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Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 L Mark 1 VS Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L Mark 2 – Portraiture Comparison

By Matthew Saville on December 19th 2012

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!)


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Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  2. Joseph Prusa

    Love my Mark II

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  3. Shawn

    I’d like to see a post production before and after. It looks like the white balance changed which makes the mkii performance look more appealing but if Its only saving me a minor wb slider adjustment its not worth double thd cost. If Sharpness is only visible at 100% on hairs, that wont be visible on prints under 11×17 at 300 dpi there are probably better ways to spend $2500 to improve IQ

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  4. Sara

    How its possible that all photos are duplicates if you used 2 lenses on one body like you said….its just not possible that this people stayed in complete the same position and smile 1-2 minutes without movement.Come on this is lies for kids!

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  5. Tuomas

    Thanks a lot! Great video indeed.

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  6. Ammar Selo

    great review but why didn’t you shoot both shots with the same focal length? if you already did, why is it that the frame size is different in both shots?

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  7. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II Final Review

    […] headshot session to see if there are noticeable improvements with the Mark II over the Mark I (Read the 24-70 Mark I vs Mark II Article Here). While the 24-70mm Mark II does have a better image quality, we were still not sure if the new […]

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  8. Marc B Maggard

    Agreed… I really need to see you guys compare the mk II to the Tamron VC 24-70.  How much sharpness will I lose if I go with the Tamron (I shoot video as well)

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  9. Canon 24-70 f/2.8 L mk1 VS mk2 Portraiture Comparison – Follow Up

    […] Gear Articles Canon 24-70 2.8 L mk1 VS mk2 Comparison Follow-UpCanon 24-70 2.8 L Mark 1 VS Mark 2 – Portraiture ComparisonApple Retina IPS vs ASUS FHD TN LEDGiveaway! Bokeh Masters Kit and Camera Cookie CuttersCanon EF […]

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  10. Tagnal

    Looks like an IS version will be coming in 18 months or so.

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  11. steve bryson

    Just out of interest, what camera body were these shot with? 

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  12. Joshua Tousey

    Wow. Only got 30 seconds into the video and could see a difference!! 
    Sharpness and Skin tones is definitely better on the MK2

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  13. Joe

    Were both lenses new when tested, some sharpness falloff could be attributed to wear on the lens…. Just a thought since I have my MK 1 version in for maintinence at the moment. The change in color is astounding.

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  14. Mail

    It would be awesome to see these 2 compared against the Tamron if/when possible.

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  15. John Graham

    Video is back up, but now it’s set to private.

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    • Pye

      Its back up and is 1080p now. 

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  16. SG Muncy

    Great review. But is this lens typically used for portraiture?

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  17. ScriptureZealot

    Since the video has been removed, are there any comparisons anywhere else?

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    • Pye

      It will be back up shortly. We just wanted to up the resolution to 1080p and show some additional image examples in the article. Stay tuned, will be back in a moment. 

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  18. John

    review. MI looks flat by comparison. Surprised at the color difference
    but what isn’t mentioned is how the color actually compares to the
    existing light. Is the MII just producing a warmer color? It definitely
    looks better, but it isn’t better if it’s not producing accurate
    color…so my question is, were the studio lights that “warm”?

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