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Review – Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L USM


Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM – A professional’s workhorse zoom lens

I’ve been contemplating on the all-too-common Canon user dilemma – should I get the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM or the 24-105mm F/4L IS USM? The former is a faster lens but the latter has more reach and 3-stop image stabilization. Price is lesser of a factor as both lenses are only a few hundred bucks apart, but the weight is quite drastic with the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM being much heavier.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Review

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The EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM is considered to be a “standard” zoom range for 35mm film and digital camera. The range is extremely versatile for most purposes not requiring a long telephoto. Events and day-to-day shooting uses this focal range most of the time, and it’s one of the most popular EF lenses in the market. Despite its price range, this is considered to be a “general purpose” lens. This is one of the most popular wedding and event photography lens for the Canon EF line-up.

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My decision on my first L lens boils down to:

1) Can I use it daily for my normal shootings?

2) Does the lens perform well for my needs?

3) Can it handle my occasional paid photography requirements?

4) Do I subjectively like the lens to make me make the purchase?

After writing this blog, I’ll be able to convince MYSELF whether or not to get the EF 24-70mm F/2.8USM lens or the EF 24-105mm F/4L IS USM instead. If you’re on the same boat as me, maybe you’ll have the same conclusion as well. Read on.

As always, I’m not here to provide comprehensive, objective, technical reviews. There are wonderful sites with optics experts using proper equipment and techniques to supply you with those information. Canon’s website has MTF charts and other details for your reference as well. I’m just here to provide what I think about the lens and how it fits MY needs, not yours.

I won’t fret too much about the lens’ sharpness and optical traits as most modern lenses performs really well, especially on a cropped sensor, anyway.

I’m not the type who enjoys pixel peeping.

From Canon USA:

This new lens does what many pros thought couldn’t be done – replace the previous L-series 28-70 f/2.8 lens with something even better. Extended coverage to an ultra-wide-angle 24mm makes it ideal for digital as well as film shooters, and the optics are even better than before with two Aspherical elements and a totally new UD glass element. It’s now sealed and gasketed against dust and moisture, and a new processing unit makes the AF faster than ever.

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS Specifications:

Lens
Focal Length & Maximum Aperture 24-70mm 1:2.8
Lens Construction 16 elements in 13 groups
Diagonal Angle of View 84° – 34°
Focus Adjustment Front-focusing method
Closest Focusing Distance 0.38m/1.25 ft.
Zoom System Rotating Type
Filter Size 77mm
Max. Diameter x Length, Weight 3.3″ x 4.9″, 2.1 lbs. / 83.2mm x 123.5mm, 950g

____________________________________________________________

Upon handling the Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8L USM, you immediately feel the heft and the tight tolerances in construction of the lens. This initial “feel” is quite distinctive on most professional grade lenses over their consumer lens counterpart. The finish and the tactile feel of every ring, knob, and button cannot be mistaken with their lower-end counterparts.

The lens is quite front-heavy. My issue with this lens (like most other f/2.8 zooms) is the fact that the bulk of the weight of the lens is front-biased. At almost a kilogram, this isn’t a light lens at all. Even if using a mid-weight body, the lens is still very front-heavy unless you’re using a battery grip. The superb EF 85mm f/1.2L Mark II USM actually weighs more but doesn’t feel as heavy as it’s shorter and a lot of the weight is moved towards the center of the lens barrel.

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For normal walk-around the lens is a bit bulky as the hood is large as it needs to provide shading from wide to mid-range telephoto. It can be flipped backwards if not in use but the hood will no longer allow you to use the focus and zoom rings that well anymore.

Handling-wise for daily walk-around and travel use, I think this lens is a bit too large and heavy. The lens hood will always be tagged in a crowd and unless you have a good neck strap, you’ll probably strain your neck if you have it around all day.

However, if you’re shooting for an event or any other critical field work for several hours, the lens is easy to use and every thing is intuitive to use.

I actually used this lens to follow my wife’s first fun run event for 6+ kilometers – without a neck strap. I haven’t used a neckstrap for over a year and my wrist and finger ligaments sure took a beating that day. It’s been a week and it’s still a little sore, but how often do you run in a 6km event carrying >1kg on one hand without a neckstrap, tripod, or rest (equivalent scenario)? If not often, then I think you’ll be fine.

While not being able to match the EF 85mm f/1.2L Mark II USM in terms of outright resolution and sharpness, the AF of the EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM is lighting quick, by comparison. The EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM also beats the EF 85mm f/1.2L Mark II USM in terms of chromatic abberations. The EF 85mm f/1.2L USM’s CA is very pronounced even when contrast is rather low, while the EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM has none of that to worry about.

Flare and CA Are Well Controlled

Flare and CA Are Well Controlled

A lot of people (myself included) wonder if 24mm on a crop sensor is wide enough. My answer would be “it depends”. I rarely shoot anything wider than my EF 50mm f/1.8 Mark II for almost a year, so to be able to use a lens that goes wide is refreshing. A good way to evaluate whether or not 24mm is wide enough will be shooting indoors.

