It’s immediately evident that some major changes have been made under the skin to turn the Mark I, a relatively mediocre performer among state-of-the-art wide angles, into the Mark II – a lens that bears comparison with the finest available.

By any measure, the 16-35mm II easily outperformed the Olympus 18mm tested, and at wide apertures, the Canon L is more attractive across the majority of the frame than even the Leica.

Most tests (and Canon’s MTF charts) indicate that the Mark I 16-35mm is not as good in the 17-20mm range as the cheaper f4 L. Informal testing conducted as a postscript to this review confirms that the Mark II finally justifies its extra expense by delivering image quality superior to the 17-40mm in all departments. About time.

However well the 16-35L acquits itself, we shouldn’t forget that even on the lowly 5D, the shiny new Mark II still doesn’t have the legs to perform in the outer image circle. At no aperture did the lens deliver a truly credible Zone C (corner) and that’s a problem the next generation of full frame sensors is likely to exploit without mercy.

Ultimately, though, it would be churlish not to applaud Canon for making good on its promise to delivery prime-level quality with zoom flexibility in the ultrawide range. In terms of image quality, it may not be the best money can buy – but, for many demanding professionals, it may finally be good enough.

Performance summary
Olympus 18mm
Leica 19mm
Canon 16-35mm II

‘Sharpness’ :

77.1 / 90
83.5 / 90
82.9 / 90

Chromatic Aberration :

5 / 10
7 / 10
7 / 10

Geometric Distortion :

11 / 15
9 / 15
10 / 15

Bright Light Handling :

7 / 10
8 / 10
9 / 10

Magic & Sparkle :

9 / 15
14 / 15
10 / 15

Speed Rating :

4 / 10
5 / 10
5 / 10

Overall Rating (%) :


Please see the ratings explanation page for details of what these numbers mean.