Thompson PRO Studios | REVIEW: Canon 20-35mm F/2.8 L

REVIEW: Canon 20-35mm F/2.8 L

June 29, 2013  •  5 Comments

REVIEW: 20-35mm F/2.8 L

Canon 20-35mm F/2.8 LIMAG0203-1

Wait! Is this right? Am I really doing a lens review? Yup! I am sitting here playing with this little gem, the night before a big wedding shoot mind you, and it hits me, “why don’t I do a lens review? I’ve never reviewed a camera lens before, and decided that this would be the best choice to start out with. Why? Well this particular lens is such an old one that I seriously doubt many will ever get their hands on it, also I can do broad sweeping generalizations without much worry that someone will comment that they bought this lens thinking it was better than the X Y or Z options on the market. This lens is old enough and at a price point that the only option, if you ever run across one, is whether to buy it or not, regardless of what I say.

Wait... Don't you mean the 16-35?

Well, no this lens is so old, that it’s been replaced by canon not only once, but twice in its line. The current iteration is the canon 16-35mm II F/2.8 L, which of course replaced the canon 16-35mm I F/2.8 L. Now I’ve done some research, as should anyone when they find an older lens in the used department of B&H. I had my concerns. I mean, come one! An L Lens, used mind you, for under $500? So I looked around, surprisingly, there isn’t a lot about this lens. What I have found out is that the 20-35mm F/2.8 L was one of the main professional lenses that won the proverbial “WEST” for Canon back in the beginning of the EOS era, this was when Canon decided to scrap their old FD mount design for the EF mount design that we all use today. Now up until I had researched this lens, I had bought into the idea that one of the draw backs that canon users face is that you never know when canon will make your lens obsolete by introducing another mount type. This of course is apparently done for greedy gain and all of your investments are reduced to nothing because no one wants the yesteryear models. This mind set of thinking is spawned from Nikon Users who tout their Nikon lens mounts as “same great design since 1958” I drank the Kool-Aid on this one believing that there was no reason that canon EF mounts were created other than money. After all this doesn’t concern me really, EF has been the standard for Canon since the late 80’s and for now there isn’t any real worry. Well, after doing my research I discovered that even though I was just a fledgling back in 1991, there were still photographers mulling about, and apparently these photographers remember when Canon introduced the EF system. It would appear that at the time Canon took a big risk, the status quo was adamant that new digital advancements such as AF would be a fad appealing only to the consumer level end user. Nikon bought into this line that the true professional would not need AF or other electronic information, and that it would be too costly for such a small potential market. Canon took the risky approach, they foresaw the end of the traditional lens mount, they decided that in order to accommodate the next generation of photographic advancements there would be a need for a lens whose foundation is designed for electronic circuitry, motors and information. The EF mount was created not from the scraps of the old FD mount, but around the circuit at the bottom of the lens mount. Now Nikon has caught up with canon and was able to keep the old mount design, but at the time Nikon and canon were playing in two completely different leagues. Canon was able to freely design it’s lenses with its new mount whose architecture was created to allow for such advancements, while Nikon was stuck literally years behind trying to solve fundamental physics dilemmas that in the end they could not overcome. We don’t see this today, because after about a decade Nikon finally figured it out and of course makes some of the best lenses in the world, but ask anyone, if they’d put a 20 year old Nikon lens on a digital camera today, and the answer would be no.

Canon 20-35mm F/2.8 LIMAG0204-1 - Copy This leads me to my worry, are the canon L series lenses from yesteryear as good today as they were back in the 90’s? every review I read, about a dozen or so, said roughly the same thing, Comparable to today’s models in every way except for a few minor draw backs

  1. Af Noise
  2. Not quite the same focal range
  3. Not full time manual
  4. Noticeable vignetting wide open
  5. Rare, unacceptable flaring wide open

Aside from these draw backs I found the most common appealing aspect for this lens was

  1. All metal Build construction, or (they don’t make ‘em like this anymore)
  2. Faster AF system, (not silent, but still deadly)
  3. No vignetting issues on a crop body
  4. Flairs and ghost, though more noticeable, are more rare than newer models
  5. Noticeably sharper more often than not
  6. Cheap!!!!!!!

