If there is only one zoom lens you have in your kit bag, it should be the 24-70mm. With so many lenses available on the market, this may seem like a bold statement, but the humble 24-70mm covers the most used focal lengths in one tidy package. Back in the day when I was progressing from a basic DSLR and kit lens to something more pro-level, I needed a good all-around zoom lens.
Tripping over the option of 24-70mm lenses, I inadvertently found this zoom to be useful for everything from events, to weddings and portraits. The f/2.8 aperture also helps out in low light, plus produces some lovely bokeh for portrait work. Essentially, this means if you’re in the same boat, needing an all-encompassing lens, the 24-70mm is a good start point. From there you can expand your collection into more wide-angle and telephoto zooms and even a bunch of high-quality prime lenses. No wonder this zoom is a staple of press photographers.
In this regard, let’s have a look at some of the best 24-70mm lenses currently available. There are a few third-party lenses thrown into the mix since they can still provide exceptional quality at, generally, a more affordable price point.
1. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
When it comes to the Canon camp, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM is the first port of call. The first version of this lens was a staple workhorse, but also had weird reverse zooming capabilities. This second version brings better color accuracy, a more compact form, and a build quality to last a lifetime.
One Super UD and two UD elements reduce chromatic aberration and color fringing, while three aspherical elements reduce distortion and improve sharpness. A Super Spectra coating has also been applied to each element to control flaring and improve contrast. The lens may not have any type of image stabilization, but it covers the basics extremely well, producing exceptional image quality with creamy bokeh when the aperture is at f/2.8.
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM also has a focus lock switch to keep the lens at one focal length. Ideal for more prime lens type working. The 24-70mm also works very well on crop sensor camera bodies, providing a more telephoto reach of 36-105mm. For all Canon users, this lens is an ideal choice.
2. Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
If you have bought into the Sony camera platform, then the Sony FE 24-70mm f2.8 GM is a high-quality choice. Yes, this is an expensive lens, but it also brings top-end features. Having ED and Super ED glass elements and nano AR lens coatings provides exceptional image quality, while the nine-blade aperture produces exceptional bokeh effects.
The f/2.8 aperture works exceptionally well in low light, while the Direct Drive SSM autofocus system is both quick and quiet. There is no image stabilization, but there is a focus hold button to replicate prime lens workings and a build quality to serve you for many years.
Images produced by the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM are rich in detail and color, with very low amounts of lens anomalies such as chromatic aberration or lens flaring. This lens is a pricey option for Sony users, but the quality is worth every penny.
3. Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art
If it wasn’t for the Tamron lens below, the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art would get the best value for money 24-70mm award. Sigma’s Art series produce some exceptional lenses of late, with their 24-70mm lenses being no exception.
It features three SLD and four aspherical elements, with a Super Multi-Layer coating to reduce lens anomalies, while an oil-repellent coating has been applied to the front element for working in harsh weather conditions. The rounded nine-blade diaphragm provides a constant f/2.8 aperture, which is highly capable of high-quality bokeh effects. The lens even has a basic optical image stabilizer system for good measure.
The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art may not have the full weatherproofing of the more expensive options and it is quite weighty at 1020g, but in all other respects it’s an excellent 24-70mm offering which justifies its price point, and is a good balance between quality and cost. The lens is also available in Canon and Nikon mounts.
4. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
For the Nikon users out there, one of the staple zoom lenses is the AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR. An exceptionally high-quality zoom lens, featuring an aspherical extra-low dispersion, three aspherical and one high refractive index elements to reduce artefacts like chromatic aberration and to increase image quality. Additionally, this lens has Nano Crystal, Super Integrated and fluorine coatings for full protection and increased light transfer.
The Silent Wave Motor AF system is extremely fast to snap into focus, while the vibration reduction system has up to four stops of compensation. As for total image quality, it’s on a par with the other offerings on this list, with the VR system being one of the standout points.
5. Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (Budget Winner)
Tamron lenses always seem to squeeze into the gap of providing great quality for the money. If you wade through many lists of recommended lenses, there’s usually a Tamron somewhere in there as an option that provides great quality for the price. In this example, the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 is no different.
Unless you really scrutinize every single image in a side-by-side comparison, the Tamron can provide near the same quality as some of the more expensive options. Lens elements consist of Nanotechnology-based eBAND and fluorine coatings, a moisture resistant lens barrel and the added feature of five stops of vibration compensation.
The Dual MPU (Micro Processing Units) autofocusing system is fast and is only really tripped up in the very lowest of light conditions. The Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 also produces excellent image quality all-round, producing a very neutral look which is ideal for post-processing. If you can’t justify the cost of the more expensive examples on this list, then the Tamron is a good way to go.
Choosing 24-70mm Lenses
When it comes to the 24-70mm lens market, there’s a lot of choice available, including f/4 options and lenses with lower price points. There is of course other lenses we could have included such as the Tokina 24-70mm, which is great value for money, but for just a touch of extra saving up, the higher quality versions are easily achievable.
The price point of each example above means they are serious investments, but the range of use and quality more than make up for the money you need to part with. Plus, a high-quality 24-70mm lens should be the center point of your zoom lens kit, so it’s worth the extra investment to have that solid base which can cover everything from landscapes to finely detailed portraits.