Last month, in episode 732, we talked about Depth of Field, Hyperfocal Distance, and Infinity, and also touched on the Circle of Confusion, the Airy Disk, and Diffraction. I originally shared how to test your lenses to find their Diffraction Limit around four years ago, but I had yet to go through this exercise with my EOS R5 and new RF lenses, so I decided to talk you through this process again today. This is also relevant right now because I have just released a new version of our Photographer’s Friend app for iOS that includes a new Pro feature called Diffraction Limit Guide Adjustment, so I’ll also share a little information about that today as well.
As we discussed in episode 732, the depth of field in our images gets deeper as we stop down our aperture, so ƒ/11 has a deeper depth of field than ƒ/8, and ƒ/16 has a deeper depth of field than ƒ/11. The problem with stopping down the aperture for deeper depth of field though, is that it forces the light through a smaller hole, and when you force light through a small hole, the Airy Pattern starts to get disturbed and spreads out, causing it to overlap the neighboring Airy Disk pattern to the point that the image is considered no longer resolved, as I’ve shown in this diagram.
Based on my Pixel Peeper calculations which I added to Photographer’s Friend, around four years ago I realized that I could calculate the diffraction limit based on the size of the Airy Disk as it grows with the decreasing size of the aperture, and I provided Diffraction Limit Warnings in the form of traffic light coloring of the Airy Disk label, and the Aperture dial, which is responsible for the limitation. Unless you have changed these colors with the theme customization feature, green will show you that you don’t need to worry about Diffraction. Orange or amber shows when Diffraction will probably start to show itself and red alerts you to the fact that that you will almost certainly be seeing the effects of Diffraction in your images. These color warnings correspond with the Well Resolved, Just Resolved, and Not Resolved Airy Patterns in the diagram.
The calculated warning points are pretty accurate, but how much you allow this to concern you depends really on how much Diffraction you are seeing in your images, and this is both why I like to test my lenses, but also with this latest release, why I wanted to be able to adjust the kick-in points of the warning in Photographer’s Friend.
Where to Start?
The tests are easy to do, and although I used an old Lens Align tool that you can see in the above photo, you can just use a steel rule or even just an open book with a page of text. I like the Lens Align tool because it is easy to vary the angle of the rule and it has lots of text and numbers along the rule to help you to evaluate sharpness. Although we’d usually be looking to see where the focus falls on the rule, for Diffraction Limit testing the point at which you focus is less important. We’re just going to check for a lack of sharpness across the entire image as we stop down the aperture.
I recommend using Pixel Peeper mode in Photographer’s Friend for the most accurate information on which aperture to start testing from, and it depends on your camera’s sensor and the number of megapixels, which you’ll need to dial into the Depth of Field Calculator settings. You’ll also need to select your sensor format with the Format dial. For the Canon EOS R5 I’ll select 35mm as it’s a full-frame 35mm sensor. If you use a crop factor camera or medium format camera, select the appropriate Format. I then press and hold the Format dial to lock it, to prevent me from accidentally changing it later.
With the megapixels set to 45 and Pixel Peeper mode enabled in the settings, and also ensuring that the Diffraction Limit Guides are turned on for the Airy Disk label and aperture dial, we can then adjust the aperture until we see the dial change from green to amber. The last green aperture is where we’ll start to test from as we know that this should not be displaying any signs of Diffraction. With my camera details dialed into the settings, I see that my starting aperture is ƒ/8, so I’ll set my camera to ƒ/8 for my first test shot.
With your camera on a tripod, line it up with the Lens Align tool or whatever you are going to use in your tests, and pick a point at which you are going to focus, just as a reference.
If you don’t have Photographer’s Friend and don’t care about Pixel Peeper mode, then ƒ/8 is still a good starting aperture for your tests, then stop down one third or half stop at a time, depending on your camera, and shoot an image with every change until you reach the smallest aperture of your lens, which is ƒ/22 with most of my Canon RF Lenses.
To make exposure easy, I use Aperture Priority mode for this, and I set the ISO to 100. High ISOs can cause the image quality to degrade as well as Diffraction, so it’s better to avoid auto-ISO. In Aperture Priority mode though, your camera should automatically adjust the shutter speed for you as you stop down the aperture. I also use a two-second timer so that I can take my hand away from the camera during the exposure to avoid shaking the camera.
If you are testing a zoom lens, to be thorough, it’s a good idea to test at least three focal lengths. The two extremes and then something close to the middle of the zoom range. For example, when I tested my Canon RF 15-35mm lens I shot both 15 and 35 mm shots as well as a series at 24mm. For the 24-105mm lens, I shot at 24mm, 50mm and 105mm.
Once you’ve shot an image for each aperture from the starting aperture to the smallest aperture available on your lens, you’ll then need to transfer your images to your computer and open them up in your usual image editing software and evaluate the sharpness. With the high-resolution displays that we have these days, I generally find that I have to zoom in to around 200% to really see the sharpness, and as I worked through these images shot at 24mm starting at ƒ/8 then working through each smaller aperture, the first noticeable degradation in sharpness I could see was at ƒ/16. A certain amount of diffraction kicked in right there, and the image got gradually softer towards ƒ/22, although we are talking a very small amount.
Here is the series of images from my Canon RF 24-105mm lens at 50mm, so that you can see what I’m talking about. This is the center 1440px of each image cropped from the larger image, so if you click on these to open up in the lightbox you will be able to see the images at 100% and may be able to see the diffraction starting to kick in.
At 50mm diffraction didn’t really start to kick in until ƒ/18, but it got worse slightly quicker and by ƒ/22 it was about the same softness as at 24mm. At 105mm diffraction was relatively weak but slightly noticeable from ƒ/16 and got worse at ƒ/20 and slightly worse still at ƒ/22. From my findings though, I now know that I don’t have to be concerned about Diffraction until ƒ/16, and if possible, I want to avoid using ƒ/20 and ƒ/22. Based on this, I went into the settings of the Depth of Field Calculator in Photographer’s Friend, and adjusted the amber warning slider to +1.6 stops, and also the red warning slider to +0.3 of a stop. As you can see from these screenshots, that puts the actual warning colors displayed so that the aperture dial is green until ƒ/14 then changes to amber at ƒ/16 then to red at ƒ/20.
