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Canon 24mm Lens War

Canon Lens Wars 24mm Focal Length Shootout – Episode 2

By Pye Jirsa on January 10th 2014

Canon 24mm Lens War

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

Equipment Used

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.

I. Canon 24mm f/1.4L II

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.

Canon 24mm f/1.4L II at f/1.4

Canon 24mm f/1.4L II at f/1.4

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.

24mmf1.4-at-f1-Close1

II. Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II

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.

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 at f/2.8

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 at f/2.8

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.

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II at f/2.8

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.

Canon 24-70mm f/4L at f/4

Canon 24-70mm f/4L at f/4

But visually, it lacks the contrast, color and bokeh of the 24-70mm f/2.8L II and the 24mm f/1.4L II prime.

Canon 24-70mm f/4 at f/4 closeup

IV. Canon 24-105mm f/4L

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.

Canon 24-105mm f/4L at f/4

Canon 24-105mm f/4L at f/4

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.

Canon 24-105mm f/4 at f/4 Closeup

WCA-24-105mmf4-24-70mmf2.8

WCA-24-105mmf4-24-70mmf4

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.

WOA-24-70mmf2.8-24mmf1,4-Bokeh

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.

WOA-24-70mmf4-24-105mmf4-Bokeh

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.

Canon 24mm f/1.4L at f/4

Canon 24mm f/1.4L at f/4

WCA-24mmf1.4-24-70mmf2.8

WCA-24mmf1.4-24-70mmf4

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.

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L at f2.8 at f/4

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L at f2.8 at f/4

Canon 24-70mm f/4L at f/4

Canon 24-70mm f/4L at f/4

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.

WCAf4-24mmf1.4-24-70mmf2.8-Center

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.

WCA-24mmf1.4-24-70mmf2.8-Edge-sharpness

Still though, at f/4 while we are zoomed in, you can see the 24mm prime still has a midly nicer aesthetic to the bokeh than the 24-70mm f/2.8L II, but at this point, we are splitting hairs.

WCA-24mmf1.4-24-70mmf2.8-Bokeh

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.

WCA-24-70mmf4-24-70mmf2.8-Center

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.

WCA-24-70mmf4-24-105mmf4-Center

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.

WCAf2.8-24mmf1.4-24-70mmf2.8-Center

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.

WCAf2.8-24mmf1.4-24-70mmf2.8-Bokeh

We can see the tree trunk falling far more out of focus on the prime, than on the zoom as well.

WCA-24mmf1.4-24-70mmf4-DOF

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.

Final Conclusion

So let’s sum it all up.

The Best All Around Lens

Canon 24-70mm f2.8 II 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

Canon 24mm f1.4 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

Canon 24-70mm f4 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

Canon 24-105mm f4 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.

About

Founding Partner of Lin and Jirsa Photography and SLR Lounge.

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Q&A Discussions

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  1. Marcus Lewis

    I’ve definitely been wanting to upgrade my lens collection and this comparison helped me solidify my soon to be purchase. I used to carry around the 17-35 f/4, but I always got stuck at the wider end of things making me realize I’m more suited as a prime shooter.

    SO I’ve been eyeing the 24mm f/1.4 as I hear so many good things about it and from this article it definitely confirms my decision. Thanks!

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  2. Dave

    Hi Pye,
    First off I really love this entire range of videos you are doing :)
    I do wish that the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 II was also included in the 24mm range. Would you be able to give your opinion on how this lens holds up on the 24mm setting?
    Thanks :)

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  3. Jay

    Being it’s about half the price (not at B&H pricing) of the 24-70mm f/4L, the 24-105 seems like the budget alternative and is hardly a lens to avoid. (it’s L glass after all) You just have to judge if you have the extra cash, need the extra resolution for what you output, and if that extra 35mm will be handy to you. It may be pretty close to end of life, but it’s still not a bad lens.

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  4. Bill

    Would have been interesting to see how the 24 TS-E compared.

