24-70mm

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There is a lot of exciting news today, and not just with the US Presidential election but also on the dSLR front. Nikon has announced the new Nikon D5200 upper-entry-level dSLR and Canon has announced the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens.  Yes, a 24-70mm with Image Stabilization! Plus they announced  the EF 35mm f/2 IS USM lens.

The Nikon D5200 is a pretty big leap for an upper-entry level camera in that not only does it boast the 24 megapixels of the new Nikon D600, it also incorporates the 39-point autofocus system of the D7000 (and D600).  This is a sophisticated, complex AF system that was challenging for many experienced enthusiasts to learn, so it is going to be an interesting challenge for those with much less dSLR experience. A very interesting move by Nikon.

Nikon D5200 dslr 39 point autofocus AF

The new Canon 24-70mm F/4L IS, with Image Stabilization, is designed to be the kit lens for the upcoming Canon 6D, though it will also make a great lens for any other Canon dSLR. It is going to create a very difficult decision for photographers who will have to weigh the pros and cons of the 25-105 f/4 IS (with Image Stabilization too), the original 24-70 f/2.8L or newer 24-70 f/2L II (both without Image Stabilization), and the brand new 24-70 f/4L IS – which adds Image Stabilization.

Canon 24-70mm lens ef is image stabilization f4 f/4

The original 24-70 f/2.8L quickly became my main walk-about lens immediately after obtaining it, so I can say that it is a wonderful lens and a great focal length.  Have the additional reach of the 24-105mm f/4L IS would be great, but I didn’t want to give up the wide f/2.8 aperture which creates even greater background blurring. Now people are going to have to analyze the Image Stabilization vs. the f/2.8 or f/4 aperture vs. the additional reach of the 24-105mm (especially on a full-frame camera) vs. the price vs. image quality vs. size and weight.  Not an easy decision! Perhaps when I get a chance, I will try to break it down and try to help with the decision.  Just know, before you lose your mind analyzing the pros and cons of each element, each of these lenses has amazing performance, built, and image quality.  You really can’t go wrong with any of them. Just pick one and start shooting!

And perhaps most exciting, Canon has introduced the Mark II lens caps! Finally, a center-pinch cap that can easily be accessed inside a lens hood.  I know you had to copy Nikon to do this, but thank you Canon!

Canon lens cap center centre pinch new

Canon has just announced an updated, improved version of it’s high-quality EF 24-70mm f/2.8L standard zoom, called the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM.  (To understand what all the notions mean, please see my Canon Lens Notations post.)

Some would call this the full frame standard zoom, though as an EF lens it can also be used on non-full-frame cameras such as the 7D, 60D, and T3i/600D.  The difference is that on non-full-frame bodies, it will act more like a 38-112mm focal length lens due to the crop factor of the smaller sensors.

Canon 24-700mm f/2.8L II lens new updated improved
New Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM – (image from Canon USA)

Many, including myself, had hoped for – or even expected – this update to incorporate image stabilization, but this was not included.  The image stabilization would have made it an even tougher decision between the new 24-70 f/2.8L II and the 24-105mm f/4L IS, which offers a similar focal length plus image stabilization, but has a minimum aperture of “only” f/4.0.

Canon states that the lens has been completely redesigned, and in addition to still offering great weather sealing like the original, the same .38m / 1.25 ft. minimum focus distance, and improved durability, it also now “features completely redesigned optics to provide outstanding clarity, image quality and durability. A compact design makes it ideal for carrying on every shoot, and a range of optical enhancements provide improved performance – capturing greater detail across the frame while reducing distortion throughout the entire zoom range, particularly at the maximum 70mm focal length.

With a redesigned optical system that includes two Ultra-low Dispersion (UD) and one Super UD aspheric elements to minimise chromatic aberration and colour blurring, the lens delivers consistently sharp, high-contrast images. Each lens element also features Canon’s optimised Super Spectra coatings to reduce ghosting and flare and ensure excellent colour balance. Additionally, a fluorine coating minimises the amount of dust, dirt and fingerprints that adhere to the front and rear of the lens, helping to maintain superior image quality.”

The original 24-70mm f/2.8L lens included “the use of two different types of aspherical lens elements and a UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) glass element for obtaining sharper image quality.”  (quotes from Canon press releases)

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L original lens
Original Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L USM – (image from Cburnett, Wikipedia, GFDL license)
PLEASE do not put a cheap Tiffen filter on an L lens – use a high quality multi-coated B+W MRC filter

There are some significant differences in the design of the new lens vs. the older version.  They both have ultrasonic motors for autofocus and full time autofocus (you can override the AF by turning the focus ring without switching to manual focus).  And they both use an external zoom mechanism, meaning the lens extends as you zoom in and out.  However, the original lens extended as you zoomed toward the 24mm wide end, which is “backwards” from a typical zoom lens.  The new version acts as a more typical zoom, extending as you zoom towards the 70mm telephoto end.  They both include a lens hood, though the older hood attached to the main section of the lens and the lens extends inside of the hood, thus working more effectively as a hood throughout the entire focal range from wide to tele.  The hood of the new version attaches to the extending section, and thus is a smaller tulip style lens hood typical of most lenses.  Perhaps the new coatings and lens elements make up for any internal reflections that might have resulted from this less effective hood.  The new lens offers a lock switch for when it is retracted, though L lenses typically zoom so smoothly and tightly that they don’t tend to creep.