For your reference, note that I also tested my Canon RF 50mm f/1.2 lens, which has a smallest aperture of ƒ/16 and once again, I really couldn’t see any diffraction until I hit ƒ/16, so I’m pretty happy to leave my warning color guides at these settings. Because the math dictates where the default settings go, and because I’m testing some of the best lenses available, I don’t want to adjust the default settings. I really think people should do these simple tests themselves to really see the effects of diffraction as it kicks in, and if you do use Photographer’s Friend, I hope you find the ability to adjust your warning sliders useful.
Note that this is part of the Pro Add-on as it all takes additional work that was not included in the base price of the app, and also not something that everyone will want. The good news is though, if you already bought the Pro Add-on or the Complete Pro Bundle including the Apple Watch add-on, this feature will automatically be activated when you update to version 3.7.1 which is available now in the App Store.
OK, so I hope you found that useful. Before we finish I’d quickly also like to mention that if you absolutely must stop down to a small enough aperture to cause your system to become diffraction-limited, it’s not the end of the world. If you are a Canon user, you can consider using Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software and applying the Digital Lens Optimizer, which removes the effects of diffraction very well when detected. Also, my image management and editing software of choice, Capture One Pro, has a Diffraction Correction option under the Lens Correction section which also does a very good job of cleaning up the effects of diffraction when your images are affected. Photoshop and Lightroom also have lens correction in Adobe Camera Raw which removes the effects of diffraction pretty well too. I rarely have to use this option because I’m generally fine with the slighter wider apertures, but it’s good to know what your options are.
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I picked up my Canon RF 100-500mm F/4.5-7.1 L lens on August 27, the day it was released into the wild, and I’ve spent the last few days putting it through its paces, although the oppressive Tokyo heat has held me back to a degree. I like to ensure that my gear is insured before using it outside, as I’ve actually dropped a camera body in a river before, and don’t want to take any chances, so I had to get that sorted out first but then waited for it to cool down a little on Friday the 28th, before heading out to the river down the road from where I live to see what I could find.
We’ll take a look at some of my photos shortly, but first I’d like to touch on some of the key points of this wonderful new lens from Canon. First of all, the biggest change for a lens with this positioning is, of course, the increase in the zoom range, from 400mm to 500mm. It was this new increased range that made me decide to sell my 200-400mm lens with the 1.4X Extender built-in, as well as financial considerations. With business being the way it is right now, I simply couldn’t have afforded to make all of the recent changes I’ve made without setting that beast of a lens, but I honestly don’t think it’s necessary anymore, with this new offering in my kit bag.
I photographed the R5 with the 100-400mm on it the day before I part exchanged the 100-400mm for the 100-500mm, and I left my tripod out and marked the background paper so that I could place the 100-500mm on the right, and shoot a second shot to merge together for comparison. You can see that the RF lens is slightly smaller than the EF lens with the Control Ring Adapter. Despite the extra 100mm reach, the RF 100-500mm is 1,370g without the tripod ring, compared to 1,530g for the EF 100-400mm lens, also without the tripod ring, so the 100-500mm is 160g lighter and slightly shorter than the 100-400mm, although Canon is claiming a 200g difference for some reason.
Extender Zoom Restrictions
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, the only slightly negative aspect of the 100-500mm is that it is restricted to a widest focal length of 300mm when used with either of the new RF mount Extenders. As you can see in the following image, the rubber-coated lens element protruding out of the Extenders prevents the back element of the lens from moving to back to its full extent. This means that instead of a 200-1000mm lens with the 2X Extender, we get a 600-1000mm lens, and with the 1.4X Extender, we’re looking at a 420-700mm lens. This does reduce the versatility of the lens when combined with the Extenders and was a bit of a disappointment, but this is the first time that the shorter distance between the back of the lens and the sensor has added a negative aspect to Canon’s RF Mount and Mirrorless line-up.
Although this should have been obvious, I also didn’t really think about the fact that the lens would be locked in an extended position while the Extenders are fitted. Here are two photos, one with each Extender fitted, showing the shortest focal length that the lens can be pulled back to with each of the Extenders. I’m also still trying to find out if there is a mechanical stopper that prevents the lens from going under 300mm or if the Extender is physically butting up against that back element. I’m hoping there is a mechanical stopper, as that would make me more comfortable stowing the lens away with the Extender fitted, but if it’s elements bashing together, I would not be comfortable putting this combination into my bag.
These are my only concerns though, and I’ll certainly live with this for the versatility of this lens. Having the ability to shoot at up to 1000mm with such a small system is very welcome.
One last physical difference between the RF 100-500mm and the EF 100-400mm lens is that the hood is now white, so it matches the body of the lens much better, and although purely cosmetic, the case that comes with the 100-500mm has also switched from white to black. I think I would have preferred white simply because it doesn’t get as warm as a black case in strong sunlight, but for me, I actually never use the case anyway. I pretty much always just put the lens into my camera bag, or sling it over my shoulder attached to a camera, as long as I don’t have to walk on a slippy surface.
Aperture Decrease Points
As you’ll have noticed from the name of the lens, the widest available aperture gradually decreases as you zoom the lens. Starting at f/4.5 at 100mm, this drops to f/5.0 at 150mm, then f/5.6 at 280mm, F/6.3 at 370mm and the smallest aperture of f/7.1 starts from 460mm and, of course, remains at 7.1 up to the maximum focal length of 500mm. The widest aperture available at 300mm is f/5.6 and this remains in place with the Extenders fitted, so the widest available aperture with the RF 1.4X Extender fitted is f/8, with an effective focal length of 420mm, and that transitions through f/9 to f/10 once you zoom to the maximum effective focal length of 700mm. With the RF 2X Extender fitted, you get f/11, dropping to f/14 as the widest aperture at the longest focal length of 1000mm.
