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Canon EF 17-40/4L USM Lens Review

by Philip Greenspun, June 2007


Canon makes two high-quality wide-angle zoom lenses for full-frame cameras, the 17-40/4L reviewed here and the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, (compare prices). In the digital era, the 17-40 has been overlooked to some extent. It isn't wide enough to be dramatic on a small sensor camera such as the popular Rebel series. It doesn't offer enough of a cost savings over the 16-35/2.8L to be interesting to the folks buying the full-frame sensor cameras. Our prediction is that this lens will come back into its own when Canon brings the cost of a full-frame body down below $1200. Until then, anyone with enough money for a 5D will probably simply buy the 16-35.

If you have a full-frame Canon digital body, don't need the extra f-stop of viewfinder brightness or available light capability, and want to save $700, buy one right now from amazon.com, (compare prices).

Optics

The lens design is of low complexity for a zoom, with 12 elements of glass arranged in 9 groups; Canon's f/2.8 prime wide-angle lenses typically include 10 elements of glass. Three of those elements are aspherical, which improves image quality and reduces the number of elements required. Thus, contrast can be as high and flare as well-controlled as with a simpler prime lens. Distortion will be a little higher.

Maximum magnification is 0.24x at a distance of less than one foot. With a full-frame camera, the smallest object you can photograph is roughly half the size of an 8.5x11" (A4) piece of paper.

Construction

Like all L lenses, the 17-40/4L is ruggedly constructed and resistant to water and dust. The included EW-83E lens hood bayonets onto the exterior of the lens, leaving the 77mm filter and lens cap threads free. The 17-40 incorporates a ring USM motor, which enables "full-time manual focus", even when the camera/lens are set to autofocus. This is very useful when using Custom Function 4 on an EOS body, which moves autofocus to the exposure lock button on the rear. You can focus manually if desired and, at any time, push the rear button to give yourself a shot of autofocus.

Weight is 500g, which balances well with Canon's mid-priced bodies. The medium-speed prime lenses are much lighter, however, e.g., only 185g for the 28/2.8.

Alternatives

The most likely alternative to this lens is Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, (compare prices), which is somewhat heavier (640g) and twice as expensive. The highest quality alternative to any wide-angle zoom lens is a bag of prime lenses:

Canon EF 20-35mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, (compare prices), an older design; lacks L-grade mechanical construction.

If you are using a small-sensor digital SLR, such as the Canon Digital Rebel XTi (Black), (compare prices) (review), the best zoom for wide-angle drama is the Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM, (compare prices) (review).

Conclusion

It isn't lighter than the 16-35/2.8L. It isn't better quality than the 16-35/2.8L. It isn't dramatically wide on the small sensor cameras. However, if you want a high quality wide-angle zoom with a medium weight and a medium aperture, the 17-40/4L is an excellent value.

When Canon comes out with an inexpensive full-frame digital body, this lens will be part of a great traveling kit:

Where to Buy

You can get the Canon 17-40/4L overnight from amazon.com, (compare prices).

More

Examples

22m, f/7.1, ISO 100, 1/100th of a second (folks move pretty slowly in their caps and gowns on a hot summer day). The wide angle shows the newly minted PhDs (falcons and PhDs are the only animals that are regularly hooded) and the background of MIT's Killian Court.

24mm. With street photography, you need to lift the camera, push the shutter release, and put it down with a smile before people start throwing stuff at you. Chinatown, Manhattan. ISO 200 allowed settings of f/5.6 and 1/250th. Stopping down from f/4 increased the depth of field enough to cover focus errors. The faster shutter speed freezes camera shake and/or subject movement.

17mm. One of the joys of street photography is serendipity. I set up for a photo of this father, proud that he doesn't have to pay MIT $50,000 per year anymore, and the hipster skateboards through. The shutter speed of 1/80th wasn't fast enough to freeze the skateboarder, but maybe that is for the best since the blur suggests motion.

17mm. Everyone has long legs at 17mm. Downtown/Wall Street Heliport. Parking is about $50 per hour.

Two similar images of a handball game. It is tough to choose between these photos because they are both so bad. "If your pictures aren't good enough, you aren't close enough." Getting closer in this situation would probably have resulted in a serious contusion.

Image at left: 17mm.

Image at right: 40mm. I wish that the final ear in the frame had a mobile phone held up to it, but that's why street photographers throw out 99 percent of their images.

36mm. There is something about a gun shop in Manhattan that makes a photo interesting even at a boring point-and-shoot camera focal length.

17mm. Even at f/9, the background is not within the depth of field, which concentrates attention on the foreground circle of photographers.

