07 Nov 2016 Canon EF24-105mm f4L IS II Lens Review (Podcast 548)
My new Canon EF24-105mm f4L IS II lens arrived last week, so I’m interrupting my Iceland travelogues again to bring you a review of this new offering from Canon!
I’ve done a few tests to see how this new offering from Canon compares to my 24-70mm f/2.8L lens in terms of distortion and sharpness, and I have a number of shots from a quick venture out into Tokyo to share with you as well. I will of course be sharing many more images from this lens in the coming months, as I get back into the field for my regular shooting with it, especially my Hokkaido Landscape Adventure tour in January, when this will really be my workhorse lens and I’m sure it will also be used a lot on my Japan wildlife tours after that.
Distortion and Sharpness Tests
First, let’s jump in and take a quick look at my distortion test results. For this test, I set up a 5Ds R camera on a tripod, with a Profoto studio strobe in a softbox, just above the camera to the left, as you can see in this photo (below). This resulted in the top of the chart being a little bit brighter than the bottom, but I was only really interested in seeing if there was any difference in the amount of distortion the lens has at a few key focal lengths.
I no longer own the original 24-105mm lens, as I sold that around 10 years ago, when the resolution increase in our cameras rendered it a little too soft for my liking. Because of this, I did my tests at 24, 50 and 70mm, on both lenses, then did one last test with the new lens at 105mm to see how much distortion I could detect.
Also, note that I used some magnets to pin the test chart to my whiteboard, and I put a couple of them over the chart, to stop it from lifting up, so the chart is pretty much perfectly flat.
Field of View Narrower
To cut a long story short, both lenses perform pretty much the same in terms of distortion with the new 24-105mm perhaps just beating the old 24-70mm by a hair. You’ll notice immediately that despite the fact that I did not move the camera between shots, the 24-70mm lens has an obviously wider field of view than the 24-105mm, despite them both being set to their widest focal length of 24mm.
Canon specs say that both lenses have a horizontal viewing angle of 74°, but the new 24-105 lens is obviously more acute than the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. This isn’t a huge amount, and it’s not going to worry me in practical use, but it is interesting to see how much variance they allow to creep in to their lens design and reporting of the lens specs. Also note that although I checked the EXIF data to ensure that both lenses were reporting the same focal length at 50mm and 70mm, this was a manual adjustment with the zoom ring, so there is further room for variance at these focal lengths.
Here’s an animated GIF file (below) that cycles through the same focal lengths on both cameras, and I have added a label to the image in Photoshop so that you can see which camera was used at which focal length. I have not cropped the images and I turned off all lens distortion correction, so that you see exactly what the camera captured. All of these photographs were using the same settings, 1/100 of a second shutter speed at f/8, ISO 100.
To get the best view of the details and distortion, click on the image, and after it opens in a lightbox view, put your mouse over it to stop the image from auto-advancing to the next photo in this post. What you’ll notice is that both lenses have a noticeable barrel distortion at 24mm, and then just a little bit of pincushion distortion at 50 and 70 millimeters. that remains in the 24-105mm at 105mm as well.
Putting Things into Perspective
OK, so before we move on, let’s put these results into perspective. All lenses show a certain amount of distortion. That’s why our image processing software has lens profiles to correct this sort of thing. In a natural situation, this distortion will rarely cause problems, unless you have something obvious like the horizon line in a seascape, and then you can either turn on distortion correction or correct it manually if there isn’t a lens profile available for your lens yet.
The conclusion as far as distortion is concerned, is that it’s about the same as the 24-70mm, which is actually quite impressive when you consider the additional range of the new 24-105mm lens, so I’m actually quite happy with these results. We’re gaining extra versatility without losing anything on the distortion front.
Very Happy with the Sharpness
Let’s take a look now at the sharpness of the two lenses, but these two lenses are so similar, we won’t go into a lot of detail on this. Looking at all of the images I shot for the distortion tests, it looks to me as though the new 24-105mm is marginally sharper than the 24-70mm lens. I compared both the center of the photos and the corners, and although the corners are a little bit softer, as expected, and both lenses degrade at about the same rate.
I’ve always been totally happy with the sharpness of my 24-70mm, so with what seems like a slight improvement over an already excellent lens, I’m very happy with the sharpness of the new 24-105mm lens. Here is a pair of images, showing the center of the photo from each lens cropped to 1440 x 96o pixels at 100%. Click on the image to view it at 100% and navigate back and forth between the two with your mouse, keyboard or finger to compare them.