The image quality is pretty much unchanged with no real visible degradation when working with the Extenders. Here is a photograph of the Moon shot on a humid summer night here in Tokyo, so there was a large halo around the Moon, but the photo is still nice and sharp. This is quite heavily cropped, down to an image of around 17 megapixels, so that you can see and appreciate the detail. I increased the ISO to 1250 for this shot with a shutter speed of 1/160 of a second at f/14, which is the widest aperture available at 1000mm.
This was actually the last outdoor test shot that I made to share with you, so let’s back-pedal a little now and I’ll walk you through a number of images that I was able to get as I tried to put this lens through its paces. Unfortunately, the oppressive heat of Tokyo at this time of year, and the fact that we are having a bit of a heatwave on top of that, has meant that both the wildlife and me couldn’t spend much time in the sun. The day after I got the lens, I took it up to the river a 10-minute walk from my apartment, hoping to see some Black Eared Kites, and maybe also some Egret, but it turned out to be a case of Mad-Dogs and Englishman. I was the only living being out there, except from one Egret that came to the river for a drink, and then promptly flew away again. It was on the far bank, so even at 1000mm was too far to photograph with any impact.
I shot some insects, all with the 2X Extender and the lens at its full extent of 1000mm. These aren’t great, because of the surroundings, but it will give you an idea of the image quality and show that this lens can actually be used in the macro range, so first, here is a butterfly shot.
Here also is a Dragonfly, also at 1000mm, and the detail at the base of its wings is absolutely stunning, even when using the 2X Extender and the lens at full extent. I didn’t expect to see any real image degradation when using these Extenders with the 100-500mm, but it’s certainly nice to get that confirmed first hand.
Scraping the barrel a little, here is a shot of a Water Strider insect, that I actually don’t dislike. It’s great to see the water bending under the weight of the Strider, but also be able to see how the surface tension is keeping him afloat. Again, shot at 1000mm and has beautiful image quality. These shots were all made hand-held by the way. Also, don’t forget that you can click on the images to open them up in the Lightbox and view the shooting information below the image.
Fledgling Barn Swallows
After a few hours, I was drenched in sweat and needed to leave to avoid getting heatstroke, but then as I got to my apartment, I noticed three Barn Swallow fledglings on the telegraph wire over a stream that runs by the building. Their parents were busily catching beaks full of bugs from over the stream and then flew back to the fledglings who, although already larger than their parents, opened their mouths wide to accept the buggy meal before the parent flew off to catch some more. Here is a photo as the parent swallow flies away and the fledgling tries to swallow its new mouthful of bugs.
I was impressed with the way the autofocus of EOS R5 and 100-500mm lens stayed with the parent as they dropped down off the telegraph wire and started to fly away. You can see that the fledgling is already out of focus in this shot. I’ve been asked about the smaller aperture compared to the 100-400mm, but really, the depth of field is so shallow at these focal lengths that you have to be stopped down to get anything sharp anyway, so it really isn’t a problem. I am cranking up the ISO quite a bit though to get these shots. Although this was shot at ISO 6400 and a shutter speed of 1/3200 a second, as it got darker and I increased my shutter speed I ended up shooting at 12800 ISO as well, but the images all still look pretty good.
Dragonflies In Flight
The following day, I visited a local botanical garden’s water-plant zone, hoping to photograph some Kingfisher, but it’s too hot for them again, as we go through a particularly hot spell, so once again there wasn’t really any bird action for me to shoot. As I waited for the Kingfisher that would ultimately not show, I realized that there were enough dragonflies buzzing around to try my hand at photographing them in flight. I’ve tried this a number of times in the past, and could never focus on them.
At first, I left my autofocus settings the same as those which I showed you in my video showing my settings that I included in the Canon EOS R5 review, but trying to use a single focus point to focus on a small insect flying erratically and always completely out of focus because of the shallow depth of field, was simply not possible. I quickly tried using a cluster of focus points but was instantly reminded of why I dislike this autofocus mode, and it was still not possible to focus, so I pulled all the way back to full Auto, where the camera decides what to focus on. You don’t have any visible focus points to start with.
So, in this photo of my settings screen, which you’ll find under menu AF5, you see the setting that I usually use highlighted in light blue and the Auto setting that I selected for the Dragonfly selected with the pink border here. I went straight back to my usual setting afterward, and that’s why I also registered this setting in My Menu, so that I can quickly get back to it as and when necessary.
I got a number of shots of the Dragonfly in flight, but here are a few that I’m particularly happy with, and once again, I’ve never been able to get this kind of shot in the past, so I put this down to the EOS R5’s improved autofocus and the speed at which the RF 100-500mm can focus, even with the 1.4X Extender fitted, which is what I was using to shoot these images. Note though that I did have to pull back a little to give myself a chance to get this guy in the frame, so the effective focal length was actually 480mm, so I could have removed the 1.4X Extender for this shot.
I love how this looks like an X-Wing out of Star Wars! Also note that the pale blue background of this shot is water, not the sky, and that is why you can perhaps make out some small round lighter areas. These are sunlight reflecting off the water but really out of focus.
Here is a second shot of the Lesser Emperor Dragonfly, this time over a textured background of the foliage reflected in the water. I’m completely impressed that the EOS R5 and 100-500mm lens are able to pick out and focus on a very fast and erratically moving dragonfly the way that it did.
So, no bird shots other than the Swallow image which doesn’t really count, but I’ll keep trying and report back as time allows. I’m sure you’ll agree though that as a test of the autofocus capabilities, these last few shots are pretty impressive.
No More Stroboscopic Subjects!
