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Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II Resolution Tests

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Here it is, only 6 months after announcement! The Canon 24-70 f/2.8L II has finally arrived.

I’d love to say something like: “Never have so many forums contained so many threads containing such strong opinions from people who’ve never touched a lens.” But that would be silly. It happens just about every time a new lens is released.

Depending on whose opinion you read, the new lens is either the sharpest zoom every made or an overpriced piece of junk that nobody should buy. It’s been trashed for its price, for not having image stabilization, and for its filter thread size. Posted images made with it have been praised as sharper than primes and condemned as no better than its predecessor.

I can’t say I’m thrilled with the Mk II’s price, but the original Canon 24-70 could certainly be improved on. The original is a good lens, but not up to the standards of, say the Canon 70-200 f2/8 IS II. It definitely has some reliability issues and a lot of copy-to-copy variation, at least some of which relate to its design.

On the other hand, the Tamron 24-70 provides the image stabilization so many people want, but it’s beginning to show some reliability issues, too. Still, it’s $1,300 and has image stabilization. The new Canon is a breathtaking $2,300. For that kind of money it better have world-beating performance. Heck, for that kind of money it ought to carry my camera bag, frame the shots, and do the post-processing for me.

The Usual Disclaimer

This isn’t a lens review. I am not a reviewer. I don’t spend days evaluating a single copy of a lens for all of its traits and characteristics, nor do I take hundreds of really great photos with it and describe how it works in the field.

What I do is test multiple copies of the lens for resolution and other basic stuff. I think that is particularly important with this lens, as its predecessor has, perhaps, more copy-to-copy variation than any high-quality lens I know of.

 A Quick Comparison

Looking from the side, the old and new lenses aren’t hugely different. The new one is a bit shorter.

 From the front, the larger 82mm filter ring is apparent.

They extend a similar amount but the Mk II is extended when shooting at 70mm, like most lenses, while the old one extends to shoot at 24mm.

With hoods mounted you don’t notice the old version extend, since the hood is fixed and the barrel extends inside of it.

At 1.77 pounds, the 24-70 f.28 II is not a lightweight, but it is a bit lighter than the original 24-70′s 2.1 pounds.

Resolution Results

We measured 5 copies of the 24-70mm f/2.8 II at 24mm and 70mm. For purposes of comparison I’ll add the numbers we know from multiple tests of the original Canon 24-70 f/2.8 and Tamron 24-70 f/2.8. Since the sharpest Canon zoom we have at 70mm is the 70-200 f/28 IS II lens, I’ll add its numbers at 70mm. Just to make it really interesting, I’ll also add our sharpest 24mm lens, the Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II (but remember, we’re comparing it at f/3.5 to the 24-70 at f/2.8).

Lens24mm Ctr24mm Avg70mm Ctr70mm Avg
Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II954831950809
Canon 24-70 f/2.8730605705570
Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC815765735655
Canon 70-200 f/2.8 IS IIxxxx885765
Canon24 f/3.5 TS-E915775xxxx

We also checked distortion at both ends. The Mk II has 2.45% barrel distortion at the wide end, 1.34% pincushion at the long end. The 70mm pincushion is exactly the same as the version I lens, while the barrel distortion at 24mm is slightly worse than the original’s 2.15%.

This is short, sweet, and simple. The resolution absolutely, positively kicks butt and takes names. It is way better than the lens it replaces. It’s better at 70mm than the best Canon zoom I know of, the 70-200 f/2.8 IS II. It’s even better at 24mm than the sharpest 24mm prime we have, the Canon 24 TS-E. In the center, in the corners, it doesn’t care. We only had 5 copies to test, but they were all very similar with little copy-to-copy variation.

Resolution is not everything, of course. But it’s certainly an important thing. Unless the real lens reviewers find some dramatic problems with this lens, I’d have to lean towards worth-the-money on this one. I can’t believe I’m saying that a $2,300 standard zoom is worth the money.  But then again, I can’t believe I’m seeing a zoom lens out resolve a $2,000 world-class prime, either.

Roger Cicala

Lensrentals.com

September, 2012

117 Responses to “Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II Resolution Tests”

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Anatoly,

Do paranoid a lot, do you? I’ve said this many times before, I’ll repeat it again. We don’t get anything from Canon. We don’t even get priority on shipping. The lenses we got for this test we received buying retail from some friendly stores, just like you do. We can buy direct from Canon at a very small discount because we’ve registered to do so, but only get shipments from them after all the camera store orders are filled, so it’s not very useful.

