EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM compared to non-L primes.

Chris7

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Aug 8, 2008
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Hello, beginner here, about to buy a lens.

From what I understand, primes are suppose to be better than zooms. And Canon L-series lenses are suppose to be better than non-L series.

So how do the following non-L primes fare compared to the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (set to f/4) at corresponding focal lengths (particularly with respect to sharpness and chromatic aberrations)?

As lenses generally get sharper stopped down a little, I’d be particularly interested if either of these primes can equal the 24-105mm f/4L, when more open. (Trying to compare two of these lenses using the MTF charts at photozone.com suggested that EF 85mm f/1.8 USM at f/1.8 pretty much equaled the 24-105mm f/4L (at f/4, 70mm), at least in sharpness, but I don't know about CA's.)

EF 50mm f/1.4 USM (at f/2, f/2.8, and f/4)

EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (at f/1.8, f/2, f/2.8, and f/4)

So, in brief, is it possible that I could get equal or better resolution and chromatic aberrations using either of these prime lenses at f/2 or f/2.8 than the 24-105mm f/4L at f/4?
 

jdavtz

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Aug 22, 2005
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I can't test it for you (my 50/1.4 is being repaired) but the logical answer to your question would be "yes" because (a) they're prime lenses with fewer optical compromises in their constructions, and (b) they're stopped down from their maximum apertures.

Of course, the resulting picture will look completely different in terms of depth of focus (if there's a foreground and a background), and if you have a 50mm lens you'll never be able to take a photo with a 24mm field of view.
 

Razeus

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Jul 11, 2008
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I'll never understand why people put so much thought into lenses that mean little. Just buy the best lens you can afford for the type of shooting you do. Done deal.
 

Edge100

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Ask, and you shall receive:

24-105 f/4L vs. 85 f/1.8 at (105mm vs. 85mm)**:

f/4.0

f/2.8

f/2.0

24-105 f/4L vs. 50 f/1.4 (both at 50mm):

f/4.0

f/2.8

f/2.0

It seems that the 85 is considerably sharper by f/2.8 than the 24-105 is at f/4 (though the zoom is no slouch); the 85 is slightly softer than the zoom at f/2.0, though it's also two stops faster.

The zoom is slightly less sharp than the 50 f/1.4 at f/4.0, but not hugely so (and is actually sharper in the centre of the frame). At f/2.8 and f/2.0, 50 is softer than the zoom at f/4.0 (not surprising). However, I have seen some copies of the 50 f/1.4 which are very sharp wide-open, so there may be some copy-to-copy variation.

The 85 f/1.8 is a terrific lens that is useable wide-open; it also has superb bokeh and extremely fast AF (ring USM, too), and is probably one of Canon's best values for the money (along with the 70-200 f/4L IS). The 50 f/1.4 is a nice prime, and is good at f/2.0 and excellent at f/2.8, but it's not as good a value as the 85, and unless you really need the extra 3 stops (which many people do), a good L zoom like the 24-105 will perform just as well.

So in summary, yes, you will get better sharpness with the 85 f/1.8 over the 24-105 at equivalent f/stops, and you even have better performance at one f/stop faster with the prime; the 50 will not necessarily give you better sharpness at equivalent f/stops, but does offer 3 additional stops of light gathering over the zoom.

** - Note that comparing the 85 to the 24-105 at different focal lengths may skew these results somewhat.
 

jampat

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Mar 17, 2008
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Hello, beginner here, about to buy a lens.

From what I understand, primes are suppose to be better than zooms. And Canon L-series lenses are suppose to be better than non-L series.

So how do the following non-L primes fare compared to the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM (set to f/4) at corresponding focal lengths (particularly with respect to sharpness and chromatic aberrations)?

As lenses generally get sharper stopped down a little, I’d be particularly interested if either of these primes can equal the 24-105mm f/4L, when more open. (Trying to compare two of these lenses using the MTF charts at photozone.com suggested that EF 85mm f/1.8 USM at f/1.8 pretty much equaled the 24-105mm f/4L (at f/4, 70mm), but I’m not sure if I’m reading the charts correctly.)

EF 50mm f/1.4 USM (at f/2, f/2.8, and f/4)

EF 85mm f/1.8 USM (at f/1.8, f/2, f/2.8, and f/4)

So, in brief, is it possible that I could get equal or better resolution and chromatic aberrations using either of these prime lenses at f/2 or f/2.8 than the 24-105mm f/4L at f/4?
I have used all three lenses in real life and don't see dramatic sharpness differences (shooting weddings mainly, I haven't looked at the MTF charts). The 85 does not like to auto-focus in dim light. It is noticeably harder than the other two lenses to get it to lock onto a target. Maybe it was just the copy I used, but it stood out in my mind.
 