One thing that I promised to report back on in my EOS R5 review is how much smoother the electronic viewfinder is for real-life subjects, because the EOS R, even with the best settings I was able to find, used to present you with a kind of stroboscopic view of the subjects when shooting in bursts, and at times it made it difficult to track moving subjects. Well, I’m happy to report that this is no longer a problem. With the Electronic shutter, there is no interruption in the signal. It’s so smooth it’s actually difficult to tell that you are exposing frames at all. And with the mechanical shutter, it’s still very smooth. I can’t recall ever seeing the shutter in motion as I shot over the last few days.
The White-Tailed Skimmer Video
The various ponds at the garden I visited attract the White-Tailed Skimmer Dragonfly in larger numbers than the Lesser Emperor that I got the flight photos of. The Skimmers are pretty common here and I believe are gradually spreading as far west from Japan as Eastern Europe. They tend to hang around on the stems of reeds quite a lot, so as a test of the 120 frames per second 4K video, I grabbed a number of minutes of footage, all shot hand-held although I was often resting on posts and things, but at mostly 700mm, I was very impressed with the stability of the video.
From what I have been able to find on the web, it would seem that the RF 100-500mm gets around 5 stops of image stabilization from the lens and in-body image stabilization, but this footage looks better than that, although that’s probably because it was shot at 120 fps, so you’re only seeing 25% of the camera shake that was introduced anyway.
Note too that I had not realized that you can’t record audio when shooting at 120 frames per second, and I did not have any audio equipment with me, so you’ll have to put up with my new track “Nostalgia” as the backing the music. This is the same music that I started using in the podcast a few weeks ago, but the full version, because the length of the track perfectly matched the length of the video that I ended up with.
A Word of Caution
One thing that I would like to mention before we move on, is that I found that sometimes with very fast moving close-by subjects, that I had to drop back to the 1.4X Extender just to be able to frame the subject. I’m pretty good at aligning my camera when zoomed to 400 or 500mm, as you’ll have noticed from my tightly frame sea eagle shots that I share each year, but things like the dragonflies flitting around were very difficult to frame up, even with the 1.4X Extender. The 2X Extender will probably be more suited for more distant subjects, simply because we then get more depth of field, so you can see the scene better to focus, and the amount of the scene in your frame increases as the distance to subject increases.
Thankfully though, because the R5 is 45 megapixels, we also have a little more freedom to crop, which helps with small or distant subjects that don’t fill the frame. For larger birds, like the Red-Crowned Cranes and Sea Eagles that I love to shoot, I am really looking forward to working with them with just the 100-500mm but do also sometimes need a bit more reach when the cranes are a way off, so the Extenders will come in useful then too. Basically, the Extenders are necessary, and a welcome addition, but I want you to be aware that it sure can become a lot of lens to try to frame up a close-by, and with fast moving subject.
Resolution Test Chart Shots
To finish, I’ll share a number of shots of a resolution test chart at some of the key focal lengths and apertures, both with and without the Extenders. The results of these tests are now so good with Canon RF lenses that I’m almost ready to just stop including this test in my review, but I think it’s still worth it, just to prove how good the resolution of this system is across the range, and especially when using Extenders. I’ve included details of the focal length, aperture and extender in the caption for this image, so click on them to open them in the Lightbox to see for yourself.
Also note that I was only able to include the full chart up to around 600mm due to lack of space in my studio, so the image does get larger as I add extenders and zoom etc. Note too that I have cropped out the center of the test shots at 100% so that you can see the detail. Including a resized version of the entire image would not show you anything other than what the chart looks like.
Chromatic Aberration from 700mm
I did notice a little bit of Chromatic Aberration creeping in in the corner of the image from around 700mm with the 1.4X Extender and when using the 2X Extender. This is only in the corners, and even without a lens profile, the Chromatic Aberration Lens Correction in Capture One Pro removes this instantly, so it’s not something to worry about. This screenshot is from the top left corner of the 1000mm f/14 photograph, shot with the 2X Extender, but as you can see it disappears with lens correction Chromatic Aberration turned on.
OK, so I think we’ll start to wrap it up there for now. I will report back as I continue to shoot with both the R5 and the 100-500mm lens. At this point, it’s still not clear whether my Winter tours will be able to proceed or not next year, and we are still being asked to stay in Tokyo, because we have a higher concentration of corona virus patients than other prefectures, but as soon as these restrictions are lifted, I’ll jump in my car and get somewhere that has some decent wildlife and jump back into this.
As with the EOS R5 that I also reviewed recently, the 100-500mm lens is probably one of the best lenses that Canon has ever made. It’s not perfect, with a touch of Chromatic Aberration when using the Extenders, and being locked at a widest focal length of 300mm when using the Extenders isn’t ideal either, but for the image quality and versatility that it does bring, I can absolutely live with these tiny inconveniences.
I would like to say in closing, that I have never been happier to be a Canon user. I realize that there are other systems out there that are making good advances as well, but my preference has always been Canon, and that makes it a natural progression to stay with them, but I do get a chance to look at other systems on my workshops, and I can honestly say that none of them are as attractive to me as Canon’s current line-up.
As I also mentioned in my recent EOS R5 review, I believe that it is the best camera Canon has ever made, and the RF 100-500mm is an amazing addition to the line-up. It’s sharp, hand-holdable with a huge range, and with the RF Extenders gives me enough reach that I will simply never regret having to part with my 200-400mm lens to help with the purchase. I have a second EOS R5 on order, although I hear it may be months now before that arrives.
When I consider that my gear bag will comprise of just three lenses and two bodies and two Extenders now to get me from 15 to 1000 mm, it makes traveling, both logistically and physically, so much easier than just 7 or 8 years ago. For wildlife work back then I was lugging around two full-sized bodies with vertical grips, a 14mm lens, a 16-35mm lens, and a 24-105mm lens, and then the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens and Extenders, and a 300mm f/2.8 and a 600mm f/4 lens. My bag weighed a ton and with the tightened weight restrictions on international flights now, there is no way I’d get all of that overseas, and I honestly don’t think I could carry it all now anyway, definitely not for a full day. So, a huge thumbs up on this latest influx of gear from Canon!
