Review of Canon 24-105mm f4.0L Lens
I’ve had the Canon 24-105 f4L lens for a few months and I was finally able to put it through it’s paces this week in Prague. Here’s my biased and subjective review, based solely on my personal experience. You have been warned!
When I first picked it up I thought, wow – this is a boring lens. It doesn’t really excel in any one area (except perhaps sharpness). It’s a zoom and therefore it won’t make you think the way a prime will. It’s maximum aperture is f4.0, not very fast and certainly nothing to write home about. It’s focal length range, while useful, is sort of mundane – not terribly wide and not terribly zoomed in. In a way this lens is kind of like Goldilocks’ porridge: not too hot, not too cold. It’s boring. So boring in fact, prior to Prague it spent the majority of time tucked away in my bag.
It grows on you:
I finally gave it a chance in Prague, and after 3 days of shooting I’ve come away massively impressed. Like the porridge, this lens really is “just right”. All the qualities that make this a boring lens also make it highly usable in nearly any situation on full frame cameras. I brought two zooms and two primes with me on the trip, and the 24-105 was on my camera far more than the others.
A lot of photography is simply getting the shot. With a prime it’s not always possible to frame the shot the way you prefer. With wide zooms like the 17-40 f4L or 16-35 f2.8L you’ll miss tele shots. Same thing if you’re carrying around a 70-200, sure it’s a nice lens but by putting it on your camera you’re excluding all those short focal length shots.
The 24-105 provides a nice overlap of both the wide and tele zooms, and it allows for all general shooting in the normal focal length range. The maximum aperture of f4.0 is not fast, but with the 4 stop image stabilizer you’ll be able to get those low light shots anyway. And faster lenses mean more glass which means more weight. Image stabilization + f4.0 is a nice compromise for walk around shooting without adding too much heavy glass.
Images are sharp at all apertures. There is some distortion and vignetting at the wide end. Stopping down helps with the vignetting and both issues can be fixed easily in post processing. Sometimes lens idiosyncrasies can add interest to the shot, but to my eye the distortion and vignetting of this lens are not particularly attractive. Bokeh is limited by the f4 aperture but the out of focus elements are buttery smooth. And depending on how you frame the shot, you can get some really nicely blurred backgrounds at the tele end. The zoom ring is closely spaced between 24-35mm – you’ll move through that focal length faster and less precisely than the rest of the way to 105mm. In practice it’s not an issue.
Image stabilization is hard to quantify but Canon’s claim is 4 stops and I think that’s a good approximation. It’s very good and noticeably better than some other stabilization systems I’ve used.
It seems nearly every review for every lens out there includes the phrases “well balanced” and “feels great in the hands”. To me that’s fluff – of course it is, it’s a lens! I will say that the 24-105 pairs very well with the 5D; it’s an optional kit lens after all, and it seems like it was born to go with that camera. If you like the feel of the 5D series you’ll like the feel of the 24-105. You can use it on a crop camera too (Rebel, 60D, 7D, etc) but it’s too zoomed in for a true general purpose walk around lens. I’d go with the Tamron 17-50mm f2.8 instead (for about half the cost).
All lenses are compromises between competing themes: speed, weight, quality, usability, price and so on. The 24-105 is a compromise lens like all the rest, and there’s nothing that really makes it stand out in any one area. But while it may be a touch boring, it’s an excellent lens in nearly all shooting situations. For travel photography I really can’t think of anything better – perhaps the more expensive 24-70 f2.8, but you’ll lose out on the tele end and pay far more of that hard earned cash. After giving this lens a chance and shooting with it for 3 days in Prague, I’ve come away thoroughly impressed.
Some additional Prague shots are up on my Facebook page. All but one image was taken with the 24-105. The other was taken with a 28mm f1.8 prime. See if you can spot which is which… (and don’t forget to “like” the page!)