Of course there were more but from what I found, this seemed to be the consensus, so I took the plunge, what the heck, $445 for an 8- on B&H? Why not? I paid a little extra for second days shipping to get it in my hands before our wedding shoot this Saturday. The lens came home and I happily, but cautiously opened the box, disappointed that the original carrying case, lens hood, and lens caps were all MIA, B&H did however supply the basics, Sigma rear cap, and a generic 72mm front cap. As for the hood? Well the original EW-75 lens hood can still be found for about $50 so maybe one day. I began looking over the body, 8- is a quality that at least on B&H appears to be substandard, noticeable wear, dings, mechanical issues maybe, but after some closer inspection, I deemed this lens to be in great shape, sure there is some wear on the body of the lens, some paint is worn away, but the black finish is still in perfect shape, and I’d say 85% or more of the original lettering is perfectly preserved, there isn’t one ding on the barrel, the zoom ring and focusing ring are still snugly adhered to the barrel, with reasonable wear. The rubber has long since lost its tacky squishy quality, but is still rubbery enough to suffice, I may have some difficulty getting a sure grip on the zoom ring with the lens covered in oil, but I know this lens will never be an issue under normal circumstances, and considering the age, it’s in better shape than any lens I could produce. The good news is that it was probably well used by a photographer in the 90’s then sat in a camera bag for the last 10 years before being “re-discovered” and sold to B&H for some quick cash. So, my elation quickly turned to horror because if there wasn’t anything wrong with the outside, and B&H gave this lens such a poor rating, then there must be some awful internal problem, mold, mechanical problems, uncleaned inner glass, all of which I would have a hell of a time finding someone to repair this, Canon stopped offering support for this lens nearly 15 years ago, So, I’m SOL if there is anything wrong with it. I opened the rear cap looked sensed, nothing seemed amiss here, I removed the front lens cap, and peered inside, contrary to my expectation of broken inner lenses, or strange discolored stains, I saw nothing visually wrong with the lens. A quick temporary relief settled in. I mounted this ancient hallmark of Canon’s line up onto my 5D MKII and took a few test shots, the AF is noisy, especially since I have been shooting nothing but usm AF systems for the past few years. Now, I’ve shot with an old non L Macro that I bought from EBay, this was an old decommissioned Navy lens and wasn’t anything special. It had an older AF drive that was really noisy, this ARC drive AF does make noise but it isn’t noticeable in a crowded room or wile on a shoot, really I wouldn’t use it for video but it will work great in practical terms. I snapped a few pictures, the AF is responsive, and teams well with the tracking AF drive that Canon utilizes, this was nice, though I know I don’t shoot my portrait sessions in anything but fixed AF modes, but it’s nice to know that this lens is still fully compatible with today’s technology.

Turning the Zoom ring I have noticed that there isn’t any issues, the entire range, 20-35mm is perfectly smooth, I truly expected there to be some rusty spots, or a certain stiffness from lack of recent usage, but nope, everything has been greased and works the way it should, maybe the previous owner did a quick maintenance before giving it over to B&H? Either way the zoom ring is flawless. The focus ring works well as well, not quite as smooth, but I know that I won’t be manually focusing with this lens. It’s not stiff, but it is what I expected the focusing ring to feel like after 20+ years of service. Not being full time manual is actually a nice thing for me; I don’t have to worry about accidentally changing the focus while setting up for an HDR because I turned the focus ring and not the zoom ring. But other might find it a bit annoying to switch from one mode to the other just to test the focusing track, I know I do.

I haven’t seen the apparent vignetting issues wide open, I don’t know if I just lack the “eye” or if they aren’t as pronounced in the real world as I was led to believe by other reviewers. After this weekend I will know, I plan to use this lens in all situations, outdoors with little shade, in the shade, indoors, HDRs, everything. Also I won’t be actively trying to get sun flares, but I will be shooting into the sun some and am very curious how notable and common these can be.

O, I was comfortable with this lens; I knew that short of an unseen web of mold soe where in the barrel, I had won the lottery in camera gear. I took my new pride to our local camera shop to have it get a “final inspection” The guy behind the counter, whom I personally know has years of experience with lenses, and knows what and how to look for finer lens problems. He took my camera lens into the back room for about 5 minutes to “look at it under the ‘big light’” He came back and said that there weren’t any mold problems, that nothing seemed amiss with my uncovered treasure EXCEPT there was some dust on the front and rear element that could use a BRAND NEW micro fiber cloth, which I happily bought for his services.

