Canon 17-40 f4L Review. Cheap Lens, Great Results

In a world filled with hype on sharpness, clarity, and ultra wide angle lenses, Canon brings the next big hitter in their great lens line up. The Canon 17-40 f4L.

Just kidding…

Actually this lens came out in 2003 and is far from new. In fact this lens is probably due for a huge overhaul, but with no word from Canon saying that this lens will be switched up, I think it will be here for a while. But this lens is a great hitter for a great price. In fact this is a Money Ball type scenario where Brad Pitt only has so much money to work with so he finds hitters that can get on base. Frankly this lens is that guy with the bum elbow that they keep showing in the movie. He might not be the greatest, but dang it! He performs well in a variety of situations.

This lens has been down slot canyons, box canyons, rivers, dropped on the ground, had lens filters pried off the front of it, rained on, snowed on, frozen, dropped out a backpack, backpacked for multiple days and have gone through two photographers and it still worked until if fell off a cliff. In fact it still worked… sort of. So you can't tell me this isn't a capable lens.

So why am I reviewing this lens? One-  Improve Photography does not have a direct review of this lens that I know of. Two- most people who give reviews of lenses rarely give real world reviews and mostly give the specs and some test images.

Since I am not a lens god nor do I have the money or time to spec check everything this will be a review for the every man or woman. I of course will list some specs but that is not the most important thing to me.

Specs

Lets just say its an L series lens. That means it has a few bells and whistles that make it shine. So here are the important ones

  • 17-40mm zoom range- ultra wide for you landscape photographers, but versatile enough for other users as well.
  • f4 throughout focal range- Useful when taking images in lower light situations
  • Filter Diamiter 77mm- Big but not gigantic.
  • 7 Diaphragm blades- Great Sun stars.
  • 1.1 lbs- Dude this lens is light for a full frame L series glass. Great for backpacking. I miss it a lot now that I have my new Tamron lens.
  • DxO review- Overall it scores a 26. That is on par with the 16-35 2.8 (DxO score= 26). That is a smoking good deal since you can buy it used on amazon for $430 dollars.

Price

OK, price is a big one for photographers. Since we already are dropping so much on the camera bodies and lighting and outdoor gear for landscape photographers, the last thing we need is another expensive lens. When the new Canon 16-35 was announced at $2200 my soul died a bit. I know I will never be rich enough to buy that lens. Maybe if I sold all my prints right now and never replenished them I could do that. Since I have not had any willing buyers to do that, I guess I will just have to sit and wait.

Currently the running rate for this lens on Canon store is $749 dollars. If you go to amazon you can purchase a used one for as low as $430 dollars. An L series lens for less than $500 is an amazing deal. You can't buy much in the way of lenses for that price.

Build

This is a tough lens. Last year I had the lens in my backpack and it fell out onto the vinyl floor. The front filter shattered and jammed onto the lens. I had to then get a pair of pliers, break up the filter off the front of the lens. This took a while and I could here glass back in the gears of the lens. The lens kept on working for another year. It also still held filters.

The lens is a composite of plastic, aluminum, and glass. The body is composed of aluminum and there are a few plastic pieces on it, but overall it feels really good. From my understanding it is weather sealed but not nearly as rugged as the 16-35 series. So far the lens has operated great in rain. I try to keep it covered in some fashion, but it does just fine. Dust can be an enemy though. I think I have some dust internally within the lens, but living in the southwest means everything I own has dust in it. If you are in a dust free area, I doubt you will run into much of this issue.

Sharpness

I can't say this lens is as good as an x-acto knife. In fact its more like a good steak knife or pocket knife. It will beat the cheap kit lens out but when compared to Canon's other sharper lenses it is good, but not great. It is sharpest at its widest focal length and average fully zoomed in. When you throw in a bit of softening of the image at the higher f-stop numbers try to stick to the lower focal ranges. I find f16 is a good medium, but if I can I shoot for f11 I would do so.

In my real world testing I have run into the situation that I wish the lens was sharper. DxO gives it on par with the 16-35mm f2.8 MK ii in general but I found it to not be as sharp as that. I have noticed when I have been really close to subjects I have been a bit disappointing with lack of extreme sharpness like I would expect. There seems to be a good distance away from the camera where all things balance out which is around 10 to 15 feet. At that distance, the blur to sharpness ratio matches the eye and overall quality becomes acceptable.

The Flowers in this image are not as sharp as I would have liked them to be due to the lens imperfections.

Versatility/Use

With a focal range of 17-40 this provides many of the most important focal ranges that photographers are looking for. At 17mm (one shy of 16) you will get a massive field of view. With 20mm, 24mm, and 35mm also within this lens you will get some of the most important focal ranges that photographers shoot for.

Let's be real here. This is a landscape/architectural lens. There are distortions around the edges of the lens with some vignetting at most focal lengths. It can be used for portrait work, but is not fast enough and does not provide a nice bouquet. If you are a beginner real-estate photographer this is a fantastic lens for your work. It will provide the desired focal lengths that professionals want and it will provide the quality to get your work noticed.

One thing that I like reading about when I buy a landscape lens is the sun star. I can guarantee you that it will make a difference when you are gong for a certain look. This lens gives a really nice sun star, but frankly not my favorite. The light beams break apart as they leave the star and give a nice light beam appearance. If you do it right, it looks like they are directly painting the ground. I like that aspect about the lens.

Not as awesome as the 16-35 but does create a nice beam affect

Astro Side Note: This can be used as an astro lens, but it is not my favorite for that purpose. F4 is not quite good enough for the job, but you can still play around with night photography. One problem it has is comma around the edges real bad and some heavy chromatic aberration on those stars.

Conclusion

College kids, amateurs, and cheap people I bring tidings of great joy! This is your lens. It will carry you all the way until you are ready to jump into a more professional role. At a price point as low as $400 with results of a $1200 dollar lens this will be everything you need it to be. It provides good sharpness and will be light years of quality above your kit lens. Since this lens can take a beating for years and years your return on investment will be far in your favor.

 

Sad End To My Lens

Since I mentioned it I should tell you why I switched lenses. I was out photographing a mesa near my home one sunset and I decided to go talk to my wife in the car and wait for the light to get good. I left my camera unattended near a 10 f00t drop to a rocky river bed and you can guess what happened next. A gust of wind pushed my tripod off the cliff and the camera landed face first into the stones below. The polarizer on the front was shattered (second one by the way) and that was the end of my lens. I picked up the camera and looked at it and first thought I had gotten away ok, until I noticed the crack that ran around my lens. I literally could bend (yes bend) my lens and almost look into it. Now it sits, sad and unused.

 

2 thoughts on “Canon 17-40 f4L Review. Cheap Lens, Great Results”

  1. Thanks Nathan, Great review for a utilitarian like me. Questions: What camera did you use with this lens, Will it perform well with APSC, what Tamron lens did you replace it with? Love the photos you included!
    Bob

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