If you search the threads here for opinions on the 24-70 f/2.8L II, you’re going to find nuggets like these…
the 24-70II is at a different level in terms of optical performance
The sharpness wide open is superior to the 24-105L stopped down
amazed by it's sharpness and overall image quality
it is without peer in it's focal range and is quite superior to the 24-105
Best FF lens for color and edge to edge IQ.
the best performing lens I have ever used
it's [Image stabilization] not quite the killer feature it seems to be
So, based on these kinds of raving endorsements, I thought I would try it out. I rented a 24-70II for the weekend. Apparently the shop has only had these in their rental inventory for a couple of months so I don’t expect it’s suffered from excessive wear and tear yet. It certainly looks as good as new.
If you’re not interested in reading the whole review, let me summarize by saying that it’s simply not the right lens for me. It does have a few desirable characteristics such as less vignetting at f/4 (although it’s equally bad at f/2.8). Slightly less CA (but neither lens shows visible CA unless you pixel peep) The 24-70II also exhibits slightly less distortion at 24mm than the 24-105 although it’s still unsightly. However, as you’ll see, I couldn’t find any shot where the 24-70II was sharper than my 24-105, even in the corners. I could also not find a single shot where there was a difference in contrast or colours.
Most importantly, using it handheld in less than ideal light requires some awareness and compromise… you really need to watch your shutter speed which means higher ISO and the noise that comes with overcoming camera shake. You cannot simply walk around with this lens in Av mode and let the camera pick a shutter speed like you can with the 24-105 (as I learned). As you’ll see, that can result in an unacceptable keeper rate due to camera shake. And you’ll also see that f2.8 is no replacement for IS.
Since walking-around is not the 24-70II's forte, what is? If I had to guess at what this lens was really designed for, I’d have to say a studio… where lighting is controlled. I’m not a wedding photographer so I can’t speak to whether this lens meets their kind of requirements, but if I was tasked with shooting a beach wedding at mid-day… sure this lens (or any for that matter) would do just fine. However, in a dimly lit chapel or reception hall, I’d probably want an even wider aperture or IS otherwise the ISOs get unsightly trying to keep the shutter speed up.
Let’s start with sharpness. For these shots, I put the camera on a tripod, turned off IS on the 24-105 and shot the same scene in Manual (same exposure) with each lens at f4, f8, and f2.8 on the 24-70II.
Here’s the full scene at 24mm… (focal point on the right canopy at center frame and the other 100% crop is of the sign on the far right of center)
5DM34346 by Virtual.Rain, on Flickr
Here are the 100% crops (the description in the title bar of each tells you what you’re looking at)
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/mHmryo
Sharpness Comparison by Virtual.Rain, on Flickr
I didn’t include f8 center because they were indistinguishable. Even these are generally too close to call. They all look pretty similar at 100%.
Here’s a more extreme example where the 100% crop is of smaller text closer to the corner…
The full scene… (focal point on the table umbrella in the middle)
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/mHjwot
5DM34344 by Virtual.Rain, on Flickr
Here are the 100% crops of the menu board from the far right…
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/mHmsJQ
Sharpness Comparison 2 by Virtual.Rain, on Flickr
These are shot at 35mm and 33mm respectively and the 24-70II doesn’t look very good here and a second identical shot offered no improvement.
I looked at sharpness across the frame on all the photos I took, and there wasn’t a single one at any focal length or any aperture where the 24-70II was visibly better than the 24-105. Most of the time they look too close to call. I either have a sharp 24-105, a soft sample of the 24-70II, or a lot of the claims about this new zoom being sharper are questionable. It could be a bit of all three.
A lot of people complain about the distortion in the 24-105, and perhaps rightly so, but it’s easily corrected so it has never bothered me much. The 24-70II has less distortion, but if you’re bothered by the distortion in the 24-105, then you’ll still be bothered by the distortion in this new lens. It has less distortion, but it’s still noticeable and requires correction all the same.
Here’s a comparison of the 24mm image I used earlier… look at the bow in the roof line. Both correct easily with a few clicks in your post program of choice.
Top row is 24-105, Bottom row is 24-70II (Out of camera on left, corrected on right)…
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/mHmtfj
Distortion Comparison by Virtual.Rain, on Flickr
CA is very well controlled on both lenses. I certainly wouldn’t consider this a problem of the 24-105 like it is on fast primes. CA is invisible in regular screen size photos from both lenses, but there is a tad bit more present if you pixel peep as I did here… (look along the vertical edge of the white pillar)… fortunately it’s easily corrected in the event you crop to such an extent it becomes visible. And if you can see it on the 24-105, you’ll also see it on the 24-70II even though it is less prominent… it’s still there and visible in extreme crops.
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/mHjGe8
CA Comparison by Virtual.Rain, on Flickr
One well known issue with the 24-105L is that it displays some fairly significant vignetting in the corners at f4. The 24-70II is much better in this regard at f4 but has a similar problem as you might expect at f2.8. This is just a fact of life with zooms I think. Fortunately, it’s easily corrected in post in either case. See the next set of photos to see an example of the difference in vignetting at f4.
Colour and Contrast
I could not find any photos where there was any noticeable difference in contrast or colours between the 24-70II and the 24-105.
Here’s a typical couple of shots… the only way you can tell which is which in this case is the slightly darker corners of the 24-105 on the right since these were shot at f4. Both capture great dynamic range from the sky to the buildings and the orange “pops" just as much in both photos. These, like all the photos presented here are straight out of the camera without any post processing (unless otherwise noted).
IMAGE LINK: https://flic.kr/p/mHjyrX
Colours and Contrast by Virtual.Rain, on Flickr