20mm.

17mm, f/5, 1/800th, ISO 200. Helicopters fly pretty low and the downtown Hartford, Connecticut airport is pretty big. The 17mm wide end of this lens enables the relationship among the airport, the river, and the highway to be appreciated.

17mm, f/10. Everything is in focus.


Text and pictures copyright 2007 Philip Greenspun. Unless otherwise noted, all images on this page were taken with a full-frame Canon EOS 5D, (compare prices) (review).

Article created June 2007

Readers' Comments


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Mark Fisher , June 13, 2007; 07:47 P.M.

I'm not sure I understand the comment that it has been "overlooked" in the digital era with cropped sensors. Unless my math is wrong, this is equivilent to a 27-64mm lens...pretty close to the standard professional 28-70mm. While I find the reach a bit lacking occationally, this lens provides most of what I need. Combine this with a 50mm and 85mm prime and it is a pretty compact, easy handling, and capable kit.

Justin Johnson , June 13, 2007; 10:10 P.M.

Love this lens. The sharpness is fantastic! This is a must have for anyone working with tight funds. Thanks for the review!

Sean Scully , June 14, 2007; 08:07 A.M.

I purchased this lens before traveling to Iceland (and passed the 18-55 mm kit lens to my girlfriend). I couldn't be happier with this lens other than it being a little slow for capturing the auroras over northern Iceland. I saved a few bucks by ordering a lens refurbished by Canon.

David McIlroy , June 14, 2007; 11:56 A.M.

mind the quality and feel the width...

I use this lens with my 10D and find that the approx. 28mmm setting is acceptably wide for most of my needs. From the first shots taken, the sharpness and high contrast of this lens were apparent (previously using the 24-85 zoom). When this full-frame Canon hits the market at the price you predicted, I'll be in. I have the other two lenses you suggest for the travelling kit. ;) Meanwhile, I have a film body if I want to exploit the full wide-angle performance of this great lens.

Trevis Rothwell , June 14, 2007; 01:57 P.M.

This was one of the first lenses that I bought, before I knew enough about lenses to understand why I'd really prefer to have the 16-35/2.8. Oh well. For daytime outdoor shooting, f4 is fine, and 17mm is pretty dramatically wide on a full-frame camera.

Quang-Tuan Luong , June 14, 2007; 07:12 P.M.

Although I might have been able to afford the 16-35, for use on my 1DsII I chose instead the 17-40 because (a) the 17-40 outperformed the 16-35 in the super-wide range, (b) I do not find the extra f-stop useful in this focal range. It is very possible the 16-35 II has improved in the super-wide range, but I have not tested it yet.

Doug Saucier , June 18, 2007; 01:50 P.M.

WOW , Interesting review. I really enjoy the 17mm end alot on my 30D and DR both. The reach is lacking, but no different than the 16-35mm f/2.8L in my mind and it's half the cost to boot. For the darker churches and halls I can alwasys use my 24-70mm at f/2.8L. If I had a 5D I would not have a use for this lens, as it might be too wide for most of my work.

Dick Arnold , June 25, 2007; 05:48 P.M.

I really think you missed the point. I have one that I used on a D60 and recently on an XTi. It approximates the 28-70 2.8 that I found wouldn't go wide enough on the 1.6 crop sensor. I worked on a newspaper, did weddings for seven years and 28mm full frame, or 50mm on a 645 was wide enough for almost all of my work. It is, in my opinion a superb compliment to my 70-200 2.8L. on the XTi. Because it is full frame there is little vignetting on the XTi. Look on the forum, you will see a great number of crop sensor owners who have this lens. During the period I owned the photo business and worked for the paper I had a 20-35 and never used it on film bodies. I really like this lens. Click on my name there is a light house that was taken on the XTi at about 20mm with this lens.

Dick Arnold , June 25, 2007; 05:49 P.M.


Nubble XTi 17-40 F4

I really think you missed the point. I have one that I used on a D60 and recently on an XTi. It approximates the 28-70 2.8 that I found wouldn't go wide enough on the 1.6 crop sensor. I worked on a newspaper, did weddings for seven years and 28mm full frame, or 50mm on a 645 was wide enough for almost all of my work. It is, in my opinion a superb compliment to my 70-200 2.8L. on the XTi. Because it is full frame there is little vignetting on the XTi. Look on the forum, you will see a great number of crop sensor owners who have this lens. During the period I owned the photo business and worked for the paper I had a 20-35 and never used it on film bodies. I really like this lens. See below. About 20mm with this lens on an XTi,

Dick Arnold , June 25, 2007; 05:54 P.M.