Finally, before we move on to some sample images, here is a photo of the new 24-105mm f/4L IS Mark II lens on the left, with the 24-70mm f/2.8L Mark II lens on the right. Again, it would perhaps be better to compare the 24-105mm lens with it’s previous model, but I don’t have one any more. I imagine that there are also many 24-70mm lens owners that like me are thinking of picking up the new 24-105mm, so hopefully this comparison will be useful to at least some of you.
As you can see, there is very little in it size-wise, with the new 24-105mm lens being slightly taller. In the hand they feel about the same weight. The specs show me that the 24-105mm at 795 grams is actually 10 grams lighter than the 24-70mm, but it’s 125 grams heavier than the previous 24-105mm lens.
The hood fits to the end of the lens, not the lens barrel, and thanks to the inner-focus mechanism, the hood doesn’t rotate as you focus, like some older lenses used to. I also noticed that at least at this point in time, the lens hood for the new 24-105mm lens is much smoother to attach than the 24-70mm, which became really stiff over the years. I’m hoping that this has been improved in the 24-105mm, but time will tell I suppose.
We’ll leave the lab tests at that, and take the lens out into the world now. I’ll continue to show images from this lens as I get out more and more with it, but for today, here are some sample images from a visit to the Meiji Shrine and Harajuku here in Tokyo. The photos aren’t spectacular, but these will give you an idea of the quality of the lens.
First up, here’s a photo of a man sweeping the leaves on the gravel track that leads up to the shrine (below). As you can see, there was very harsh, strong autumn light falling on the subject, making the shadow areas very dark. I opened up the lens aperture to f/4 for this photograph, so that we could see the depth of field that we get from an f/4 lens wide open.
I used a program called RawDigger to find that the depth of field for this image was 13.58 meters, extending from 18.86m to 32.44m, so I was probably focusing at about 23.5m. I use back button focus, and had released the button while shooting, so the actual focus distance wasn’t recorded. That’s quite a wide depth of field though, so even at f/4 you can see that a lot of the scene is relatively sharp, although of course the distant subjects are starting to go out of focus, as expected.
So that you can see the detail at 100% here is an image with the man and the boy in the distance in the kimono, showing the quality of the bokeh, or out of focus areas of the shot (below). The shutter speed for this shot was 1/1250 of a second, at f/4, ISO 100 at 105mm. Remember that you can click on these photos to view them at the full web size. Hold your mouse over the image to stop it from automatically advancing if you need more time to examine the details.
I’m quite happy with the quality of this bokeh. It’s not hugely out of focus, but this does give us an idea of how smooth the out of focus areas are. Cheaper lenses can sometimes product crunchy, unnatural looking bokeh, but this is really quite pleasing. Of course, the sharp areas are also tack sharp, so nothing to be concerned about there.
Shallow Depth of Field
The depth of field of a lens gets much shallower when focusing on something close to the lens, so here is another example photo of some of the Ema or Prayer Plaques at the Meiji Shrine (below). This was shot at 70mm at f/4, so again, the aperture was as wide as it could be, for the shallowest depth of field.
This time, because I was only 80cm from the plaque on which I focused, the depth of field was only around 4cm, and the out of focus bokeh areas are much more fuzzy. If you need super shallow depth of field, an f/4 lens isn’t the way to go, but when you can get close to your subject, this lens still produces some nice pleasing bokeh.
Effects of Distortion
Going back briefly to the distortion that we discussed earlier, here is an example of how much this actually affects an image in real life, as opposed to lab tests. These are barrels of sake that are donated to the shrine, shot again at 105mm. If you recall from our tests, at 24mm there was a little bit of barrel distortion, but at longer focal lengths, there was a little bit of pincushion distortion.
Take a look at the concrete along the bottom of this photo (below) and you’ll see that it’s bowed upwards slightly. In reality the concrete was perfectly flat. This is the effects of the pincushion distortion. The important thing to note here though, is that you can’t tell there is any distortion on the barrels themselves. It’s only when there’s a known straight line that you can see the effects of distortion.
