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Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens Review by The Digital Picture

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Because it is a very high quality but moderately-priced ultra wide angle zoom lens, the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens is one of Canon’s best selling lenses. The 17-40 f/4 L fills out the bottom focal length range of Canon’s f/4 L zoom lens series. It is the lightest L lens currently made (1.1 lbs / 475g) and is the smallest L zoom lens currently produced (3.3″ x 3.8″ / 83.5mm x 96.8mm – DxL).

As indicated by the “ultra wide angle” designation, the 17-40mm focal length is ultra wide on a full-frame DSLR. Let’s take a look at a focal length comparison.I know, the 30mm focal length is a somewhat unusual choice for this comparison, but … I didn’t plan to use this set of images this way – I was just shooting the scene. Obviously, 17mm is vastly wider than 40mm.

Utilizing Ring USM, the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens focuses very fast, quietly and accurately. The focus and zoom rings are nicely sized, turn smoothly and are nicely damped. This lens does not extend with a very small exception – the objective end lens elements move in/out slightly inside the lens barrel during focusing. The movement is 100% behind the filter threads. If you have a filter installed, you will have no external movement. Since the filter attaches to the fixed lens barrel – the filter also does not rotate. Circular Polarizer Filter and split/graduated neutral density filter users will care about this. The common 77mm filter threads make sharing filters with many of Canon’s complementing lenses easy. The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens is weather-sealed but requires a UV Filter to complete the sealing.

Wide open center of the frame sharpness ranges from great on the wide end to good on the long end. Wide open corner sharpness is also relatively good, but as usual, the corners are not as sharp as the center. Stopping the 17-40 L down to f/5.6 brings along a nice improvement in sharpness. Common landscape apertures f/8 through f/11 look very good.

The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens resists flare very well. Colors and contrast are very good. CA (Chromatic Aberration) is very well controlled, though some can be expected in the corners below 24mm. Distortion ranges from moderately strong barrel distortion at 17mm to mild pincushion at 40mm with 24mm being the approximate point of minimal distortion. As usual, closer distances resulted in stronger distortion and significantly less distortion will be noticeable on 1.6x FOVCF bodies. You will likely notice the barrel distortion in the full-frame 17mm ISO 12233 resolution chart sample crops.

A 7-blade circular aperture delivers excellent OOF (Out of Focus) blur quality. But, unless you have a close subject and a wide aperture, do not expect a diffusely blurred background with this ultra-wide angle focal length range and moderate maximum aperture opening.

Vignetting will be a non-issue when the 17-40 L is mounted on 1.6x FOVCF bodies. Full frame body users will see vignetting ranging from very strong at 17mm f/4 to not bad at 40mm f/4 and 17mm f/8 (improvements gained with focal length increase and aperture opening reduction). A standard thickness UV filter shows little or no additional vignetting regardless of the camera body being used. However, you will likely want a slim circular polarizing filter.

Although not as fast as the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L lens, the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens is a comparable lens in terms of image quality. The biggest difference between the 17-40 and the similar-focal-length-covering 16-35 L is price. The 17-40 is much less expensive – practically half the price. But of course, the 16-35 is able to let in twice as much light. See the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens Review for a comparison to the newer 16-35 L Lens version.

Canon Zoom Lens Size Comparison

The above size comparison photo includes from left to right the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM Lens, Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens, Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens. The same lenses are show fully extended below.

Canon Zoom Lens Size Comparison- – All Lens Shown Fully Extended

Model MFD MM
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens 9.4″ (240) .17x
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM Lens 11.0″ (280) .22x
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens 11.0″ (280) .22x
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens 11.0″ (280) .25x
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens 13.8″ (350) .16xx
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens 11.8″ (300) .20x
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens 9.8″ (250) .34x
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens 15.0″ (380) .29x
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens 17.7″ (450) .23x
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens 10.6″ (270)

At its closest-focusing-distance of 11″ (280mm), the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens delivers a very respectable maximum magnification of .25x at 40mm. Zooming out to 17mm at this distance will yield a dramatic perspective. Adding extension tubes to the equation shortens the closest focusing distance and delivers significant (macro-realm) .83x and 1.02x maximum magnifications for 12mm and 25mm tubes respectively.

As you expect from an “L” lens, the 17-40’s build quality is very high. Focus and zoom rings are nicely sized, nicely positioned and turn smoothly. The size and shape make it a great-handling lens. And being the lightest-at-this-time L lens, the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens does not carry a weight penalty for this quality.

