Canon EF 24-105mm F4 IS USM Lens Review
In the time that I ‘ve been shooting video on the Canon 5D mkII and 7D I ‘ve amassed a nice collection of Canon L series lenses. I have a 24mm 1.4, a 35mm 1.4, a 50mm 1.2 and the 70-200 2.8 IS.
Until recently if I wanted to take my DSLR with me to shoot an event or just have a camera with me for a family trip I ‘d struggle trying to choose which lens / lenses to take. The 50mm 1.2 is an awesome lens for general shots and in low light but there ‘s times when it ‘s just not wide or long enough. The 70-200 IS 2.8 is an awesome zoom but it’s heavy and you’ll soon find yourself wanting to go wider. There’s nothing to stop me putting all three lenses in a bag of course, but you’re then lugging a lot of weight around and having to deal with constant lens changes.
Swapping lenses for each shot is fine on a set, but if you ‘re shooting an event or just grabbing family shots you need to be ready to shoot quickly, you can ‘t generally ask somebody to hang on while you swap lenses. And who wants to be carrying all that gear around on a family day out?
Do I really need another lens?
It seems the answer to that question was yes, what I needed in my collection was a lens I could throw on the 5D that would provide a decent zoom range for everyday shooting. With this in mind I decided to try Canon’s 24-105mm F4 L IS USM. Like my other L series lenses the 24-105 is built for professional use, it’s very solid, weather-sealed and just feels like it’s going to last.
The ‘USM’ or Ultra-Sonic Motor is another important factor for me, this is a technology that allows you to use the cameras autofocus function as well as focus manually without having to engage / disengage a switch as is required in some non USM lenses. I use the ‘one touch’ autofocus feature in my DSLR’s a lot, I remap the AF-ON button on the back of the camera and use that instead of the shutter release button. I also like to be able to grab the lens and focus manually though, without the need to disengage the autofocus system.
I’m not going to go too far into the benefits of choosing L lenses over other options in this review, I buy L lenses because I use them as a professional and appreciate their superior build quality and ruggedness. I’m sure there are image quality differences too but to be honest I’ll leave the explanation of that to reviewers who are much more technically minded when it comes to optics, there’s some great reviews out there from still photographers who are a lot more critical about the optical aspects of lenses.
With a max aperture of F4 the 24-105 isn ‘t particularly fast, it won ‘t make a great lens for low light environments at that speed but where this lens shines is for general purpose daytime shots. Of course the lens offers a constant aperture throughout it’s zoom range, this is a ‘must have’ for me, I don’t want my exposure to change if I decide to reframe by changing focal length. With a zoom range from 24mm to 105mm the lens offers a lot of flexibility from really wide through to a very usable telephoto.
Canon also offer another L series medium zoom that ‘s popular amongst pro shooters in the form of the EF 24-70 f/2.8 L USM. At f2.8 this lens is slightly faster than the 24-105 and would be a bit more flexible if you need some ability to shoot in lower light. I ‘ve used the 24-70 and it ‘s a lovely lens, but it ‘s missing one major feature that the 24-105 has, in the form of a built in image stabilizer (IS). For me the 2.8 would be also be too slow for low-light work so rather than carrying around the heavier 24-70 I prefer the idea of using the lighter 24-105 with it’s built in image stabilizer and carrying a fast 50 for when the light goes.
The 24-70 is around $350 more than the 24-105 at B&H as well so you could pretty much buy the 24-105 and an Canon 50mm f1.4 for the cost of the 24-70! Of course if you’re an ‘L tart’ like me you’ll want the 50mm f1.2 L, which costs a lot more! Strangely both lenses carry a similar price tag in the UK so the decision is trickier.
The Image Stabilizer in the 24-105 was designed for shooting stills, but it also does a great job of smoothing out video. You should not underestimate what IS can do your video shooting, it really does make a huge difference. To give you an idea of how effective it is have a look at the video below which was shot on my Canon 5D both with and without IS switched on. I shot at the telephoto end of the lens (105mm) and used an LCDVF to help stabilize the camera to the best of my ability but as you can see the IS on the lens worked wonders.
