The new Canon EF 24-70mm f/4.0L IS USM was a big disappointment to me when it was first announced because what we all REALLY want is a 24-70mm f/2.8L IS lens. However, Canon won’t give us that and even if they did then nobody would probably be able to afford it. With this reality in mind, I was even more disappointed that Canon didn’t just give us a sharper 24-105mm with the improved IS found in the 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM.
I know this an important lens and I expected it to be both sharper and better performing than its 24-105 predecessor and it did not disappoint. This is still a pretty expensive lens though and it’s not a 2.8, so the question then becomes – why bother with this when there’s a cheaper f/4 option with a longer maximum focal length (24-105mm) and a faster 2.8 lens (albeit more expensive and without IS)? I try to answer those questions in my review.
I didn’t get a chance to shoot with this lens as much as I would have liked. A nasty cold with nasty weather prevented me from getting out much with it as well. With that said, the following are a sample of unedited in-camera JPEG’s taken using this lens. You can get the full gallery here.
As you can see from the images above, the quality of this lens is excellent. it’s super sharp, fast focusing, handles low light well, and the stabilization is excellent. I had a bit too much sake when I took the sushi restaurant images so it’s not my best work, but it still performed very well.
I also fell in love with the macro mode (see discussion below) so my gallery contains too many of those and no 24mm images. I apologize for that, but I’m sure plenty will be found in time on flickr like here and eventually pixel-peeper.com.
Compared to the 24-105mm f/4L IS
In my article entitled Comparison: Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II vs 24-105mm f/4L IS vs 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II–70mm Test, I concluded that the 24-70mm f/2.8L II was much sharper. This still remains true and you can see this by going to slrgear.com and comparing the blur index of zooms. While the new 24-70mm f/4L IS isn’t as sharp as the 2.8 when you pixel peep, in real world applications (i.e, web and common print sizes) you aren’t going to see the difference. I do think you’ll see the difference between the new 24-70mm f/4L over the 24-105mm f/4L, so if sharpness and the best IS performance are important then it’s worth the upgrade.
If you aren’t a pixel peeper and you aren’t printing big prints (> 13x19”) then I think current 24-105mm owners can still get plenty of enjoyment out of their lens and you don’t need to upgrade. In fact, I like mine so much that I haven’t sold it. It’s worth the $800 or so I’d probably get for it used to keep it and have the extra range when I’m on a family vacation shooting for me instead of a client. I’ve made many great images with that lens and I plan to continue to do that moving forward. Sure the new lenses are sharper, but Sharpener Pro can help you overcome that difference.
I must admit that I as pretty annoyed with Canon for not offering a 24-105mm f/4L IS II because I really liked that extra range for my walkabout lens. I figured that this lens would offer very little for me as a f/2.8 II owner, but Canon replaced that extra telephoto zoom with a macro zoom. When I discovered this feature I fell in love – it works really well and reminds me of the joys of macro photography again! The best part is that you don’t have to switch lenses!
The macro zoom is activated by rotating the ring to 70mm, engaging the lock, and then rotating beyond that. One engaged you use the zoom ring to get approximate focus and then the camera will auto focus for you up to the minimum focus distance. You can actually go well beyond the minimum focus distance if you manually focus as shown here:
Canon 24-70mm f/4L IS Minimum Focus Distance (Manual Focus)
My bookshelf test area and LOTR book location indicated in red
While I could get literally a fingertip away from my subject and get some degree of focus, I got the sharpest focus when I was roughly 1.5 inches (4cm) away. Here’s an example:
If you click the image you can view the original, but below you can see just how detailed it is:
This is with no post-processing, so I was very, very satisfied with the macro mode. In fact, I’m so satisfied that I’m in a bit of a quandary. I don’t want to sell my old 24-105mm because I love the range, I don’t want to get rid of my new 24-70mm f/2.8L II because it’s super sharp and can do f/2.8, and I lust for this lens so I can have this awesome macro mode available when doing street and food photography on vacation. I definitely don’t want three 24-70mm lenses, so the reality is that things just got even more complicated and worse than before these two new 24-70mm’s came out!
