Sunday, September 16, 2012

This one goes to 11... The new Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

The new Canon EF 24-70 F/2.8L II USM
First off, I should apologize to many of my loyal followers and readers of my blog for my long hiatus from writing. I've been very busy with many projects that took me away from writing and sharing new articles. I still need to do a part 2 for my multi-exposure article which I hope to catch up on very soon.

Today I wanted to share some feedback on one exciting lens to arrive, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM.

First off, the 10 year old Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM mark I isn't something that should be forgotten or overlooked. It was considered by many, a fantastic lens in its own right. A staple by many journalists and wedding photographers, it was considered by many to be the perfect zoom for up close and personal. However I personally never liked it for a few reasons.

First off the Mark I had strong vignetting wide open and the edge performance was weak to me. Ironically I love vignette, but when a lens has too much of it, it can be distracting. However I found the edges to be soft and suffered from some really bad chromatic aberrations. Now to be fair, the copy I had might have been a bad one. One of the things I've heard about that lens is that the front element can be easily decentered (from bumps, or drops). I'm willing to admit that my original copy was a lemon and that I never did try another copy after that poor experience. Also I didn't like the background blur (bokeh). I found it was a bit jittery and it's possible this is related to the non-rounded 8 blades while the new mark II now has 9 rounded blades. Other things I didn't like about it was the weight distribution, the backwards zoom where the element extended forwards for wide angle, and the oversized lens hood (although I've been pointed out that it's actually a clever design that helps with both tele and wide variable hood lengths).

Although I feel I'm in the minority with my feelings of the Mark I, Canon decided it was time to update this lens. Several things were updated from the old such as the 9 rounded aperture blades, but also the addition of 2 more elements over the older design. 1 Super UD and 2 UD elements. No change on the closest focus of .38m but slightly better magnification ratio of 1:4.76 vs 1:6.3 of the mark I. This is great news for product photographers that want to fill more of the frame with close up subjects.  I got some incorrect specs and this is not the case. The magnification ratio is better on the Mark I and I confirmed this with a copy I have on loan.

Zoom lock and locking lenshood
Weather sealing has also been updated on this now with current L standard weather sealed specs, and a fluorine coated front and rear element assists in keeping it relatively easy to clean and smudge free. The addition of zoom lock is a bit odd to me as this is something you'd see on cheaper zoom lenses, but I suppose nice to have when you stick it in and out of a snug bag.What is very welcome is a LOCKING lens hood. Something that Nikon users and a small amount of other camera companies have been doing for some time now.

Canon EF 24-70mm F/2.8 Mark I and Mark II Specifications

Mark I Mark II
Lens Construction 16 elements in 13 groups 18 elements in 13 groups
Special Lens Elements 3 aspherical and 1 UD element 3 aspherical, 2 UD Elements and 1 S-UD element
Number of Diaphragm Blades 8 9 (rounded)
Diagonal Angle of View (image circle) 74° – 29° 84° – 34°
Diagonal Angle of View (sensor) 84° – 34° 84° – 34°
Closest Focusing Distance 0.38m/1.25 ft. 0.38m/1.25 ft.
Magnification Ratio 0.28x / 1:3.45 (at 70mm) 0.21x / 1:4.76 (at 70mm)
Focus System Full Time Manual - USM/Front-Focus Full Time Manual - USM/Inner Rear-Focus
Zoom System Rotating Rotating with Zoom Lock
Filter Size 77mm 82mm
Measurements (at maxiumum size) 83.2mm x 123.5mm 88.5 x 113mm
Weight 950g 850g
Accesories Lenshood, pouch Locking Lenshood, pouch
Envrionmental Seals Dust and Moisture resistant Dust and Moisture resistant
Misc. Hood does not extend Fluorine coated front and rear elements for easier cleaning (also keeps dust and fingerprints off)

It still has that crappy side pinch lens cap. Seriously, what is the deal with this lousy cap? Did they manufacture enough to equip 200 million L lenses or something? The other feature that some might take issue with is the new lens filter size of 82mm. Generally speaking, this size is very specialized and expensive, but more and more lenses are showing up with the larger filter sizes. Do I welcome it, not willingly, but do I appreciate this to improve the design of the lens - absolutely. Fortunately for me I do have some 82mm filters from my 16-35mm F/2.8L mark II.

