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Review – Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM


A Full Frame Camera’s Best Walk Around Lens

I wrote a review for the venerable Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM a few weeks ago and I got quite a few responses defending the lens and questioning my for the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM over the former. It seems like lot of folks also ignored my repeated statements that I’m basing my opinion and review on my needs, not theirs, so let’s move on.

Here is Canon’s own description of the lens:

Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM

This easy-to-use standard zoom lens can cover a large zoom area ranging from 24mm wide-angle to 105mm portrait-length telephoto, and its Image Stabilizer Technology steadies camera shake up to three stops. Constructed with one Super-UD glass element and three aspherical lenses, this lens minimizes chromatic aberration and distortion. The result is excellent picture quality, even at wide apertures. Canon’s ring-type USM gives silent but quick AF, along with full-time manual focus. Moreover, with dust- and moisture-resistant construction, this is a durable yet sophisticated lens that meets the demands of advanced amateur photographers and professional photographers alike.

Focal Length & Maximum Aperture 24-105mm f/4
Lens Construction 18 elements in 13 groups
Diagonal Angle of View 84° – 23° 20′ (with full-frame camera)
Focus Adjustment Inner focusing system with focusing cam
Closest Focusing Distance 1.48 ft./0.45m
Zoom System 5-group helical zoom (front group moves: 32.5mm)
Filter Size 77mm
Max. Diameter x Length, Weight 3.3 in. x 4.2 in., 23.6 oz. / 83.5mm x 107mm, 670g (lens only)

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General Features

The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM offers 4.375x zoom from wide angle to telephoto while maintaining a constant f/4 aperture opening throughout the focal range. The focal length covers a popular 24mm wide angle if you’re shooting film or 35mm equivalent sensors and a decent portrait length of 105mm at the telephoto end. For a crop sensor camera, that translate to 38-168mm equivalent field-of-view, while not wide enough by normal standards, most crop sensor users are quite familiar with starting at 38mm for wide angle.

24mm

24mm wide angle

105mm

105mm telephoto

Image Stabilizer

The main feature of the lens outside its optical capabilities is the built-in image stabilization (aka IS) that offers 3-stops more of hand-holdability.

To explain how this works, we have to look back to the classic “rule” that to maintain a decently sharp image while hand-holding the camera, a camera user must use a shutter speed equivalent or higher than the focal length of the lens. In practice, that means that if you’re using a 100mm lens, your shutter speed should be at least 1/100 sec. to maintain a sharp image, otherwise, camera shake will be recorded in your image. In addition, some people claims that for crop-sensor cameras, the focal length multiplier must be considered. So if you’re using a 1.6x crop camera, like most Canons, your 100mm should equate to 160mm on full frame (100mm x 1.6), your minimum shutter speed should be 1/160 or faster. This, naturally, depends on your personal skill of holding and stabilizing your camera and lens as some users can break this 1/focal length guideline with ease while others will still get a blurry image because they jab on their shutter button (or they’re riding on a bumpy road, for example).

Image stabilization offers a way to steady the image and neutralize the camera motion induced by the user by several “stops”.

Following the guideline above, if you’re shooting a 100mm focal length lens, you’re adviced to use 1/100 sec. shutter speed to obtain a sharp image. With a stabilized lens, however, you can hand-hold the lens at 1/50, 1/25, 1/10th of a second and still maintain a sharp, shake-free image.

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Canon and Nikon implement their camera-shake reducer (this is as generic as I can get) in their lenses, while Olympus, Sony, and Pentax put theirs in the camera body. Each has its own pros and cons, I’m not dwelling into that issue right now.

Back to the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, Canon claims that the IS unit installed allows three-stops of hand-holdability, so my example above is valid. To show you how effective this feature is, just look at the following images.

IS off @ 1/10 sec

IS OFF 1/10sec @ F/4 -105mm

IS on at 1/10

IS ON 1/10sec @ F/4105mm

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Hand-held IS ON 1/15sec @ f/4 ISO800

Needless to say, it works mighty fine. You can get spoiled by it fast if your first lenses are IS enabled. Naturally, as your camera holding skills improve, the more effective IS will be.

So are there anything special that you have to worry about with IS-enabled lenses? Yes, first would battery life. The motors and gyros inside the lens that stabilizes the image has to get its juice somewhere, so your battery longevity will take a hit with IS.