If you are still concerned about jumping to a mirrorless camera system, don’t be. The R5 no longer handles like a Mirrorless camera. This is what I was holding off for, for the past five years or so. The EOS R was a great introduction, and it was the RF mount that got me sold on that camera and starting me selling my EF lenses. Now, the system is perfect, and in almost every respect now better than the DSLRs I’ve owned over the years.
As always, if you have found the information I shared here useful, please consider using our affiliate links below when placing your order from B&H Photo. Also, note that no third party has provided any gear to enable me to write this review. I bought everything I have mentioned today with my own hard-earned yen, and everything that I have relayed to you is my own unbiased opinion.
A few days after I released this review, I made the time to pull together the video footage that I shot of the Moon at 8K but downsampled to 4K for the video, and I quickly created a backing track. By quickly, I mean, it’s a 12:30 track, and it took me about 13:30 to create, but it’s better than silence, I hope. Anyway, go full screen on this and enjoy the detail in the Moon. Note that some of the juddering of the moon is from heat shimmer, but there is also a little movement in our apartment, and the camera moves slightly as I stepped off of our balcony to go and grab a shower while the video ran.
A few months ago I used two images of the same scene to compare how well the Canon EOS R images at 30 megapixels would print, compared to the 50 megapixel Canon EOS 5Ds R camera. For these tests, the results of which you can see in episode 660, I had the EF 24-105mm lens on my 5Ds R and the new RF 24-105mm lens on my EOS R. I was surprised to see that the image quality from the EOS R was so good and that that lower resolution images could actually be printed as large as the higher resolution images and actually looked a little better!
Since doing these tests though, I started to wonder how sharp the EF 24-105mm F/4 Mark II lens would be when mounted on the EOS R using the Canon Control Ring Mount Adapter, so this week, I’ve done a few tests, pitching the EF 24-105mm lens against the RF 24-105mm lens, but this time both on the Canon EOS R. A few people have asked me about this as well, and I’m sure there will be some people out there that are using the EF 24-105mm lens via the mount adapter and wondering if it’s worth switching. Value and worth are very subjective, so I’m not going to tell you what to do, but the results of my tests will give you everything you need to know about the difference in sharpness so that you can make up your own mind about this.
About the Tests
For the test, to keep things equal between frames, I set up my camera on a tripod and photographed a printed test chart attached to my whiteboard. I turned Image Stabilization off for all of these images so that it didn’t wiggle anything around as the exposures were captured and I shot three sets of images with each lens. The first set that we’ll look at was shot at 24mm, the widest focal length of these lenses, then the second set at 50mm, almost in the middle, and a final set at 105mm, which is the longest focal length of these lenses.
Below is an iPhone photo of my set-up, as I shot the 105mm focal length set. You’ll see that I was also using a studio light with a softbox to light the test chart. I left the ISO at 100 and the shutter speed at 1/200 of a second for all of the images, and I adjusted the exposure by making the studio light brighter as I increased through the aperture stops. This way we are able to rule out ISO and shutter speed as a reason for any differences between the images because these settings were the same for all 36 test shots. It also helps us to rule out camera shake, because the studio light’s burst is way faster than the shutter speed, so I’d literally have needed to swing the camera around on its strap to get any camera shake. OK, so a slight exaggeration there, but you know what I mean.
Note too that I moved the camera back and forth so that I could just about fill the frame with the test chart at all three focal lengths. The RF lens has a slightly shorter minimum focus distance than the EF lens, so I had to pull back slightly from the minimum focus distance of the RF lens to ensure that the EF lens could focus on the chart.
EF 24-105mm Lens @ 24mm (Center)
So, here first are six images which cover the entire aperture range in full stops using the EF lens, so we start wide open at f/4, then move through f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and down to the smallest aperture for both lenses, which is f/22. This first batch is shot at the widest focal length which is of course 24mm.
All of these images have been cropped down to 1440 x 960-pixel images at 100%, so if you ensure that your browser window is wide enough and then click the images, you will be able to see the image at its full resolution.
You’ll notice that the EF 24-105mm lens is pretty sharp at 24mm from wide open at f/4 through to f/16, and you will probably be able to detect just a little bit of softness caused by diffraction as we stop down to the smallest aperture of f/22.
RF 24-105mm Lens @ 24mm (Center)
Here now are the same six apertures but using the RF 24-105mm f/4 lens. Again, open them up in the lightbox to view the difference. Note that the images aren’t aligned perfectly because the EF 24-105mm lens actually has a slightly longer focal length, despite them sporting the same numbers, and it is really not that important for the images to be aligned for this test.
I think you’ll agree that at 24mm the images from the RF lens are incredibly sharp from f/4 to f/16, and there is a little bit, but slightly less diffraction kicking in at f/22.
To enable us to make a direct comparison, here now is another group of images, which are the same images that we looked at above, but I’ve alternated the EF and RF lenses so that you can make a direct comparison.
At 24mm though, I think it’s safe to say that there is very little difference between the EF and the RF lenses. They both perform admirably throughout the entire aperture range.
EF 24-105mm Lens @ 50mm (Center)
Here now is the EF lens at 50mm, again, showing the center of the image, just from further away, and zoomed in to 50mm.
I was actually surprised by how soft the EF lens is wide open at f/4, and I think I can also detect diffraction starting to kick in from f/11 and very slightly worse through f/16 to f/22. It’s not a huge amount, but usually, it’s the extremes of the zoom range that suffer, not the middle of the range, so this was surprising for me.
RF 24-105mm Lens @ 50mm (Center)
Here too is the RF lens at 50mm, for comparison.
Once again I think you’ll agree that it’s sharper throughout the entire aperture range, and there is just a tiny bit of diffraction at f/22, but otherwise it’s tack-sharp.
EF 24-105mm Lens @ 105mm (Center)
Now let’s move on to the longest focal length of 105mm. The long end of a lens is usually where the image quality suffers the most.