If you want to correct this, you will usually just be able to turn on the lens profile correction in your raw processing software. As this lens is new, Phase One have not yet added a profile to Capture One Pro, and I doubt that it’s in Lightroom yet either, but it will be added to both applications at some point, and usually works really well.
Until the profiles for the new lens are available though, you can manually select the old 24-105mm lens, and the profile does a pretty good job of removing the distortion. I had to reduce the effect to 84% to get the concrete line straight, which also indicates that the distortion has improved. As you can see in this photo (below), this works well, at least as a workaround until the lens profiles for the new lens are available.
Here’s another photo from the Meiji Shrine, just to share the image with you. On a Saturday, there are wedding processions, like this one, going through the shrine at pretty regular intervals. There were two while I was there, and this photo (below) shows not only the procession, but how busy the shrine gets on a weekend.
It’s pretty harsh light, and the umbrella bearer seems to be more about the aesthetics of holding his waxed umbrella at a pleasing angle than actually shading the bridge and groom from the sun, but I think this is a nice documentary shot, so I thought I’d throw it in here.
Here’s one last shot to finish with, as I walked back out of the Meiji Shrine, to the bridge over the railway tracks near the Harajuku Station.
This great character is a street musician, that was playing a drum, and had this great beard and really cool sunglasses on, so I asked if I could make a photograph of him (right).
I shot this at f/4 again, at 105mm, and RawDigger tells me that I was focusing at 1.75m with a depth of field of 6cm, so there’s a nice bit of separation between the man and the bridge wall in the background.
Again, this is tack sharp at 100%, which is really nice, as it means that when I want a shallow depth of field, I don’t have to worry about shooting wide open at f/4.
I have cropped this down to a 4:5 aspect ration, but otherwise, I haven’t made any modifications to this photograph. In fact, apart from opening up the shadows a little bit on the leaf sweeper photograph, and the distortion correction on the sake barrels photograph, I haven’t adjusted these images in any way, so you are seeing pretty much what came straight out of the camera in these example images.
Very Welcome Versatility
I’ve been waiting for this update for a couple of years now, since the updated 100-400mm was released really, as that basically replaced my 70-200mm f/2.8 lens in the field, so I had a gap between my 24-70mm and my 100-400mm lenses, that has now been filled by this 24-105mm lens.
Although I like f/2.8 lenses, and their ability to create shallower depth of field, I’m finding that for the majority of my shooting these, especially when I’m on my tours, I don’t really need f/2.8. I’ve been working mostly with just three lenses, my 11-24mm, my 24-70mm which this 24-105mm will replace in the field and the 100-400mm lens.
Before these new lenses were released, most of the time, even for relatively casual shoots, I was working with the 14mm prime, the 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm and the 300mm f2.8 lens and a 1.4X extender when needed. For serious wildlife I replaced my 600mm f/4 lens with the 200-400mm lens with the 1.4X Extender build-in, but I only take this lens on full-on wildlife trips. Still, most of the time when I left the house in the past, I was carrying five lenses, including the big 300m f/2.8, so my bag always weighed a ton.
Over the last few years though, as these new lenses have been released and I’ve not felt the need to be shooting with f/2.8 lenses, I’ve been able to pretty much halve the weight that I travel with. I can get my main kit now into an 18L backpack, including three lenses and two 5Ds R bodies with battery grips, and that’s a very welcome reduction, at the same time as enabling me to shoot at every millimeter of focal length from 11 to 400mm. Now that’s versatility!
So, to wrap it up for this review, I’m obviously very happy with the new Canon EF24-105mm f4L IS II lens. The sharpness is everything I had hoped for, and the distortion is better than I’d hoped for in a lens of this focal length range. I’m really looking forward to getting out with it on some landscape shoots now, and start to really take it through it’s paces. I will of course continue to share images from this lens as I make more. For now, it’s a big thumbs up for this new addition to my kit.
As always, I have received no help from any third parties to create this review. I bought the lens myself, and have received nothing in return for the review. If you have found this useful and you buy from our friends at B&H Photo, all that I ask is that you click through with our link mbp.ac/24-105ii which provides us with a modest affiliate payment at no extra cost to you. And of course, my views and comments here are not biased in any way to get you to buy this lens. My main goal is to give you the necessary information on this lens to enable you to make up your own mind.
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4 IS II lens on B&H: http://mbp.ac/24-105ii
Music by Martin Bailey
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