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Canon EOS EF 17-35/2.8 L

by Don Baccus, 1997

First Impression

This zoom is a hefty thing, but not nearly as hefty as the EF 28-70/2.8L. The front is huge, as this lens take the same 77mm filters as the EF 28-70/2.8L and EF 70-200/2.8L, and the lens comes with a reversible lenshood which, while making the package shorter, adds to the diameter.

When mounted, I find the lens-body combination very comfortable to carry around and playfully shoot with. My old, manual Minolta MD system included fixed 20mm and 28mm primes, and the gap between these two often seemed too large. Being able to freely zoom between 17mm and 35mm makes it possible to tightly frame wide-angle shots, and at the wide end gives plenty of opportunity to play with apparent perspective distortion. It's great for shooting in tight quarters.


This lens replaces the earlier EF 20-35/2.8L, and offers comparable optical performance (the old lens was considered a hot performer, as was the FD 20-35/3.5 which preceeded it). Improvements include the extra three millimeters at the wide end, a ring USM motor, and Full-Time Manual (FTM) focusing. It is a two-ring zoom, which I prefer, with the ring closest to the body controlling focal length. Though the lens can be switched to manual focus, the FTM feature means that I rarely do so. The lens focuses quickly and almost silently.

The rear of the lens is slotted for rectangular gelatin filters, presumably to avoid the vignetting problem that would occur when multiple stacking filters on the front. I've used a UV filter on it while shooting at the coast, and haven't noticed any increase in falloff at the edges when using it.

Despite being partially constructed of plastic, the lens has a rugged feel. As I so often do with my camera gear, I field-tested its ruggedness by dropping it. This time on asphalt! It was lying on top of a camera bag in my trunk, as I'd just finished photographing the flooded basement of a house a friend was going to buy if it weren't for the flooded basement, which had supposedly been fixed. When I went to grab some other stuff from my trunk I had a lovely view of the lens with body attached drop over two feet onto the driveway.

No problem. The lens fell face-first onto the lenshood (one reason I always use lenshoods), the package bounced a couple of times, and, wincing, I took a look. Other than the fact that the lens now looks used, I've noticed no ill effects.


I love this lens, as much as the EF 28-70/2.8L. Why own both? Because Canon doesn't make a 35-70/2.8, unfortunately. In practice, I tend to carry one or the other, not both, depending on what kind of shooting mood I'm in. The photos you see on this page were taken on the University of Washington's Canopy Crane, where backing away to widen the view was a physical impossibility as we dangled 30 stories above the forest floor. At 17mm, we're talking wide and I was able to get some sweeping shots that include the gondola we were riding in. The straight lines in some of these photos also gives you an idea of linear distortion of this lens - amazingly low for a zoom. The front does not rotate while the lens if focused, which is handy when using polariod or split-density filters.

Slides are, as one expects with Canon's L zooms, extremely sharp and contrasty. Magazine tests I've seen don't rate it as highly as the EF 28-70/2.8L, perhaps the sharpest zoom ever made, but I can't see any difference in the range where they overlap.

Images and text copyright © 1997, Don Baccus

Article created 1997

Readers' Comments

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David Rees , September 12, 1997; 04:07 A.M.

I've had this lens for a month now, and find it well worth the space in my camera bag. The optical quality is really good -- except for noticable barrel distortion below 24mm. Since I can't compare with another one (these are rare beasts in the UK!) I don't know whether this is standard. For landscape photography, it doesn't really matter, so I'll be keeping the lens, but I might be tempted into a 14mm sometime soon :)

Paulo Bizarro , February 18, 1998; 10:20 A.M.

Just a few thoughts about this lens. I used to have a 20-35 3.5-4.5 USM, which I eventually traded in due to poor flare control and lack of contrast. Somehow I could not grow attached to that lens. With the 17-35 it is completely different, and it is not the red stripe:-) Handling is much better and I tend to zoom less with this lens than with the 20-35 3.5-4.5. I tend to find the prefered setting for a particular shot more quickly, and when I need to carry only one lens for landscape shots, this is the one.

The results have been consistently sharp and contrasty. However, I also like my 28 1.8 very much...

Don Baccus , March 22, 1998; 03:43 P.M.

Since writing the review, I've somewhat systematically shot things with straight lines to look at linear distortion. David Rees is right, barrel distortion appears to be gone by about 24mm (a bit less from the markings on my sample of this lens). It steadily increases as you zoom to 17mm.

Barrel distortion's not bad for a lens that widens to 17mm, though. Here's an example taken as wide as it gets, if you're interested.

Wee Keng_Hor , April 13, 1998; 09:00 A.M.

I've just bought this lens and have not really tested it out. But my first impression when handling this lens is that the zooming ring is simply too close to the camera body while the focusing ring was nicely positioned. The design is such that the pirority is given to manually focusing rather than zooming.
I strongly feel that the 2 should swap position. The focusing ring is almost redundant with Canon autofocus USM. I would access the zooming ring 99.9% of the time.

Kar Yan Mak , October 03, 1998; 06:05 P.M.

