Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L [ New: $1400 / Used: $900-1000 ]

These are both serious bits of kit: the Canon is 103mm long, 600g in weight and contains 14 elements in 12 groups. Filter size is 77mm and minimum focus is 28cm. Build quality is exemplary: fully weather sealed and meatily damped focus and zoom rings. Canon's commitment to full frame has helped the resale value of these lenses no end, whereas second hand Nikon's can be had for much less, such is the appeal of their outstanding 12-24mm.

Nikon 17-35mm f2.8 AFS [ New: $1400 / Used: $800-900 ]

Weighing in at 750g and feeling like it's been hewn from a solitary ingot, the Nikon nonetheless has zoom and focus rings that glide rather than merely rotate. The length is similar, at 107mm, inside which 13 elements are arranged in ten groups. Minimum focus is also 28cm.

It's worth spending a bit of time perusing the manufacturers' MTF charts here: strictly, one should only compare lenses MTF assessed using the same equipment and methodology, but assuming these data are comparable, and refer to wide open performance, on paper at least the Canon appears to be streets ahead.

As we shall see, in practice this is both entirely true and absolutely misleading....

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