We also don’t get anything from Nikon, Olympus, Sony, or anyone else. Nor do I get $0.25 when you click through a link to purchase anything. Cause, well, I don’t have any purchase anything links. Unlike most real review sites, I also don’t get samples from the manufacturers to test. If I tested it, we bought it. At retail.

Truth is I’m fairly widely hated by a number of manufacturers because I write about stuff they don’t particularly want you to know about. Not to mention several of them really, really hate all rental houses because they’re convinced every rental is a sale they’ve lost. I’ve never gotten even a thank you note from a manufacturer, although I have gotten a couple of threatening letters and phone calls when they don’t like what I say.

Just because I’ve heard it enough to know where paranoia will take you next, I also could care less what you rent. We make the same return on investment on a filter as we do on an 800 f/5.6 L or a D800E. I do want people to know what they’re getting because nothing is worse for us than someone who rents an item and then finds out it wouldn’t do what they thought it would.

If I did care what you rented, it would be pretty stupid for me to tell you the lens I have 5 copies of is way better than the one that I have 150 copies of sitting on the shelf not renting.

Roger

BTW – I’m not an expert. I’m a geek with lots of testing equipment, lots of lenses, and lots of curiousity. Rob Galbraith, Brian Carnathan, Dave Etchells, Lloyd Chambers, Thom Hogan and guys like that are photography experts. I just have more toys than they do. I get a few hours to do quick stuff like this, then I wait for their detailed reviews just like everyone else.

And finally, do you really think we took it apart and threw it away? It went back together, got retested and is already in a renter’s hands. Taking lenses apart and putting them back together is what we actually get payed for around here. Jeez.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Johnny,

Unfortunately I had 4 hours with the lenses before they had to go to packing. I got to take photographs of test charts and a few indoor shots of parts bins. Nothing worth putting up.

Carl said:

Great lens but I’ll get the Tamron. It is almost there!
Carl

Juan José Pascual Lobo said:

Last spring Canon Spain made a demo sesion of this lens and the new EOS 1Dx, both preproduction samples at Fotocasión, the leading photo dealer in Spain. I tried the lens and I was really impressed. The only drawback was, as Roger states, just a bit more distortion at 24mm than it´s predecessor, but resolution was really impressive. If production samples are the same quality, (I made my test at the shop and it´s fully repeatable, in the very same conditions), I’ll buy one for sure!

Bob Howland said:

Roger, you wrote that all the lenses were similar in quality. Did all of the lenses tested have similar serial numbers? Are lenses, Canon and otherwise, produced in lots? Could there be substantial lot-to-lot variation, but relatively little within-lot variation? How would people in our/your position even detect that, even if it was true?

I hope that wasn’t too confusing.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Bob,

Makes perfect sense. We have seen lot-to-lot variation sometimes, so a pertinent point. Although usually ‘first lots’ are the bad ones.

But you’re correct, all of these were 9200004XXX serial number lenses.

Roger

Fabio Bernardino said:

If you have the numbers, I’d like to see them for the Tamron 28-75/2.8. At the time it was launched I recall reading somewhere that was sharper than the 24-70 but not sure if it was across all the range.

Great and helpful work, as always.

alek said:

Hey Roger,

Don’t let the “Anatoly’s” of the world get your goat. In terms of comments, he’s outnumbered at least 10-1 by positive “Thank you Roger” comments … plus I assure you there are many, many other people who don’t chime in (I wasn’t going to until I read your “paranoid a lot” reply to him) who think you are doing a great job.

Yes, I’m sure the vendors don’t like you candid reviews … but what their short-sighted marketing departments fail to realize is you have credibility. So the fact that you call a Spade-a-Spade means when you say something is good, it actually is! ;-)

Thanks for taking the time to share your findings … and this engineer also found your 24-70 breakdown post real interesting – where else can you read stuff like this besides LensRentals!
alek

P.S. You did make one incorrect comment – “I’m not an expert” – your stuff is absolutely top notch.

Renaud said:

One thing I do not find in other reviews: the ability to test multiple copies of the same lens,though sometime they may belong to the same production batch. Thank you for this useful work and for sharing the results.
Renaud

Stu said:

Hi Roger,

Great information, really useful and appreciated since all we have to do is read :-)

One small question, do you per chance have info for the 70-300 f/4.5 & 70-200 f/4 IS please for comparison – trying to figure which lenses to exchange for the 24-70 MK II

Thanks again for your work
Stu

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Stu,

I guess I should post our standards for all the lenses one of these days. The 70-300 resolves at 800 / 720 at 70mm; 795 / 690 at 300mm. But remember that’s at f/4 and f/5.6 respectively.