I really think you missed the point. I have one that I used on a D60 and recently on an XTi. It approximates the 28-70 2.8 that I found wouldn't go wide enough on the 1.6 crop sensor. I worked on a newspaper, did weddings for seven years and 28mm full frame, or 50mm on a 645 was wide enough for almost all of my work. It is, in my opinion a superb compliment to my 70-200 2.8L. on the XTi. Because it is full frame there is little vignetting on the XTi. Look on the forum, you will see a great number of crop sensor owners who have this lens. During the period I owned the photo business and worked for the paper I had a 20-35 and never used it on film bodies. I really like this lens.

Dick Arnold , June 25, 2007; 09:21 P.M.

Mea Culpa for the double post. I didn't think the first one took.

Alistair Windsor , July 01, 2007; 05:37 P.M.

Let me be the one to say that I love this lens on full frame and don't particularly care for it on a crop factor camera. One a crop factor camera you get a slow (f4 maximum) and short (27mm-64mm) standard zoom with essentially no optical defects. On a full frame camera you get an ultrawide zoom with soft edges that requires to be stopped down considerably. As an ultrawide it is an exciting lens. As a standard zoom it is at best workmanlike.

I would say that if you are thinking of this as a standard zoom on a crop factor camera you would be better off with either a 17-55/2.8 IS or a third party offering like the Tamron 17-50/2.8. If you are one of those that insists on buying only full frame lenses for your crop factor camera then get a 16-35/2.8 II.

J. W. Wall , July 02, 2007; 02:17 P.M.

I really enjoy the 17-40mm on my 10D. The 17-40mm is an affordable "L" that is well usable as a quality, everyday walk-around lens (and it's black!). Canon shows its weight as 1.3 lbs. vs. 1.6 lbs for the 16-35mm. As someone said, the 17-40mm is a good compliment to the 70-200mm f/4.0 L and 50mm f/1.8. I also use the 100mm f/2.8 macro.

Michael Willems , July 08, 2007; 11:51 A.M.

I love this lens on my 5D, so the reviewer is wrong, at least in my case. This is my favourite lens.

  • Example here - handheld at 1/10th sec... Grand Central
  • I also do portraits with it - yes, with a wide lens. Here is me: Self Portrait

Michael
www.mvwphoto.com

Dick Arnold , July 09, 2007; 02:41 P.M.

Michael I really like Grand Central. What focal length was the self portrait. Good picture of a bad mood.

Michael Willems , July 15, 2007; 08:42 A.M.

Dick : Thank you for the Grand Central comment.

Focal length of self portrait: around 35mm if I recall right.

Andre Stull , July 25, 2007; 04:31 P.M.

Nice review because I have a 5D and am looking to finish off my travel kit and multi-purpose lenses. Already have 50/1.4 and 70-300/DO. I was going to buy the 16-35 but tried the 17-40 and felt it was just a better deal due to quality of pictures. Then I ran across the Tamron 17-35/2.8-4 for 300 bucks and it's lighter/smaller than both of the Canon's. I'm not a fan of wide angle but realize it's value at times. Try the Tamron before you purchase the others.

David Manzi , August 06, 2007; 08:26 P.M.

Very puzzling comments regarding this lens, and comparisons to the 16-35 2.8 (which has been superceded). I just checked, and when compared to the current version, it's less than half the cost, and a bit lighter (5 or 6 ounces?). If less than half the cost doesn't represent a significant cost savings, then what does? I bought this lens over the higher priced model because the extra stop of the 16-35 meant little to me, so there was no reason to double the cost of the lens. It's a fine lens.

Brandon Foster , August 13, 2007; 04:42 P.M.

Anyone that thinks that the 17-40 4L is not useful on a crop sensor camera, is full of it. I have heard this BS about how you get more zoom for the money with crop sensor all day long for a bout a year now. YOU DO NOT GET MORE ZOOM! You get less viewing area, the magnification does not go up. But, I will tell you this. Shoot for about a year with a 70-200 f/4-5.6, and a 70-300 f/4-5.6 as your only lenses, and then try the 17-40 and tell me what you think. But I will concede that if you are trying to do ridiculously wide work, this may not be the lens, but I have had some luck with it. See example

Adam Sakoonserksadee , October 22, 2007; 12:58 A.M.

Hello everyone, below is my Amazon.com review. Can't tell you all how helpful your reviews and feedback have been in educating me in this wonderful medium. Hopefully my post can help out the next guy. Thanks kindly.

The Canon 10-22mm EF-S wide angle zoom or the 17-40mm EF "L" zoom?

