind you I've wished it went a bit wider and a bit longer too so this is not my answer.

Nice to see a useful old thread get revived :)
 
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