Roger

Ryan said:

Could you post the numbers for the 17-55 for those of us on crop and still dreaming…

Thanks for all your articles. They are great.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Ryan,

Crop numbers are really different than full-frame numbers. Remember we’re measuring line pairs per image height so we’ve changed image height and density or pixels, etc.

Probably the only way you can put them in common is think “If I printed an 8 X 10 with each, then line pairs per image height would give some idea of possible resolution of the picture”. But lots of other factors are going to play into that like noise, dynamic range, etc. etc. FWIW the 17-55 resolves at 750 / 620 on the 7D. But it’s really hard to compare that to the same resolution on a 5DII when you think about images.

Roger

Stu said:

Roger

Useful info – we can never get enough of it :)

Thanks for the prompt reply and the numbers. I’d never say no to a link to any stats you have, but as most, I’m grateful for what you have provided.

Cheers
Stu

Arun said:

How many copies of the 24 TSE were used for its numbers?
Tx!

John said:

Hi, Roger….thanks, again, for the excellent info.

While I am sure the 24-105 is not in the same league, for “completeness” it would be great if you had some comparable resolution info available for us.

Thanks…John

Francis said:

Your finding of the lens being sharper than the 24mm TS-E Mk II is being widely quoted out of context. The missing context is of course the distance from your test subject. I don’t know what that was, but I imagine around 2 to 3 metres.

Now, if I were designing a 24-70mm zoom for event photography and photojournalism, I rather think I’d optimise it for distances at around 2 to 4 metres. If I were designing a 24mm tilt-shift lens for landscape and architecture, I might choose a longer distance. It’s therefore quite wrong to conclude that the zoom is going to produce higher resolution in actual use. Which, to be fair, I don’t think you actually said.

Of course it doesn’t matter to experienced photographers. They will choose a lens on its the ability to zoom or to shift and tilt, depending on the application, rather than second-order differences in resolution. You even hinted at that, too. But your results are being commented on by inexperienced photographers far and wide. The problem is compounded by the fact that these are also the same kind of people who attribute magical properties to the 24mm TS-E Mk II; while it’s a good lens, mine’s not *that* much better than some others, and its reputation could have more to do with people tending to use it on a tripod.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Francis,

That is an excellent point and very valid. Imatest is always done at fairly short distances and at the shorter focal lengths they’re quite short even with the largest chart. At 24mm we’re working at under 3 meters. I would not be shocked at all if the 24 TS-E is the sharper lens at or near infinity. On the other hand, it was still one of our top resolution lenses tested at the same distance.

Herbert,
We took delivery and initial training on our optical bench about 2 weeks ago. We’ve been so busy, however, I haven’t even started to do large batch testing on a groups of lenses to establish a database and evaluate our reproducibility. We’ve also had a bit of trouble engineering the lens mounts to tolerance (this is a custom built machine with interchangeable mounts and of course it would be the Canon mount that was out of sorts). I should start doing Imatest – optical bench comparisons in the fall.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Arun,

It was 22 copies of the 24 TS-E

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

John,

The 24-105 is quite good (although it gets full-stop advantage), resolving at 835 / 820 at 24mm. I don’t have 70mm data on it, but the numbers should be simila. It does soften up at greater than 90mm a bit.

Roger

Deedra said:

Roger,

Thank you for taking the time to test these lenses and for giving an honest account of what happens when a real person uses them. I love reading what you have to say about them. Always honest and even funny! My 24-70 mk1 has been toast for a while now….so inconsistent. It hasn’t been on my camera in months. I’m looking forward to checking out what this new lens will do for myself! Already reserved my rental in a couple of weeks!

Thanks again!

Cecilia said:

I really appreciate the review and particularly the resolution numbers! Might you have any of those numbers/results from a past of review of Canon 16-35L f/2.8 zoom for comparison at, say, 35mm or wider? I’ve loved the sharpness of that lens and am wondering how the new 24-70L ii stacks up against it.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Cecilla,

The 16-35 f/2.8 II resolves 895 / 715 at 16mm; 775 / 630 at 35mm.

The resolution questions are beginning to make me realize just how much data we have that I’ve never written up. I’ll need to make a post with all of these numbers some day.

