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Canon 24 L II

I recently borrowed the Canon 24 L II from work and shot with it for a weekend. Here are some of my thoughts on it. As a reminder, I’m a film shooter, and I mostly shoot on rangefinders, so this brief ‘review’ will be colored by that.

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Background

As stated above, I’m a film shooter, and I mostly shoot on rangefinders. I do own a Canon 1V, along with a 50/1.4 and 28/1.8. I actually got started in photography as an adult with at Canon Digital Rebel (300D), the 50/1.4, and a 100/2.8 Macro. Along the way, I acquired the macro twin flash and a 17–40mm L, then sold them and the 100mm Macro, bought a 200/2.8 L II, and finally sold that.

Somewhere during the 17–40mm phase, I picked up a Canon 1V and started shooting mostly film. I soon transitioned to shooting on rangefinders, though I kept the 1V around. I mainly used it for shooting concerts. However, I got out of shooting concerts a couple years ago and started letting my girlfriend use the 1V. After that, I rarely used it unless I needed autofocus or weather sealing for something.

28mm is pretty much my favorite focal length and I’d be all over a 28 L if Canon ever released one. They haven’t. The 28/1.8 isn’t a bad lens—it’s small, relatively affordable, and reasonably well built. However, it’s not the best optically. Even on grainy B&W film, it lacks performance wide open, particularly at the edges. As a result, I’ve always thought about buying the 24 L, but never pulled the trigger.

lake effect snow + lake

Borrowing the 24 L II

So it turns out, I can borrow some photo equipment from work. Mostly crop digital cameras, but they do have the 24 L and 35 L on hand. As I have already decided that 35mm isn’t the focal length for me, I checked out the 24 L for the weekend.

Turns out there was a lot of snow, so the test subjects were my girlfriend while we were cooped up in the apartment, and some snow when we went out to the lake to ‘walk’ around. I shot two rolls of Tri-X and put up the results (with little editing) on flickr. They aren’t the most diverse set of pictures, but it turns out there really aren’t that many 24 L II pictures on the internet that are shot on film, let alone B&W film. So maybe this will be informative for the 3 other film shooters out there.

cutting peppers

Thoughts

First of all, it’s a great lens. If you are an SLR shooter and want this focal length and speed, get it. I’m sure the Nikon version is just as good.

It’s sharp enough, focuses fast, and is f/1.4. What else do you want?

If you really want to split hairs, it appeared to be a bit soft wide open. Nothing major, at least for someone shooting Tri-X, but it’s not up to the standards of the Zeiss ZM 21/4.5 C-Biogon when shot wide open, but then again, it shouldn’t be. For you guys shooting 20+ MP cameras, you might find it a little lacking wide open compared to, say, the 135 L. It has some distortion (what SLR wide doesn’t?), but wasn’t noticeably on most shots. Here’s a shot where some barrel distortion was visible. It also flares a bit when the sun is just outside the frame (example)1, but to be fair, I wasn’t given the hood when I got the lens. I’m sure that would help.

As far as sharpness goes, comparing to the 28 1.8 shows that the 28 can be a bit of a dog, especially near the edges. This is not a scientific test—just two hand held photos wide open in my kitchen. The 24 L is first and the 28 is second. Click through to see the whole image. You can select ‘original’ size once on flickr to see the full 2000 dpi scan. Also of note, on the 28mm shot, is the nasty smearing on the top right edge of the fridge (you have to look at the full size to see it).

24 L crop
24 L crop
24 L crop
28 1.8 crop

That this is visible on Tri-X in low light, hand held, is particularly telling. On the other hand, past experience tells me the Leica Summicron 28/2 is a good deal sharper than the 24 L in similar situations. Not that sharpness is everything. After using the 24 L, I decided that the 28/1.8 is good enough, particularly in light of its smaller size. I just can’t justify the 24 L for a camera I don’t shoot that much.

My biggest complaint about this lens is its size. In general, I find the 1V plus the 50/1.4 or 28/1.8 borderline too large. I’m really more comfortable carrying around a Leica M and a 28/2 all day compared to the larger SLR set. The 24 L made the camera just too large for me. I was seriously considering buying this lens and possibly downsizing my rangefinder kit, but using this lens reaffirmed the fact that I’m just not a (full-sized) SLR shooter. If I’m ever going to use a digital camera, it’s going to be something smaller than a 5D or D700, or even an APS-C DSLR. The developments in the mirrorless sector are a lot more appealing to me. If I were a wedding photographer or some other type of professional, SLRs are ideal tools, but as an amateur, I really value the compactness of my rangefinder kit.

As a side note, coming from a 28mm shooter, 24mm isn’t that different. Yes it’s a bit wider, but you can generally make up for that with a step or two in the right direction. What I did find was that 24mm starts introducing a bit too much perspective distortion near the edges for me when used like a 28mm. In other words, if I try to get the same shots (mostly of people) that I’d take with a 28mm, I have to step forward a step, and heads start getting a bit stretched near the edges. As a result, it’s kind of a neither-here-nor-there focal length for me. I find 28mm a better in this regard. For the framing I like and the working distances I like, 28mm is a great match. When I want something wider (with the increase in perspective distortion), I’d rather go with a 21mm lens. Of course, if I practiced more, I could probably do 90% of what I do with the 21mm & 28mm combination with just a 24mm lens…

Some day, I will get this lens if I end up shooting predominately SLR (seemingly more unlikely now than ever), but for now, I’ll pass.

A lot of pictures are of my girlfriend (hey, we got snowed in). Sorry about that.


  1. This shot was also pretty overexposed, so the flare might be a bit exaggerated because of this.