review: Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II
It was with great excitement that I received a review copy of the new Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (B&H / Amazon) lens. There were several reasons that this highly-anticipated lens interested me. My experience with Canon gear has been … let’s just say it’s been an uneven experience at times. There are specifically two lenses that got my ire – the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II and the (original) Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
The older Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 has a bit of a reputation. While some people love it, others hate it for being an inconsistent lens. It has a tendency to go out of calibration. Also, in my experience it tends towards softness when you zoom to 24mm, focusing at infinity. I dread it when a second shooter uses this lens, and by now I insist they use the much more reliable Canon 24-105mm f/4L zoom (affiliate), instead. Then I know the images will be sharp, with much less chance of being back-focused. Yup, I’m not a fan of the older lens at all.
In contrast, I absolutely love the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS (affiliate). It is sharp, even wide open. Along with the aggressive stabilization, this makes it a wonderful lens to use in low light. Highly recommended. Every Canon shooter should own one.
But for me, there really was a gap with Canon in a bread-and-butter pro-spec top-notch reliable and crisply-sharp mid-range f/2.8 zoom. (It has to be all of those things!) Especially if you look at the superb Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 AF-S (affiliate) in comparison. But now the new Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II has entered the scene.
Now, before I go any further, I need to explain how the reviews on my site work. Most often, the reviews are based on equipment that I actually own and use. But I also get equipment on loan from various suppliers. It is important to me that my reviews and the descriptions of my experiences with the gear, are real. Unlike another reviewer-of-every-lens-that-has-ever-existed, I can’t (and don’t want to) write reviews of equipment that I haven’t actually used. It is very important to me that there’s integrity to the articles and reviews on my website.
The counterpoint here is that the Amazon and B&H links on my site are affiliate links. I get a small percentage when someone buys equipment through me. It helps maintain this website. The Tangents blog is a labor of love, but there is also the need to have it generate some income for me to off-set the hours and hours that I spend maintaining it. I take real pride in this website and what has been achieved with it, and the trust that people have shown in me. And that means that I don’t want to be that blogger that post endless announcements of new equipment and fake reviews that are nothing more than a listing of the specs.
Even with the reviews that I have written, I try to make it as interesting and generally informative even for someone who is using another brand. So that’s a bit of a balancing act there with all this.
How well does the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II perform?
So now that everyone has a sense of trepidation about this …
Just how awesome is the new Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II ?
- It is more compact than the previous version.
- The auto-focus was noticably faster, and seemed smoother and more sure.
- The build quality appears to be better as well.
- It just feels like a lens that inspires confidence. It feels solid
So how does it perform optically?
I had two copies. The first copy – the review copy – was inconsistent. The second copy – one that I bought for myself – was spectacular.
My first copy of the lens = meh
This first copy of the lens (that I received for review purposes), was used this lens on several photo shoots with models, and the results that I got varied from holy crap, it’s sharp! all the way to WTF?
I couldn’t get it to be consistently sharp. Most images taken with this lens were razor-sharp … but others are mis-focused or just soft. It was inconsistent. I couldn’t get a handle on it to predict what was happening. So I returned this lens as a faulty example.
So as much as I would love to post a blanket glowing review of this lens … I simply can’t. Sure, I could ask for another copy, and that would most likely work flawlessly. But I’d still have to remark that I had a sample that was faulty, out of the box. And we’d still be here at this point.
The lens seemed to be more soft when I was working at the wider angles. I also did a comparative test (on a tripod) of a warehouse facade to see the edge-to-edge sharpnesss. I compared it to the Canon 24-105mm f/4 and the older Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 which had just been calibrated by CPS. The results weren’t good. The Canon 24-105mm f/4 showed a lot of barrel distortion, but was sharper wide open at f/4 than the new Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II was at f/4
So there was definitely something wrong with this lens. Unfortunately.
- In speaking to a friend of mine, his copy was soft at 70mm and he took it in to CPS. They calibrated the lens for him, and he is one very happy owner of this lens now.
- The Digital Picture mentions two of the three test lenses had issues with sharpness.
- Lens Rentals has a discussion on sample variation with the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II
- Borrow Lenses has a comparative test between the two versions of the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8
Re-appraising the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II = it is stellar!
Despite my initial experience with this lens, I did end up buying the the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II (B&H / Amazon) for myself after all. My daughter developed an interest in photography, and fell in love with my 5D mark II (and Canon 24-105mm f/4) that I lent to her. So I ended up giving her the camera and lens to keep as her own. However, this left me with just the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 II, and no camera body. And no mid-range zoom.
Even though I use Nikon as my primary system, I do feel it is important that I remain au fait with the Canon system – specifically their flash system. This is necessary for the various articles on the Tangents blog, and for the workshops that I teach. It looks less convincing if I ramble on about the Canon flash system and have a Nikon in my hands. That’s how I rationalize reasons to have a lot of toys!
So I bought my own copy of this lens, and tested it immediately on purchase … and I’m very happy with it. The sharpness wide open is stunning. Even better, that mushiness that I see in other Canon wide-angle zooms when used at widest aperture, isn’t there. This lens has remarkable sharpness and contrast at wide aperture when looking at the edges. Photos taken at f/2.8 were crisply sharp even at that aperture. I can happily live with this lens.
Finally … my opinion of this lens is slightly clouded. I had wanted it to be stellar, right out of the box. That first copy I tried, kinda was. But often enough, it also wasn’t. Chalk this down to Canon’s quality control that isn’t as tight as it should be.
My recommendation is that if you’re interested in this lens, that you do test it thoroughly before committing those hard-earned $$$; or that if you buy it, you buy it from a reputable dealer who would allow you to return equipment without hesitation.
As far as the copy of the lens that I own now, it’s going to see a lot of use.