Friday, September 14, 2012

Comparison: Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II vs 24-105mm f/4L IS vs 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II–70mm Test

Mouse over to see zoomed out to max focal length, mouse out to see 24mm
Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (left) and 24-70 f/2.8L II USM (right)
(Note: Hoods intentionally upside down to show model numbers)

Thanks to my friends at Adorama, I got my hands on one of the hottest lenses to be released this fall – the new Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II USM. The predecessor to this lens was known for being a bit soft and heavy, but early reports on this new lens made claims that it was as sharp as the mighty Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM at 70mm. So for kicks and giggles I put the new 24-70, and the current 24-105 and 70-200 f/2.8 II lenses on my 5D Mark III to do a quick bookshelf test to see how they really perform against each other at 70mm. I chose 70mm since that was a focal length that was common to all three lenses.

For a gallery of all of the images in this article, click here.

24-70mm II @ f/2.8 vs 24-105 @ f/4

24-70 f/2.8L II @ f/2.8 (left) and 24-105mm @ f/4 (right)
Click here for 24-70 Full Size (left)
Click here for 24-105 Full Size (right)

I’ve got a pretty good copy of the 24-105mm from what I’ve seen when comparing it to others, but when I compare my copy to the new 24-70 there’s no competition. So the new lens easily wins on sharpness, and with the extra stop advantage it wins on brightness too. Just for fun, here’s an example of how dark this shot would be if you shot the 24-105 for 1.3 seconds at f/4 and ISO 100.

24-70mm II @ f/11 vs 24-105 @ f/11

24-70 f/2.8L II @ f/11 (left) and 24-105mm @ f/11 (right)
Click here for 24-70 Full Size (left)
Click here for 24-105 Full Size (right)

Where the results are so bad for the 24-105mm that it makes me want to send my older lens in for calibration again, but Canon just did that recently. I know the real issue here is that when you see how sharp the new lens is, it makes darn near any older lens look way out of focus. This is one good reason why you shouldn’t really pixel peep your favorite lenses against the new wave of Canon lenses as they are likely to make you want a new lens!

24-70 f/2.8L II @ f/11 and 70-200mm @ f/11

24-70 f/2.8L II @ f/11 (left) and 70-200mm @ f/11 (right)
Click here for 24-70 Full Size (left)
Click here for 70-200 Full Size (right)

When Roger at declared that the new 24-70 II was sharper than the 70-200mm II (in lab tests), I couldn’t believe it. The 70-200 II is the second sharpest Canon lens I’ve ever used (the 200mm f/2L IS USM is the sharpest I’ve used), so I didn’t expect that this new lens would be that sharp (but I secretly hoped it would be <g>)! As a result, I decided to include a 70mm comparison in this article just for fun. I realize that these lenses actually complement each other, so this is really just an academic FYI.

If you look carefully (especially in the O on the bottom right, you’ll see there’s a slight sharpness advantage for the 70-200 II.However, that’s really splitting hairs and pixel peeping as both are close enough that in real world use you’d never have an issue.

NOTE: I have f/2.8 images here for those who think this had anything to do with diffraction – the reality is that I got identical results for both apertures (as well as others not shown).

24-70mm II vs 24-105mm Compared

Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (left) and 24-70 f/2.8L II USM (right)
The wider 82mm new lens means new polarizers, etc… or step up rings for 24-105 owners
24-105mm f/4L IS USM (left) and 24-70 f/2.8L II USM (right)

These two lenses are surprisingly similar physically speaking, whereas the previous generation f/2.8 was bigger and heavier. As a result, I think people who decide to get the new 24-70 as an upgrade of their existing 24-105mm or 24-70 v1, will be very happy with the physical characteristics of the new lens. The quality feels good and the finish is near identical to the new 100mm macro.

The Filter Issue

The beauty of the way things were in the past is that your 24-105 and 70-200 f/2.8 lenses could share the same 77mm filter. This meant that you didn’t need to buy different polarizers, neutral density filters, etc… for each lens – one size worked for both. With the new 24-70 II using a 82mm filter, this all changes – unless you are already using a 16-35mm f/2.8L IS II USM which shares the same filter size. If not, then you probably need to budget for new filters (or at least step up rings).  Keep this in mind before purchasing!