Again though, the EF 24-105mm breaks the rules, as it is tack-sharp throughout the range, with just a tiny bit of diffraction at f/22.
RF 24-105mm Lens @ 105mm (Center)
And to finish this group of images showing you the image quality at the center of the lens, here is our RF lens at 105mm.
I was very surprised to see that at 105mm when the lens is wide open at f/4, it’s a complete mess. The first image in that batch is so bad that I ran my tests again, thinking that I’d made a mistake, but the results were identical, so it’s official. At least my copy of the RF 24-105mm lens is crap wide open at its longest focal length. I’m pleased it’s as sharp as it is elsewhere and when stopped down, but I need to keep in mind to stop this lens down a little when shooting at 105mm to avoid that soft spot. In fact, I’m going to seriously consider having Canon take a look at this lens while it’s still under warranty.
Bottom Left Corner Comparison
In this next set, I have cropped out a 1440 x 960-pixel section of the image to see how the image quality fairs in the bottom left-hand corner. This is a great way to see how much the image quality degrades as you move away from the predominantly much sharper center of the lens.
EF 24-105mm Lens @ 24mm (Corner)
I’ve stuck to the same groupings, starting with the EF lens at 24mm through all of the full aperture stops.
I can see a little bit of color aberration or fringing at f/4, and a bit less but still see it at f/5.6, but it pretty much clears up by f/8 and the image doesn’t really degrade much again, even at f/22, where the diffraction is almost undetectable.
RF 24-105mm Lens @ 24mm (Corner)
The RF lens is up again next, through the same full stop aperture range.
This is again pretty amazing, especially for the corner of the images with the lens wide open. The sharpness is there until a tiny bit of diffraction kicks in at f/22 but I really can’t see any fringing or color aberrations to speak of, so that’s great!
EF 24-105mm Lens @ 50mm (Corner)
The EF lens starts off pretty nasty at 50mm not really sharpening up in the corners until f/11, but then it stays sharp and doesn’t really suffer from diffraction even at f/22.
RF 24-105mm Lens @ 50mm (Corner)
At f/4 on the RF lens at 50mm it’s a bit soft again, but it sharpens up nicely from f/5.6 and then just has a touch of diffraction at f/22.
EF 24-105mm Lens @ 105mm (Corner)
Despite the amazing performance of the EF lens in the center at 105mm, it doesn’t really settle down until f/11 in the corner, but then it’s nice and sharp again and diffraction isn’t an issue.
RF 24-105mm Lens @ 105mm (Corner)
I’d have been amazed if the RF lens was sharp in the corner at f/4 when zoomed in to 105mm after the poor image quality that we saw in the middle, but it actually doesn’t drop off very much at all, which is a bit of a bonus. It does sharpen up nicely at f/5.6 and shows only minor diffraction at f/22.
OK, so I hope you found this useful if you are interested in the difference between these two lenses when both are used on the EOS R. Note that there was no processing done to the images other than the default sharpening that Capture One Pro applies to all images.
The RF 24-105mm is definitely sharper overall, but with a surprising result at f/4 when zoomed right in to 105mm. I’m also thinking that the EF 24-105mm lens gave some very solid results, showing that it’s a top-class lens even when used with a mount adapter on the new RF mount camera system.
I personally made my decision to buy the new RF 24-105mm f/4 lens, based not only on my expectations that it would be a little sharper, but also based on the size. As I mentioned in my review of the EOS R, and as you can see in the below image, the EOS R with the RF 24-105mm is significantly smaller than the 5Ds R and the EF 24-105mm lens. When you mount the EF lens with the mount adapter, it greatly increases the overall size of the system, and it was important for me to keep this all at a minimum.
If you would like to test any of your own lenses like this, the chart I was using is from the Cornell University and you can download a copy of the PDF here. And indeed, if anyone with an EOS R and the RF 24-105mm lens decided to run these tests, please do let me know if you see the same poor image quality that I see at f/4 and 105mm. I’d be interested to hear what you find.
Today we’re going to pitch the old Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens against the new Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens, to see if it’s worth trading in the old lens for some shiny new glass, even with one-third of a stop smaller aperture. I also hope that this will give you an idea of the quality of the new lens, regardless of how it compares to the old lens.
The angle I’ve taken for this review is that an L lens from Canon lens being tack-sharp when stopped down to say f/5.6 or f/8 is pretty much a given these days, and therefore not really worth spending much time on. Conversely, the beauty of Canon’s wide aperture lenses is that you can shoot with them wide open and still expect great results. However, the depth of field that you get with these lenses at f/1.4 is incredibly shallow, and so my test shots are mostly wide open, both to show you how they perform, but also to show you what you can expect in terms of depth of field should you shoot with them wide open.
A Bit of Background
To give you a bit of background on my use of the 85mm Mark II lens, I bought mine back in 2007, one year after it was released, and have used it on and off ever since. I must admit, there have been long periods when I simply didn’t use it, mostly because much of the work I’ve been doing has been overseas, and for many years my kit was so heavy that it really wasn’t possible to take any more lenses, so it stayed at home. I actually have a rule that if I don’t use a piece of gear for more than a year, I sell it, and have over the last eleven years sold many lenses and old bodies as I’ve upgraded to new versions or bought new kit. But, despite not using the old 85mm f/1.2 lens, I could never bring myself to sell it. It was just that good.
It wasn’t perfect mind; for example, the autofocus was incredibly slow. Probably the slowest autofocus on any lens I’ve ever used. Not quite as big a deal, but when I heard that Canon was going to release an updated 85mm lens, I was happy to note that it had Image Stabilization. I can’t recall now if I had any information on autofocus speed improvements, but at this point in time, I couldn’t imagine Canon releasing a lens without really snappy autofocus, so I ordered a copy of the 85mm f/1.4 lens as soon as it was announced last year.