Roger

Cecilia said:

My apology for two posts in a single day; I’m serious about possibly purchasing this lens. I realize the tests were done with a 5d Mark iii body. (I have a 5d Mark ii body and cannot possibly hope to upgrade to the Mark iii at this time if I was to purchase this lens.) My question is, (I know tests weren’t done with a Mark ii body) in YOUR OPINION, would the results of the Mark ii LENS (resolution, contrast, etc) be significantly different used with the older camera body for which it was likely not designed for? (As for focusing speed, that’s a non-issue for me; since landscapes are my main subject, I’ve never experienced the problem of slow focusing that many have complained about regarding the Mark ii body). Thanks for any info you can provide.

Doug R said:

Roger,

Great article and valuable information indeed.

I have one of the old 28-70 f2.8L lenses, that I currently quite like though it is quite a brick to haul around. I’ve been told that the 28-70 had superior resolution to the original version of 24-70 f2.8. Do you happen to have 28-70 resolution information for that lens?

Thanks much in advance,

D.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Cecilia,

These tests were done on 5D Mk II – that’s our standard test cameras.

Roger

Cuson said:

Great review, can you tell me what is the meaning of Ctr from the comparison table?

Blaise said:

Excellent review – the ability to test 5 lenses instead of just the random 1 is great.

I guess the only question I now have is how do these numbers convert in the real world :) This extra 100 points – what does it mean concretely.

thanks,

Blaise

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Blaise,

I can’t say for overall use, because the real world isn’t testing at 22 feet like Imatest. But at that distance the resolution numbers translate into a significant SQF (Subjective Quality Factor like PopPhoto uses) meaning you could certainly tell the difference.

Now that may disappear or be reduced at infinity (I have no clue yet) or with real-world focusing variations, etc. That’s why I said, just like everyone else, I’m waiting for the reviewers to come out with more complete evaluations. But this certainly looks promising.

Roger

Tony said:

The numbers you posted on this lens wouldn’t qualify for a recommendation over on your Nikon D800 lens recommendation list. In fact the Nikon 24-120 got higher results but it still didn’t qualify. There are 5 Nikon zooms that did qualify; some were nearly as much better than the 24-70 II than it was over the mark I. Does this get credited as the advantage of the Nikon sensor? Or is hopeless to try to make any cross-brand comparisons?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Tony,

Exact comparisons are hopeless at the exact level, but there’s no question 36 Mpix ups resolution. When we get our true optical bench up we could do an exact lens-to-lens comparison, but Imatest can only compare a lens-camera combination. All of the Nikons tested on D800s are going to have higher resolution because of the camera.

It was a bit more reasonable to compare the D3x to the 5DII since camera resolution was comparable. Even, then the Nikon 24-70 was very good, resolving 890 / 735 at 24mm and 830 / 720 at 70mm. So the Nikon was clearly better than the original 24-70 Canon, probably not as good as the new one. Speaking strictly resolution shot at short to mid distances. But mount the Nikon 24-70 to a D800 and resolution increases to 1000 / 840 at f/2.8.

Imatest is testing the camera lens combination, so change the camera and you change all the numbers. But I’d be comfortable saying a good shot on a D800 with a Nikon 24-70 outresolves the Canon II on a 5D III. Then again, put the Nikon lens on a D700 and it’s not close to the Canon.

Roger

Robert said:

Roger – exzellent review ! I have mine received yesterday ! First tests show up the great resolution this lens has !
but what interests me – how it compares with the 70-200 f4 L IS at 70mm ? Thx !

Mark said:

I love reading your reviews. How’s that for short and sweet. Ignore the, as an infamous VP once said, nattering nabobs of negativity. You tell it like it is. Very refreshing in this day and age of paid consultants.

Karl R said:

Roger,

As usual, you provided a solid review and thanks for taking the time to test the new lens and post the results here.

Karl R

Jurjen Drenth said:

Thanx Roger, you did a good job, but still so much money for a lens without stabilizer; I always do handheld street photography and even when I shoot at 1/60th sec then I would be curious looking forward to a test of both lenses; the new Canon 24-70 and the stabilized Tokina and the handheld results ! Besides I often work handheld at 1/15 or 1/8th sec so a stabilizer really should help.
And the newer 70-200 seems to have a less nice bokeh than the older version; thats what somebody told me after buying the new lens. I am very satisfied about the ‘old 24-70 Canon and like the bokeh even more than the 24-70 Zeiss lens ! So I a also curious about the bokeh of the new Canon 24-70 lens ! bokeh defines its character…

Roman said:

As I can see from some tests this second version is far better than its predecessor and even anything in this class (Nikon 24-70 for instance). No it has BRILLIANT image quality. I was impressed.

