17mmtest-836.jpg

Photo by Scott Bourne

(Canon 17-40, F/5.6 zoom extended to 37mm on a Canon 1DS MKIII)

I know this lens has been around for a while – but it’s new to me, so I decided to review it.

For a long time I had this focal range covered by a very nice Tamron lens that I used reliably. I never had any need to switch to Canon just because there’s some negative stigma attached to using third-party lenses.

But after years of very hard use, and yes some accidental abuse (this lens was used by my students during dozens of field workshops) it bit the dust.

I looked at the 16-35, but I already have access to a 14mm Rectilinear-corrected lens. That being so close to the 16, I decided to save the weight and the money and get the 17. I realize that the 16-35mm lens is probably a better choice for my 1DS MKIII, but it works well enough on the full-frame camera and superbly on the 40D body.

By the way I mention weight because it is important. As I grow older, every ounce in my camera bag is my enemy. At 1.1 lbs, this is Canon’s lightest and smallest “L” zoom lens.

I won’t go into a bunch of mind-numbing statistics about the lens. You can get those on tons of different blogs and Websites. Instead, I’ll just hit the highlights and give you my impression of the lens.

You should know I don’t have any fancy test equipment and I don’t need any. I’ve been making images from cameras for more than 35 years. My eyes are the best test bench I have.

First the basics. The lens is quiet and as you’d expect, focuses quickly and smoothly. It’s effective focal length (EFL) on a Canon 10, 20, 30, 40D, etc. is 27-64mm. Of course it is what it is on my 1DS MKIII since there is no crop factor.
My mounted 77mm B+W circular polarizing filter didn’t rotate when affixed to the 17-40. A real plus, in my opinion.

At F/4, this lens is one full stop slower than the 16-35mm “L” from Canon, but it’s also half the price.

It’s sharper at the short range than the long range and at f/5.6, it’s really sharp everywhere.

There is great lens flare protection and contrast is very good. As you might expect, there’s some mild distortion at 17mm but at about 22mm I didn’t notice it.

There is no vignetting on my 40D, but I get mild vignetting on the full-frame sensor body. The vignetting is virtually gone at f/5.6 on the 1DS.

It has a very good minimum focusing distance of 11 inches throughout the zoom range, and this lens feels solid. It’s fun to use and for around $700, is a steal when compared with other lenses in the price range.

Join the conversation! 21 Comments

  1. My first L lens is a 17-40 and love this lens. I have used it a lot and does great for me on my 40D. I also have a 135L 2.0 to use for portraits but the 17-40 works just fine.

  2. My first L lens is a 17-40 and love this lens. I have used it a lot and does great for me on my 40D. I also have a 135L 2.0 to use for portraits but the 17-40 works just fine.

  3. I absolutely agree, the 17-40mm f/4 L was my very first lens (I got the rebel XT and skipped the kit lens – going straight for this). I had absolutely NO basis for comparison, new to photography and SLR’s this is just what I shot with for my first few months.

    Shots were sharp even when I didn’t know what that meant. It was wide enough on the crop lens, and as I upgraded to a 1D MKII (bought used) on a 1.3 crop sensor it really shone at wide – though I did have to compensate for the loss at the far end with other delicious lenses :-P

    This lens is a great buy for the novice or the pro – I took it with me to Iceland (Silica dust – nothing is worse for your camera), and countless trips into the urban jungle; and it’s even a little weather sealed (though the xt wasn’t RIP). It may be a stop slower at f/4, but I’ve used it successfully at indoor events taking group shots at ISO 800 without any problems (or complaints) at all.

  4. By your former Tamron lens are you referring to the 28-75mm f/2.8? I love this Tamron lens! It is super sharp. Have you noticed any differences between the 17-40mm L besides the different focal range ofcourse?

  5. By your former Tamron lens are you referring to the 28-75mm f/2.8? I love this Tamron lens! It is super sharp. Have you noticed any differences between the 17-40mm L besides the different focal range ofcourse?