Cheap Seats
No issues handholding this and getting sharp crisp images.
F2.8 1/40 sec, ISO 3200
One feature that many were hoping for in this new model was image stabilizing. An omission that seems rather odd when all the competitors are coming out with their versions with some sort of stabilization. I can certainly argue the point that image stabilization is sometimes a red herring at these focal lengths. As the higher ISO's improve, the need for image stabilization seems to be less of an issue, but many would also argue that to maintain higher quality images, using a stabilized lens allows a person to use slower shutter speeds and lower ISOs. If you believe that this is the case then certainly the exclusion of the IS in this version was a mistake. But in my experience I found IS was more of an annoyance than an assistant. I don't find that this is a huge issue at all and in my case feel I have less reasons to blame the camera for my photo mistakes than to rely on an system that may or may not work for me. Even with my 24-105 F/4L lens, often times I shut off the IS. In fact more time than not it causes issues when used on a tripod especially with longer exposures.

The build quality of the new 24-70 is going to surprise a few people. The exterior shell is all polycarbonate which is very similar to the 100mm L macro build. I've seen a tear down of the lens and it's a nice balance of metal and plastic, but much of the improvements in the lens are very welcome for more rugged use. Before people get all up in arms about the exterior build material I will add my own anecdotal evidence about why this is better. High impact plastics like polycarbonate are designed to withstand all sorts of abuse. Certainly it's softer than steel, magnesium, aluminum and rocks, but personally I don't drag my cameras through gravel or get stoned on a regular basis, but on not one occasion, but three occasions I've dropped my similar build 100mm L macro onto concrete. All times they had lens hoods, rear cap and front cap. Twice it has rolled down my concrete driveway of 20 feet (after a drop of 5 feet), another time it tumbled end over end across a parking lot. Had this been the original 24-70 I can guarantee it would be toast. The metal would have deformed, and chances the helicoid cams would have been misaligned or out of calibration. All three times my 100mm macro survived, and the real kicker - NOT A SINGLE SCRATCH!

Polycarbonate shell increases on durability but also reduce weight.
As mentioned, a hood lock is now added to this and a new texture to the lenshood that better matches the entire lens. The hood automatically locks in the out and reversed positions and requires the positive application of the button to release the hood. I don't know how many times a hood has hit my clothing and turned itself, eventually falling off. This should stay on well without risk of loss. The inside is also flocked which should cut down on any stray light (much nicer than the stair-step approach by some other designs). The older design was a monster of a lenshood, but did have the advantage of giving longer shading for tele-positions because of the way it was design. This current design stays constant which may be an issue for the longer focal length. One other detail is the texture of the lens hood is also improved. It matches the rest of the lens well but much like the 100L macro hood, does a better job of hiding marks and scratches. It's a little more textured than the 100L macro hood which should hold up well under long time use.

Tekka Don
Performance wise, is something of a treat. I actually decided to trade in three of my primes within the same focal range to consolidate it into one variable lens. All three of my primes were stellar performers but I was finding that I was doing more lens changes in my everyday use than I really liked and it was time for me to return to a zoom for the practicality. However I didn't do so lightly. I actually based much of this on some feedback from Roger Cicala of Lens Rentals. He measure 5 copies of the lens and found them to be so good, that he was bold enough to say they outperformed the very best prime lenses of Canon's. I trust in Roger because he sees hundreds of copies of lenses and probably has far better results of consistency than any other user out there. I'd even be bold enough to say that his results may be far more accurate than all the top review sites who generally only test anywhere from a single copy to maybe three. Regardless, his assertion that this lens is better than almost all the lenses out there got me considering it was time for a change.

Now I know some people might think I'm impulsive and that I go through a lot of gear changeovers. I don't do this lightly and much of it I consider well before I do so. I enjoy trying out everything I can get my hands on, and I also like to give everything a fighting chance. I'm a trained designer and part of that is trying to understand the original intent of the creators of any device or product. Regardless of my rationale, I was not disappointed when I got my hands on this lens. It is all they claimed it would do and then more.

Kayak SunsetHuge improvements in edge sharpness. Shooting this lens wide open was a bit of a surprise just how well it worked. But also with the 5Dmk3 and its superior auto focus, it is amazing how fast and well it locks on. I've been struggling to get my F/1.4 lenses to be this good. I will admit that those issues are my fault, but with this lens, I have yet to use it wrong. It's bomb proof, but it's also depth of field proof. When I say that, I mean that in the lightest remarks in that the shallower the depth of field, the more likely a person will make focusing errors (and blame the camera for it).


Koda - 5 months
50% crop - AF is very fast and accurate.
One of the primes I replaced was my EF 24mm F/1.4L II USM which may seem NUTTY but in reality was actually very specialized in use for me. Although it was my go to lens for landscape photography, I generally only used it at F/11-16. The odd times I used it at F/1.4 was for some very specialized application which most times than not was kind of disappointed by.