You might wonder why I bought another 85mm lens when I wasn’t using my old one very much, but the main reason is that this is a great focal length for portraiture, and I do most of that these days on my tours overseas, and quite often in dark places, such as down a well or in a dark adobe building in Morocco last year, or of the Himba people in their huts in Namibia, and even though I might stop the lens down a little bit for greater depth of field, you can simply see more through a wide aperture lens, and of course, it is nice to be able to open the aperture up a little when necessary too.
The other big factor is that the weight of the gear that I’m traveling with is less now than it has ever been. I’ve replaced a number of lenses with fewer lenses, and they are pretty much all smaller and lighter, meaning that I can do most of my overseas travel now with an 18L backpack, and even that has plenty of room for an extra lens, which is why and how I was able to pack the new 85mm lens for my recent Namibia tour.
Another very important factor for me is that the 85mm f/1.2 lens is not weatherproof. Many people think that all L lenses are weatherproof, but that’s not the case. The new 85mm f/1.4 lens, however, is weatherproof. I wouldn’t like to take a lens like this to Africa, be it Namibia or Morocco, without weatherproofing, as the dust and sand get just about everywhere. I’m careful with my gear, but when it comes to getting a shot, I don’t want to be worrying that I might get dust in my lens, or moisture if it’s raining. This, in fact, is the only thing that I dislike about my 5Ds R bodies; they aren’t weatherproof. They have some weather sealing, but it is not like the Canon 1 series bodies that you can literally hose down if necessary.
I am also pleased to report that the Autofocus on the new 85mm f/1.4 lens is incredibly fast. It’s what you’d expect for a prime lens. You don’t even notice any lag when you press the AF button; it just snaps in immediately. This was really nice to see and removes the only frustration that I had with the old 85mm lens. I’m also happy to report that I have not noticed any focusing errors, such as the dynamically shifting back-focus tendencies of the Canon 50mm f/1.2 L lens that I wanted to love, but not with the problems caused by its by-design crappy focusing. There’s none of that happening with the 85mm lenses.
Before we jump in and look at the results of some of my tests, let’s compare a few of the key specifications of the old and new 85mm lenses. Firstly, the original 85mm f/1.2 lens was released in 2006, so it’s twelve years old at the time of writing (July 2018) compared to the new 85mm f/1.4 lens which was released at the end of 2017, so I’ve now owned the new lens for six months. I would have liked to have done this review sooner, but my winter tours had a hold of me, and I didn’t really get a chance to use the new lens until my Namibia tour last month.
Closest Focusing Distance
Another problem that I had with the old 85mm lens was that it’s closest focusing distance was pretty long at 95 cm or 3.2 feet. I was happy to see that the new lens focuses 10 cm closer at 85 cm, or 2.79 feet, but I must admit I’d have really liked to see this brought in a little more. The 10 cm is better than nothing, but when we consider that lenses like my 24-105mm f/4 lens can focus as close as 45 cm or 1.7 feet, almost half, that’s the sort of distances that you get used to. Of course, I’m sure Canon would love to make the minimum focus distance closer too, but I’ll bet it’s the super large apertures that make it physically impossible for them to improve on the current design.
In practical terms, the difference between the minimum focus distance of the old and new 85 mm lenses doesn’t give us the ability to magnify our subject by very much more. Here, in fact (below) is a photo of my old Canon AE-1 camera shot with both lenses at their closest focus distance. The smaller camera is from the old 85mm I measured it as taking up 38% of the frame, compared to the larger semi-transparent camera, from the new 85mm at it’s closest focus distance, which takes up 45% of the frame, so we’re talking about a 7% increase in magnification between the two lenses closest focus distances.
In fact, as we’ll see shortly, the new 85mm actually magnifies the subject slightly more than the 85 mm f/1.2 Mark II did, so not all of this 7% is coming from being able to focus at a closer distance, but let’s look at some more specs first.
As you can see in the next image (below) the new 85mm lens, at 4.1 inches or 105.4 mm, is slightly taller than the old one, at 3.6 inches or 91 mm. But the new lens weighs 75 grams less, at 950 grams, compared to 1,025 grams, or 33.5 ounces compared to 36.2. That’s not a huge difference, and the new lens is still a pretty hefty chunk of metal and glass, but any reduction in weight is welcome as it becomes more and more difficult to fly overseas with our gear.
Another nice advantage of the new lens while we’re comparing their looks, is that the new lens has a much shallower hood, making them in fact almost the same length with the hoods attached, as you can see in this next image (below). The old hood had two buttons to release it and just clipped into place without any twisting, while the new hood has one locking button, but is a twist action.
The lenses have completed redesigned optics of course, with the old 85mm f/1.2 II lens made up of 8 elements in 7 groups, compared to the new lens with 14 elements in 10 groups. Another nice bonus for me at least is that the new lens has a 77mm filter thread, which is the same as my other lenses, and therefore allows me to carry fewer filter variations. The old lens has a 72mm filter thread and is now the only lens that I own with this thread size.
In case you are wondering just how much bigger the lens elements of f/1.2 aperture lens is compared to the f/1.4 model, here is a photo showing them both from the end, and it’s easy to see that the old model is a fair bit wider. If we do the math, literally dividing 85 by 1.2 we find that the old lens had to have at least a 70.8 mm opening for the light to travel through, and for the new one, dividing 85 by 1.4, we get 60.7 mm, so that third of a stop reduction in the aperture saved canon 10.1 mm in the diameter of the lens elements.
According to my tests, I’ve found that the new 85mm is actually a slightly longer focal length than the old f/1.2 Mark II model. I measured the distance between the two sharpest lines of text in this photo of an open book, and found that it was 69.5% the width of the frame in the new 85mm f/1.4 lens, compared to 66.8% of the frame with the old 85mm f/1.2L lens, and both images were shot with the camera on a tripod, not moving at all between the two photographs. That’s a 2.7% magnification in the new lens over the old one.