  6. Definitely one of the gems in the Canon L universe — in fact the F/4 trinity, the 17-40, the 24-70 (alternatively 24-105) and the 70-200 are all affordable and perform at a very high level as well as covering a range that 90% of photographers will be happy with.

  7. Definitely one of the gems in the Canon L universe — in fact the F/4 trinity, the 17-40, the 24-70 (alternatively 24-105) and the 70-200 are all affordable and perform at a very high level as well as covering a range that 90% of photographers will be happy with.

  8. I just got unlucky, I guess….
    When I was in the market to move up from the Kit lens, I rented a 17-40 from Vistek in Toronto…
    A bad experience unfortunately….the sharpness and contrast of the lens was beyond abysmal. It made my kit lens look stellar by comparison. I did lots of side by side shots, but there was no denying this particular 17-40 lens was a total dud. Ah well, such can be expected from rental gear…
    It did make me wonder if it wasn’t a case of “L” hype…the Nikkor glass on my old FM2 laid waste to the Canon glass I had on my A1…and particularly what I found on other forums indicated somewhat of a split opinion on “L”…some said it was brilliant, others yawned.
    In the end, I went with a Sigma 18-50 2.8 macro and have been quite satisfied with the images it produces. It’s a little heavy and the focal length at 2.8 is about 1 billionth of a millimeter, but the build quality is fantastic and the sharpness, color accuracy and contrast are great.
    When I’m in the market again for lenses, I’ll still checkout “L” lenses in the range, but in my case I no longer reflex in assuming “L” superiority…

  9. I just got unlucky, I guess….
    When I was in the market to move up from the Kit lens, I rented a 17-40 from Vistek in Toronto…
    A bad experience unfortunately….the sharpness and contrast of the lens was beyond abysmal. It made my kit lens look stellar by comparison. I did lots of side by side shots, but there was no denying this particular 17-40 lens was a total dud. Ah well, such can be expected from rental gear…
    It did make me wonder if it wasn’t a case of “L” hype…the Nikkor glass on my old FM2 laid waste to the Canon glass I had on my A1…and particularly what I found on other forums indicated somewhat of a split opinion on “L”…some said it was brilliant, others yawned.
    In the end, I went with a Sigma 18-50 2.8 macro and have been quite satisfied with the images it produces. It’s a little heavy and the focal length at 2.8 is about 1 billionth of a millimeter, but the build quality is fantastic and the sharpness, color accuracy and contrast are great.
    When I’m in the market again for lenses, I’ll still checkout “L” lenses in the range, but in my case I no longer reflex in assuming “L” superiority…

  10. @Barrie I hear stories like this from time-to-time, but in some of the cases I’ve personally checked, the error was the operator’s not the lens. I have no doubt that there are occasionally bad apples. But I’ve purchased 26 Canon lenses and never had a bad experience. Their quality control is very good. I’m glad you found a piece of glass you like.

  11. @Barrie I hear stories like this from time-to-time, but in some of the cases I’ve personally checked, the error was the operator’s not the lens. I have no doubt that there are occasionally bad apples. But I’ve purchased 26 Canon lenses and never had a bad experience. Their quality control is very good. I’m glad you found a piece of glass you like.

  12. Yup – the 17-40L was my first introduction to Canon’s quality lenses. I find it incredibly sharp and the focusing speed is excellent.

    In some ways I regret not getting the 16-35L because I really miss the f/2.8 (I had this on a Sigma lens before I bought the 17-40L) – but I couldn’t justify the price. (Although I saw a seller selling them new on ebay for $800 the other day (£400 in the UK) to my dismay!)

  13. Yup – the 17-40L was my first introduction to Canon’s quality lenses. I find it incredibly sharp and the focusing speed is excellent.

    In some ways I regret not getting the 16-35L because I really miss the f/2.8 (I had this on a Sigma lens before I bought the 17-40L) – but I couldn’t justify the price. (Although I saw a seller selling them new on ebay for $800 the other day (£400 in the UK) to my dismay!)