Comparison: 24-70mm f/4L vs 24-70mm f/2.8L II
It’s been written elsewhere, but I’ll restate the obvious – yes, the 24-70mm f/2.8L II is Canon’s sharpest lens in this range. However, sharpness isn’t the only reason to buy one lens over another. Let’s also not forget price, so hopefully my bookshelf test results found here will help you decide if you want to spend an extra $800 more for the the 2.8 and lose IS.
The images in the gallery were all converted from RAW to JPEG 100 using Lightroom 4.3 with the default settings. I did not crop or enhance any of these images in any way. They were shot using ISO 100, mirror lockup, a 2 second timer and on Gitzo GT1541 tripod using a Canon 1D X. IS was turned off and I manually focused using live view once, then turned off the LCD. The hood was on both lenses and the conditions were otherwise identical. I use the camera in the same position for each shoot and only replace the lens. I refocus between each aperture and focal length change.
24-70 f/4L (left) vs 24-70 f/2.8 II (right)
Mouse in to see retracted, mouse out to see extended
Now one interesting observation was that the different physical zoom lengths caused the f/4 lens to to use shorter shutter speeds with it than the 2.8 to get what the meter thought was a correct exposure (in evaluate metering mode). However, the 24-70mm f/2.8 images seem a tad darker so I think this was caused by the physical distance of the end of the lens to the bookshelf and how that impacted the size of the overall frame and light.
Here’s what I observed:
This made the “faster” seem not faster after all. If I were shooting for real in Aperture priority (Av) the camera would have chosen the values shown in the table above to get a correct exposure according to the meter on my 1D X. What this means is that I should have adjusted the tripod so that the ends of the lenses were at the same position so that the meter light measurement was identical, but I didn’t do that. This DOES NOT MEAN that the f/4 is faster or optically brighter.
Keep this in mind when viewing the images in the gallery, but everything is close enough to do a reasonable sharpness comparison. Here’s an example done at 24mm, f/5.6 at ISO 100:
As you get to the edges that’s where you see the sharpness improve on the f/2.8 over the f/4. Both lenses are close enough in practical application though that I think the real question becomes – do you need f/2.8 for more shallow depth of field or do you need IS. For most people, I recommend IS over 2.8 because shallow depth of field with soft main subjects (due to camera shake) isn’t as impressive as using lower ISO’s and tack sharp thanks to a very effective IS system.
Try before you buy
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I know for some people it will be near impossible to decide which of these zooms is right for them, and these suckers are expensive so you don’t want to make the wrong choice. As a result, I highly recommend renting before you buy (assuming you can’t borrow from a friend).
I did a lens rental series where I got to experience how easy it is to rent online (it’s actually easier and cheaper than renting local too). I have discounts for BorrowLenses.com, LensRentals.com and LensProToGo.com – all of whom are great to rent from.
I really liked the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4.0L IS USM and highly recommend it over the 2.8 for most people. I really have been missing image stabilization (IS) every since I switched to the 24-70 f/2.8L II USM, so I find myself getting more blurry shots from camera shake (I have shaky hands) as a result. With the weight of heavy camera equipment and lenses, it’s really tough not to have IS in this focal range too. This reality coupled with the excellent performance, the awesome macro mode and much cheaper price makes it an excellent lens to own. Sure you’ll give up the extra bokeh you get with a f/2.8 lens, but you’ll gain ISO performance by being able to shoot at lower ISO’s in low light because you can use slower shutter speeds (assuming your subject is stationary).
Where to order
Visit my discount coupon code page to save 5% off your lens rental reservations!!!!
Other articles you may enjoy
If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy these:
- Comparison: Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II vs 24-105mm f/4L IS vs 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II–70mm Test
- Lens Rental Series (with discounts on discount coupon code page)
- Which lens should I buy? article
- onOne Perfect Photo Suite 7 (includes FocalPoint which can add great bokeh to your f/4 images)
- Things You Need AFTER You Buy Your New Camera - Must Have Photography Accessories
- Canon 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye Zoom Mini-Review
- Canon 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS vs 70-300 f/4.5-5.6 DO Review
If you make a purchase using links found in this article, I may make a commission. It doesn’t cost you a penny more, but it does help to support future articles like this. B&H loaned the 24-70mm f/4L IS lens to me for this review, but I owned the 24-70mm f/2.8L which I purchased from Adorama.