Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM vs Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR: Ultra Wide Zooms head to head
- Wed, 30 Jun 2010
It helps to think ahead when deciding which lenses to buy. In the case of full-frame cameras, pairing a 24-70mm with a 70-200mm will cover most shooting situations. It is also possible to cover roughly the same range (or greater) using just one dedicated lens. The former approach gives access to faster apertures and better optics, whereas the latter is usually the more convenient and less expensive option.
Whichever choice is taken, most superzooms will bottom-out at 18mm and for wider angles of view the choice then comes between dedicated primes or ultra-wide zooms, two of the best of which are tested here: Canon's EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM is a well-established and thoroughly proven lens, whereas Nikon's AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR is a brand new release hot from the factory floor.
Despite a full f-stop of aperture difference between them, both lenses look mightily similar, with the Canon f/2.8 only 5mm wider and its barrel about 10% longer than Nikon's f/4 offering. The Nikon also provides its integral Vibration Reduction technology that isn't met by the Canon in this instance.
With not much difference in retail price to divide the pair, will it be the wider aperture from the established Canon or the stabilisation system in Nikon's new release that will have the winning edge?
Canon EF 16-35mm
'The tested version has been completely redesigned both optically and electronically but it is still a fairly old lens that lacks such refinements as image stabilisation.'
Read more about the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM
'The most obvious thing about this lens, however, is its quietness: it really is virtually silent in AF mode. It is also very quick and focuses both accurately and reliably.'
Read more Nikon AF-S 16-35mm f/4G ED VR
These two pictures of a children's climbing frame reveal interesting differences. They were both taken using their respective camera's minimum (standard) ISO setting (ISO 100 for the Canon EOS 5D and ISO 200 for the Nikon D700), and both taken in Program mode: the 5D selected f/5.6 at 1/1000s; the D700 used f/11 at 1/500s with VR activated. Nevertheless, it looks as if the Nikkor lens has focused more accurately on the target area (the front rivet) because the Canon's plane of optimum sharpness seems to be very slightly beyond the target area.
This is evident on the rivet and also in the rendering of the blemish in the white area above the rivet, which is sharply rendered by the Canon kit but less so by the Nikon kit despite contra-indications by the prevailing aperture settings. It is impossible to separate the contributions made by the camera body and the lens, but on this occasion Nikon's kit has performed best overall.
The nature of review samples means some will always have had a better (or shorter) history than others and here we have two very different examples of lenses that are sent out for magazines to test. Unsurprisingly, the best (condition) lens has won though the runner-up still secures a Gold Award after what has obviously been a long and mixed handling history.
Given that the prices are roughly on a par, deciding which lens would be the winner if we had comparable samples comes down to balancing maximum aperture (Canon's strength) against vibration reduction (Nikon's advantage). Subjectively, the viewfinder brightness is similar in both cases but vibration reduction offers greater flexibility than a single f-stop of aperture - provided that the wider aperture is not needed to create a narrower depth-of-field, which is beyond the capabilities of any vibration reduction system. It is also worth noting that Nikon's vibration reduction system (VR-II) is very effective and exhibits not even the slightest juddering.
Nikon's lens also has a wider zoom ring, which improves handling, but then throws this advantage away with a rather slippery surface; in contrast, Canon's fortuitous flange ‘bulge' adds a useful sense of security.
It is possible that Canon has its own 16-35mm IS lens waiting in the wings and even now it has a 17-40mm f/4 lens that is almost half the price of its 16-35mm f/2.8, which might be more appealing for those on a tighter budget. For now, however, Nikon has every right to feel that it is king of the 16-35mm hill.