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Followup on Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II color fringing

Following up on Tuesday’s comments on the new Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L II color fringing problems, I made two prints on the Epson Stylus Pro 3800, each 10.8" wide. One print was made using the Canon Digital Photo Professional image, and another was made with the Adobe Photoshop Camera Raw image. The subject was carefully chosen to show any optical weaknesses.

Test image—Canon 5D + EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II
Digital Photo Professional / Adobe Camera Raw (with correction)

A quick glance shows the print from each raw-file converter to be about the same, but by studying the DPP image for more than a second or two, the eye is forced to work very hard to reconcile detail that looks sharp, but isn’t. It’s rather like a newspaper color photo that is out of registration, a defect that rapidly causes eyestrain. The Adobe Camera Raw image does not suffer from this problem, because the color fringing has been eliminated.

In my view, images from the 16-35 II which have not been corrected for color fringing are unacceptable at 16mm, at least with some subjects, such as the white birches in the test image. I am sorely disappointed at Canon’s assertion that chromatic aberration has been “virtually eliminated”. The claim is so much at odds with the rendered images that one can only marvel at Canon’s brazenness. While we can’t expect too much from an ultra-wide zoom lens, we can expect realistic assessments of imaging performance from the manufacturer. Maybe the same Canon management is responsible for Canon’s rebate ripoff.

So what did I get for my $1599 (plus tax) over its predecessor? A disappointment. So far, it appears that the new “II” model might have more accurate focus, and might be sharper in the corners (or might not). Flare control is quite impressive and image contrast seems to be improved, but distortion is still very strong [example], making it unacceptable for architectural work without software correction.

Overall, the new 16-35mm f/2.8L II is an excellent performer, but it’s strong color fringing at 16mm mars an otherwise excellent performance. Color fringing can be corrected in software, so for some users this shortcoming will be of little concern. But at this juncture, I cannot recommend spending the money on the new 16-35mm f/2.8L II if you already own its predecessor.

I’ll be sending my 16-35mm f/2.8L (original version) to Canon service for a focusing mechanism adjustment so I can make a proper comparison between “I” and “II” (see April 3 blog entry).

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