Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II Review by Kevin Chung
Earlier this week, Adobe finally released its official lens profiles for Canon’s recent high-priced lens offering: the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II (introduced to market in Sept, 2012). Allowing for automated vignetting, distortion & chromatic aberration corrections made in Lightroom 4, the new lens profiles also finally allow me to conclusively comment on the new lens’ performance in its entirety, though I’ve been using the lens extensively in both event coverage & studio shoot situations over the past two months already.
The Mark II (otherwise known as a 2nd iteration or design) version of the EF 24-70 f/2.8L lens follows in the hugely successful tradition of it’s earlier predecessor, the EF 24-70 f/2.8L Mark I (introduced in 2002). At a regular list price of $2499 before taxes, the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II now sits squarely atop Canon’s list of zoom lens offerings despite not featuring image stabilization, a popular request for the updated lens amongst Canon shooters.
My review of the lens will primarily focus on the performance of the new 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II lens relative to the original 24-70L as well as Canon’s notable prime lenses within the same focal range, drawing on my personal experiences with each lens – for more numerical test-chart-resolution oriented reviews, you should visit other more technical review sites.
While covering the same focal range at the same constant f/2.8 aperture as the original EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, the new 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II has a completely re-worked design (shown above at both 24mm & at 70mm). Boasting a larger filter thread (82mm compared to 77mm – which theoretically allows more light into the lens) & different new lens elements, the new 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II lens is noticeably faster to focus & much sharper throughout the focusing range.
Photos from the new lens also showcase a level of micro-contrast & colour richness normally only found in Canon’s best large-aperture primes such as the EF 24mm f/1.4L Mark II & the EF 35mm f/1.4L. Both flare control & bokeh from the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II is also incredibly impressive (you’ll see the pleasing tonal transitions in the photo below), given the new lens’ updated coatings & 9 rounded aperture blades respectively.
My primary complaint of the original 24-70L was that the images were usually very clinical/flat & lifeless, while altogether lacking the critical sharpness I’m accustomed to attaining with my primes. I basically never found the original 24-70L to be sufficient for my standards, despite liking the convenience of a 24mm to 70mm zoom lens for both event coverage applications & in-studio shooting. Not surprisingly, the Canon’s new 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II blows the original 24-70L out of the water in every which way with regards to both image quality & AF performance.
What was surprising to me, however, was the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II’s image quality relative to notable super-primes like the Canon’s famed 35L & 24LmkII lenses. While the zoom obviously lacks the large-aperture flexibility of the f/1.4 primes, the convenience of a quality close-range zoom can outweigh the luxury of using multiple, faster primes in many situations. (A lot of times during an event coverage assignment or wedding, it simply doesn’t make sense to waste 30 seconds to a minute to swap lenses.)
Wide open at f/2.8, the new 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II is an absolute engineering marvel: the capable zoom produces results that rival & nearly supersede the 24LmkII & 35L prime lenses at the same apertures in terms of sharpness, colour & contrast. Within a week or two of owning the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II, I made the decision to sell both of my beloved 24LmkII & 35L primes – the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II is simply that good & I haven’t missed either of my wide-angle L primes at all. Going forward, I have no doubt that the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II will become my primary workhorse lens in most paid assignment situations. (The image below was shot wide-open at f/2.8 during a recent corporate shoot – there’s basically no chromatic aberration or purple/green fringing.)
Is Canon’s EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II worth the (crazy) money?
Ultimately, this aspect will depend on each photographer’s needs & priorities. Prior to buying the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II, I was hooked on prime lenses for their far superior performance & image quality relative to any zoom lens that Canon was offering. I hated having to change between a 24mm lens & a 50mm lens multiple times during each corporate event shoot (for instance), but I still did it – because I knew it would offer my clients better photos than if I relied on the economical/convenient but crappy original 24-70L.
With the introduction of the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II, I now find my event coverage assignments to be a lot freer – I now have a lens that can cover 99.9% of indoor situations, that is fast to focus, reliable & very sharp at any aperture, across the entire frame on full-frame cameras. In-studio, I still prefer the larger working distance & flatter telephoto perspective of Canon’s equally impressive EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II for headshots, but I’ve enjoyed relying on the flexible 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II to encourage chemistry-building & natural emotion for full-body sequences early in shoots. (Having an inexperienced model or already-nervous corporate client watch you change lenses multiple times is both a time-killer & a mood-killer in a confined studio space.)
By selling both my 24LmkII & 35L prime lenses while purchasing my new 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II at Canon pro pricing, I actually saved $300 by switching to the “expensive” zoom & if we also factor in the Zeiss 21mm f/2.8 ZE (amazing landscape lens that I never used often enough to justify its cost) that I also sold earlier, I’d be up nearly $2000 with the switch. (Note: I kept my EF 50mm f/1.2L as it produces a very different look in its images than any of the aforementioned lenses, despite not being as sharp as the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II.)
Even without selling those aforementioned prime lenses, I would definitely consider the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II a worthy investment that would pay for itself quickly.
Weaknesses of the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II?
Very simply – I don’t see any. For what it is, the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II is pretty much a perfect lens & an absolute perfect match when paired with Canon’s amazing EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS Mark II which came out a year earlier. It could be noted that Canon may have alienated some of its user base by not including image stabilization in this design of a very popular zoom lens, but I most definitely welcome Canon’s design to keep the lens smaller & lighter by not including another design element. Rumours also have that adding image stabilization may have been detrimental to the stellar image quality produced by the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II.
Yes, Canon’s EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II is very expensive, but as a working shooter who takes pride in the quality of my work & also the service I provide my clients, the upgrade was a no-brainer. As it stands, my biggest complaint with the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II is not really much of a complaint at all: the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II has ~2.8% barrel distortion at 24mm, which is really pretty impressive compared to most wide-angle lenses but is still roughly twice the amount of distortion compared to the excellent 24LmkII prime. (Yes, primes are easier to design & therefore SHOULD have less distortion than a zoom – I’m spoiled/demanding/anal.)
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II Key Specifications
Focal Length: 24 – 70 mm
Aperture: Maximum: f/2.8, Minimum: f/22
Camera Mount Type : Canon EF
Minimum Focus Distance: 1.25′ (38 cm)
Diaphragm Blades: 9
Filter Thread: 82 mm
Dimensions (DxL): Approx. 3.5 x 4.4″ (8.89 x 11.18 cm)
Weight: 1.77 lb (803 g)
Additional Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II Sample Photos
Two Six One – Corporate Profile
Lady Luck’s Annual Birthday Bash @ Muzik – Nov 5th, 2012
I Love Saturdays @ Rockwood Nightclub – Nov 3rd, 2012
PAVONI After Party @ Thompson Hotel – Oct 22nd, 2012
PAVONI Press Interviews @ WMC Fashion Week – Oct 22nd, 2012
Kayce Model Catalogue – Wendy (Set 1)
Updated: Additional Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II + Canon EOS 1D X Sample Galleries:
GliSODin Skin Nutrients – Corporate Event
World MasterCard Fashion Week – Behind-the-Scenes
ARIA Saturdays: The Bunny Hop – Sat, Mar 30th, 2013
ARIA Saturdays ft The Devil from Acapulco – Sat, Jan 12th, 2013