Focus Motor Noise

The new lens isn’t exactly noisy but when you focus it you definitely notice a much more noticeable sound from the ultrasonic motor (USM). The 24-105 was near silent, but this one makes a sound when focusing that will get your attention as the photographer but I don’t think others nearby would hear it (i.e., I don’t think it will be an issue for wedding photographers). It’s fairly common to hear sounds at this level from Sigma lenses, but it’s the first time I’ve heard it from non-super telephoto Canon lens.

The Image Stabilization Issue

Naturally the lens that everyone really wants is a 24-105 f/2.8L IS USM, but Canon isn’t likely to kill their cash cow marketing scenario they have now. We all have envy for the lens we don’t own, so many go back and forth and buy both so they can have the fast lens and the IS lens. However, image stabilization is primarily for camera shake – it doesn’t help for subject movement so having the extra stop improvement in shutter speed by being able to open the new lens to f/2.8 means you’ll have a better shot at freezing your subject or using a lower ISO. As a result, I advise people not to get too hung up on the lack of IS on the new 24-70 and instead pay attention on the sharpness it can offer.

Another nice advantage is the better bokeh at f/2.8 versus f/4, so while it would be great to have IS on the new lens, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep that it’s missing. The 24-105mm f/4 certainly needs it much more than this one does!

Weight & Size Differences

The new 24-70 II is 24.8 oz (805g) versus 23.6 oz (670g) of the 24-105. Previous 24-70 f/2.8 users will appreciate the drastic reduction in weight, the shorter length and the smaller hood. Those coming over from Nikon now have a 24-70 f/2.8 with the sharpness that they were used on the Nikon platform in a lighter weight lens.

Minimum Focus Length Differences

The new 24-70 II has a slight improvement in minimum focus distance at 1.25ft (0.38m) versus 1.48 ft (0.45m) for the 24-105. In practice though they felt about the same as this difference isn’t very significant in the real world.


If you haven’t bought a lens in this range, you’ll be horrified to know that this lens cost $2,299 (at the time this was written). The 24-105mm sells for $950.40, so for some people the decision as to which lens to get is easy – the cheaper one.

I don’t think anyone is happy about the price increases from Canon, but quality has a price.


In my early and very simple testing, I find a great reason to upgrade over the 24-105mm. The improved sharpness and extra stop light improvement are a great trade off from IS.

Overall I’ll miss my IS and quieter performance of the 24-105mm and I’ll especially miss its extra reach, but having a 24-70 that is effectively as sharp as my 70-200 f/2.8 II will be worth it. This means I can get great sharp shots from 24-200mm which covers most of my preferred focal lengths and the extra stop light improvement will be enjoyed quite a bit. It will also be nice not be lusting after the Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 anymore.

Unfortunately I didn’t have the Canon 24-70 f/2.8 v1 for testing today, but based on past experience with it I don’t suspect it would have faired any better.

I highly recommend this lens!

More Sample Images

For a gallery of all of the images in this article, click here.

All of the images in this gallery are unedited (beyond cropping) in-camera jpeg’s so it’s a pretty accurate view of what you can expect to get from this lens.

Order Now

Order your Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II USM now as there’s going to be a long wait for these hot lenses. You may has well get in the queue now as you are going to end up there eventually!

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bronxnla said...

When you get a chance compare it to the new Tamron lens f/2.8 24 - 70 mm. It also has image stabilization. It's about one half the price. I 'm sure this is a fantastic lens but it is a bit pricey. Thanks again.

AJ Henderson said...

Great write up. Matched up exactly with my own experience comparing the same two lenses. I used my cat as a test subject and found that while both lenses captured subtle variations in color, the 24-70 f2.8 let you clearly see the individual hairs where as the f4 only showed tuffs of fur.

Similarly, I did an image stabilization test and found that with my (fairly steady) hands, the sharpness from the IS f4 was equivalent to the sharpness of the free held f2.8 due to the difference in f stop between 2.8 and 4. This was with a low light shot where the exposures were 1/25 and 1/10 second respectively. While it's nice for environmental shots, any kind of movement gives the 2.8 a decided advantage in low light.