I deliberated this decision for over a month, having physically tested both lenses on my 350D crop frame DSLR at local camera shops and spending a near ridiculous amount of time reading through indispensable online reviews such as this one. With the price for each being roughly the same, the decision came down to the 10-22's ultra-wide capability vs. the 17-40's build quality.

I ended up choosing the 17-40 and here's why: -Incredible optics and sharpness. If you're like me and have never owned an "L" series lens before, you'll be able to see the difference in optical construction quality before you ever snap a digital shot. It's evident in the viewfinder just how precise this lens is. -Longevity: I'm the kind of guy who likes high quality equipment and can see myself upgrading to a full-frame sensor camera body sooner rather than later. -Wide vs. Ultra-wide: You'll often read warnings of the difficulty in framing sub-20mm ultra-wide compositions. It's a valid point. Only certain scenarios lend themselves to 180 degree-style framing but most of the time you'll be challenged to keep all of the uninteresting junk out of the frame. I was a little worried about 17-40mm's 27-54mm conversion when used on a crop frame. Would it be wide enough? Answer, yes. 27mm is plenty wide for most applications and with the crop factor, I get almost zero barrel distortion at the widest edges. In my estimation, the 10-22 is more of an effect lens whereas the 17-40 is much more of an everyday multi-purpose working lens.

In summary, if the focal length range of the 17-40 doesn't overlap too much over your current lens kit and you favor high-quality wide over good quality ultra-wide, then this lens is right for you.

*NOTE: If the 17-40's inclusion of a lens hood is influencing your decision in anyway over the 10-22, don't let it be. The hood is basically a pain in the rear due to it's ridiculous size and shape. Difficult to pack and you'd probably be better served just picking up a 77mm protection filter.

Ole-Henrik Helin , November 06, 2007; 09:40 A.M.

I recently visited Japan and brought with me my 17-40L, my 24-105f4 L and my 70-200 f2.8L IS.

Most of the time the 24-105 did the grunt work for me very well, but at times, even 24mm on full frame wasn't enough, time for the 17-40L.

Thanks to this wonderful _cheap_ L zoom, I was able to frame and capture various Japnese temples and shrines with ease. The overlap of the 17-40 to the 24-105 (or 24-70 alternatively) is just positive; Less lens changing needs and less dust on the sensor.

At 17mm, the ideal shutter speed is around 1/20s for handheld photography. I was never in this ballpark with my 17-40, thus, F4 was never a problem. The biggest issue with this lens though, is vignetting, forcing me to stop down the lens quite considerabely when I was outside.

The F4 aperture isn't much of an issue in itself, the lens is a really good choice for anyone photographing landscape or architecture, 17mm on 1 ds mk II is very very wide, I cannot imagine I will ever have the money to justify a 1mm drop to 16mm and a stop faster f2.8.

Imo, as ISO noise is reduced, F4 wide lenses will come more and more into their own. It isn't necceserily true that since someone could affoard an 1ds mkII, they will affoard a 16-35 f2.8. After a 1ds mkII purcase, you may feel that you should get the best deals possible on accessories and lenses.

The 17-40 F4 really is a very enjoyable bargain, a quality lens indeed.

John Webb , December 09, 2007; 04:49 A.M.

Just bought this lens and the first thing that impressed me was the shutter speed at F8 ISO100, around 1/800th in full sunlight, so who needs "IS" at 17mm or even 40mm for that, however take this lens inside and the F4's brightness really shows it's weaknesses this is where my 17-85IS-USM F4-5.6 is a better suited lens. I am delighted with the level of contrast and sharpness of 17-40 lens outperforming my expectations.If you think your normal Zoom lenses or standard ones look soft and have an 80's style pastel look your right, mine did and I hated it, this lens is like 1080i HDTV compared to BWTV. If there's one thing I've learn't from this lens, it's don't waste money on cheaper lenses, save a bit longer for an "L" series they are worth the extra $$$ and you'll be glad you did.

Andy Goss , January 07, 2008; 06:55 P.M.

Not sure how to put it in words how beautiful this picture is taken ny a photo.net member Maciek Duczynski: its taken on a 5D and a 17-40 F4l lens.

Enjoy.

http://photo.net/photodb/photo?photo_id=5004860

Peter Saucerman , January 18, 2008; 05:46 P.M.

As always, a clear, succinct and informative review by Mr. G. Since he talked a good bit about street photography, I will add one comment about the 17-40 lens - it is exceptionally large and prominent, especially with the lens hood installed. I've had more than a few folks recoil when I raise it, like a howitzer, in their faces. This might be an argument for the more modest sized 50mm standard lens.

