Flickr Explore – Canon 17-35mm f2.8L

After months of inactivity – behind my camera and behind my computer as well – I uploaded a picture on Flickr, which got “explored”. Weird, I wonder how Flickr works…

The picture was taken on January 19, 2014 during a walk in and around Bertembos (near Leuven). I wanted to test out a “new” lens I’d just bought, the Canon 17-35mm f2.8L, which is indeed a ‘very’ old lens (built between 1995-2001, you can see James Nachtwey use one in the documentary War Photographer). Here are some first impressions…

So a 17-35mm goes from pretty wide to a normal wide angle on a 35mm sensor. It wouldn’t be very much wide angle on a crop sensor camera (27-56mm), something to keep in mind. If a lens manufacturer would ever ask me what lens I’d like them to make, I would say a 20-50mm f2.8 (or f2?) which is the most useful zoom range to me. Anyway, other options besides this 17-35mm were the Canon 16-35mm f2.8L (which followed the production of the 17-35mm from 2001-2007), the even older Canon 20-35mm f2.8L, the Canon 17-40mm f4L (which is still in production today) and the Tokina 16-28mm f2.8.

The 16-35mm f2.8L (version 1) is more recent than the 17-35mm, therefore one might expect better image quality. The one mm extra on the widest angle makes a difference, but that difference doesn’t matter that much to me. What really made me doubt was the fact that its minimum focus distance is shorter than on the 17-35mm (0.28mm vs 0.45mm). But if I wanted the old 16-35mm, I would have had to pay at least €400 extra, which wasn’t worth it I believe.

The reason for not picking up an even older 20-35mm f2.8L is simple: it’s not USM and I had no idea of what I should expect of the autofocus motor in terms of ‘noise’ and speed. Besides that, it was the same price as the 17-35mm f2.8L  which made my choice easier. The 20-35mm is of course also less wide, but that ain’t too much of a problem for me.

Then there is the 17-40mm f4L, which I could find at interesting prices (not a lot more expensive than my 17-35mm). There are several reasons to be interested in this lens: it is still in production, I know it is a sharp lens, one can expect the L built quality, and it has a slightly larger zoom range. So why didn’t I go with this? Again, very simple. If I could have an f2.8 lens for less money, I’d prefer that. This still makes an important difference to me..

And as for the Tokina.. Perhaps I didn’t do enough research, I don’t know. But I found it more difficult to find a Tokina lens. In fact, I’ve never seen a Tokina lens in real life (and I’ve already seen photographers use that old 17-35mm). But what I’ve read about it seems to be quite positive: sharp optics, well built. But I didn’t like that it doesn’t take filters and I prefer to have a 35mm end instead of a 28mm.

So… The Canon 17-35mm f2.8L is a lens I’m quite happy with so far! In terms of sharpness, it’s not bad at all (!), from 17mm to 35mm. I think it’s even sharper than my Canon 24-70mm f2.8L (which I broke). I would use it at 2.8 whenever I’d want to. Of course, that’s the main reason for buying this lens. At 17mm wide open, the vignetting is pretty ‘bad’, although I would still find the pictures at 17mm f2.8 more than usable. You could always stop down or use Lightroom, and from 24mm to 35mm there’s almost no vignetting at all.

I love the colors this lens produces. Compared to my broken 24-70mm, its colors are more vivid and it has more contrast which I personally like. With my 24-70mm, these were things I would adjust in Lightroom.

I also like that this lens is relatively compact. It’s tiny compared to the current 16-35mm f2.8L. And it only weighs a bit more than 500g! The lens I bought has been used extensively, which I can tell by the scratches it has on the metal barrel. But mechanically (and optically of course) it is just fine. Perhaps, I would have preferred that the zoom ring’s a bit tighter (like the focus ring, which is just the way I like it). In terms of built quality, there’s not much to complain about. And it takes 77mm filters!

Anyway, these are just my first impressions. I’ll probably make a full review in a few weeks.