  14. I bought this lens recently and found it is an excellent lens for my 350D. I was looking at the 24-70L lens (I had the 28-70L before) but decided that 24mm is just not wide enough on my old 350D. The 16-35mkII was just out at that time and like many of you said, it is a bit pricy. The biggest ‘turn-off’ of this lens the 82mm filter. So, 17-40 is the obvious choice and I do not regret getting it at all. And even if I am going to upgrade to the future FF Canon DSLRs, I am sure I will still be a happy man with it.

  15. I bought this lens recently and found it is an excellent lens for my 350D. I was looking at the 24-70L lens (I had the 28-70L before) but decided that 24mm is just not wide enough on my old 350D. The 16-35mkII was just out at that time and like many of you said, it is a bit pricy. The biggest ‘turn-off’ of this lens the 82mm filter. So, 17-40 is the obvious choice and I do not regret getting it at all. And even if I am going to upgrade to the future FF Canon DSLRs, I am sure I will still be a happy man with it.

  16. @Scott.
    Thanks.
    (Messing with my brother’s “Bigma” also conspired to steer me towards the Sigma.) ;-)

    And you’re quite right…pilot error often plays a big factor.
    Although I’m pretty certain I didn’t goof when doing my lens swap tests, I’d wager in it’s rental history, the lens often had ‘custom recalibrations’ imposed on the USM by people cranking MF in AF mode…
    I do recall the 17-40 being a very solid bit of kit…and seeing crisp pics (like yours) is another reason why I keep “L” glass on the list.

  17. @Scott.
    Thanks.
    (Messing with my brother’s “Bigma” also conspired to steer me towards the Sigma.) ;-)

    And you’re quite right…pilot error often plays a big factor.
    Although I’m pretty certain I didn’t goof when doing my lens swap tests, I’d wager in it’s rental history, the lens often had ‘custom recalibrations’ imposed on the USM by people cranking MF in AF mode…
    I do recall the 17-40 being a very solid bit of kit…and seeing crisp pics (like yours) is another reason why I keep “L” glass on the list.

  18. As Colin said the drawback on a 16-35mm is the filter size. The 70-200 F2.8 IS, the 300mm F4 IS all share the same 77mm filter size.

    This makes them all attractive as camera bag cousins. Filters are cheap (compared to lenses) but we all have a finite budget, business or recreational photographer.

  19. As Colin said the drawback on a 16-35mm is the filter size. The 70-200 F2.8 IS, the 300mm F4 IS all share the same 77mm filter size.

    This makes them all attractive as camera bag cousins. Filters are cheap (compared to lenses) but we all have a finite budget, business or recreational photographer.

  20. All, I’m curious what your experience or others’ might be with the Canon 17-55mm IS f/2.8 v. this one? I’ve heard that they are comparable in terms of sharpness despite the L designation of the lens you reviewed. I’m looking to add a lens in this focal range and the ability to open up wide is important to me since I shoot often indoors with natural light. (Obviously, the IS is nice but the fact that the 17-55 will be confined to a 1.6 body is a little limiting when I look to the future). I’ve also considered the 24-70 L f/2.8 (pricey!) but again, with a 1.6 body, that’s really a 30ish mm lens–which seems to limit the wide angle versatility.

  21. All, I’m curious what your experience or others’ might be with the Canon 17-55mm IS f/2.8 v. this one? I’ve heard that they are comparable in terms of sharpness despite the L designation of the lens you reviewed. I’m looking to add a lens in this focal range and the ability to open up wide is important to me since I shoot often indoors with natural light. (Obviously, the IS is nice but the fact that the 17-55 will be confined to a 1.6 body is a little limiting when I look to the future). I’ve also considered the 24-70 L f/2.8 (pricey!) but again, with a 1.6 body, that’s really a 30ish mm lens–which seems to limit the wide angle versatility.

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