So, now here I sit, yet again, the night before another wedding shoot, prepping, I plan to use this lens tomorrow to better explore wide angle dramatic photography, our travel itenary is pretty extensive, I'm glad TPS has several photographers to pull from, sure other photographers in the area can always hire a second, but we shoot together day in and day out, I know where J Valline will be and I know when and how to use our respective assistants, I've spent the last week devising our "game plan" Just for one night I plan to give you a taste into what quality prepping goes into a real wedding shoot.

J Valline-

  • 70-200 VR
  • 105mm Macro
  • 85 1.4
  • D600 Body
  • SB900 with extended battery pack
  • Reflector

J Valline will be in Etna with the groom and groomsmen, he will be documenting their getting ready, doing some formal and candid shoots, using his macro to get details, cufflinks, ties, flowers, and using the 85 to get the portraits, with his ability to go off camera with his flash as well has his creative documentary style being with the guys is the best use of his talents and skills, J Valline will ride with the grooms men up to the wedding site where he will use his 70-200 to capture the ceremony, and the 105 to help with portraits after the wedding

N Thompson

  • 70-200 IS
  • 85 1.4
  • 24-70 2.8
  • 20-35 2.8
  • 5D MKII
  • 430EXII with large 8x12 soft box modifier
  • 36 in diffusor

I will be with the girls, literally, all the girls, while J Valine will with the guys, I'm in Carmichael at the reception hall, with the ladies as they get ready, time is tighter due to travel distance, but I've got the dream team of seconds with me to help out, Amy will be with the bride and brides maids while they get themselves ready, joining Amy is Chrystal, Chrystal brings her own unique flare that she has picked up from J Valline, she captures the moments in a truly documentarian style but with enough creativity to give the images life. Amy's natural artistic eye, developed over years as a talented oil painter, allows her to nab still life and every detail in a true artisan style. Chrystal will be dealing with the moment while Amy deals with the details, together this power packed duo will compliment perfectly what J Valline and myself are trying to do.


  • 30 1.4
  • 50 1.4
  • 100 macro IS
  • T1i No Flash


  • 50 1.4 G
  • 24-70 2.8
  • D80
  • SB600 with bounce card modifier

While the girls are working on their shoot I will be in the reception hall getting images that set the mood, capturing the scene, the details of the reception, as I can, I know that the girls will be out soon so macro detail will be left to Amy, Chrystal will document the scene, so I'm free to be creative, and set up my plan for the evening's events.

Once the girls have returned, It's my turn to take over, I will be doing a bridal shoot, very classic, nothing over the top, but one that will set the stage for our late afternoon events. after the shoot the brides maids and one of the girls will travel up the mountain to the ceremony, Myself and the other girl will also travel to the ceremony, Amy will be shooting wide angles, switching between the 30mm and 50mm. J Valline will be shooting 70-220 as will myself and Chrystal will be 24-70

After the ceremony JValline and myself will be directing group images followed by the private couple's shoot. On the way down the hill back ot the reception the girls will be dropped off to get reception images, while J Valline and myself take the bride and groom to a second location for a signature shot, after the signature shot is finished, We all head back to the reception where individual styles will capture the rest of the evening events.

-Now, of course, all of this is liable to change depending on the unforeseen, but, most of this will probably be as I've laid out, this comes from hours of scouting the locations, talking to the clients, and fully understanding our teams strengths and weaknesses. I know for a fact that the average Redding wedding photographer won't have put nearly this much thought into a wedding, but TPS does this, each event is special, each unique and deserving of special treatment, ask any of our past clients, several have posted unsolicited reviews on WeddingWire, you can check out what they think on our recent reviews page. in a few days I will post some images of this wedding to better give the style and turn out of our new lens, I will give a follow up review for that lens as well.




Robert Smith(non-registered)
Pretty cool camera lens.
American Air Heating CO(non-registered)
Nice camera....
Sazzad Khan(non-registered)
What a magnificent post you have shared here. Superb article. Thanks a lot for sharing.
Jeffrey A. Melancon(non-registered)
Really it's amazing post you have shared here man . Like your post .
Ashley Pomeroy(non-registered)
Believe it or not it was actually replaced three times - there was a 17-35mm f/2.8 as well.
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