Model Weight Dimensions w/o Hood Filter Year
Canon EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM Lens 13.6 oz (385g) 3.3 x 3.5″ (84 x 90mm) 77mm 2004
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM Lens 21.2 oz (600g) 3.3 x 4.1″ (84 x 103mm) 77mm 2001
Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens 22.6 oz (640g) 3.5 x 4.4″ (88.5 x 111.6mm) 82mm 2007
Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens 16.8 oz (475g) 3.3 x 3.8″ (84 x 97mm) 77mm 2003
Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM Lens 22.8 oz (645g) 3.3 x 4.4″ (83.5 x 110.6mm) 77mm 2006
Canon EF-S 17-85mm f/4-5.6 IS USM Lens 16.8 oz (475g) 3.1 x 3.6″ (79 x 92mm) 67mm 2004
Canon EF-S 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens 7.1 oz (200g) 2.7 x 2.8″ (68.5 x 70mm) 58mm 2007
Canon EF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS Lens 21 oz (595g) 3.1 x 4.4″ (78.6 x 111.82mm) 72mm 2008
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens 33.5 oz (950g) 3.3 x 4.9″ (83 x 124mm) 77mm 2002
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens 23.7 oz (670g) 3.3 x 4.2″ (83.5 x 107mm) 77mm 2005
Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8 XR Di II Lens 15.3 oz (434g) 3.2 x 2.9″ (81.7 x 74mm) mm 2006

This is an easy-to-take-with-you lens.

The Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens ships with a Canon EW-83E lens hood and a Canon LP1319 soft lens pouch. The shape of the hood (very wide and very short) makes one question whether it actually helps. It does almost nothing for lens protection – and nearly nothing for image quality when used on a 1.6x FOVCF body. It also makes storage inefficient. With the hood removed, the 17-40 easily fits in a relatively small Lowepro Lens Case 1W. To accommodate the diameter of the hood installed, the 17-40 requires a relatively large Lowepro Lens Case 4S.

Since 1.6x camera bodies do not need all of the image this lens presents, a more-light-reducing lens hood can be used. Friends of the site have reported that the Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L Lens’ EW-83DII lens hood and the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS Lens’ EW-83H work well as alternatives for these bodies. I tested the EW-83J from the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS Lens and it seems to work fine on the 17-40. It fits and does not cause vignetting at 17mm and f/4. It looks a lot better as well.

Canon Wide Angle L Series Zoom Lenses

Shown above are the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4 L USM Lens, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L USM Lens, Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM Lens and Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM Lens. The same lenses minus the 24-70 L are shown below with their included lens hoods.

Be sure to read my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM lens reviewto determine which of these Canon Ultra Wide Angle lenses is right for you. In brief – If you are going to shoot primarily with narrow apertures or your budget is restricted, the decision is easy – get the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens. If you need to shoot in low light conditions such as indoors without a flash or tripod, then the 16-35 L II is a better choice (you need at least f/2.8 – or image stabilization for motionless subjects). If you do not need full-frame compatibility, rugged build quality or environmental sealing, the newer Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM is another great solution.

I frequently recommend the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens as a general purpose lens for those with a 1.6x FOVCF (field of view crop factor) camera that want the best image quality for a reasonable price. The focal length range of this lens is not dramatic, but on a 1.6x body, the full-frame equivalent 27.2-64mm lens can handle many general purpose needs. Good full-frame compatibility and performance make the 17-40 L an especially good lens for those thinking of upgrading to such a body in the future. The 17-40 L makes a great second or third lens in a full frame kit.

Wide landscape photography is a very popular use for this lens Use wide angles to emphasize an object in the foreground against an attractive (and mostly in-focus) background. Or use it to simply take in a very wide field of view. Shoot your garden landscape, the lake, large mountains …

Architecture and real estate photography often have large subjects that require wide angle lenses. These are more good uses for the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens. You may need to remove the barrel distortion from 17mm shots during post-processing if straight lines are present near the edges of the frame.

Other situations that require you to work in a tight space may be right for the 17-40 L.

Although the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens can be a good people lens, it is not a good short-distance people lens. A head shot from this lens will emphasize the subject’s nose more than the subject will want. The 17-40mm focal length range is great for group pictures, environmental portraits and full body pictures. Stand back and make a person part of a wide landscape shot. If tighter portraits are your interest, look for a lens that gives you at least an 85mm – 135mm equivalent focal length. The captures of your important subject will be more pleasing.

Of course, that close-up wide angle portrait look is fun to use sometimes. Just don’t overdo it.

As with any other general purpose/ultra wide angle lens, this lens has far more uses than I am going to think of. But if you want a great wide angle lens for an attractive price, the Canon EF 17-40mm f/4.0 L USM Lens is a very good choice.

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Written by Dimas A. Nugroho

December 2, 2009 at 10:24 am

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