Resolution Tests

Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II Resolution Tests

Published September 11, 2012

Here it is, only 6 months after announcement! The Canon 24-70mm 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

September, 2012

Author: Roger Cicala

I’m Roger and I am the founder of Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.

Posted in Resolution Tests
  • Stu

    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

  • Renaud

    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.

  • 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!

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

  • 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.

  • Roger Cicala

    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.


  • Bob Howland

    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.

  • Juan José Pascual Lobo

    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!

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

  • Roger Cicala


    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.

  • Roger Cicala


    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.


    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.

  • Laurent

    Well, actually I remembered that article:
    so I answered my question myself, at least for the 50 mm:
    at f/2.8, the 50mm f/1.4 is 920/690, and at f/4, 960/890.
    Which means that if the 24-70 mm mk II lens is as constantly sharp at 50mm that it is at 24 and 70, well, it is properly monstruous on the center with a 950 index on par with the best of the f/1.4 lens.
    Not as good on the corner but still superior at f/2.8 with around 830 or 800.
    Completely Awesome.
    Feels like this lens is worth a good bunch of money, since it could potentially replace a good number of primes. It sharper than their recent wides, than their pancake, than their family of 50mm that are already quite good, and I could not find some numbers for 85mm that are comparable to these (I don’t know what unit is used here and 85mm are around 3000 line widths per picture height on MTF50 lmatest), but I would bet that performance is similar or even superior.

    Next lens to buy on my checklist. Quite expensive together with 5D3 or 1DX but Awesome is worth it, I guess.

  • Thank you for the review. Looks like the new zoom lens will compliment my 16mm-35mm II and 70mm-200mm II lens. Can not wait to get my hands on the 24mm-70mm. G.

  • Roger, thanks for the feedback on the new 24-70 lens.
    The MKI is my go to lens in low reception lit rooms. Mainly b/c of it’s ability to grab focus quickly and accurately. I’m wondering how the new one compares and if IS slows it down at all.


  • Err

    Thank you for the excellent test. To me it was a big surprise that a zoom can outresolve the 24mm TS-E II.
    One question popped into my mind: How if/can these resolution numbers compared to numbers of other formats, specifically the Panasonic 12-35 from your earlier blog?
    E.g. can we say that when printed the 12-35 picture (taken with 16MP body) will have slightly more detail than the Tamron but slightly less than the new Canon (using 5D Mk II)?

  • steve bryson

    I remember at the UK Focus on Imaging show, when I exclaimed a little bit of horror at the projected price the guy at the Canon stand said – “This is sharper at the corners than the old one is at the centre….”

    Nice to see a good result!

  • Thank you Roger for the reply!

  • It is THE NEW ERA NOW!!
    I think it is the way big companies promote their new product. They fund an expert to say whatever they want him to say and in 30 minutes everyone is
    so intoxicated. Com-on people! THEY HAVE TO JUSTIFY THE REDICULOUS PRICE and they gave Roger a bit of the boost!!! Could have been a couple of free lenses to a lot of the money – depending on how many people visit the site…
    They gave a brand new $2000 lens to take to pieces…. It is probably very sharp but it can not be that much sharper then the version 1!!!! NOT A $1000 SHARPER!!!!!!!

  • I think you meant to write the “70mm pincushion”, not 24mm

  • I think it is the way big companies promote their new product. They fund an expert to say whatever they want him to say and in 30 minutes everyone is
    so intoxicated. Com-on people! THEY HAVE TO JUSTIFY THE REDICULOUS PRICE and they gave Roger a bit of the boost!!! Could have been a couple of free lenses to a lot of the money – depending how many people visit the site…
    It is probably very sharp but it can not be that much sharper then the version 1!!!! NOT A $1000 SHARPER!!!!!!!

  • Johnny from Italy

    Amazing infos, thanks for sharing your resolution tests!
    What about CA and PF performances?
    Any chance to see some comparison in jpeg taken in studio and in real shooting situations?

  • Roger Cicala

    Thank you Greg. Corrected!
    Actually churning out two articles in one afernoon I’m pretty proud that’s the first mistake anyone’s found 🙂 Most of that credit has to go to Drew who took time to proofread on a day he really didn’t have time.