I can say without any apprehension that this lens is fantastic for wide angle landscape. There's a tiny bit of CA at the edges in high contrast scenes but nothing that software can't correct but I also compared it to my images from the 24mm F/1.4 and found it to be almost identical (.03%). There's a little more barrel distortion with this lens over the 24mm prime, about 1.5% more for a total of around 2.4%. Considering that this is a zoom, these numbers are excellent. The images do appear sharper than my 24mm prime which would match the Imatest results that Roger Cicala found over the 24mm T-SE which has similar properties and considered the sharpest prime. This certainly has made me happy with my decision.

Focus speed seems faster than the older 24-70, however I have no way to confirm that at this moment (I'll revisit this when I can). But I am going to assume that it is likely faster with the 5Dmk3 as the current generation of lenses that use the new AF technology in the 2012 generation of cameras. Focusing in low light is easy. I tested some focus acquisitions in .3 EV of light and it hunted for a little, but nailed the focus after a couple of seconds which is very impressive. For event shooting where you want to freeze the action or capture the moment, this lens will not disappoint.

Product Shot Test

Thumbs up for Dim SumI self admittedly was a victim of bokehitis and it seems the hunt for the best and blurriest background became quite an obsession for myself (as I'm sure other photographers can confirm within themselves). I guess what snapped me out of this was the fact that I assessed the majority of my commercial work and most of it was stopped down from F/2 to F/8 for most portrait applications (in many cases I shot at F/5.6). In the cases where I shot wide open at F/1.2 or F/1.4 I was lucky to get a successful shot, but subjectively wasn't all that great because my subjects were mostly blurry with exception of the single plane (don't get me wrong... I love the look, but many times I hear from clients if I have images that have more in 'focus'). For those that might consider this as a first fast lens, I would say yes. It really is the more forgiving of fast lenses that gives you great subject isolation when you need it without making 60% of your subject's face out of focus. The trend for blurry blurry backgrounds is a fantastic arty applications, but when you need to ensure your shot, this lens does not disappoint. Another benefit of having a standard zoom like this is being able to go from a full body to a close head shot with a turn of the zoom ring.

Regardless of whether you think you need shallow depth of field, the subjective point I'll make is that this lens does the job. No fuss, no failures, it just works. Although I've only had this a short while. The shots that I have taken have not disappointed me. Even in a quick from the hip shot, to a speedy, without thought, composition moment, it seems this lens is up to the challenge. I am uncertain of the AF improvements made in the lenses of the past year, but certainly this lens is very fun to use, but also very practical for the working professional.

Sunday Sunset
An absolutely fantastic lens for landscape. This one shot handheld too.

I believe this lens will be great for landscape photographers, event, portrait and product. It really is that flexible, and that good. I'll continue to test this lens out, and intend on setting up a few special shoots where I can share the results with my readers. For now, I'm going to be bold and give an early score for this lens which I say is worth an 11 out of 10.

It really is that good. I highly recommend this lens if you can afford it. I know this question will come up, so I will answer it before I receive it. Should you replace your mark I lens with this lens? Generally speaking I would say no. The mark I is still a fabulous lens, and if you've been an owner of that lens for some time and love it, then there's no reason to change. The upgrades in the mark II probably won't make a difference to how people perceive your images in the long run. I recommend holding onto that lens and using the extra money towards something more exotic, perhaps something like a 135mm F/2L lens. For those like me with a range of primes that covers this zoom range and wants to reduce lens changes, this is the lens that seems to do it all. If you're not fixated on lenses below F/2.8 and looking for prime lens image quality, then this is the zoom standard that does it all.

To see my growing image samples from this lens, visit this link at my flickr site.

10 comments:

  1. Hi Terrance,

    Granted, I am have not used this lens. My limited experience in this are is with the 28-70L which I own.

    I really enjoy this lens, except for the weight, and that, in my opinion, is the main problem of that lens, and this lens (for me).

    Is this lens comparable to the TS-E? Only in terms of resolution. The TS-E can't do things this can, and vice-versa.

    Ultimately, and you know that well, there is never a perfect lens. This has a great range, but it is 2.8, and it is heavy. I am sure there will be days you will be missing the 24 1.4 (for its light sucking capabilities and narrow DOF), and days in which you will be missing the 40 2.8 (for its weight). But as long as you are willing to carry the weight, this lens will give you great photos.

    I personally never travel with the 28-70. It is just too heavy. I rather take my 35 1.4 (yes, full of flaws, but those flaws are usually around at less than 2.8, at 2.8 and above it is superb). It is my most beloved lens. And it is not because it is perfect, but because I love the photos that come out from it.

    Or I take my 24 or 45 TS-E, because I can do things with it that I can't with any other one.