Edge100

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May 14, 2002
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if that's what the chart says, that's what the chart says.
Precisely. I gave the OP what was asked for.

For my own purposes, any lack of sharpness the primes lose relative to the zoom is meaningless because f/4 is too slow for what I photograph. Even the 50, which is notorious for being soft and "dreamy" at f/1.4, still produces excellent results wide-open. Other people may not need the speed of a fast prime, and an f/4 zoom could suffice. Indeed, a lot of people subscribe to the idea that one should ONLY have f/4 zooms because anything faster than f/4 should be handled by primes.
 

fridgeymonster3

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Jan 28, 2008
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I think the difference between primes and zooms is a matter of preferences and/or what you plan to use each for. I like zooms because when I'm hiking or traveling they over the best versatility, without having to change lenses, IMO. However, I also have a 30 1.4 (sigma) & 50 1.8 that I use. Lens choice is driven by situation, etc. Are you on a FF or crop?

EDIT: FWIW, I'd choose the Sigma 50 1.4 over the Canon 50 1.4. I've used both and liked the Sigma better. I chose the Canon 50 1.8 bc cost at that time forced me to, but if money wasn't an issue I'd have chosen the Sigma 50.
 

Edge100

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I think the difference between primes and zooms is a matter of preferences and/or what you plan to use each for. I like zooms because when I'm hiking or traveling they over the best versatility, without having to change lenses, IMO. However, I also have a 30 1.4 (sigma) & 50 1.8 that I use. Lens choice is driven by situation, etc. Are you on a FF or crop?

EDIT: FWIW, I'd choose the Sigma 50 1.4 over the Canon 50 1.4. I've used both and liked the Sigma better. I chose the Canon 50 1.8 bc cost at that time forced me to, but if money wasn't an issue I'd have chosen the Sigma 50.
I agree. You cannot beat the convenience of a zoom. That said, you cannot beat the IQ and speed of a good prime. You have to decide which is more important for you. If you're shooting landscapes at f/16, there's very little point in buying a fast prime; in that case, I'd be more interested in a zoom with good corner-to-corner sharpness. If you're shooting events in dimly-lighted rooms, you will absolutely need f/2.8 at a bare minimum; here the decision becomes less clear cut. If you're shooting portraits, I see no reason to shoot zooms at all; get the focal lengths you need and enjoy shallow DOF and top notch IQ.
 

fridgeymonster3

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Jan 28, 2008
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If you're shooting portraits, I see no reason to shoot zooms at all; get the focal lengths you need and enjoy shallow DOF and top notch IQ.
That's the exact reason I have a 30 mm & 50 mm. I use them for portraits or sometime family gatherings inside a house where I don't want to bounce flashes all over the place. Maybe a combination of both will be best for the OP?
 

Edge100

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That's the exact reason I have a 30 mm & 50 mm. I use them for portraits or sometime family gatherings inside a house where I don't want to bounce flashes all over the place. Maybe a combination of both will be best for the OP?
Yes; a combination is likely the best strategy. Perhaps a prime or two for the most commonly used focal lengths, and then a zoom for versatility.

Incidentally, if you're having issues with bounced flash bothering people in the room, consider using the black foamie thing. Helps to keep things a little more discreet when using bounced flash.
 

fridgeymonster3

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Jan 28, 2008
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Yes; a combination is likely the best strategy. Perhaps a prime or two for the most commonly used focal lengths, and then a zoom for versatility.

Incidentally, if you're having issues with bounced flash bothering people in the room, consider using the black foamie thing. Helps to keep things a little more discreet when using bounced flash.
Thanks, I'll try that trick. The problem is my wife's family owns this old 1850's farm house that has tiny rooms and ceilings, so even when you lower the power on your flash it still lights up like a christmas tree. But I'll definitely play around with that idea and see how it works.
 

OreoCookie

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Apr 14, 2001
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Having or not having an L badge on the lens has nothing to do with image quality. The construction of either lenses are based on the same laws of physics after all ;)
Please, people, a red L or a gold ring is not synonymous with good image quality.