  • Roger Cicala

    Hi John,

    On a D3x (our usual Nikon test camera, and a good match since it’s about the same number of pixels as the Canon 5D II test cameras) the Nikon 24-70 resolves 890 / 735 at 24mm; 830 / 720 at 70mm.

    That makes sense: the Nikon is a bit better than the original Canon, not quite as good as the new one. It’s technology is several years old, compared to over a decade for the original Canon and this year for the new one.


  • Roger Cicala


    Thank you, you are absolutely correct. In all the rush and excitement yesterday I completely forgot about the little 24 and 28mm f/2.8. The 24-70 II though still has an advantage, particularly in the corners and edges shown with the weighted average: 830 for the zoom to 780 for the prime. The centers are certainly too close to call.

    We do all of our routine testing wide open — the purpose is to find bad lenses and wide open does that best. I did find one series I did some months ago with a set of 10 24 f/1.4s at f/2.8. The numbers were 940 in the center, 750 weighted average. Again, right up there with the zoom in the middle, but not quite as good in the corners and edges.


  • Roger Cicala

    Hi Lynne,

    This article: has a lot of numbers for good lenses shot on D800s, although those are all at ‘best aperture’, usually f/5.6, so the Nikon numbers have a strong advantage. This one compares some excellent primes between 5DIII and D800 (zeiss, so we could put the same lens on the same camera: and shows some f/2.8 numbers.

    There’s no substitute for resolution and you’ll see the d800 is higher across the board. If you’d be considering a DIVs, or whatever Canon’s going to call it, that should have the pixels to compete with the D800.


  • I think you meant to write the “70mm pincushion”, not 24mm.

  • Roger Cicala


    We tested on 5D IIs simply because that gave us a comparison to the other lenses which had been tested that way. My experience is IIIs have just a tiny bit higher resolution, but not siginficantly different.

  • Markus


    how does this compare to the Zeiss lenses , e.g. the 21/2.8?

    Seems like Canon has finally found the road to building very competent wide angles (17 & 24 TS lenses, 24 & 28 IS lenses). Which is good as more choices are always a good thing.

    And they seem to pay a lot of attention on good & professional build quality (5D III, 24-70 II), managed to reduce the weight of the super teles a lot, etc. – in my opinion, this time they got the memo what really matters to working photographers and how to build up a reputation (again). I like their focusing on no-nonsense stuff (even if a lot of people won’t notice because they’re just looking at specs without even having the cameras at hand).

    Thanks for your great work – I’m enjoying your site more than all the usual review stuff out there! It’s just so much more taken from ‘real life’.


  • Lynne Hall

    Any chance of any figures to compare the resolution of this zoom with equivalent Nikon zoom and prime lenses? Currently trying to decide between the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D800 and that might make a difference.

  • Laurent

    Well, thanks for this insight.
    Do you please know how, say, the 50 f/1.4 performs in this respect
    at max aperture and f/2.8?
    (I take this 50mm because it is said to be the sharpest of the series,
    even better at f/1.2)
    I also would like to know same data for the 85 mm (not close in focal range, but that is a some tradeoff in focal range that I would be ready to do if that lense was so awesome).
    Thanks for all.
    Seems Canon made good work this time^^, glad to be ready for it!

  • Massimo

    Very Interesting ! Higher MTF will be mandatory for next generation camera with high megapixels because of the smaller pixel size which is obviously more demanding for the lens (and I believe that Canon will not be so stupid to leave this market to the Nikon D800 only).
    But what about CA (Chromatic Aberrations), have you tested this ?
    Current 24-70mm have good CA performances compared to Nikon 24-70mm and this is very important as new MegaPixels sensors will require more accuracy and will suffer from higher CA respect to smaller MP sensors.
    It’s my opinion that new generation TOP lenses from Nikon/Canon will cause higher CA. I’m currently very disappointed with Nikon 24-70mm which have already high CA with smaller MP sensors. Nikon 24-120mm (which is more recent) have sligthly lower sharpness but also much lower CA. Nikon current approach is currently to reduce CA in the software, and while this is an acceptable approach for some users it’s of course not the best solution; they have a high MP camera but not really a good lens for it !
    I hope that Canon have addressed this issue also but I’m also worried that the extremely higher MTF in this new lens may have been achieved at cost of higher CA. Please someone answer to this if you can !

Follow on Feedly