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Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L vs 16-35mm f/2.8L II

See notes in my March 31 blog entry...I had planned to offer a detailed comparative review of the new Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L II against the previous 16-35mm f/2.8L. I spent nearly 3 hours carefully choosing subjects and shooting the two lenses side-by-side, along with the EF 35mm f/1.4L and the Nikon 17-35 f/2.8. Lens testing is hard, really hard to do correctly, and critical focus accuracy is a prerequisite.

Analyzing the images today (which itself is more complicated than most people realize), I discovered to my chagrin that all my work is for naught because the older 16-35mm (apparently in perfect working order) front or back-focused on nearly every comparison, rendering the test images useless for comparing optical performance.

I might still offer the comparative review, but I’ll have to first send the 16-35mm f/2.8L to Canon for adjustment of its focusing mechanism.

When does “virtually eliminated” mean “still awful”?

Canon’s press release for the new EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II states:

          “Two UD lens elements virtually eliminate chromatic aberration

One can only read and reread in disbelief such drivel when confronted with the facts: the new 16-35mm f/2.8L II has some of the worst color fringing I’ve ever observed in a professional lens, in spite of Canon’s bald-faced lie to the contrary (I am not happy spending $1599 for a lens that in a direct comparison shows no improvement over its predecessor in this regard).

While it’s no worse than its predecessor in terms of color fringing at 16mm, it appears to be no better either. I’m puzzled how the image below (left) rises to Canon’s claim of “image quality that will meet the strict requirements of professional and high-end amateur photographers”.

Actual pixels crop, EOS 5D with Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II @ 16mm, f8
Digital Photo Professional (left), Adobe Camera Raw (right) with correction

There is no evidence that the color fringing is due to misaligned optics, as I have obtained images from it with symmetric sharpness across the frame (and it is capable of quite sharp images). So I do not believe that I have an inferior sample. Also, the Nikon 17-35mm f/2.8 exhibits similar color fringing at 17mm. Apparently it’s very hard to eliminate color fringing at such wide angles, since both Nikon and Canon have failed badly, at least in the test images I’ve made.

But while Nikon’s Capture makes the issue irrelevant via outstanding software correction, Canon offers nothing in Digital Photo Professional to compensate. Maybe that’s what “virtual” means in the Canon press release—it’s not really there! While the color fringing can be corrected in Adobe Photoshop’s Camera Raw, one should not have to resort to an alternative raw-file converter to fix such problems; even an 8X12 print suggests a new and hitherto undiscovered birch species with a white center and brilliant red outer bark.

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