I suggest that you turn it off if you’re used to shooting without image stabilization when there’s sufficient light that allows you to shoot above 1/100sec anyway. In addition, turn the image stabilizer off when you’re camera is stabilized anyway, such as when mounting on a tripod or table top.

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Second is not really a “problem” but a “realization” for some. Having a stable camera/lens is just like as mounting it on a tripod, the camera may be steady, but the subjects are not influenced by image stabilization.

If you mount your camera on a tripod, for example, a moving subject will still blur in your image while stationary subjects will be sharp. The same thing happens with image stabilized lenses. The non-moving elements in your photo will be sharper than a non-stabilized lens, but any moving subject will still be blurred if the shutter speed fails to freeze the subject. In order to freeze a moving subject, a faster shutter speed must be used, this is where the previously reviewed Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM comes in, along with even much faster prime lenses than can allow more light onto the sensor/film with large apertures like the EF 85mm f/1.2L USM lens.

Optics and Image Quality

Optically, the lens is sharp and renders a lot of details for a zoom of its kind. It’ll be hard to tell it apart from the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM‘s image wide open, and even near impossible when stopped down. The lens is sharp, contrastly, and quite resistant to flare.

Vignetting is negligible on a crop sensor, and with today’s post-processing software, removing vignette takes no more than a drag of a slider adjustment.

20080923-CRW_8990

Note the green flare near the car’s wheel area

Bokeh

Bokeh, or out-of-focus quality, is more than decent for an f/4 lens, especially at longer focal lengths. The out-of-focus edges are a bit ‘busy’ and a little sharp but for an F/4 lens, it’s expected.

The degree of blur is highly dependent on the camera-to-subject and subject-to-background distance ratio. As long as you can keep your subject nearer to the camera while keeping the background farther from the subject, the background blur will be pleasing.

While it can’t rival wider aperture lenses, especially the EF 85mm f/1.2L USM, the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM at 105mm can still separate the subject from the background sufficiently.

Bokeh @ 105mm f/4

1/60sec @ f/4, ISO 800, 105mm

20080923-CRW_9027

1/60 @ f/4, ISO 200, 73mm

Sept 23

1/125 @ f/4, ISO 200, 83mm

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I discussed about the merits of using a faster lens for low-light shooting to freeze subject motion previously. Obviously, the larger the maximum aperture allowed by the lens, the faster the shutter speed you can use during low light.

If you’re shooting a running dog, for example, 1/100sec @ f/4 may not be sufficient to freeze the subject, by having an f/2.8 lens, you can now shoot at 1/200 @ f/2.8, which is a stop faster. The advantage is obvious and is critical for freezing motion.

20080922-IMG_8852

1/60sec @ f/4, ISO 400, 82mm

I’ve been reading responses that the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM is a superior lens due to its f/2.8 speed again and again, and I agree that that lens offers more optical benefits than the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. The point that I’m reiterating is, I don’t need to shoot at f/2.8 often as a flash is available for me (whether pop-up or external unit) and I prefer to go with that route.

In addition, the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM is a daily, carry-on lens that I’ll use everywhere, I prefer the size, weight, and IS functionality of this lens over its f/2.8 cousin.

The EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM is immensely sharp from center to edge on a crop sensor. The weight is just right for daily, prolonged usage and the Image Stabilization will help most photographers tremendously in capturing shake-free images without a tripod. The lens does not creep when pointed downwards even if handled roughtly, while the construction is top notch, with the zoom and focus ring staying in place with the right amount of torque to prevent accidental movements.

Here are some more samples.

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1/160sec @ f/7.1, ISO 100, 95mm

Full size jpeg./

1/320sec @ f/8, ISO200, 102mm

20080923-CRW_9070

1/25sec @ f/4, ISO 400, 24mm

20080923-CRW_9056

1/60 @ f/4, ISO 800, 73mm

20080925-IMG_9668

1/100sec @ f/4 ISO200 @ 105mm

20080925-IMG_9685

1/60 @ f4 ISO200 @ 105mm

20080925-IMG_9737

1/30sec @ f/5 ISO400 @ 105mm

Both are wonderful lenses and perform very closely to one another optically (as confirmed by numerous professional reviews) and you can hardly go wrong with either – and I chose the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM as my daily, all-purpose lens.

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Frequently Purchased Together


Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 L IS USM Lens for Canon EOS SLR Cameras
B+W 77mm UVA (Ultra Violet) Haze MRC Filter #010

 

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