Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Lens Review

by admin on January 31, 2012

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Lens

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM Lens

The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L lens was developed as a replacement for the famed 28-70 f/2.8 which became a staple for photographers who wanted to match the image quality of prime lenses with a more versatile zoom lens. Essentially, the 24-70mm is designed to replace an entire range of three fixed focal length lenses by offering identical image quality with the added benefit of versatility.

To improve upon the older 28-70, Canon redesigned the glass elements of the lens, added a new auto-focus processor to improve focus speed and accuracy, and sealed the lens to protect from dust and moisture damage. When used with a Canon 1V, 1D or 1Ds, the 24-70mm forms a dust proof and water tight seal with the camera.

Ultimately, the 24-70mm comes close, but fails to match the image quality of professional level prime lenses. The Canon 24-70 f/2.8L has been considered the general purpose walk around lens for Canon SLR users. An extremely popular standard zoom lens for both the professional and the serious amateur, its focal length is versatile, its maximum aperture of 2.8 is fast, its images are pleasing, and the build quality is solid. It is my “go-to” zoom lens for weddings, as it can handle a wide group shot, and can just as easily zoom in for a tighter portrait.

Lens Specifications

Focal length: 24-70mm
Maximum aperture: 1:2.8
Lens construction: 16 elements in 13 groups
Diagonal angle of view: 74 to 29 degrees
Focus adjustment: Front-focusing method
Closest focusing distance: 1.25 feet
Zoom system: Rotating type
Filter size: 77mm
Dimensions: 3.3 inches in diameter, 4.9 inches long
Weight: 2.1 pounds

Physical Attributes

Physically, this lens is fairly hefty at just over two pounds. It’s been nicknamed the “Brick,” by some, and for a good reason. It will weigh down your camera a bit, but it’s in the name of build quality. As with all of Canon’s L lenses, it has the EF mount, which will mate with any of Canon’s DSLRs from the pro-grade 1D series to the consumer Rebel series. Its zoom and focus rings are both smooth and precise with little to no play in them, and their placement on the lens feels great when shooting. The zoom ring seems to always be exactly where my fingers lie. Switching between manual focus and auto focus is simple; just move the AF/MF switch position. It also has full time manual focus override, so adjustments can always be made whenever you wish.

One odd and clever thing about this lens is the front element extends outward when zooming out, and inward when zooming in. So the lens is fully extended at 24mm, and fully retracted at 70mm. While this is opposite of what most lenses are, it allows the hood to be in a fixed position instead of extending with the lens. The hood is quite deep at 70mm, and becomes much more shallow at 24mm, since the lens extends outward towards the front of the hood at its wide end. I would prefer the lens to have no external moving elements at all while zooming, but I can only imagine the challenges trying to engineer such a design. It would likely add considerable size, weight, and cost as well, so it’s a “would-be-nice-to-have” feature more than a complaint. The hood itself adds a bit of size to the lens, and on the end of the front element are 77mm filter threads.

Compared to Other Lenses

The 24-70 came to Canon’s lineup as a replacement for the 28-70 f/2.8L, and brought several improvements. Aside from the obvious 4mm on its wide end, it has been improved in nearly every regard. Better image quality, faster and more accurate AF, better weather sealing, etc. A common comparison that many people make when choosing a pro-grade standard zoom is between Canon’s 24-70 f/2.8L and 24-105 f/4L IS. The major differences between the two are first in size and weight; the 24-70 is larger and heavier than the 24-105. The 24-70 is also one stop faster, creating a shallower depth of field and allowing movement of subjects to be more easily frozen with a faster shutter speed. The 24-105 has image stabilization built in, which is very helpful when shooting at slow shutter speeds and in low light conditions.

Keep in mind though, that IS will not be beneficial for moving subjects, since it only controls lens movement, and not subject movement. The 24-105 has the obvious advantage in focal length with its additional 35mm in reach. Image quality for both lenses is great – I would give the nod to the 24-70 in this regard however because it experiences less distortion and can create more pleasing bokeh (the out of focus region of a picture) because of its larger aperture. The price advantage goes to the 24-105; at the time of writing, it is nearly $300 less expensive than the 24-70. So which is for you? If you’re concerned with portability and cost, I would recommend the 24-105. If image quality is what you’re ultimately after, the 24-70 gets my vote.

