Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
Category: Normal Lens
Conclusion - Pros
- Superb, almost flawless optics
- Impressive flare resistance
- Fast, silent, and accurate autofocus
- Excellent build quality including weathersealing
Conclusion - Cons
- Unpleasant vignetting in the 50-70mm region at F2.8 on full frame
- Noticeably lower image quality at close focus distances
- No image stabilisation
- Very expensive
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is the kind of lens that's always going to be held up to high scrutiny - it's the company's flagship standard zoom for professional photographers, and is expected to deliver top-notch results under all conditions. Happily, that's exactly what it does.
In fact, the 24-70mm II follows its big brother, the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM, in being a lens that's so good we've found it difficult to pick out any significant flaws. It's superbly sharp, even wide open, but manages to combine this with lovely bokeh. Distortion is pretty well under control (and of course easily corrected in post processing), and chromatic aberration extremely low. Vignetting can be a problem towards the long end on full frame cameras, with a very abrupt falloff in brightness in the corners at F2.8. But again that's easy to correct, either in post-processing, or in-camera with recent EOS models.
The 24-70mm deals well with difficult lighting too, and handles shooting directly into the sun without much image degradation due to flare. Autofocus is fast and decisive, and we've found it to be impressively accurate on higher-end cameras such as the EOS 6D. The entry-level EOS 650D can struggle to hit perfect focus every time at F2.8, but that probably reflects more on the camera than the lens. The build quality is difficult to fault too, combining weathersealing with a welcome wieght reduction compared to its predecessor.
The lens does have one clear optical flaw, although it's a comparatively minor one in practice. It gets very soft when shot wide open towards its minimum focus distance, and autofocus accuracy can suffer as a result. This means it's not a good choice for selective focus close-ups, but we suspect most serious users will choose a proper macro lens for this purpose anyway. Users of the older version should also be aware of the larger 82mm filter thread - but many Canon users will have bought accessories this size to match the EF 16-35mm f/2.8 L II USM already.
The Final Word
Let's be clear here - the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is a very expensive piece of kit. In typical recent Canon fashion its MSRP at launch added a huge premium (~$1000) over its predecessor, and while the price has inevitably fallen since, at the time of writing it's still the most expensive 24-70mm AF lens on the market. It also has to contend with two much cheaper third party rivals, the Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 EX DG HSM and the image-stabilised Tamron SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD. Indeed the latter highlights another potential drawback of the 24-70mm f/2.8 II: its lack of stabilisation, which could be particularly troublesome to users who want to shoot hand-held video alongside stills. This all raises the key question - is the new Canon worth it?
The answer, as usual, isn't necessarily clear-cut, and depends on each individual photographers' needs and preferences. Compared to the previous version, it offers weathersealing and a welcome reduction in weight. The Sigma can't match it optically, especially on full frame, but is so much cheaper that many users may well be willing to overlook this, particularly if they use APS-C cameras. The Tamron looks like a very worthy competitor, offering impressive image quality, image stabilisation and weathersealing all in one package, and we aim to assess it fully in the near future. But quite simply the Canon offers such exceptionally good optics that, if you're after the very best, there's simply no other choice.
Ergonomics and Handling
Professional and serious enthusiast photographers looking for the best possible optics in an 'everyday' standard zoom lens.
Not so good for
Photographers who shoot a lot at close focus distances
The EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is a near-flawless lens with optics that come very close to matching a set of top-quality primes. With fast, accurate autofocus and weathersealed construction, it's difficult to find any really serious faults at all.
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