Just bought this lens a week ago and tried it out at Disneyland. Glad I sold the Tokina 17mm 3.5 for this lens cause the Tokina gave me severe distortions. Every ultra wide angle lenses will have distortion, but the Canon 17-35mm 2.8 L did a wonderful job creating this lens. Sharp and crisp optics and well worth the bucks!!

J Viray , August 18, 1999; 07:49 A.M.

Sure, this lens is better than the Tokina 17/3.5 (well I don't have either, my widest is the older 20-35/2.8) but it is nonsense to compare ridiculously cheap lenses ($350) to a professional ($1000) one. I mean sure I'd be happier with a 300/2.8L but I'm willing to comprimise with the 4IS at a third the cost as I'm sure the third party makers know. Granted it is best to stay in the Canon line for FTM and whatnot, if there is some specialty lens that Canon doesn't make that I would need (e.g. 17mm prime) then I'd buy it.

Mark Andersen , August 25, 1999; 03:36 P.M.

The first one I recieved was just not sharp, particullarly on the 17mm side. I returned it and am getting another with the faith that I simply got a lemon. I have been told that the lens is great by several people and I am willing to try another. This is a good reminder that not all lenses are exactly the same.

Tan Chung , October 31, 1999; 06:52 A.M.


If there are people who swear by lens MTF tests, you may like to know that Practical Photography tested this lens along with other similar range lens from other brands in the June 1999 issue.

It may be a surprise to know that they have this to say of its optical performance: Central resolution is consistently very high. Edge definition at f/2.8 ranges from poor to fair but improves at f/8.

In the same lens test, there was also a test on the cheaper EF20-35mm f/3.5-4.5 USM and this was what Practical Photography said of its optical performance: Very consistent results. Central definition is high at all settings and edges are impressive.

Looking at both MTF graphs, there really seem to be little difference between the two lenses. One costs UKP1200 and the other cost UKP400.

I am just the messenger, no flames please.

Dan Lyke , November 16, 1999; 04:51 P.M.

I bought the 17-35/2.8L on a lark, thinking I'd really be using the 70-200/2.8L I got in the same order because I wanted to be taking more people shots.

It turns out the short one has become my knock-around lens that I carry mounted most of the time. For landscape shots the applications are obvious, but for people shots at 35mm it lets me get nice full-body portraits, and at 17mm it's great for close-quarters group pictures (a bunch of folks sitting in the cockpit of a sailboat or around a table, for instance).

And the distorted perspective makes for some neat people shots, I've got a friend who's sensitive about her weight, so I took a low angle picture at the short end of the zoom that worked very well to make her body look longer.

Don't limit your vision of short lenses to just landscapes. For the well-heeled amateur who wants a record of people and get-togethers this is a great lens to carry.

ukiko chiu , December 14, 1999; 01:27 A.M.

Nikon has AF-S17-35/2.8ED and they are used 2 ED glasses to reduce zomming dispersion.The result is better detail deffinition in whole image.Nowaday,the big progress we can see in the range of super-wide angle lenses is use the low dispersion elements or partial disppersion glasses.,like Minolta AF17-35/3.5G(which uses 2 AD glasses)and Canon EF24/1.4L,EF35/1.4L(use UD glasses) and Nikon AF-S28-70/2.8ED also.The biginner which used low disppersion glasses for wide-angle lenses is Contax Distagon 21/2.8(superb lens),and Zeiss Company has been very proude of it with "APO" quilty. The two new lenses provided by Leica,M21/2.8ASPH and M24/2.8ASPH, also use 2-3 partial disppersion glasses(same as APO100/2.8's glass) to make their performence better than proceedors. The better Wide angle lenses,I want to say, should has the standar for correcting color disppersion by using ED glasses especially super-wide or large Aperture wide angle lense. And I hope Canon can develop the new 17-35L UD-Asph quickly for fans!

Gary Voth , May 19, 2000; 12:33 A.M.

I have been shooting Canon gear for nearly 20 years and I have generally found lens quality to be very good to excellent. However, I have had a bad experience with this lens that I probably should share for the archives.

After doing the usual due dilligence (reading this review and others), I purchased this lens about two years ago with high expectations. I found the build quality and handling to be excellent. Overall, balance and AF performance was better than the previous 20-35mm f/2.8L. I was happy. Until I got film back.

Nothing was very crisp. Not awful, just not pinpoint sharp. At first I chalked it up to my technique. As I was shooting mostly handheld, maybe I had introduced more shake than normal. I kept using the lens but I was never really knocked out by the results. Frankly, my prior experience with Canon and 'L' series lenses led me to discount the notion that the lens itself was to blame (dumb as that sounds). However, I eventually realized that I might have a lemon, and I did some methodical testing.

What I observed was an odd kind of halation problem, sort of like the highlights getting blown out and bleeding into the shadow areas. There was also an overall lack of real tack sharpness. By this time I was a little miffed, as it was too late to return the lens to the dealer. I did send it to Canon for warranty repair, along with a long letter detailing my experience and observed test results. Canon did a clean and check, and claimed to have re-collimated the lens optics. However, upon getting the lens back I found there was virtually no change in performance.