Performance & Image Quality

Speaking of image quality, the 24-70 shines in this department. It is nearly as sharp as most prime lenses, and shooting wide open at 2.8 is impressive. The only other zoom lens that rivals (and bests, in my opinion) its sharpness is the 70-200 f/2.8L IS II, which complements the 24-70 very, very well. You can shoot nearly anything with this combination. At f/2.8, the 24-70 has a sharp center, but it does soften a little bit towards the edges of the frame when using a full frame camera. Edge softness becomes more apparent in the longer end of its range – around 50-70mm. There is some vignetting at 24mm (again, on a full frame body), but it is handled fairly well and is easily corrected with post production software. Vignetting decreases as you increase the focal length and the aperture is stopped down.

Barrel distortion is somewhat apparent from 24-35mm, and there is a touch of pincushioning in the 50-70mm range. Neither distortions are horrible though, and like the vignetting, can be corrected with the right software.

Canon 24-70 f/2.8L Lens Barrel Distortion

Barrel Distortion

Chromatic aberration is controlled very well. It is mildly apparent under the right circumstances, but definitely not this lens’ weak link. Color, contrast, and bokeh qualities are all top notch with this lens. An 8-blade diaphragm renders smooth out of focus regions.

Canon 24-70 f/2.8L Lens Chromatic Aberration

Handling of Chromatic Aberration

Auto focus is also an excellent feature of this lens. It is fast and accurate. Very quiet as well. The lens does not rotate or extend with focusing, so CPL or gradient filters can be used with no problems.

A great thing about this lens that is sometimes overlooked, but is definitely worth mentioning is its minimum focus distance of 1.25 feet. Now, don’t confuse it with a dedicated macro lens, but it can focus pretty close, and provides a good magnification of small subjects. This is great for capturing up-close detail, and will respond very well to an extension tube or up-close filter.

Canon 24-70 f/2.8L Lens Focus Distance

Focus Distance

Canon 24-70 f/2.8F Lens Perspectives

Canon 24-70 f/2.8L Lens Smooth out of Focus Regions

Smooth out of Focus Regions

24-70 f/2.8L Lens Pro’s and Con’s

Pros Cons
Color/Contrast Size/weight
Build quality Price
AF speed Barrel distortion on wide end
Close minimum focus distance Edge softness at f/2.8

Read More User Reviews

Canon 24-70 f/2.8L Sample Photo

Canon 24-70 f/2.8L Lens Photo
Canon 24-70 f/2.8L Sample Photo

See More Sample Photos


In short, the 24-70 is a fantastic general purpose lens. If I had to choose just one lens to shoot everything with, this would definitely be a strong contender. On a full frame SLR, its focal length is a great balance between wide and telephoto. On an APS-C 1.6x crop sensor SLR it becomes the equivalent of 38-112mm, so its focal range isn’t quite as versatile in my opinion, but it really depends on what you shoot. If you have an APS-C SLR and want something similar to the 24-70, I would recommend the EF-S 17-55 f/2.8. It roughly equates to the 24-70 on the smaller sensor size, has the same fixed maximum aperture of 2.8, but it is lighter and less expensive than its bigger L cousin, the 24-70.

When you pair the 24-70 with one of Canon’s 70-200L lenses, the combination is a dream. The two lenses compliment each other very nicely, and make for an extremely useful and versatile range of focal lengths, with great image quality across the entire range. The uses for this lens are widespread – weddings and photojournalism come to mind immediately, but it can also be used for landscapes, portraits, and even sports. Nearly every professional photographer I’ve come across owns this lens, and it consistently rates over 4 out of 5 stars on retail sites like Amazon, B&H, and Adorama, with thousands of ratings. It has my enthusiastic recommendation.

Previous post:

Next post: