Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L review

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Below
is a quick GIF animation that demonstrates what 4 extra millimeters
add to the wide-angle range. If you apply the 1D multiplier,
you are looking at a 31.2mm versus 36.4mm. (Refresh the page
if you don’t see the animation)

 

Physical
comparison: 24-70L vs. 28-70L

Quality
glass and zoom range add weight to the design of the lens. For
this reason, both lenses are bulky and heavy. They are also
equipped with an equally bulky lens hood. It’s worth noting
that the new 24-70L is heavier and longer than its predecessor.
Contrary to what you would expect, both of these lenses are
longest at the wide-angle end and shortest at 70mm. Zooming
towards the wide-angle end, I noticed the front element moving
up into the front of the hood, since it is mounted on a non-moving
portion of the lens. Cutouts in the hood prevent it from vignette
at the wide end. If you zoom back to 70mm, the lens retracts,
resulting in a nice, deep hood at the long end. It’s a fantastic
design.

The
previous 28-70 f/2.8L contains a lot of plastic, but has a solid
feel. The lens also weighs less than its size suggests. The
new 24-70 f/2.8L build quality is similar to the 16-35mm f/2.8L
with less plastic and much better dust/moisture sealing. It
features a rubber lens mount gasket made for rain and a dust-proof
seal when used with the Canon 1V, 1D or 1Ds.

As
you can see from the above picture, the new 24-70L is almost
a 1/2 inch taller. However, both lenses weight about the same
with the 24-70L being about 70g heavier. The new 24-70L is even
longer when fully extended at 24mm. See below:

The
included 24-70L lens hood (EW-83F) is slightly longer than the
28-70L’s (EW-83BII). I was surprised that the EW-83BII hood
was not wider to prevent flare at the new 24mm end. Even using
the lens hood with both lenses, I saw some flare in pictures
taken with the 24-70L at 28mm that were not seen in the 28-70L’s.
Here is an example of what I found:

AF comparison

The same inner focusing system with USM was used in both lenses.
Canon claims that the new 24-70L is equipped with a new processing
unit that makes the AF faster than the 28-70L’s. Upon first
glance, the 24-70L AF speed seems identical to the 28-70L’s.
I could not detect any significant improvement in speed.

A
wonderful and very welcome 24-70L feature is its closest focusing
distance. The new zoom’s minimal focusing distance is now 0.38m/1.25
ft against 0.5m/1.60 ft.
This translates to greater macro capabilities.

Optical
quality

In
theory, the newly designed 24-70L f/2.8L, should have superior
optical quality when compared to its predecessor.
Although sharing the same number of elements, the new 24-70L
has two aspherical lenses and one UD glass as opposed to only
one aspherical glass on the 28-70L. See the graphical representation
of their design below:

24-70mm
f/2.8L

28-70mm
f/2.8L

sd

Let’s
see how this translates into real world images. I will start
by comparing the 24-70L with the 50mm f/1.4 @ 50mm. All shots
were taken in manual mode to ensure identical exposure.

24-70L
vs. 50mm f/1.4 @50mm f/2.8 and f/4

24-70
@ 50mm f/2.8

 

24-70
@ 50mm f/4

 

50mm
f/1.4 @ f/2.8

 

50mm
f/1.4 @ f/4

 

As
you can see from the above 100% crops, the 50mm prime has an
edge over the 24-70L in terms of sharpness and contrast at f/2.8
and f/4 apertures. The above results were just what I expected,
with the zoom lens lagging a little bit behind the prime. At
f/8 the crops are very similar and therefore not shown here.

24-70
@ 50mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s

50mm
f/1.4 – f/2.8 – 1/500s

Again,
the 50mm f/1.4 prime provides better contrast and sharpness
when compared to the new 24-70L. All 24-70L shots were slightly
warmer whereas the images from the prime were more neutral.

Now,
let’s add the 28-70L to the comparison. I will be showing crops
from the 35-70mm range since most of the 28mm samples from the
24-70L showed signs of flare and therefore could not be compared.
It’s worth noting that even with flare, the 24-70L images at
28mm f/2.8 were slightly sharper than the 28-70L’s.

