When you’re moving from zoom to prime lens territory and need glass which is verging on the wide-angle side, then the 24mm is a good starting point. This focal length is a touch wider than the standard 35mm or 50mm propositions, finding a wider field of view, which arguably gives more scope with cropping when post-processing.
Having a slightly wider view of the world provides many benefits, but you also have to take into account that with some 24mm lenses, edge distortion can be higher than normal, which means the main subject needs to be more centrally framed. However, the best 24mm lenses can provide a more shallow depth of field than a zoom lens, with many going as wide as f/1.4. The wide aperture also doubles up for great low-light capabilities, while the extra width gets you closer to the action and provides more compositional flexibility.
There are lots of applications for a 24mm lens, so let’s have a closer look at what is currently available on the market. This will focus on the most popular camera brands, leaning towards the highest quality versions.
1. Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM
Canon’s top end offering at the 24mm focal length comes in the form of the EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM. This lens has all the hallmarks of high quality with a price point to match. It features two ultra-low dispersion elements to reduce chromatic aberration, with two aspherical elements to increase clarity and sharpness. Each element has a SubWavelength coating to reduce lens flare and an internal eight-blade diaphragm.
The ring-type Ultrasonic Motor (USM) provides speedy autofocus and the L-series build quality is exceptional as usual. You cannot fault the sharpness of this lens and although wide-angle lenses aren’t known for their bokeh, this lens can produce professional-quality background blur when the subject is close-up and personal.
This 24mm lens provides lots of versatility and can be easily used in many different applications such as lifestyle, product, and even portrait photography. It can even be used on the Sony platform with an appropriate adapter.
2. Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED
The top end of Nikon lenses are always a pricey proposition, but they also deliver the same level of quality. With the Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24mm f/1.4G ED, the f/1.4 aperture is superb in low-light conditions and produces a naturally shallow depth of field, which works for everything from landscapes to street photography.
Inside the lens are two extra-low dispersion and two aspherical elements for reducing aberrations, while a Nano Crystal coating reduces lens flare and increases contrast. The Silent Wave motor handles autofocusing duties extremely well, with manual focus override instantly available.
Image quality is exceptional on this lens and although it’s one of the most expensive lenses on this list, for Nikon users, it’s a prime choice, pardon the pun.
3. Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM
Sony hasn’t just been shaking up the camera body world over the past few years, but also the lens world. The Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM is part of the G master range, with a very wide f/1.4 aperture and 11-blade rounded diaphragm. The optic design centers around three extra-low dispersion elements and two XA (extreme aspherical) elements, with a Nano AR coating to reduce the effects of flaring and ghosting.
The Direct Drive SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor) is extremely quick to lock into focus, with manual override also featured. The exterior of the lens has full weatherproofing, with a focus hold button. Also, uncommon for this type of lens, it has a physical aperture ring, which has been de-clickked for smoother operation.
Just like the Nikon offering above the Sony FE 24mm f/1.4 GM lens is expensive, but it’s backed up by exceptional image quality and linked with Sony’s cameras stabilization system, it can achieve impressively low shutter speeds. This is a high-quality lens, which definitely justifies the price.
4. Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art
If you need a more cost-effective 24mm lens, but still top-level image quality, than the Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art is a good choice. Sigma’s Art series has been knocking on the door of more expensive lenses with heaps of optical quality and fast apertures.
Three F Low Dispersion (FLD) and four special low dispersion elements reduce lens anomalies, while a super multi-coating reduces the effects of flaring and ghosting. The lens is also compatible with the optional Sigma USB dock for fine tuning things like focusing.
Just like the rest of the Art series prime lenses, the integrated HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) is very quick to lock into focus, with manual override, but can be temperamental with high contrast areas at times. The Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art produces exceptionally sharp images, even when the aperture is wide open, making this a great lens choice when you can’t justify the cost of the other offerings.
5. Samyang AF 24mm f/2.8 FE (Budget Winner)
One of the reasons for featuring the Samyang AF 24mm f/2.8 FE is not just good quality optics for the price, but it’s also not the most obvious lens brand around. Samyang has been producing very good quality lenses of late, with great optics for the price. This example features three aspherical and two high refractive index elements to reduce aberrations, while an ultra-multi-coating is in place to reduce artefacts such as flaring and ghosting.
This lens has a very simple design, with a fast and efficient autofocus motor and manual focus override. The seven-blade aperture with f/2.8 may not go as wide as the other offerings or produce creamy bokeh effects, but as a more general purpose lens, the Samyang AF 24mm f/2.8 FE stands out with its value for money. If this is your first foray into the 24mm prime world, then this lens could be a good option.
Deciding on 24mm Lenses
There are 24mm prime lens options on the market which cost far less than the examples above, but in the prime lens world, you generally get what you pay for. The Samyang gets the closest to contradicting this point, but if you want the best image quality at this focal length, it’s worth spending the extra for the boost in prime-level quality.
If you need to go to the ultra-budget level, then you can’t beat the pancake design of the Canon EF-S 24mm f/2.8 STM lens. At a touch over $100, this lens works equally well on full-frame and crop sensor bodies, has a wide f/2.8 aperture, and offers good image quality considering the price. It’s just a shame it’s only a Canon fitting lens.
In every other regard, for world-class image quality, you can’t beat the shortlisted examples above.