Canon 17-40 f4 L USM

The magnificent, wonderful, under-rated Canon 17-40/4 L

The Canon 17-40/4 L is a light, fast (constant f4) wide-angle zoom. It produces simply wonderful images (of course, the gear behind the viewfinder is somewhat important to this, as well!) for a very reasonable cost. The red ring and “L” label designate this lens as “luxury” – one of Canon’s top pro-line lenses.

Canon has two basic lines of professional zoom lenses, delineated primarily by maximum aperture. One is the f2.8 line, the other is the f4.0 line. There are some exceptions, like the infamous [amazon_link id=”B00132CJR6″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]200 f2.0 L IS[/amazon_link], but these augment, rather than replace the other lenses. The f4 lineup starts right here with the 17-40/4, adds the [amazon_link id=”B000AZ57M6″ target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]24-105/4 IS[/amazon_link] (my absolute favorite carry lens) which includes IS or image stabilization,  plus the wonderful, incredibly sharp 70-200/4 – which is offered in two flavors, with or without IS. Last, we might include another not-quite f4 and the only variable aperture lens I would ever marry,[amazon_link id=”B00007GQLS” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ] the 100-400/3.5-5.6 L IS[/amazon_link]. One of the finest long zooms you can hope to own. And yes, I love the push-pull.

There is also the f2.8 lineup, beginning with the 16-35/4 L IS, moving up to the[amazon_link id=”B00009R6WT” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ] 24-70/2.8 L[/amazon_link] (the Brick, among Canon lovers and widely considered the finest mid-range zoom anywhere), then the same dual offering of the [amazon_link id=”B0033PRWSW” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]70-200/2.8 L, IS[/amazon_link] or [amazon_link id=”B00006I53W” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]non-IS[/amazon_link]. I suppose at this point, you could add the 300/2.8 L and other primes, but I am considering zooms here.

There is always a great deal of debate about the value of f4 vs f2.8 and perhaps, in the past, this argument held some merit. I’ve owned them all and what I can tell you conclusively is that the 2.8 range of zoom lenses is…heavy. Very heavy. Do they perform better on LPI tests? Some do. They certainly cost more and add that extra stop of light but with digital sensors being what they are now, most of the real advantage, that of subject separation, is muted. Indeed, with a subject right in front of you and the background right behind the subject, as you’d find in a studio, the 2.8 lens offers some flexibility that the f4 cannot. Of course, Photoshop can help there, but… that’s another subject for another time.

The 17-40/4 focuses fast and accurately and in both copies I had I never needed any micro-adjustment to get it dead on. The colors blast out at you from the images taken with this fine lens. It’s weather-resistant. Not even concrete is weatherproof! It’s light – and for trips where you want two-three lenses, that becomes increasingly important. If you’re going to a venue where you want super wide angle, like the 17mm short end and perhaps some magnification, like a 200 will give you – you become concerned about weight. I’m no weight-weenie, but carrying a 16-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8 and 70-200/2.8 is something I am loathe to do. Are you making money from your pictures? Are you blowing them up to put behind your sofa? Or the sofas of millionaires? No? Why carry all that weight?

More studies than you have time or inclination to read prove that the 2.8 vs 4.0 debate is negated in most situations. But the advantage is certainly on the side of the f4 lenses when it comes to real world use. You’ll carry half the weight. Grab your bag and three lenses and go shoot a car show for three hours. See what your shoulder says at the end. The f4 group is a fantastic series. The 17-40 was my first foray into both constant aperture and Canon’s L series. It is for many because it is accessible. For less than $750, you an use the exact same lens as the pros. Hard to do with any other lens.

Sure, there’s a little distortion, but most is not visible on the APC format cameras and is correctable, automatically in most software. And the range is somewhat limited. After all, you could get a 17-55/2.8 for not much more. For me, however – the 17-40/4 is just a very special lens. It yields great colors right out of the box. Very little (and again, totally correctable) purple fringing and wonderfully sharp images. Like most Canon (and Nikon) pro series lenses, it uses a common 77mm filter size, so if you build your kit on the f4 lineup, you’ll only need one set of filters.

So it has plenty of pros, but what are the cons? The cons would all based on expectations. That could be said of anything, but in this case, what I mean is simply that there are no real cons to the lens. Some would cite lack of f2.8. This is a point debated to death. However, since the box and lens say f4.0, I’m not agreeing that it’s something the lens is lacking. When you buy a VW Bug, is it a con that you didn’t get a BMW M5? Also often mentioned is the lack of some form of stabilization. I’d love a 17-40/4 L IS, no doubt. It would, however, increase cost and weight and add a feature of questionable use. After all, it’s a wide-angle zoom with an f4 aperture. Not quite sure where IS would provide a huge advantage. And it would place the lens out of the reach of some photogs.

Buying into the L series of Canon lenses is an exciting venture. Some lenses have a character, a ‘look’, if you will. The 70-200/4L IS is one of those. So is the 17-40/4 L. It’s small size works wonderfully for close up people shots or wide views of the land after a climb up your favorite trail. You can hardly go wrong with any of the L series, and the 17-40/4 L is a great place to start.

[amazon_link id=”B00009R6WO” target=”_blank” container=”” container_class=”” ]Canon 17-40/4 L on Amazon[/amazon_link]


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