Monday, June 15, 2015

Canon 10-22mm EF-S and 16-35mm L IS Compared

The results of this comparison are pretty much fore-ordained, but I was curious as to how obvious the differences were to an amateur and non-critical photography user such as myself.

I've used the 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 EF-S lens for about a year, through a couple of extended holidays, and it's a very satisfying lens on a crop sensor body. The 16mm equivalent focal length is quite striking and gets pretty addictive, and the ring-type USM, full-time manual, focusing window, and well-damped mechanicals are a pleasure to use (not far off from L build quality, to be honest).

However, we got a Canon 6D body (a full three years after its introduction - we've been using an ancient Canon 40D on its second shutter for the past 6+ years) and the 10-22mm won't mount on a full frame body.  After some analysis paralysis, I decided that I wanted to retain the 16mm wide end and so went for the 16-35mm f/4L IS (instead of the somewhat cheaper 24-70mm f/4L IS).

I also have a Canon 550D which I was planning to IR-mod for astrophotography (the elderly 40D has been through so many holidays and memories and has a brand-new shutter, so I didn't want to butcher it). The 550D has almost the same pixel count as the 6D, so I figured it would be interesting to compare the 550D and the 10-22mm, with the 6D and the 16-35mm.

Here's the sample image that I used, which is 1/500 second, f/4, ISO 100, "natural" picture style, straight JPEG from the camera, tripod-mounted.  f/4 is wide-open for the 16-35mm, and stopped down a smidgen for the 10-22mm.  The 10-22mm had lens correction enabled, but the 16-35mm did not (the 6D's firmware didn't have the profile for the 16-35mm loaded).

The full image from the 6D and 16-35mm (it got nudged a bit and is a bit narrower than 16mm here). Note the vignetting in the corners, due to the lack of a lens correction profile.

and from the 550D and 10-22mm at 10mm. Note that there's no vignetting in the corners! the 550D has a less-sophisticated lens correction system than the 6D (only correcting for vignetting, not for CA) but it shows its magic here:

This is the center at 100% with the 6D and 16-35mm:

with the 550D and 10-22mm:

I also used a $150 Tokina 20-35mm f/3.5-4.5 on the 6D. The Tokina is a bit narrower so I scaled down the image by 20% (to "convert" the 20mm to 16mm equivalent) and here is the center:

This is the far left edge with the 6D and 16-35mm:

with the 550D and 10-22mm:

and with the 6D and Tokina 20-35mm:

I then tilted the cameras upward to put the house at the far left edge (in the immediate images above) at the bottom-left corner. Here's the bottom corner with the 6D and 16-35mm:

with the 550D and 10-22mm:

and with the 6D and Tokina 20-35mm:

The results should be self-evident, but some observations:

The Tokina is not bad at all in absolute terms, and is even more amazing considering the low, low price of $150 on eBay. In the sample images above, I would guess that the Tokina might almost be giving the 16-35mm f/4L IS a run for its money. Of course the correct comparison of the Tokina would be against the 10-22mm at 12.5mm and the 16-35mm at 20mm. In that case I suspect the Tokina would fare worst, but this post isn't about the Tokina, I just threw it in since I had it.

I hadn't realized how mediocre the 10-22mm was in the corners until I did this little test. Which only goes to show - I carried the 10-22mm through two countries, had a great deal of fun, and came back with a lot of memorable images. Never once did I wonder if I was getting critically sharp images. Do I feel that those holidays were compromised by the not-so-great 10-22mm lens? not at all. As an engineer, I certainly feel better if I take technically better images, and there are worse vices than accumulating L glass. But absolute image quality has very little to do with the personal satisfaction and memories captured with any set of camera gear.

The 16-35mm is obviously the best, as it should be at over double the price of the 10-22mm and ten times the price of the Tokina 20-35mm. In addition to its high price, the 16-35mm is also heavy, and large, about an inch longer than the 10-22mm.

Of course if you want a moderately-priced ultra-wide zoom on a full-frame Canon body, the 16-35mm f/4L IS is probably the best game in town right now, as it's sharper than the f/2.8 version, is lighter, cheaper, and has IS. In my opinion, if you want a practical ultra-wide zoom for a full frame Canon, this lens is the no-brainer choice. It's even a pretty good deal for an L lens, considering it is Canon's latest and greatest not-so-expensive ultra-wide.