The sizes of the lenses are similar, though the new version is slightly shorter and lighter but wider.  Due to the changed design, the new lens boasts a larger 82mm filter size.  And the prices at this point are dramatically different.  As far as the image quality, it is certain that the new 24-70mm is going to demonstrate dramatically improved image quality, especially when paired with the new Canon 5D MkIII (Canon 5D X?) when it comes out, as it is rumored to boast 30+ MP, which is going to require excellent glass to fully take advantage of.

24-70mm f/2.8L
3.3″ x 4.9″
2.1 lbs (950 g)
77mm filter size
$1,269 at B&H
$1,299 on Amazon

24-70mm f/2.8L II
3.5″ x 4.4″
1.77 lbs (805 g)
82mm filter size
$2,299 at B&H available for pre-order, expected in mid-April

This weekend I followed my own advice, and rented a lens to try out before deciding whether or not to buy it. As I suggest in my post Why You Shouldn’t Buy the Kit Lens, if you are considering purchasing an expensive lens or want to compare a couple similar lenses to decide which one to go with, rent one or both of them for a day or a weekend, and see how you like using them. Check with camera stores near you, or look into online lens rental sites that mail the lens to you, like LensRentals.com. I went to Calumet to rent, since there is a store near me and it’s pretty cheap for the weekend rate.

(click on any product links in the text to view the lenses on Amazon.com)

I rented the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L since I’m curious how it compares to the Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS. While they have a similar focal-length range and can each serve as a great walk-around lens for everyday use, they have some differences that make it difficult to choose between the two. The 24-70mm is larger, significantly heavier (2.1 lbs. vs. 1.48 lbs.) and extends externally as you zoom. The 24-105mm has an internal zoom mechanism, and also has image stabilization (IS). But a major difference is the maximum aperture: f/2.8 vs. f/4.

side by side bokeh
click here to view these images larger on Flickr – from the garden at the Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA

The wider maximum aperture of the 24-70mm makes it a “faster” lens, allowing it to be used in lower light, although the IS of the 24-105mm can make up for that shortcoming. Visually, the wider maximum aperture allows for shallower depth of field (dof) which provides more dramatically blurred backgrounds, or bokeh. While I have resisted using the term bokeh in my writing, I can’t really avoid it in this discussion because the difference between f/4 vs. f/2.8 is all in the bokeh. The above image demonstrates what that means. It refers to the “circles of confusion” of the out-of-focus areas of an image – their size, shape, edges, and quality. Both of the images are taken with the 24-70mm lens – at f/4 on the left, and f/2.8 on the right. You can see that while they both demonstrate dramatically shallow depth of field and background blurring, the image taken with the aperture set at f/2.8 shows a smoother blend of the background colors and contrasts. The images are from the garden of the Longfellow House in Cambridge, MA.

When I got my Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens, I chose the f/4 version rather than the f/2.8 IS version because it was smaller and significantly lighter, and I knew I would not dread using it on a long day of shooting as I feared I would with the 3.24 pound f/2.8 IS version. Three and a quarter pounds! (According to the Canon website. I’m not sure if that is right – Amazon says it is 2.9 lbs.) Anyway, that kind of weight might be an important consideration for someone traveling with a lens or using it for consecutive full days of shooting. I know it is a consideration for me. So, even though I got the f/4, I’ve wondered what I have been missing image-wise by not being able to open up to f/2.8. So I took these two images with the 24-70mm to see the difference, and it is more considerable than I had thought it would be.

I was very pleased with the 24-70mm. I had been concerned that I would want more range on the telephoto end, and I did end up with a lot of images taken at the 70mm focal length, but I didn’t usually feel like I needed or wanted to zoom in any closer. It really is a great range for everyday use. It is a big lens, but other than the weight, it feels great and is comfortable to use. You can’t deny its image quality, the bokeh is wonderful, but the weight is still a consideration and may dissuade me in the end.

Here is a great site at The-Digital-Picture.com to compare lenses, side by side. You can compare test images taken at various focal lengths and apertures. I will leave all the pixel peeping and debating of the merits of the 24-70mm vs. the 24-105mm to the forums, and just share a few photos I took with the 24-70mm at the Harvard Museum of Natural History and the adjoining Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. All the images are hand-held, without flash, in very low lighting. The leaves and flowers in the images below are from the world renowned glass flower collection. Yes, they are made entirely of glass! Even those fall leaves. It is mind boggling, especially when viewing them in person.

If you are considering buying any of these lenses from Amazon.com, please use the links above, and I will get a little something for referring you. Or use this link to go directly to Amazon.com. I appreciate your support!

HMNH cat

HMNH bird-hawk

HMNH bird-dove

HMNH autumn leaves
glass leaves above, glass flowers below. yes 100% made of glass!
HMNH purple flowers

HMNH snake

HMNH fish fossil

HMNH Peru map

HMNH Mayan stones

HMNH Indian diorama

HMNH Indian diorama 2