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Joel Santos on the new EF16-35mm: “my perfect wide zoom...”

Joel Santos on the new EF16-35mm: “my perfect wide zoom...”

© Joel Santos

January 2015

Travel photographer and Canon Explorer Joel Santos has recently been using the newly launched EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM wide-angle zoom. As he reveals to CPN Editor David Corfield, the lens has quickly become a firm favourite...

The biggest endorsement any photographer can give a piece of equipment, is to actually go out and buy it. For Joel Santos, the new EF16-35mm wide-angle zoom was a recent purchase that has already been proving its worth.

© Joel Santos

Ocean Swing, Lombok, Indonesia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens at a focal length of 20mm; the exposure was 1/100sec at f/9, ISO 400.

“After Canon asked me to try out a pre-production example, I knew when it went on sale I had to have one!” he laughs. “It’s so super-sharp, I love it!” he enthuses. “This lens, because it is an f/4, has a much greater natural depth-of-field and when pushed to its widest focal length at 16mm I can fully exploit the angle-of-view, safe in the knowledge that I am going to get superb quality images even when using it at its widest aperture.”

Joel is a passionate explorer of light and land, and uses his natural charm to win the smiles of the many local people he meets on his journeys, both as a tutor on his photography tours and when travelling solo to check out new countries and adding to his considerable portfolio. The new lens is helping him do all this because of its lightweight, compact build and exceptional ability to deliver sharp results whatever the situation.

Out with the old...

“I have actually just traded in my old EF16-35mm f/2.8L USM lens for this, for the simple reason that I like this new one better,” Joel concedes. “It is faster at focusing, sharper thanks to new lens elements and with the image stabilisation it offers me so much more in terms of creative opportunities.”

“One of my passions when travelling are the people I meet along the way, and this lens is perfect for candid portraits on the move. Even in low light it works beautifully,” he reveals. “For me to not have an f/2.8 maximum aperture on a wide zoom is not a huge problem as I really love the sharpness of this new lens more!” he laughs.

Joel’s ability as a creative photographer has been well storied on CPN, and the new EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens, with its four-stop Canon Image Stabilizer, has been put to the test in all manner of situations. His image of the sightseeing tunnel below the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China, for example (below), is so sharp you’d never guess it was shot at three seconds handheld, using just the underground’s glass window to steady him while the lens took care of the rest.

© Joel Santos

Sightseeing Tunnel below the Huangpu River, Shanghai, China. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens at a focal length of 16mm; the exposure was 3.2secs at f/10, ISO 1600.

“What I find as a travel photographer is that sometimes it is more important to not stop the motion but instead have those four extra stops that the image stabilisation gives me so I can use it on my camera handheld without the tripod. It’s fantastic for unobtrusive shooting, especially in narrow spaces like that tunnel.”

Joel continues: “Many people, particularly more traditional photographers, often question why there is a need for image stabilisation on a wide-angle zoom. Well let me tell you: it’s actually quite useful because it allows you to capture unique moments that happen quickly and of course it means you don’t have to use high ISO speeds to catch the moment, because the IS gives you the advantage. And with the new technology there is not a big trade off in terms of weight either.”

Braving the elements

When Joel was given the pre-production lens to test he took it with him on a series of travel assignments. First to Indonesia and China, then Cambodia and finally his native Portugal. “I had four countries in which to test the lens and it was incredible in every situation,” he assures. “It’s been tested to the limits; especially from inside a volcano in Indonesia where the sulphur dust covered it completely!”

“The volcano was the first time I really used the new 16-35mm lens. I was really afraid what was going to happen to the edges of the shot, as I was shooting wide open at f/4. I knew I was going to lose some depth-of-field which I accepted but I didn’t want to lose sharpness. But you know? The shot was perfect. I was amazed.”

© Joel Santos

Sulphur mine and ignited gas, Kawah Ijen volcano, Java, Indonesia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens at a focal length of 16mm; the exposure was 6secs at f/4, ISO 1600.

And as if that poisonous environment wasn’t enough, a good soaking came courtesy of tropical Cambodian weather, which meant the lens got completely sodden after a very strong downpour. “It continued to work absolutely fine!” Joel laughs. “Canon weather sealing is the best! The fluorine coating on the front and back lens elements makes a fantastic difference too because nothing sticks to it; not even raindrops can leave any marks!”