    So creativity is in the photographer. I am sure you can crank great photos whether it is one lens or another. And I am sure you can do it even with a lens that barely goes to 5 ;)

    but we are gear-geeks, so we like to try and test equipment ;) I'll look forward to be able to take some photos with one of these lenses (and the new 70-200 2.8L II) and see if they are worth the hype.

    By the way, the coating in the back element has another important benefit: it reduces reflected light that hits the sensor, then bounces back into the lens rear element and appears reflected in a symmetric position in the photo. This happen usually at very wide apertures (it is frequent in night photos at 1.4 with the 35 1.4 and the 50 1.4). I'll show you examples, if you are interested.



    --dmg

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Great reply and comments dmg, you'll have to give it a try one day. I'm going to borrow a 24-70 mark I today and compare them against each other as well.

      The TS-E lens I love and hate. As an architecture photographer, you'd think I would love them. but honestly, I found them to be more cumbersome and time consuming to shoot with. Roger Cicala of lens rental also rated the resolution better on this lens over the 24mm TS-E (the sharpest of Canon's primes).

      I will miss the 40 F/2.8 for sure, but I also now have the X-Pro1 for those discrete and compact shooting moments. It made sense for me to get rid of it.

      I will miss some of the weight advantages and yes, there is no perfect lens out there, but this lens certainly comes close to it. I reviewed the thousands of photos I took with my 24mm F/1.4 and I took only a small handful at F/1.4. However the advantage of the 1.4 lenses is in the viewfinder. Seeing in lowlight and also focusing. But the 24-70 amazed me at focusing in .3EV and getting a successful shot.

      More importantly I did get this lens from a working point of view. Yes, I love getting new gear, trying them out and testing them, but ultimately I needed to reduce my large collection of primes into a single lens that works with me. Lens changing in the field is not practical and it was time for me to ditch the notion that primes are better. This lens matches the primes in resolution, and still gives me the shallow depth of field without losing focus with me just leaning forward or backwards slightly.

      I will miss the SWC coating on the 24L II for sure. This lens does flare a little more than I like, but will adjust to work with it.

      Delete
  2. Hi Terrance,
    Thanks for this great review. I find I am using my 24-70L (older one) less and less because of the weight and the lack of bokeh. I've been thinking about whether to get the 24mm instead to alternate with my 50mm f/1.4. But if the new 24-70 feels much lighter and has good bokeh, I may consider that one instead.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The weight difference is noticeable with the new one. For me, I was just finding I was doing too much lenses changes in the field and honestly chasing bokeh is fun, but when I was working, I never deliberately spent a huge amount of time composing for it.

      However using old tried and true tricks like standing back a little and zooming got me the same bokeh as using the 50mm F/1.4.

      If you're spending more time at a specific focal length then it does make sense to pick up just the prime. The 24mm F/1.4 was my favourite lens. Still is and I still highly recommend it. You won't be disappointed by that choice.

      Delete
    2. thanks for this great review. I love my mark I version though it clearly has its flaws. What I would love to see is a side by side comparison of shots taken with the mark I and the mark II. If I cannot see the difference, why upgrade? I do not doubt the new lens is superior and would buy it if I did not already have a great copy of the mark I.

      Delete
    3. Jepicard,

      I did actually borrow a Mark I to compare. I haven't published a comparison of the two and there are plenty of other reviews out there.

      But to be honest, if you have a good version of the Mark I then it will fare well against the Mark II and it might not be worth it. There is a lot of copy variation in the Mark I, and I've personally seen the worst and the best of that lens which was one of the reasons I never personally kept one for long.

      But honestly, if you like your Mark I now, you'll not gain a whole lot from the Mark II unless you're looking for that extra bit of sharpness (which matches the primes well).

      Delete
  3. Awesome review Terrance. At the moment im just looking at my options as for lenses when I get my 5D mk III next summer.

    Sure I can get a 24-105 f4 as a kit lens, but now with your review Im thinking maybe I should seriously consider the 24_70L instead.

    Other than the fact I will have to get all new filters (again) that is.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Terrance,

    Thanks for the review. I bought a 5D III with this lens today. Not cheap and they are heavy, but this is what you pay for quality!

    Just need to get out there now.

    ReplyDelete
  5. See my review above.
    After reading review after review on the 24-70, I couldn't take it anymore! I sold my mark I and got the mark II. Wow! I think I had a good copy of the mark I, but this mark II is spectacular. On my 7D it has improved many of my low light shots in terms of soft focus. On my 5dIII, I have had many an OMG moment.

    I must state that if I had not sold my mark I, I would have not necessarily moved on to the new lens. I see no reason for anyone to go into the poor house for this lens or putting off buying a different lens if you already have a 24-70, but if you do not have a 24-70 and you can swing it, do and you will not be disappointed.

    ReplyDelete