What would a professional photographer ask for a zoom lens? It must be high quality, fast, sharp, durable and reliable. This is exactly what the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM is, a professional workhorse fast zoom lens. This incredible lens is probably one of the most common lenses being used by any professional photographers in the world and surely it is one of the best selling Canon professional lenses in the past decade.
So why this lens?
First 24-70mm is a very commonly used focal length and virtually suits every possible shooting conditions, bar the extremes of paparazzi’s desire to stalk the celebrities and capturing their shower scenes with a 500 or 600mm lens or the extremes of some creative artists who wish to distort the world before them. When Canon launched this lens in 2002, exactly ten years ago, not many professional would want to use a zoom lens. Not because of its sharpness but the relatively slow aperture. In 2002, professional photographers were still using films and 2.8 was simply too slow. They would op for the much faster primes like 1.8 or even 1.0 or 1.2. Canon was famous for their primes, one of which, the famous King of portrait lens, Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, was last reviewed. But everyone also know the convenience a zoom lens is valuable under certain circumstances, such as places that you couldn’t even get close to the subject of interest. With the advancement of digital from 2005 onwards, photographers slowly adapted the possibility to shoot digitally in high ISO such as 1600 or even higher, the slower zooms became to make sense. The flexibility means less work for the hard press photographers. Yes, this zoom is not going to replace those superb primes and the big aperture of the primes were simply valuable in all circumstances, whether to create shallow depth of field look or shoot in ultra dark. But this is perhaps the most versatile, portable and high quality Canon glass you can get.
This lens is solid, period. It’s made from metal. I’ve seen very bashed up samples in my life and some have been dropped, soaked in water (then dried), scrapped by a truck, dodged bullets in war zones… you name it. This lens is made to last you a life them. It’s also very reliable and incredibly sharp. The super fast USM motor makes sure your subject is lock in focus silently in no time. Full time manual focus override was a great feature if you want to do any final adjustment before the shutter is pressed. It is also weather sealed so it’s dust and splash proof. I’ve used it in dessert and heavy downpour and it never fails (in fact, my camera usually gives up first). The lens is pretty flare resistant so the huge and deep lens hood, at least for me, is only used when it is raining to prevent water drops on the front element.
Using it in practice, good and bad
Besides my favourite 85mm 1.2, this is perhaps my most frequently used lens. Not just because of its image quality but the reliability and the robustness. I can just shoot, in any condition and do not need to worry about rain, sand or dust and I can even use it as a weapon to defend myself. It’s a lens that gives you confidence. There is also nothing to complaint about this lens, if you don’t mind its weight. Because it’s a ‘L’ lens, Canon puts the usual nice stuff inside the solid metal barrel: all-glass elements, USM motor and weather sealings. You will definitely ‘feel’ the quality as soon as you touch it. The lens does extend and retract when you zoom in and out, even though it’s environmentally sealed, it is wise to use the lens hood in the rain.
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM is always the ‘standard’ zoom lens for the professionals and there are many reasons to prove it. At 24mm, the distortion is minimum and sharpness is great from centre to edge. Colours are punchy and saturated with good contrast. You don’t need to worry about colour fringing either as it is very very well controlled. At the tele end, it’s a little soft at wide open and there’s little barrel distortion but it does give you very sexy bokeh when shoot wide open. I love using it at the wide end and when compares to the legendary Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM at the same focal length, you can see why. The distortion is very very well controlled and everything looks more natural because of it.
So, if I ever going to take one lens for any occasion, this would be it. If you ever going to afford a ‘L’ lens, this should be your first buy. Comparing to the more popular modern Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, it is more heavy but sharper, faster and more solid in every way. It may lack the Image Stablisation, something that the videographer really like, but for still shooters, this is the perfect lens.
In the camera world, what you get what you pay. If you are serious about photography, you know lenses are your eyes and the camera body is your hands. In order to get sharp pictures, you need good lenses. Even when your hands are slow and old, you can still work and produce. But the ultimate results, to me, lies on the quality of the lens. So a good lens will last, not the camera body. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM is one of the best lenses you can get these days. It’s so versatile that it’s a one lens setup whether you are out and about on the street or traveling. It may not be as sexy as Canon’s fastest primes but it’s a workhorse lens, something that will not melt your heart but will definitely work and get your work done beautifully.
Update: Canon has discontinued this beautiful lens and replaced it with the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. We will see if this lens is worth upgrading in the future.
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