Welcome to the 24mm focal range of the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series, where we will be comparing 4 lenses at the 24mm focal length.:
For those that are new to the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series, be sure to check out the Lens Wars Teaser video, where we introduce the series and our testing methodology and all the other videos on each focal length.
Watch the 24mm Canon Lens Wars Video
- Camera: Canon 5D Mark III
- Tripod: MeFOTO GlobeTrotter Carbon Fiber Tripod
- Remote Trigger: Vello Shutterboss Version II Timer Remote Switch
Canon 24mm Lenses Tested
Image Quality at Wide Open Apertures
Let’s start from the top with their perceivable visual differences at their respective Wide Open Apertures (WOA). Once again, this is a visual test of differences, not a technical test. So, we are trying to distinguish differences in appearance while viewing images full screen on a Dell U2713HM 27″ IPS monitor.
There are two lenses at this focal length that really stand out visually. The Canon 24mm f/1.4L II prime at its WOA of f/1.4 creates a beautiful and creamy bokeh that is simply unmatched by the other lenses.
However, visually it is a bit softer, but still usable. You do notice a little bit of that dreamy haze type softness, even when just viewing the image at full screen.
The next most impressive is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II. This lens has the second most bokeh at its WOA of f/2.8, although it is significantly less than the 24mm prime.
But still, what is most impressive about this lens is the combination of detail and bokeh. The lens is absolutely tack sharp when wide open at f/2.8. It has beautiful color and contrast and enough bokeh to make the subject really pop off the background.
III. Canon 24-70mm f/4L
In 3rd place visually is the Canon 24-70mm f/4L, not a lot of bokeh, but still quite sharp as well, probably just behind the 24-70mm f/2.8L.
Finally, noticeably in last place is the Canon 24-105mm f/4L which has the least amount of contrast, bokeh and sharpness then when compared to the 24-70mm zoom lenses.
As you can see below, even when simply viewing the image side by side without zooming fully, it is easy to see just how soft the Canon 24-105mm f/4L is compared to the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II and the Canon 24-70mm f/4L.
Widest Open Aperture Side by Side Bokeh Comparison
Let’s go ahead and just show you a side by side comparison of all 4 lenses bokeh aesthetics at their respective WOAs. The image below is a side by side 4 way close up showing the bokeh aesthetics of each lens over the exact same area of the composition.
From the image above, it is easily noticeable that the 24mm f/1.4L II creates the most bokeh, and also has a very smooth bokeh aesthetic. But to be honest, the 24-70 f/2.8 is not too far behind. However, in the same area of our frame, we can see below that the 24-70 f/4L renders quite a bit less bokeh, while the 24-105 f/4 really doesn’t have much at all. While the 24-70 f/4 still has a little bit of that circular bokeh aesthetic in the area of the green leaves, the 24-105 f/4 looks like the green leaves are simply slightly out of focus.
Image Quality at Widest Common Aperture
Next, let’s jump up to their Widest Common Apeture (WCA) of f/4 and do some side-by-sides. Now remember, for the 24-70mm f/4L and the 24-105mm f/4L, we are still at their WOA at f/4. However, on the 24mm f/1.4L, we have come up 3 stops in light! On the 24-70mm f/2.8L II, we have come up one stop as well.
Visually at f/4, the 24mm prime is still creating a little more bokeh in the background than the other lenses, but it is getting tough to tell a difference without zooming in.
The 24-70mm f/2.8L II’s color and contrast is pretty equal to the 24mm prime, although I think I still prefer the 24mm prime a bit more. The prime seems to render the colors and contrast in just a slightly more “clean” and neutral tone.
At f/4, the 24-70mm f/2.8L II, 24-70mm f/4L have for the most part equalized visually. The 24-70 f/2.8 still is a bit sharper and has a little more bokeh, but visually it is becoming hard to see when simply at full screen, and even difficult to distinguish when zooming in.
Let’s go ahead and zoom in and do some side-by-side comparisons. At f/4, the 24-70mm f/2.8L II and the 24mm f/1.4L II are very comparable in center image sharpness, however, we start noticing quite a big difference as we extend off to the edge of the frame toward the right of the model.
I would say the 24mm prime slightly edges out the 24-70mm f/2.8 in terms of center sharpness as shown above, but it falls quite a bit shorter in terms of edge sharpness, where the 24-70mm f/2.8 takes a significant step ahead as you can see below.
The 24-70mm f/4L was also quite sharp as well from center to edge. Slightly behind the 24-70mm f/2.8, but still, a solid performer.
The only lens that was very noticeably worse was the 24-105mm f/4L which had significantly less center to edge sharpness than even the 24-70mm f/4L which you can see in this close up of the models dress.
Image Quality of the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II and 24-70mm f/2.8L II at f/2.8
We know that the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II prime and the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II are our two favorites in this group (and they should be as they are also the most expensive lenses), so let’s do one more comparison with just these two lenses at their WCA of f/2.8. At f/2.8, it appears that detail and sharpness are still a bit better on the 24-70mm f/2.8, but contrast and color renders slightly better on the 24mm prime.