@35mm
f/2.8

24-70
@ 35mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (center)

28-70
@ 35mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (center)

24-70
@ 35mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (edge)

28-70
@ 35mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (edge)

@
35mm f/2.8, the 24-70L performed better than the 28-70L in both
center and edge portions of the frame. Both focusing points
were dead on at the same location. Notice the warmer colors
from the 24-70L samples.

@35mm
f/5.6

24-70
@ 35mm – f/5.6 – 1/125s

28-70
@ 35mm – f/5.6 – 1/125s

@ 35mm f/5.6 both lens provided images with very similar contrast
and sharpness. The crops from the 24-70L however, were warmer
and a bit sharper.

@50mm
f/2.8

24-70
@ 50mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (center)

28-70
@ 50mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (center)

24-70
@ 50mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (edge)

28-70
@ 50mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (edge)

@
50mm f/2.8 both lens provided images with very similar contrast
and sharpness. The crops from the 24-70L were warmer and a bit
sharper, especially on the edges.

More
tests:

@50mm
f/2.8

24-70L
@ 50mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (center)

28-70L
@ 50mm – f/2.8 – 1/500s (center)

50mm
f/1.4 @ 50mm- f/2.8 – 1/500s (center)

The
24-70L and 28-70L crops @50mm wide-open look pretty identical
to me. The 50mm f/1.4 seems crisper and has better contrast
than both L zooms. Keep in mind that the 50mm f/1.4 performs
even better at f/4. Now, let’s see how the zooms performed at
50mm f/4:

@50mm
f/4

24-70L
@ 50mm – f/4 – 1/60s (center)

28-70L
@ 50mm – f/4 – 1/60s (center)

The
image quality between the 24-70L and 28-70L @ 50mm f/4 seems
identical.

How
about at 70mm? Here’s how these lenses compared, when wide-open:

@70mm
f/2.8

24-70L
@ 70mm – f/2.8 – 1/125s

28-70L
@ 70mm – f/2.8 – 1/125s

It
may seem repetitive, but as you may have noticed, the differences
are very small – if any. I give the edge to the 24-70L @70mm
wide-open. It’s safe to conclude that optically, the 24-70L
and the 28-70L are very similar when shooting at 70mm wide-open.
Here is another sample at 70mm f/2.8:

24-70L
@ 70mm – f/2.8 – 1/30s

28-70L
@ 70mm – f/2.8 – 1/30s

Very
similar performance @70mm wide-open

@70mm
f/8

24-70L
@ 70mm – f/8 – 1/15s

28-70L
@ 70mm – f/8 – 1/15s

Same
as above. At f/8 I couldn’t distinguish the difference between
images from both lenses. They also provide identical performance
when stepped down.

Conclusion

If
image quality is more important than lens flexibility, I would
still highly recommend shooting with primes lenses. To me the
difference is noticeable and we should not be surprised by it.

For
the landscape photographer who believes that every little detail
counts, primes are still the way to go. The same is not true
for photojournalism where getting the picture is more important
than the small image quality edge. The differences between the
28-70L and 24-70L in the 50-70mm range are marginal and make
their images virtually indistinguishable. However, from my tests,
the new 24-70L has the image quality edge in the 28-35mm range
when shooting wide-open.

The
extra four millimeters in the wide angle range provide even
greater flexibility but makes the lens more prone to flare.
The lens hood should be used with both lenses at all times.
From my preliminary test shots, I ended up with more flare in
shots from the 24-70L than the 28-70L. This could be attributed
to the almost identical lens hood design and extra wide angle
range.

So,
should we still keep our 24mm, 35mm and 50 primes? If you have
them, keep them!
Should
I trade my 28-70L for the new 24-70L? That is a difficult question
to answer. If you need the extra range, I’d say go for it. However
optical performance is similar with both lenses, especially
at the 50-70mm range. The 24-70L is optically better wide-open
at the wide angle range.

The new 24-70L provides great image quality suitable to professional
standards. However, if you are thinking of replacing your 28-70L
or dumping your prime collection, think again. You may already
have all you need.

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