Tom Blouin , July 01, 2008; 01:53 A.M.

This was the lens for my first DSLR, the Canon XTi that I purchased w/o kit lens. I immediately fell in love with the way it handled, the internal focus & zoom and the colors/sharpness looked fine. Though it might be an anomaly, now that it is mounted on a 40D it seems to focus more accurately and produce sharper images but I would love to try it on a full frame camera. Though I love my 60 EFS & 200 L, I still long for that slightly wider perspective of my 1970's Canon F1 (pre-N!) w/24mm FD lens.

Barry Carper , January 21, 2009; 08:09 P.M.


An Apple a Day

I really enjoy the 17-40 on my 40D as a walk around lens. It's not perfect for every shot with an f/4 max - but photos are extremely sharp, the color is excellent and its engineering is outstanding. For a reasonable price, you can enjoy the quality of an "L" lens and the photos it is capable of. A truely great lens on a crop camera with the ability to move to full frame. What's not to like?

Jonathan Farmer , February 09, 2009; 12:56 P.M.

A good performer except at 40mm where it is poor in resolution.

SOREN POULSEN , March 11, 2009; 07:57 A.M.

THE BEST OF MY GLASS

Image Attachment: fileEiH0Pe.jpg

Bard Fosse , July 18, 2009; 01:13 A.M.

The review is helpful but not very accurate, as the 17-40 L is one of Canon best selling lenses it's not overlooked, at 1/2 of the price of the 16-35 it's a substantial cost saving. Obviously f/2.8 is very nice to have, brighter viewfinder etc. However on a 5D Mk II you can safely use 6400 ISO, will it be to dark for this? Not for my use.

All lenses have some form for distortion one way or the other, digital shooters can rectify in Photoshop or even simpler by DxO.

So what is not to like with a "reasonable" priced L UW - W zoom? Why should most people shell out twice the price for one stop, OK if you're a journalism photographer taking shoots of famous people when they're drunk close up. For me I see no need for this, just bump up the ISO and go... I rarely shoot at night, if I do I can use a normal lens.

Actually a 17-40 L, 50 f/1.4 and any of the 70-200 L zooms is all most people will ever need. For the 70-200 the expensive 2.8 IS is brilliant as it's also a brilliant portrait lens, the f/4 IS is more than adequate and weigh so much less, and is so much more comfy to carry and shoot with I would not go for the 2.8

For a crop camera, is it necessary? I use the 17-55 f/2.8 IS on my crop camera and guess what I figured out? I only use the wide end or the long end, very rarely do I ever use the middle. I think I will buy a FF soon and sell the old crop and 17-55 and I will never buy a midrange zoom again. Get a 17-40 and a 50 plus a tele zoom, and use the 50 for low light photography without flash, and that's it. Actually when I asked some pro photographers they carry a wide zoom a 50 and a tele zoom. So as I read at photo.net it makes no sense to have a standard zoom unless that's your only lens... Well that's me anyway...

Otto Haring , August 24, 2009; 01:23 A.M.

Excellent review!

The 17-40 I mostly use it for real estate photography on a 5D. I also use it for aerial pictures although it is a bit heavy for it.

For interior shots it is great because you need not worry about the F/4.

Image quality is also good. Weight for average use is good as well.

It is good at wide 17, however there is distortion as you can see: www.usafromabove.com

Look for the interior pictures. I have tried to eliminate distortion but I couldn’t 100%

I would recommend it.

Dan Downs , June 06, 2010; 03:00 A.M.

this is a great wide lens. Wish it had more flexibility in certain situations butcomes through for landscape with a nice wide view.

http://www.danieldowns.com

Landrum Kelly , August 29, 2010; 08:50 P.M.

The sweet spot at 17mm is between f/5.6 and f/11.  Don't even think about 17mm at f/4 unless you like soft corners.  It works best with a tripod, although with a good low light camera like the 5D II the ISO can be boosted to allow it to be used hand-held in a variety of situations without much noise at all.  That won't help the dimmer viewfinder problem, however.  If one needs a bright viewfinder, the 16-35 II is obviously superior.

If shot shorter than 20mm expect some barrel distortion.

--Lannie

Tuan Pham , April 20, 2012; 12:32 A.M.

I've just got the 17-40L to replace my 20-35 3.5-4.5usm on my 5D. The price of 17-40 is half of 16-35 2.8 II. The 16-35 is just 1mm wider and 1 stop faster. I really don't need that for such ultra-wide len and focal-length.

I use the len for shooting landscape so f2.8 or f4 is not a matter b/c I always use f11-f16. With the price around $700.0 and its quality, 17-40 is the best choice.


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