The release of the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM is a big deal for those who have swapped over to the Canon mirrorless format. The 24-70mm is a standard, workhorse zoom lens, useful for everything from photojournalism to portraits. It also links up with the release of a 15-35mm f/2.8 and a 70-200mm f/2.8, which should cover the majority of focal lengths for everyday use.
As the lens is part of the L series, it guarantees the best build quality and optics, but this also means the highest price target. So, is this the best solution for the Canon EOS R format with these focal lengths or are there better options out there?
The initial reaction with this lens is that it’s reassuringly heavy. Coming in at 900g, it’s certainly not lightweight and needs a substantial handhold to keep it balanced on an R body. The metal construction is fully weatherproofed and feels solid as a rock. A lens that initially feels like it can be taken out in all weather conditions.
The lens design is extremely sparse looking, with only an AF/MF and image stabilizer switch for on lens controls. The rest of the functionality on the lens are the three rings, with the largest one being the zoom ring nearest the camera. Focal lengths are marked under the ring, which is also rubberized and ridged for easy gripping.
Next in line is the manual focusing ring, which is roughly half the width of the zoom ring, which has just enough feedback and resistance to fine-tune focus. Lastly, at the front of the lens is the thinnest ring which can be customized to change most used features, such as exposure settings. This ring also feels slightly different from the others, having a rough texture, which means you can go by feel when rotating the ring.
Inside the lens, the aperture range goes from f/2.8-f/22, with nine rounded aperture blades. Is also has a healthy amount of glass consisting of 21 elements in 15 groups, including aspherical and Ultra-Low Dispersion elements and an Air Sphere and a fluorine coating to reduce ghosting and flaring, along with lens protection.
Focusing is performed with a Nano USM system which is said to take the best bits of a ring-type USM and an STM motor. This should mean quick, silent and accurate focusing, applicable to both the stills and video guys.
There’s the image stabilization system which should provide up to five stops of compensation. A nice addition that regular 24-70mm users will be very thankful for. The lens also comes with its own EW-88E lens hood and E-82 II lens cap.
It’s useful to note that if crop shooting mode is engaged, there is a 1.6x crop factor with an equivalent focal range of 38-112mm. An option if you want to go that bit more telephoto.
At this stage of the game, the lens feels like a very professional solution. A quality build with topline specs.
The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM in Use
As with any lens, it’s usually the anomalies which can make or break it’s potential. On the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM, chromatic aberration is extremely low, even when the lens aperture is wide open. There is only the tiniest amount of blue or purple fringing on very high contrast areas, which only needs a touch of correcting in post-processing.
The lens does display some vignetting or light falloff in the corners, depending on the focal length. The effect is most pronounced at 24mm but usually disappears by f/4. At 70mm, light falloff is the least apparent, but still just visible in the corners.
As for sharpness levels, the lens at 24mm displays great center sharpness at f/2.8, with only slightly soft edges. Sharpness tightens up by f/4, with it starting to tail off after f/11. It’s not a dramatic change in sharpness as per cheaper lenses, as f/2.8 sharpness is already very good.
At 35mm, the results are largely the same hitting the sharpest at f/4 in the center, with a slight drop-off after f/11. Corner sharpness hits its peak here at f/8. At 50mm the results are the same and at 70mm the best center sharpness can be found between f/5.6 and f/8, dropping off after f/11. Corner sharpness hits it’s best at this focal length at f/8.
One great feature of the regular DSLR 24-70mm is that the f/2.8 aperture produces very pleasing bokeh. The RF 24-70mm is just as capable. Nice smooth colors and even with complicated backgrounds, elements blend in nicely. Obviously, not to the level of an f/1.4 prime lens, but in the zoom lens world, the bokeh is definitely up there with the best at f/2.8.
The lens can also get in quite close, 21cm at the widest focal length and 38cm at the longest end. A magnification of 0.30x means you can get relatively close to a subject. Not exactly macro territory, but it does expand the usefulness of the lens and confidence that anything but the smallest of subjects is within reach.
The AF system is very fast and quiet, and when linked with image stabilization, it provided a lot more keepers than expected. As per the image quality, excellent quality to the level you would expect from Canon’s flagship 24-70mm.
How Does the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM Compare?
When it comes to alternatives to the RF 24-70mm, we are basically still looking at the RF format, which means a limited number of lenses. There’s the more general Canon RF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM, which has a longer focal range, is cheaper, but doesn’t go as wide at f/2.8.
Then there’s the Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM. Having f/2 in the 24-70mm range is a great advantage, but you going to have to pay for the privilege, with not much change from $3K and weighs in at a super heavyweight 1430g. If you want the best in this focal range, with the most versatility, this is probably the option. But, it’s also going to feel quite unbalanced on a lightweight camera body.
|Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM||Canon RF 28-70mm f/2L USM|
|Optics||21 elements/15 groups||19 elements/13 groups|
The Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM is clearly a very high-quality zoom that won’t let you down in the field. It definitely feels like the next walkaround zoom for the latest generation, just that the current Canon mirrorless bodies aren’t on the same level. In other words, the lens feels more like an offering for the next versions of the camera, which have a more professional roundness.
This lens produces fantastic images, has a very high price tag, but is also the obvious choice if you are a Canon devotee lined up for their future mirrorless offerings. In this way, the lens is ahead of the game and just needs as good a camera body to do it justice. In this way, the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM feels like something to revisit in the future when we can really stretch its legs.