What’s interesting though is the aesthetic quality of the bokeh between the two lenses. Due to the shape and construction of the aperture, the 24mm prime and 24-70mm f/2.8L II have a different aesthetic quality to their bokeh. The 24mm prime’s bokeh is slightly more pronounced and a little bit smoother than the 24-70s which has a smaller shape, and doesn’t blend quite as much.
We can see the tree trunk falling far more out of focus on the prime, than on the zoom as well.
Sharpness is very similar, although if we split hairs, the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II prime has a bit better center sharpness, while the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II has a bit better edge sharpness. Color and contrast is also very similar, although the 24mm prime has slightly cleaner colors.
Low Light Consideration
In terms of low light, the 24mm f/1.4L II prime has 2 additional stops of latitude at f/1.4 when compared to the 24-70mm f/2.8L II! To put that in perspective, if you were shooting at 1/100th seconds shutter speed for a correct exposure on the 24-70mm at f/2.8L II, you could shoot the same shot at 1/400th second for the exact exposure at f/1.4 on the 24mm prime. That difference is absolutely huge!
The 24mm prime is even another stop faster than the f/4 zoom lenses which makes it 3 full stops faster in low light. So as expected, the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II prime absolutely destroys the other lenses in terms of low light performance.
Notes On Focusing
The caveat with the 24mm prime is that hitting your focus can be tricky and sometimes even quite tough, especially when shooting wide open. I kept having issues on the 24mm prime where I would think it would be in focus, but it would just barely miss. The off-center AF points are often inaccurate when shooting wide open, which means you need to use Live View to verify focus, or be safe and shoot several images to ensure that you have a sharp one.
The easiest lens to autofocus was probably the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II, which snapped to focus very quickly and accurately. The two f/4 zoom lenses were right around where they should be as well.
Factoring the Cost and Choosing the Best Lens
In reality, all 4 of these lenses are rather pricey. We are looking at $1,149 for the Canon 24-105mm f/4L, $1,499 for the Canon 24-70mm f/4L, $1,749 for the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II prime, and a whopping $2,299 for the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II!.
When speaking purely on the aesthetic quality of the image, overall performance in sharpness, clarity and color, as well as low light performance, the clear winner is the 24mm prime, which at $1749, It is the second most expensive one of the bunch.
My second favorite lens in this grouping for overall aesthetics and performance is the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II which is $2,299.
Many of you may be thinking “Duh Pye, these are more expensive lenses, they should be better.” But, what we are looking for is whether the additional cost is actually giving you that much more in performance. For example, if a lens costs double or triple the price, then to make it a “value” it needs to be double or triple the lens in terms of quality and aesthetics.
In the case of the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II and the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II, both lenses function and perform visually that much better. So, while the 24-70 f/2.8 is around double the price of the 24-105 f/4, in terms of quality, aesthetics and performance you are getting more than double the lens. The same could be said with the 24mm prime and its low light functionality and wide angle bokeh aesthetics. To keep it simple, the additional costs are justifiable in this situation.
So, these two lenses are your best performers in the class, but choosing one or the other will depend on your shooting style and needs. You see, generally, when I am shooting wide angle images, I am not looking for extreme amounts of bokeh. I meticulously frame my image to have exactly what I want (because there is so much in the frame), and then I shoot for everything in focus. So for me, the 24mm prime doesn’t necessarily fit my shooting style because rarely am I looking for bokeh on my wide angle lenses. Typically, I look for bokeh on my 35, 50 or 85mm primes because I primarily shoot portraiture.
So for my shooting style, the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II is a better fit because the sharper detail from edge to edge, and focal length flexibility are more important than the extreme low light and bokeh functionality of the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II. This is the same decision each of you will need to decide on, which features best fit your shooting style and needs.
So let’s sum it all up.
The Best All Around Lens
The Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II makes the most sense because of its focal length flexibility in addition to its amazing image quality. When I need bokeh or low light performance, I go to my Canon 50mm f/1.2L or my Canon 85mm f/1.2L II for those functions. This combination is what I would recommend for the majority of you.
Low Light & Bokeh Champ
If you need extreme low light capability and a shallow depth of field in a wide angle format, then there really is no better option than the Canon 24mm f/1.4L II.
The Stabilized and Budget Alternative
If you are on a budget or if you need image stabilization, then your next best option is going to be the Canon 24-70mm f/4L. It is one stop slower than the 24-70mm f/2.8L II, and doesn’t produce quite the same image quality or bokeh aesthetic, but it is close, in fact it is very close! And for the $1499, it also includes image stabilization, which is crucial for those of you doing a lot of DSLR video.
The One to Avoid
The one lens I would avoid in this line up is the Canon 24-105mm f/4L. While this lens has a bit more focal range flexibility, it simply doesn’t compare to any of these other lenses in terms of aesthetic quality, sharpness, detail, color and contrast rendition and so forth. In turn, for the extra focal length and image stabilization and the lower price of $1,149, you are trading in your overall image quality.
While it is still a “good” lens, it isn’t necessarily great at any one thing other than just being cheaper and having a bit more reach than the other zooms.
Check Out SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars Series!
I hope you enjoyed this 24mm focal range installment in the SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series. Be sure to check out the rest of SLR Lounge Canon Lens Wars series.