I sold it the next week (actually I traded it to a dealer because I hated the idea of selling what was apparently a lemon to someone else directly).

I do believe that I had a particularly bad sample of this lens, and that my experience is probably not common. Nonetheless, I have hesitated to purchase another version of the same lens. (Once bitten...)

For the last year I have been using the EF 20-35mm f/3.5-4.5, which I find to be a real gem of a lens. My slides are very crisp, particularly stopped down (it actually tests better on photodo.com than the 'L' zoom). I find contrast to be excellent (contrary to some reports on this site), but it does have more pronounced barrel distortion than I like.

Hopefully, YOU will not have this problem. But if you are considering buyting the 17-35mm f/2.8L, please arrange a tryout with your dealer so that you can return it if you get a bad sample.

Tom Just Olsen , July 27, 2000; 04:33 P.M.

I bougth this lens second hand, last winter, in a deal including a 300mm/2,8, a 50mm/1,0 and the two teleconverters x1,4 and x2. - It was the 300/2,8 I was 'going for', but have used the 17-35mm/2,8 three times as much. It's light weight, relative to my 28-70mm/2,8 and is 'practical to use'; you can sit in one corner of a room and get all the three other corners of the room on the negative. A very practical thing to use indoor, press photography or landscapes, if you like to include the small flowers some 65 cm in front of you.

At the Hasselbad lab, in Gothenburg, they have tested this lense and give it an 'average grade value' of 3,2 in a scale going from 1 to 5 where 5 is the highest (sharpest lense according to this test was Canon 200mm/1,8 with grade: 4,8). These tests can be checked at


Grade 3,2 is below 3,9 of the legendary Canon 28-70mm/2,8, the sharpest normal-zoom on the market. Comparative tests shows that the 17-35mm/2,8 has a wast reduction of sharpness the last few millimetres out along the edges when on 17 mm. If you use it only down to, let's say, 20mm, it is supposed to be as sharp as it's legendary brother.

But my pictures show a variety of results; a few crisp and sharp, others quite 'dusty' and 'blured, particularly out in the corners. Quite to the contrary of my 28-70mm/2,8 of which all pictures turn out 'dramatically sharp', - except for when I do momentous mistakes. My experience with the 17-35mm/2,8 lens is, so far, limited, - I use it only for 6 months. But I have grasped so much that such a a lens with such a wide angle demands a steady hand, - just as much as a tele-lense. It pictures such a large angle, particularly out in the corners, that small 'twists' of your hand will blur the corners and show on the negative. So. Don't underestimate that it demands a short shutter speed when used at high angles (= short foucs lenghts); actually a disadvantage many times when shooting in door. - And no blitz on the market covers the 17 mm angle evenly. I have taken some super shots, however, with my EOS3 with two 550 EX flashes, one reflected on a white sealing.

Envious Nikon-owners claim that quite a few of the press photographer community here in Norway have had individual lenses of this Canon 17-35mm/2,8 that has been 'really unsharp', and have had them at 'service' at the Canon importer, 'but with no impovement', and they have these lenses 'just lying about on the shelves'. - Not very unlike the experience of the gentleman above.

On the other hand; the Canon importer have now increased the price of the 17-35mm/2,8 to above the price of 28-70mm/2,8, which previously costed som 3000 NOK more, due to that they expect the 17-35mm/2,8 'to have it's day' when the D30 is introduced in September. Then the 17-35mm/2,8 will be the new 'normal zoom' due to the small 'negative' of the digital D30. So if you are going to be a D30-customer in September, this 17-35mm/2,8 is a 'must'.

Image Attachment: orebro51.JPG

Tony Zipple , January 01, 2002; 01:43 P.M.

The 17-35 is a fine lens, but the 16-35 released a couple of weeks ago is even better. In shooting my first rolls of film with it, it appears sharper at all apertures f/8 and larger, it corrects color fringing that was sometimes present in the 17-35, is better built and sealed, and it is closer focusing. While I would like my informal assessment to be confirmed by more precise testing of the lens, I am convinced that the improvements are worthwhile.... and maybe even worth the new and increased price!

Bernardo Abello , October 07, 2003; 01:07 P.M.

I have had this lens for four years until it got stolen last december, I then replaced it with the 16-35/2.8. Having had both lenses, I have to say that there is a very clear difference between them, the 16-35 is sharper and shows less distortion than the older lens. The new lens feels more rugged and it has a rubber seal between the lens bayonet and the camera mount, which should make it more "weather proof" (how much I am not willing to test). Overall I am very satisfied with the pictures I have taken with these lenses, but given a choice between the two I would go for the 16-35.

Elvis McNeely , January 25, 2006; 11:41 P.M.

It has been a while since the last comment - I wanted to give a brief update.

Like Bernardo indicated above, the Canon EOS EF 17-35/2.8L lens was replaced by the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM Lens ($1250), which has a 4.0/5.0 rating according to Camera Prices. For those wanting to know the price range for this replacement, as of Jan 25 2006, $1250 - $1700. You can see sample images at Pbase.

Remi Lemarchand , October 16, 2007; 12:31 P.M.

The 16-35 L has now been replaced with the 16-35 L II.

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