Tim said:

Roger,

Do you guys have any FF resolution numbers for the Canon 24L Mk II? I have the 24-70 Mk II on order with B&H and will have to make a decision on what to do with my 24L II. Photozone’s figures actually have the 24L II outresolving the 24 TS-E, both in the center and noticeably at the borders. They just released their 24-70 II figures and the 24L II also outresolved it, particularly at the borders. Just curious if you had any findings to confirm the same? Thanks.

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Tim,

I only have them wide open, which isn’t much help I’m afraid.

Roger

Michael said:

Roger,
Thank you for the review. I really trust your reviews. I do have one questions or you. Ive seen sample images of the Canon 24-70 ii and Tamron 24-70 VC I’ve seen on Flickr and other sights. The all the canon images seem more detailed and clear than the Tamron images. Especially in the edges. The other factor is the bokeh. The bokeh on the Canon appears very smooth and the Tamron appears busy (even without the onion bokeh factor.). Is this what you have noticed as well. Could it be the people using the more expensive new Canon 24-70 have more experience or better cameras? Although I have seen talented people shooting with the 5D3 and the Tamron and the image is not as clear as expected.

Sincerely,
Michael

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Hi Michael,

I think there probably is some truth to the more experienced photogs with better cameras tending to have the 24-70 Mk II right now. On the other hand I do think the Canon II is the sharpest lens. I can’t comment much about bokeh, I just don’t evaluate that.

I see the Tamron as a very good compromise lens: not quite the sharpness (or range, it’s not as long) and a bit more distortion. But it does have IS and it’s sharper than the original Canon, which makes it a very nice option.

I think the Canon II is the better lens, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s worth the price difference. You can buy a decent prime lens and the Tamron for the same money as the Canon.

Kai said:

Roger,

Any chance you will have time to follow up on your promise from Sept 11 2:27pm, on getting focus accuracy data up in a new article?

Thanks, Kai

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Kai,

Hopefully next week. I’ve gotten some good information but I have to find out whether I can quote my resources or not.

Scorpius said:

Looks like an amazing piece of glass,loving the fact that its lighter too.. hopefully the 85mm 1.2L will get this treatment soon.. it’s fab but a monster in weight.

Scorpius said:

BTW.. Many thanks for posting this Roger…

Clyde said:

Much thanks for the info. Your approach certainly inspires confidence to give one a sense of having a grasp of the overall significance of this lens release. Do you think it is at all likely that Canon will do an upgrade of the 90mm t/s anytime soon? If you have it available, I would really appreciate having the resolution figures of the present version of the 90 t/s as well.

Regards,Clyde

Gerd said:

Thanks for the Info. It really helps to make a decision.
For my opinon resolution is one of the major issues for crisp images.
It brings it closer to apo correction, white shows white and black shows black.

Jarj said:

I have owned the 28-70 f2.8, the original 24-70 f2.8, the 24-105 f4 and now the 24-70f2.8 II. I am not a professional reviewer or a dealer and I get nothing whatsoever from Canon. All of the equipment I own I buy retail preferably from my local dealer. The new 24-70 f2.8 II is an exceptional lens. The first 24-70 was a great lens which good detail, colors, contrast, etc. The 24-105 f4 was also a great lens, slower but longer and with IS. The detail on the 24-105 was crisper compared to the 24-70 I but ultimately I preferred Leica and Zeiss rangefinder lenses. I eventually decided the Leica and Zeiss lenses were better because the detail was real, not computer generated. The new Canon 24-70 f2.8 II is closer to the Leica and Zeiss lenses. The image straight out of the camera is close to great without any post processing and I only sharpen about half of what I did with the earlier lenses. More importantly everything is sharp, not just the edges of lines and the image seems more real, almost three dimensional. Now the only reason to own a fast prime is to get shallower depth of field.

Eric Meola said:

As most wide angle lenses (and the 24-70mm II at 24mm is not an exception) have a significant amount of curvature of field, how do you determine edge resolution figures that you feel are accurate ? In other words, if you are testing a telephoto lens, photographing a flat field is relatively more reliable in terms of measuring resolution out from the center. But when a lens has significant field curvature, how can you come up with numbers that accurately indicate sharpness away from the center?

LensRentals Employee

Roger Cicala said:

Eric, all of our measurements are ‘best cener focus’ based. So field curvature would make the corners appear softer than they are.
There’s no ‘right’ way to do it, we feel this is most like real world.

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