“I really like the autofocus on this lens as it is more accurate and precise than any lens I’ve used in this range,” he continues. “Lens technology is a real Canon strong point and this new wide-angle zoom just highlights how much attention Canon pays to its EF lens system; the lenses are, after all, the eyes of EOS.”

After several weeks of using Canon’s latest wide-angle optic, Joel has given his new purchase a permanent home in his kit bag. “It is at the heart of my kit, along with the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM and the EF70-200 f/4L USM. I also like to take the Fisheye lens as well (an EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM) when space permits.”

With the lenses come two EOS 5D Mark III bodies and a Speedlite 580EX II flash. And that is pretty much all Joel needs for day-to-day work. “I have an EOS 6D too, but I use that for underwater work as it is small enough to use with the nice housing I have,” he advises.

Widening creative options

Joel is keen to point out the pitfalls many people fall into when using a wide lens, particularly for the first time. “Many people see a wide-angle lens as a way to put a lot inside the frame, which is of course fine, but there’s much more you can do too. This lens makes it easy to get creative.”

“For me, this lens allows me to move closer to the subject and change the perspective and simplify my compositions. I can make a small rock a big rock, for example; or I can turn a small puddle into a big lake. It has tremendous power to be used creatively, which I like a lot. My advice is to get close and personal with the subjects you are shooting and use that to create some unusual perspectives. Most of the time we shoot at eye level and that doesn’t give you any uniqueness. Get down low and blow your perspectives away, or look down on your subject and fill the frame with incredible detail. Wide-angle lenses make creative photography a pleasure!”

“Sometimes wide-angles makes life easier too, as they are great to use for hyperfocal focusing, a technique photographers use to ensure complete sharpness,” he continues. “On this lens, for example, I can focus one metre into a scene and set the aperture to f/16 and I know that everything will be sharp from foreground to infinity. Whenever I can I shoot between f/8 and f/11. Most of the time I shoot at f/11, which is the optimum aperture for this lens. That’s the real sweet spot for it.”

Software that supports

Joel uses Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 software, which came bundled with his EOS 5D Mark III. It has the lens profile available so he can correct aberrations and corner blur. “Photography is not only about the camera any more,” he admits. “It’s also about the software these days; the workflow of the modern digital photographer has changed accordingly. But as software evolves and becomes more efficient, along with the evolution in the Canon EOS system, I am happy to spend less time behind the computer and spend more time outdoors photographing. At least that’s my strongest wish!” he ruefully admits.

“I still use filters, though, but not to excess,” he advises. “A good quality polariser is essential, and Neutral Density (ND) grads with soft and hard edges are always in my kit bag, plus a big 10-stop ND for slow shutter speed work, like moving water for example. I only use the very best, as I don’t want to lose the quality of Canon lenses to inferior filters. Optically, the filters need to be on the same level as the lens you are using.”

New Year, new creative horizons

Joel’s never in one place for long and after the recent seasonal break where he recharged his batteries – both mentally as well as photographically – he’ll be off travelling again; first to Patagonia in February and then to India in March. Beyond that, who knows? His life as a photography tutor, as well as a contributor to magazines and books around the world, means this Canon Explorer is in high demand.

“That is why I need equipment I can depend on,” he advises. “This new EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens will continue to collect the air miles along with the rest of my kit,” he jokes. “And I hope this year it will continue to help me expand my portfolio and explore the world creatively.”


  • Ultra wide-angle 16-35mm zoom range.
  • Superior L-series performance with precision EF optics.
  • Sharp, high-contrast images with UD lens elements and Super Spectra Coating.
  • Constant f/4 maximum aperture.
  • 4-stop optical Image Stabilizer.
  • Silent, high-speed autofocus with full-time manual override.
  • 9-blade circular aperture.
  • Minimum focusing distance of 0.28m.
  • Easy attachment of filters with non-rotating front element.
  • Weather sealed against dust and moisture.1

1 Because the front lens portion moves during zooming, a Canon Protect Filter (sold separately) must be mounted to ensure adequate dust and drip resistance.

Biografie: Joel Santos

Joel Santos

Travel, landscape and portrait photographer Joel Santos was born in 1978 in Lisbon, Portugal. He is the author of five best-selling books and is frequently published by photography, travel and corporate magazines all over the world, having featured on more than 30 covers and in hundreds of articles. He teaches photography in all continents and his work has been globally shown in several individual and collective exhibitions. He became a Canon Explorer in mid-2012.


Buddhist Monk, Bayon Temple, Cambodia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens at a focal length of 24mm; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/4, ISO 400.