    I have the 24 TS-E, the 24-105, and the 24-70 f/2.8 II. For static subjects in low light, the 24mm f/1.4L II prime does not “destroy” the 24-105 because the 24-105 has IS… No, the bokeh is not equal, but if you want/need DOF, the 24-105 can shoot in equally low light, with some extra DOF too boot.

    When I need shutter speed in low light I use the 24-70 f/2.8. If I want to run and gun static subjects in low light I often use the 24-105.

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  5. Vic

    Nice comparison but I would have liked to see how the 24 2.8 IS stacks up against these L lenses.

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  6. Mike Mahoney

    Wow, great series of videos (so far)! Very informative — lots of useful information. Thank you so much and keep up the great work!

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  7. Patrick Duffey

    I agree that this is a great testing format and I like the zoom vs prime comparison at each focal length. I would really like to see the non-L primes included. Many of us already have a zoom (24-105, etc) as our go-to, general purpose lens. To add an expensive L series prime to the bag is a huge financial commitment for most people. If the cheaper, older primes offer better performance than the zooms at a fraction of the price of the L series, they would likely be an easier way to go. It looks like one could buy an EF 24 f2.8, 50 f1.4 and an 85 f1.8 for the price of the 24mm L series.
    Will you be including any of the non-L series primes in future testing?

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  8. Joel

    This was an interesting video but still kind of an odd comparison to me. I personally don’t buy zooms to shoot just at one focal length and the WOA. I can’t speak for others but I buy zooms for versatility and other aspects they might deliver… Reach and IS in the case of the 24-105 or near-macro capabilities and IS in the 24-70/4.0.

    I think the zooms would have been a better comparison together and then perhaps the 24L with the 24/2.8 IS and maybe the 28/1.8 and 28/2.8 IS.

    This is still informative and well done video, just not necessarily the lenses I would compare.

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    • Brandon

      I respectfully disagree, Joel. As someone who was in the position of buying either the 24 prime or 24-70 II zoom only a few months ago, I had to decide whether the versatility and prime-like qualities of the latter were a sufficient tradeoff versus buying the faster and cumulatively more expensive primes within those ranges (24L, 35L, 50L). Prior reviews and these results speak for themselves that the new 24-70 is indeed a worthy compromise unless one absolutely needs the speed of those magical primes. Moreover, many prospective consumers will be in a similar position in debating between all the tested lenses and whether or not each are actually worth the cost “upgrade” from one another, and this video would have been very much appreciated and especially reaffirming back when I was in the market. This is a very well done series thus far – concise and informative, enough to satisfy even the pixel-peeper’s eye.

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    • Joel

      Valid points but how do you judge the true value and use of a zoom when you’re only looking at it at one focal length and WOA?

      I agree that the series is well done.

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    • Pye

      To answer all the questions. Each lens is tested at every focal length it crosses over. For example, you will see the 24-70 compared at 24mm, 35mm, 50mm and 70mm. Against other pro-zooms and primes that come in each of those ranges. That way users can see exactly how a lens looks at a similar focal length compared to other zoom lenses/primes at that particular focal length. Monday we will release the 35mm episode. So stay tuned! =)

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    • Brandon

      Looking forward to Monday, although my prediction is that the 24-70L II will blow the 35L out of the water at equal apertures.

      The main value I see in a zoom is if one actually uses the focal lengths within those ranges. For example, I find myself either using the widest or longest ends of my 24-70 and rarely ever using 35 or 50mm. Same with my 70-200. Oftentimes I find 70mm is simply too short and I end up foot zooming anyways, whereas if I had two bodies with a WA or UWA on one and a telephoto on the other (85L or 135L) I’d not only have the same common focal lengths covered, but I’d also have more versatility in regards to bokeh control and speed. It really depends on preference and which focal lengths one uses most. For me, I chose the 24-70 because I honestly didn’t know which FLs I’d actually use, but I have since added the 85L because it is one of my most common. If I had a second body, I would probably sell my 24-70 and get the 24L because it and 85mm are the ideal FLs for me. To each his own though, eh?

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