To see the difference for yourself, click on the images to open them in the lightbox, and then navigate back and forth with your mouse or swiping on a tablet. If the fades transition makes it difficult to tell the difference, feel free to save the images to your desktop and flick back and forth between them on your own computer. Now, although I know that this kind of variance in the spec of our gear annoys some people, personally, I don’t really care about such small variances, but I wanted to point it out so that you know what you are getting if this is important to you.
0.4 Stops Darker when Wide Open
As you flick back and forth between these two images, you’ll also notice that the new 85mm lens is also approximately 0.4 stops darker and has a stronger vignette than the old lens at the same aperture. I should mention though, that if this vignette bothers you at all, it’s easily removed in post-processing. In Capture One Pro, both lenses have lens profiles available, and if I add 100% Light Falloff correction, the vignette disappears and in fact, the entire image looks very similar to the old 85mm lens images in terms of overall brightness.
Evens Out Stopped Down
I should also mention that the darkness that we see in the f/1.4 lens over the f/1.2 lens is only really noticeable from around f/2 and wider apertures. From f/4 there’s hardly any difference, and from f/5.6 it’s hardly noticeable at all, as you can see in these two images. Grab the vertical bar in the middle of the image and slide if left and right to compare the two images.
I actually shot the photos of the book so that we could take a look at a 100% crop of an image from each of these cameras to see how sharp they are wide open. Because the old lens goes a third of a stop wider than the new 85mm f/1.4 lens, I shot both images at f/1.4 so that we’re comparing apples to apples. You should see a handle over the image that you can slide from side to side to directly compare the images from each lens. Again, the camera was not moved, I just switched the lenses out and focused on the same word.
I can see a slight cyan tint in the text above the sharp area, and a slight magenta tint in the foreground text, on both images. The line that is sharp is definitely sharper in the new 85mm f/1.4 lens image though, despite this being shot completely wide open at f/1.4, and that’s pretty impressive. Also, just to reiterate what I said at the start, you can easily see from this image just how shallow the depth of field is when shooting at f/1.4.
I shot the X-Rite Digital ColorChecker SG card with both lenses as well, and so that we can continue to get an idea of the difference in the lenses wide open, I set both lenses to f/1.4, and as with the previous photos of the open book, I was using a studio strobe to light the target, so the light source was the same for both images. You should be able to see a handle in the middle of the image (on the blog) that you can drag from side to side to check the difference between the two images. I have turned on the Light Falloff correction for these two images too, so that you can see how much difference that makes. You’ll probably be able to tell that the f/1.4 lens is still very slightly darker, but there is no real difference between the color with either lens.
I have cropped the f/1.2 lens shot slightly so that they are approximately the same size, but you will also probably be able to see that there is a bit of barrel distortion in the old lens, and there is actually just a tiny bit of pincushion distortion in the new 85mm f/1.4 lens. So neither lens is perfect, but there’s definitely less pincushion distortion in the new lens than there was barrel distortion in the old one.
Scary Dislodged Lens Elements
One thing that also I’d like to mention before we start to wrap this up, is that when I got home from Namibia, as I unpacked my gear to clean it and put it away, the new 85mm f/1.4 lens was rattling as though it had been given a nasty knock and something had broken inside. I took both the front and back lens caps off and had a look through the lens, and sure enough, it looked as though one of the lens elements had broken free of its housing, and this scared the heck out of me at first.
I take out overseas insurance for my gear before I travel so it wasn’t such a big deal, but it doesn’t feel great to have a piece of gear break. To ensure that it was actually broken, I put the lens onto a camera body, and as I looked through the viewfinder and half-pressed the shutter button, the Image Stabilization kicked in, and I literally watched the dislodged lens element slide back into place. I gave the lens another shake, and it had stopped rattling!
I went online and found that it’s actually not uncommon for Image Stabilization lenses to come l0ose like this, especially after being transported around. And, when I consider how much my camera bag had been bounced around on some of the dirt roads in Namibia, it’s hardly surprising that the IS lens elements had come out of their locked position. I have not sent the lens in for repairs, as I don’t think it needs anything doing now, and in case you were wondering, yes, the test shots that I’ve shared today were all made after this incident, so if there is anything wrong with my lens, I can’t tell.
All in all, I’m very happy with the new 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens from Canon. It’s not one of my workhorse lenses, so it’s certainly a bit of a luxury for me to own, but I can tell you, it was really nice to be able to see through the lens so well inside the dark huts in the Himba Village last month, even though I stopped the lens down to f/4 for this portrait (and f/5 for the one above). The image quality is everything that I’d expect from a modern Canon lens and more. I hope you’ve found this review and comparison useful. If you decide to buy a copy yourself, please use our affiliate links if you buy from our friends at B&H, and that will help to support the Podcast and blog without costing you any more money.
It Worth Upgrading?
If you own the original f/1.2 Mark II lens, and you are wondering whether or not to upgrade, personally, I would. In fact, I did. As usual, this post is not sponsored in any way, and I received nothing from Canon or B&H or anyone else to enable me to create this review or otherwise compensate me for it. I bought the lens with my own money, at the full going price, so I’ve already voted with my dollars (or yen in my case).
I do honestly believe that it’s worth the upgrade, especially if you can get a reasonable part-exchange deal on your old lens. The image quality increase alone makes it a no-brainer for me, but the lighter weight, slight decrease in bulkiness, the weatherproofing and the addition of Image Stabilization are all very nice added bonuses. These things give me the confidence to take this lens anywhere, and hopefully continue to make some beautiful portraits with it.
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.
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II Lens Tests
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.
Distortion Test Results – Click and keep mouse over to cycle through images
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.
24-105mm f/4 IS II (left) and 24-70mm f/2.8L II (right)
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.
Man Sweeping Leaves
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.
100% Crops – Click to view full size
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.
Ema (Prayer Plaques) @ f/4
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.
Sake Barrels with 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.
Sake Barrels – Distortion Corrected
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.
Meiji Shrine Wedding Procession
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.
Harajuku Street Musician
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.