Review of Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II USM L — A hands on review of shooting a wedding with one stunning lens.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II USM L — Hands on review
First of all Jo and Karim were an absolutely charming couple who treated everyone, including me, with a great deal of kindness on their wedding day. I feel rather bad using their wedding as a lens review and so I shall doing a separate blog post to say a little more about their lovely wedding at Eyot Island. Congratulations Jo and Karim.
So, this is the new Canon 24–70 2.8 II. A much awaited lens! I’m not a reviewer or a technical person so I am simply going to talk about my experiences of using this lens as my only lens on a single wedding day. In fact I am not going to refer to this any further as a review as I am sure its going evolve into a collection of rambling thoughts about why I like this lens and why I think primes for me are not always the answer. I say this being someone who owns the 24 1.4 L, the 35 1.4L, the 85 1.8 and uses a single prime (35mm) for travel photography.
I shot this wedding more or less entirely on this lens — why?
Well, my style of photography needs to be quite fluid, I’m typically bobbing in and out of situations and changing lenses or cameras will often lose me the shot. I like to shoot wide establishing shots, mid range shots (images I would perhaps normally take with a 35mm) and detail shots or tighter portraits isolating one subject (these would often be taken with an 85mm) These basic three or four shot types for me are the meat and potatoes of day’s story. ‘Can I do this on one lens?’… is pretty much what I asked myself, but of course not sacrifice image quality. There would be a trade-off was my view. I would perhaps sacrifice a little blur here and there since the lens has a maximum aperture of 2.8, but I would be able to get shots I wouldnt normally have got since I can simply zoom to get the frame I want without having to fumble to change lenses or cameras. Having one body works for me — I have tried having two but I find they bang into things as Im crouching or squeezing through spaces. They also make you look like a pretty serious photographer and my nature is that I want to disappear as much as I can — not draw attention to myself.
I also shot more or less the full day on this lens because I liked it — it felt right! I made the assumption that shooting with one lens and one camera would also offer a consistency of tonality to the images which indeed it did. At one point I used my 85mm to compare a shot in the church taken at 70mm on the 24-70mm and they were really quite different. The 24-70mm had a better contrast to it than the 85mm 1.8 which is after all a pretty tidy lens. I did not consider it to be a gamble shooting all day with this lens — I liked what I saw on the back of the screen and if I didnt I would have mixed things up a bit.
My lens of choice for preparation shots would normally a 24-70mm anyway. They are often frenetic times with many people dashing this way and that in a confined space and finding clean frames can be difficult. Jo’s parents house in Windsor was no exception and had a lot of people running around being very busy. It is rare for me to get a clear room in a country house with idylic backdrops — no, more often than not I am plunged into some sort of organised chaos with smaller rooms, difficult light, make-up artists who seem to place man-traps of kit and cables on the floor and people coming and going constantly. You have to be quick on your toes and often for me primes just don’t cut it. In situations like that and at certain other times in the wedding day, for example after the ceremony, the 24-70mm can be your best friend. It’s flexible and it lets you get the frame you need quickly. We’ve all hear ‘Zoom with your feet’ — that alas is not always possible when you are already contorting yourself squeezing into improbable places to get exactly that frame you want and still desperate to go wider.
I was not a fan of the previous Canon model. It produced for me, rather ordinary looking images. It wasn’t particularly sharp or contrasty. I disliked it so much that after I tried the Nikon equivalent I moved my whole kit over to Nikon since the Nikon lens was stellar. Canon brought out the 5dmk3 and I moved back, preferring the small quiet 5d3 with its lovely colours and silent shooting. Ok the iso was not up to my d3s but it wasn’t far off. All I was missing was a decent 24-70mm.
My key concern with making a 24-70mm my main lens of choice is not to sacrifice blur. I suspect in this wedding, here and there, I have done just that a little, but not dramatically. As a documentary wedding photographer I like to have what I think of as ‘appropriate’ depth of field. By this I mean do not want a razor sharp depth of field with only one person in focus when that person is actually talking to someone else who should in my opinion also be in focus. The person in the background behind them and indeed the background itself however should ideally drop away to a pleasing haze of blur, ‘bokeh’ or whatever your preferred term is for out of focus areas. So, one has to learn to shoot carefully and perhaps quite differently. Be aware of your focal length, your distance to subject, how far is your subject from its background, the plane of your subjects and of course your aperture. Constantly being aware of all these elements is what is going to help you determine how much blur you are introducing to your image. I use often introduce random foreground elements — pleasing blur doesnt alway have to be behind the subject of course! There are lot of ways getting that lovely blur into your image — you just need to keep thinking. It’s not like shooting at F2 and getting blur with every shot. When you do that you also, as I have suggested, get lot of shots where perhaps the depth of field has knocked something out of focus that should be in focus.
In any case I do not always want to shoot at f2.8. I will often, even in low light ramp the aperture up to F4 or higher because I want an ‘appropriate’ depth of field. An example: A side on shot of the bride and groom at the altar — I want both their faces in focus but I want a relatively tight shot, perhaps taken at 50mm. Depending on how far away I am, shooting at F2.8 may leave one of them out of focus. If you can see both their faces, and they are close together, then I would suggest that is important in this instance that they are both in focus so you need to shoot at F4. This is not a hard and fast rule but I think it is situations like this that are often shot with an inappropriate depth of field. It is also a personal creative choice of course. My personal opinion though is I don’t like to see blurred faces in the foreground, generally speaking. A back of head yes, but not a face and especially not when they are both equally important to the story.
Blur can be achieved with this lens very nicely as I hope these images show. As I spend more time with it I shall be able to achieve more blur, not least because I am happy using this lens at 70mm which on previous 24-70mm models, particularly the Canon, lacked crispiness and punch. I wasn’t particularly inspired by them at 70mm so I preferred using them mostly at 24-50mm. Now I am happy to shoot at 70mm and get something that approaches shooting 85mm on a prime lens.
So what is this lens good at? You can find the technical differences between this and the old lens in many other places online, but in short, its smaller and lighter — that’s a big plus. It also handles backlit situation very well I was blowing out backgrounds like you wouldnt believe and still managed to retain good contrast. Metering evaluatively I was +3 and still getting acceptable contrast. It is also very, very sharp and it focuses easily as well as my NIkon 24-70mm.
So for me it is at last a worthy rival for that fine Nikon lens and is really what I have been waiting for. Focusing was very fast and accurate. Its a really lovely lens and a big improvement over the previous version.
The 5d mk3 iso range is very high — that allows you to shoot cleaner images at greater apertures. Did I sacrifice blur? — You be the judge!
I am overall very pleased with the 24-70mm and from now on it will certainly be my workhorse lens. Perhaps though during speeches when things have calmed down a little I may prefer the 35mm 1.4 and 85mm 1.8 little combo a little more but only if the light is failing and my ISO needs to be ramped up beyond about 6400. I will still however be using only a 35mm f2 for my travel photography because it is small, insconspicuous and since I shoot largely at F8 or so sharpness is not an issue. What Id really like though is a 24-85mm F1.4 that weighs less and has image stabilisation — I wont hold my breath though.
I show lots of documentary wedding and travel photography on my Facebook page and it would be great to see you there.
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