Generally, primes have an advantage when it comes to image quality. There are rare exceptions (Nikons 14-24 mm zoom is one of them), but as a rule of thumb, primes deliver better IQ. Especially so if you compare them at the same aperture (if you stop down the aperture by two EV, you are typically close to the optimal performance). This means, the 50 mm or 85 mm are at their sweet spot at f/4 while the 24-105 mm is not. If you compare the lenses at different apertures, the comparison is moot and non-sensical.

In my opinion, you're going about this the wrong way: what kind of lens are you looking for? Are you using a crop camera or a full frame camera?

If you're using a full frame camera and you would like to have a walk-around lens, the 24-105 is indeed a very good choice. If you're using a crop camera, though, the focal length range is not optimal, you have a very significant hole on the wide end. There are other lenses that are optically just as good but more suitable (Tamron's 17-50 mm f/2.8 or Canon's 17-55 mm f/2.8 come to mind).

Primes are a very different animal. I have gotten to like them a lot because I put more thought into my pictures and fast apertures such as f/1.4 are simply addictive. My 30 mm f/1.4 Sigma is constantly on my camera these days. And yes, this is also a superb lens.
 

Edge100

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Having or not having an L badge on the lens has nothing to do with image quality. The construction of either lenses are based on the same laws of physics after all ;)
Please, people, a red L or a gold ring is not synonymous with good image quality.
While I agree that simply having the "L" designation per se does not mean IQ is good, my experience is that it's a pretty good indicator. No one is saying that non-L glass is bad; rather, most of Canon's best lenses have the 'L' designation. That's simply stating a fact.
 

pdxflint

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Aug 25, 2006
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What does the "L" refer to in the designation? Once a long time ago I heard someone say it meant "luxury" but that doesn't really sound right to me. Does anyone know? I am aware that the L lenses are almost all built better, and perhaps faster, although not always. There was a 100-300 f/5.6 L zoom lens I remember back in the film days, and it was fairly affordable. There was the 35-350 L, which was solid, but not all that great optically. So, I'm not really sure what the L designation tells the buyer...
 

toxic

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Nov 9, 2008
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So, in brief, is it possible that I could get equal or better resolution and chromatic aberrations using either of these prime lenses at f/2 or f/2.8 than the 24-105mm f/4L at f/4?
yes. pretty much all non-L primes 50mm and greater will have better resolution and flare resistance. CA varies, since fast lenses give up some in order to be fast and to have better bokeh.

but that shouldn't be your primary concern. do you want a zoom or a prime? pursuing sharpness for the sake of sharpness is pointless.
 

Edge100

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What does the "L" refer to in the designation? Once a long time ago I heard someone say it meant "luxury" but that doesn't really sound right to me. Does anyone know? I am aware that the L lenses are almost all built better, and perhaps faster, although not always. There was a 100-300 f/5.6 L zoom lens I remember back in the film days, and it was fairly affordable. There was the 35-350 L, which was solid, but not all that great optically. So, I'm not really sure what the L designation tells the buyer...
http://www.the-digital-picture.com/Canon-Lenses/Canon-L-Lens-Series.aspx
 

nutmac

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Mar 30, 2004
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You cannot beat the convenience of a zoom.
By same token, you cannot beat the low light shooting capability of fast primes.

f/1.4 is 3 stops faster than f/4. When shooting indoor at night time without flash, f/1.4 can get away with ISO 800 (albeit at limited depth of field). With f/4, you will need ISO 6400 to obtain similar shutter speed.

My two cents: You will want both zoom and fast prime lenses (at focal length you need most often).
 

Ruahrc

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Jun 9, 2009
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From what I understand, primes are suppose to be better than zooms. And Canon L-series lenses are suppose to be better than non-L series.
This notion largely came about 30+ years ago when zooms were first being developed and back then there was a clear quality difference.

Nowadays, the distinction is not so clear. Theoretically, yes- it is easier to optimize the performance of a prime, because there is only one focal length to consider. However, given recent releases like the Nikon 14-24, it's evident that modern lens design coupled with high end production can create zoom lenses that are every bit as good as similar prime lenses. The recently released Nikon 16-35mm f/4 is also another good example. It is competing with even the Zeiss MF primes.

I would even go so far to say that if you're considering modern zooms, there is minimal to no substantive quality difference between zooms and primes, as long as you take price and performance level considerations into account (meaning don't compare the 200/f2 to a 70-300 and say primes are better). It really seems more about the quality of each lens (like consumer vs. pro), and not whether or not it is a zoom or a prime.

