When Canon announced that they would charge a whopping $2300 for the mk2 version of their 24-70 f/2.8 L lens, and that it would not contain image stabilization, most Canon users were mighty perplexed. It didn’t help that Tamron had just announced a stabilized 24-70 f/2.8 the day before Canon’s official press release. Kind of a slap in the face for many people who were expecting stabilization especially for such a high price. Also, the previous version of Canon’s 24-70 f/2.8 was no slouch, really. It wasn’t perfect, but then again you could find one used for $1250!
For portraiture, skin tones are everything and sharpness is almost everything. Any little bit of help that a lens (or sensor) can give you with skin tones and overall colors is greatly appreciated by professionals and hobbyists alike.
The question is, can Canon outdo themselves and make the lens worth purchasing, even without stabilization? The previous 24-70 is already built like a tank, has good sharpness, and focuses lightning fast…
Here is a brief comparison that showcases what Canon L glass is known for: they have indeed outdone themselves with regards to that trademark crisp, colorful clarity, and of course incredible sharpness. What does that mean? Literally, images from the mk2 lens will look better out of the camera and may require less editing overall.
Watch the video and decide for yourself, of course! (Be sure to watch in 1080p)
The Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L mk2
(The Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L mk1)
The Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L mk2
The Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L mk1
Viewing them at web resolution, the differences are very subtle at most. The 24-70 mk2 is slightly warmer than the mk1, and has slightly more clarity overall. This seems like “Oh just two clicks in lightroom and it’s the same”, …However in my experience as a full-time post-producer, every little bit helps and it adds up very fast. The bottom line is that the better the lens, the easier your images are to edit and/or the less editing they will need overall.
In the central areas of the frame, the results are similar but a difference is still visible. The mk2 images have a similar amount of detail, but just more “bite” to them. Again, the argument could be made that with a little bit of proper sharpening, one lens could be made to look much like the other. That is just a judgment call. Depending on your particular standards and your ability to afford time to post-produce and sharpen images, the 24-70 mk1 might suit you perfectly fine…
…However, if you venture too far away from the center then you’ll begin to see more of a difference. This is where Canon has previously suffered in years past: off-center image sharpness. They’ve been known for gorgeous bokeh, flattering skin tones, and smooth noise-free details. But off-center lens sharpness is one instance where only the latest (and most expensive) lenses have exhibited flawless performance.
In all honesty however, I think part of the $2300 price tag is revealed in a subtle detail you may not have noticed in the last hair image. It is that faint “stair-stepping” effect that you see in the last 24-70 mk2 image of hair strands, even with Lightroom 4‘s fully processing fully reset. In simple terms, this basically means that the lens has much more resolving power than the sensor is able to capture!
I believe that what Canon is doing is designing these high-end lenses to work with the future generations of high-resolution, 40-50+ megapixel full-frame DSLR’s. While the current generation of mk1 lenses can decently resolve 18-20 megapixels on full-frame, they are beginning to reach their limits towards the edges of full-frame sensors.
If you’re planning on sticking with 12-20 megapixel cameras for example for the foreseeable future, you might even be wasting part of your money by getting a mk2 lens. A mk1 lens plus a little sharpening and clarity might do the trick, especially if you’re on a budget. However if you truly push your equipment to the limits, and plan on upgrading to higher resolution bodies as they become available, you’ll probably have to invest in mk2 lenses sooner or later.
Take care, and happy clicking!
(PS: keep an eye out for additional testing of these two lenses, especially if you’re also interested in landscapes and night time photograpy, and things like corner sharpness and coma!)