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Canon EF 24-105 4L IS USM Review

Lensman Nirvana?

Peter Kun Frary


 

Normal Lenses and Zooms

The 46 degree coverage of the 50 mm lens (full frame or 24 x 36mm is equivalent to the sweet spot of the human eye. Hence, "normal lens," is used to designate this focal range. A "normal zoom lens" dances around both sides of the old 50 mm standard. Thus, 24-70, 24-85, 24-105, 28-70, 28-80, 28-105, 35-70, 35-105, 35-135, etc., are considered normal zooms. It's also the most useful range for 35mm photography, encompassing wide, normal and short telephoto ranges. Mount a normal zoom on your full frame DSLR and you're good to go for landscapes, group shots, candids and portraits. For many shooters this is the only lens they need.

LB Johnson Grove | California | EOS 5D2 & EF 24-105 4L IS USM

EF 24-105 4L IS USM

Introduced late 2005, the EF 24-105 4L IS USM features Image Stabilization (IS), constant aperture, wide zoom range (4.4x), beefy construction and weather seals.

Canon EF 24-105 4L IS USM | Photo courtesy Canon

Build Like A Small Brick

For a normal zoom, it's on the beefy side, 670 g (23.6 oz.), but lighter than the EF 24-70 2.8L USM. Build quality is first rate but uses more plastic than L series telephotos. This lens is weather resistant with gaskets at the lens mount, under the switches, and behind the zoom and focus rings. The manual states that a filter must be used for full weather proofing. And all that protects the exotic glass inside: one Super-UD glass element and three aspherical elements. Amazingly, there are 18 elements in that little barrel. I'm surprised light makes it to the other side!

Latourell Falls | EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM, F16 & 1/2 sec

Focus and Zoom

A ring-type USM (Ultrasonic Motor) achieves focus by driving an internal lens group. AF is fast and sure-footed on my EOS 5D Mark II and 6D cameras. The front element does not rotate and the barrel does not expand or contract during focusing. It is silent during AF. It has FTM, allowing you to manually focus without switching out of AF mode. The focus ring is large, smooth turning and covered with ribbed rubber. It's not as silky as a manual Nikkor but above average for an AF lens. Although not a macro lens, it focuses close enough for head shots and small details (.45 m/1.5 ft..

The twist zoom action is smooth, damped and does not creep. Zooming is accomplished by expanding and contracting a single nested barrel. The barrel nearly doubles in length when zoomed from 24mm to 105 mm. The manual focus ring is large and covered with a ribbed rubber surface. Oddly, zoom and focus rings are reversed from those in Canon consumer zooms.

The 77mm filter size makes for expensive filters, but is a common filter size for L optics, e.g., EF 17-40 4L USM. The manual recommends removing the hood while using a polarizing filter. However, it's easy to rotate the filter through the petal cutouts of the lens hood.

Bridgeport Brewpub | Portland OR | EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM. With a max aperture of F4 this is not a low light optic. However, if your subjects are slow moving, the 3 stop image stabilization helps keep it sharp.

Optical Quality

This is one of the best normal range zooms I have used. The center is sharp and contrasty wide open at all focal lengths, with a wee softening in corners on full frame cameras. Oddly, sharpness only improves slightly when stopped down and most improvement is in the corners. Nevertheless, it's sharper than my EF 50 1.4 USM at 50mm F4. And sharper than my EF 70-200 4L USM at 105mm F4. Images exhibit excellent contrast and snap.

Haleiwa Beach | EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM

The short end, like all wide zooms, suffers from barrel distortion. The long end has a slight amount of pincushion distortion. Nevertheless, distortion is less pronounced than my EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM and EF 24-85 3.5-4.5 USM. For most types of images, distortion isn't apparent. However, architectural and product photographers may want to stick with primes. Distortion may be easily removed prior to RAW conversion in DPP, LR or ACR.

Flare is well controlled for a zoom and far less apparent than the EF 28-135 3.5-5.6 IS USM and EF-S 17-55 2.8 IS USM, so shooting sunsets is a possibility with this optic.

Chromatic aberration is well corrected and only rears it's head at the wide end when shooting a subject against an overexposed backlight. And even in extreme backlighting the chromatic aberration is mild compared to most other normal zooms. Chromatic aberration may be quickly and easily removed in DPP, Aperture or Photoshop with the flick of a slider.

Kamehameha I | Honolulu | EOS 5D & EF 24-105 4L IS USM

Like all wide zooms, the EF 24-105 4L IS USM suffers from light fall-off at the wide end when shot wide open. Stop down to F5.6 and light fall-off is reduced considerably. By F8 it is nominal. Although wide primes and zooms suffered light fall-off in the film era, most folks didn't notice because labs cropped their prints. Even slide mounts covered 10% of the frame. Now some full frame shooters--especially 5D series owners--whine about light fall-off because they pixel peep and rarely print. However, standard print sizes, e.g., 8 x 10 or 11 x 14, are cropped, so most light fall-off will be nixed. Plus, removing light fall-off in DPP or Photoshop involves all of a couple clicks.

I use wide angle for sweeping vistas and stop down for maximum depth of field, so light fall-off hasn't reared its head, except, of course, in test shots of white walls. Light fall-off will only be a problem if you shoot bright skies or white walls wide open at 24mm F4.

If you shoot with a APS-C body, e.g., Rebel XTi, 40D or 7D, light fall-off is a moot point as 40% of the image circle is cropped out.

Image Stabilization

This would be a nice lens without Image Stabilization (IS). However, IS propels this zoom into hog heaven. Small gyro sensors coupled to a CPU detect the degree and direction of camera shake and counteract this vibration by moving a compensating optical group. Subsequently, it is difficult to not get a sharp picture, even three stops below my normal hand held shutter speed. If I brace myself or shoot a volley of shots I can get away with another stop or two!

Treasure Island at Las Vegas | EOS 5D and EF 24-105 4L IS USM hand held. ISO 1600, F4 with IS engaged.

IS does nothing for subject movement: it merely steadies your hand. It helps in any high vibration situation such as high wind, airplanes, automobiles or boats. I used to stow my camera when light faded. Now I keep shooting.

Conclusion

This is the big Kahuna of normal zooms. I love the range, AF speed, sharpness and feel of this lens. It balances well on larger bodies such as the 5D Mark III but is front heavy on a Rebel. Yes, the largest aperture of F4 is slow, but the 3-stop IS almost makes up for it. While not a small or light lens, I love it for travel due to a near perfect balance of image quality, durability, range and versatility. And it's endured ten years of rain forests, deserts, casinos and city streets without flinching, so it's proven itself durable and reliable.

Finally, please help support this website by purchasing this lens at Amazon.

Latourell Water Falls | Columbia Gorge OR | EOS 5D2, EF 24-105 4L IS USM & Gitzo tripod.

Source Materials

Canon EF Lens EF24-105mm F4L IS USM Instruction Manual. Tokyo: Canon, 2005 (CT1-7561-001.

Flower | Vancouver WA | EOS 5DII & EF 24-105 4L IS USM

More Images taken with the EF 24-105 4L IS USM (click to enlarge)

 

06/01/2006 | Updated 02/07/2016

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