I live in Singapore where a living room exceeding 15ft is considered wide, so I think it’s a good basis. I do think it’s sufficient for indoor shots.

One important aspect to consider when shooting indoors isn’t only the field-of-view, but the focusing capability of the lens as well. If your lens can focus closer to the subject, it will give you a bigger advantage than a wider lens that needs more distance to focus.

Indoor Shooting - Less Than 2ft From Subject

Indoor Shooting - Less Than 2ft From Subject

The EF 24-70 f/2.8L USM can focus down to 1.25 feet, which is not too shabby at all for a zoom lens. The much cheaper Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 EX DG requires a little more distance, by comparison. The close focus allows you decent near-macro performance and certainly helps when you want to take close-up shots indoors.

Close-Up Capability

Close-Up Capability

There’s a lot of creative room for you to explore with a 24-70mm focal range. The f/2.8 opening will surely help in those less-than-ideal-lighting areas.

Two McGirdle Meals Please

Two McGirdle Meals Please

Back to my original set of questions to myself, is this the perfect primary lens for me to use daily? Let’s tackle the individual questions now.

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1) Can I use it daily for my normal shootings?

Yes and No. Yes as the focal range is perfect what what I enjoy shooting, mainly portraits and street. The f/2.8 sure helps and so is the excellent build quality as I’m a very rough handler of my gears. Ultimately, i have to say “no” as this lens for now as it is too heavy and too long to use on a regular basis. I don’t see myself using a neck strap anytime soon and I won’t change that just because of one lens. This is not an ideal lens to use when traveling, but it will sure take wonderful images of your trips. The lens hood is huge as it covers the lens as it extends towards 24mm, it’s quite bulky compared to a more common “on-the-tip-of-the-lens” type of lens hood.

Accurate Colors, Incredible Details.

Accurate Colors, Incredible Details.

2) Does the lens perform well for my needs?

Heck yeah! While I do love to print my photos, I honestly can’t distinguish a lens’ characteristics through what I often shoot (Yoki’s photos). One thing I did realize though, is that whenever I use higher quality lenses, in this case, Canon L lenses, my out-of-the-cam jpegs require a lot less global adjustments. The contrast and colors are much better and the resolution is very high as well. If you think there isn’t much difference between cheap lenses and higher end ones, I suggest you take another closer look.

Excellent Colour and Details

Excellent Colour and Details

I need to reiterate that my statement about “higher end” lenses. I do not mean Canon L lenses alone. Mid-level lenses from Canon or third party lenses are superior to most lower end, pre-packaged lenses not only in construction, but in optical quality as well. The million dollar question would be, will the price difference be justifiable for your requirements.

3) Can it handle my occasional paid photography requirements?

Like #2, definitely yes. The lens clearly out-resolves what my old EOS 10D can handle in ideal lighting, the handling and output is top notch, I don’t see why it can’t handle events and studio sessions. Millions of successful professionals trust this lens, why shouldn’t I?

If you’re thinking of using this to shoot crowded events, I think the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM or the great value EF 17-40mm f/4L USM will be better choices, but the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM is no slouch either in this department. This is THE primary workhorse zoom lens for practically all professionals using a Canon system.

Shooting Overhead

Shooting Overhead

4) Do I subjectively like the lens to make me make the purchase?

I like the lens a lot, but it doesn’t have the “lust factor” of the EF 85mm f/1.2L USM as that lens clearly screams “I’ll make you buy me even if it’s tough to justify”.

Right now, I’ve all but decided to buy the more versatile EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM in the next few weeks. I won’t give out my reasoning on this post, I’ll save that in my review of the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, but my main reason would be weight and image stabilization. I’d still save up to get the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM in the near future, when I shoot more indoor events.

So there you have it. I have to say that this is one fine lens and I have no issues with it at all if I’m a full-time professional. I’m sure that this lens can take a beating physically and will produce stunning results in the hands of a creative photographer.

If weight is not an issue and you enjoy shooting with available light with a zoom, get this lens and forget about changing to another lens model for quite some time. The focal length may be a tad long for a 1.6x crop sensor, but it’s still very versatile. I’d say that this is more perfect for a 1.3x crop than a full frame 35mm or 1.6x crop, but that’s highly subjective.

Lovely Perspective - Low Light Scene

Lovely Perspective - Low Light Scene

If you’re looking for your first pro-grade lens, I suggest you save up and get the EF 24-70mm f/2.8USM. Buying a pro-grade lens is usually a buy-once-and-use-it-till-it-dies affair, if you’re serious about photography and not gear collection.

If you shoot low-light more often than outdoors, this is the lens to get. It’s just a wonderful lens to use.

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Frequently Purchased Together

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Standard Zoom Lens for Canon SLR Cameras
B+W 77mm UVA (Ultra Violet) Haze MRC Filter #010

There you have it. If you’re saving up for a good zoom anyway, go straight to the upper echelon of wide-to-normal telephoto zooms, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM (check the best price here).

If you’re a Canon user, of course…




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