Ruahrc
 

Edge100

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By same token, you cannot beat the low light shooting capability of fast primes.

f/1.4 is 3 stops faster than f/4. When shooting indoor at night time without flash, f/1.4 can get away with ISO 800 (albeit at limited depth of field). With f/4, you will need ISO 6400 to obtain similar shutter speed.

My two cents: You will want both zoom and fast prime lenses (at focal length you need most often).
I 100% agree, which is why I shoot mainly primes now (my only zooms are the 70-200 f/2.8L, which I use for events where my primes dont cut it, and 17-40 f/4L, which I use for landscapes).

For me, IQ and speed trump the convenience of a zoom; I can usually position myself properly so that zooming isn't needed.
 

scottkifnw

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Jan 17, 2008
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Nice review and a question please

Excellent review, thank you.

I am interested in this lens as I am going on an Alaska trip (cruise and land tour, including lots of wildlife shots). Is the 70-200 f/4L IS best lens for a Canon 50D in this price range with this zoom focal lengths?

Thanks for your opinion.

sek

Ask, and you shall receive:

24-105 f/4L vs. 85 f/1.8 at (105mm vs. 85mm)**:

f/4.0

f/2.8

f/2.0

24-105 f/4L vs. 50 f/1.4 (both at 50mm):

f/4.0

f/2.8

f/2.0

It seems that the 85 is considerably sharper by f/2.8 than the 24-105 is at f/4 (though the zoom is no slouch); the 85 is slightly softer than the zoom at f/2.0, though it's also two stops faster.

The zoom is slightly less sharp than the 50 f/1.4 at f/4.0, but not hugely so (and is actually sharper in the centre of the frame). At f/2.8 and f/2.0, 50 is softer than the zoom at f/4.0 (not surprising). However, I have seen some copies of the 50 f/1.4 which are very sharp wide-open, so there may be some copy-to-copy variation.

The 85 f/1.8 is a terrific lens that is useable wide-open; it also has superb bokeh and extremely fast AF (ring USM, too), and is probably one of Canon's best values for the money (along with the 70-200 f/4L IS). The 50 f/1.4 is a nice prime, and is good at f/2.0 and excellent at f/2.8, but it's not as good a value as the 85, and unless you really need the extra 3 stops (which many people do), a good L zoom like the 24-105 will perform just as well.

So in summary, yes, you will get better sharpness with the 85 f/1.8 over the 24-105 at equivalent f/stops, and you even have better performance at one f/stop faster with the prime; the 50 will not necessarily give you better sharpness at equivalent f/stops, but does offer 3 additional stops of light gathering over the zoom.

** - Note that comparing the 85 to the 24-105 at different focal lengths may skew these results somewhat.
 

RHVC59

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May 10, 2008
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Eugene, Oregon
Excellent review, thank you.

I am interested in this lens as I am going on an Alaska trip (cruise and land tour, including lots of wildlife shots). Is the 70-200 f/4L IS best lens for a Canon 50D in this price range with this zoom focal lengths?

Thanks for your opinion.

sek
As an Alaskan I suggest the fastest lens you can afford. Weather resistance is nice, but the main point to my post isthat your targets move fast, and lighting in not always great... These were both shot with nikor 55-200 f 4-5.6... Wish I had had a little more reach, and a bit faster lens to get a bit better IQ...
Enjoy your trip, and bring your friends, we need a good tourist season :D
 

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OreoCookie

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Apr 14, 2001
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While I agree that simply having the "L" designation per se does not mean IQ is good, my experience is that it's a pretty good indicator.
No one is denying that more expensive lenses usually deliver better IQ -- and L glass is usually pricier.

I don't know about the others, but I've read between the lines of the original post that the OP is unsure that non-L lenses can match or beat the image quality of L lenses (any L lens). In particular, this creates a tendency to not consider other lenses that may be very good, e. g. some third-party lenses, or that people prefer to buy L-grade zooms with a suboptimal focal length range instead of lenses that are more suitable to crop sensors. Canon in particular has some lenses that are not L lenses for marchitectural reasons (the 17-55 mm f/2.8 comes to mind).

I don't think that you are among those people who focus on the letter L, but the OP might lean in that direction. This leads to comparisons of apples and oranges (different types of lenses are compared at very different apertures).
This notion largely came about 30+ years ago when zooms were first being developed and back then there was a clear quality difference.
That is correct. However, primes are typically brighter (not the case in the example you've quoted), i. e. they have much larger initial apertures. This is useful regardless of whether the IQ is the same.