One downside to the IS system on the 24-105 is that it ‘s quite noisy, it’s a lot quieter than the 70-200 but you still wouldn ‘t want to be recording sound on camera whilst using it. If you’re shooting an interview you’d want to use an off camera mic or use a tripod and disable the IS.
The other thing that DSLR shooters tend to want from lenses is the ability to shoot shallow depth of field shots, after all that’s what the whole 35mm DSLR thing gives us over regular video cameras. With a max aperture of F4 the 24-105 isn’t going to give the crazy shallow DOF that you’d get from a 50mm f1.4, but it can still provide very shallow results for those times when you need them.
The two screen grabs below are from video I shot on the 5D using the 24-104 at F4. One shows the DOF at 105mm and the other fully wide at 24mm, both images are focused at 0.7m. As with most zoom lenses you’re going to achieve a shallower depth of field at the telephoto end.
I highly recommend the Canon 24-105 F4 IS L to anyone wanting a flexible lens for all round general shooting. The 24-70 2.8 is slightly better in terms of low light ability, but taking into account the longer zoom and the Image Stabilizer that the 24-105 brings to the table I think it’s a better choice, especially if you have a fast 50mm for the low light stuff.
In the US Check B&H for the latest price on the Canon EF 24-105 F4 IS lens
In the UK try Warehouse Express as they normally offer great prices.
Thanks for the info ,just changed to canon from old nikon got a great deal on 5dmkiii with 24-105 and thought there was a problem with the lens as i could hear a slight noise ,but your review has put my fears aside
Hi Paul, Great review! I just brought this lens and have noticed the following:
– when using it at f4 all is fine
– when using it at anything else than f4 there is a visible change of brightness when zooming in. Perhaps about one step. There are a couple of threads about this…
Do you notice this on your lens? How do you cope with this when filming? Or do you manly use this lens at f4?
Would be great to have your opinion – thanks
Hi Michael, yes I have noticed that but it doesn’t really get in the way of my shooting as I don’t tend to zoom during a shot and adjust exposure with each reframe anyway.
Hi Paul, nicely done review. I originally bought the 6D kit with the 24-105mm, then ended up just buying the 6D. I thought I’d never have no need for the lens because it was f/4. I bought a 16-35mm which has been the perfect walk around lens for still photography and some portraits. I then bought the canon 85mm 1.2 six months later and its a great lens too. But now, with the baby on the way, I found myself looking for the best IS image stabilizer lens canon makes and all of them are either f4 or f2 if you want to stick with a 35mm prime. I’d prefer the new 24-70mm f/4 but nobody is selling theirs. So its back to the 24-105mm a 1.5 year later. I’m just looking for the best price I can get. The good thing is many people sell their 24-105 and make a couple bucks $100 – $300 bucks depending on how greedy they are :P
I love your review and im starting to love this lens! however its a huge price tag for me (i am not a professional, i do this for fun).
Right now i am considering two lenses : 1) Canon EF 24-105mm F4 IS USM and 2 ) Canon EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM
from just checking the specs, i’d say option #2 is best (i dont know STM technology compared to USM) but reviews are good. The only difference is that it’s not an L series… as image quality for me is important my question is: Does L series REALLY give THAT much better quality pictures?
My only experience of the 18-135 is from trying it in the shop so I can’t really give you any advice based on image quality. While I’m sure there are going to be differences between the image quality of the two lenses it will likely be minor, the bigger difference in in the feel and build quality of the lenses. I thought the 18-135 would be a great lens for use on the C100 / C300 but as soon as I picked it up I hated the feel of it and knew that I would never be happy with it. The 24-105 on the other hand is a lovely lens to use, it’s just a shame it’s not a bit wider.
I’m thinking about getting the 24-105 for my Canon 650D. Did you have any problems with to loud IS? Some people have been saying that you can actually hear the IS working while filming and that the sound of the IS is clearly noticable in your audio if you use something like a Rode VideoMic. Did you also have such problems?
Just noticed that you did already answer my questions in your text. I’m sorry.
no problem at all
Hi Tobias. If you’re shooting in a quiet place then yes you can hear the IS running if the mic is mounted on the camera. Outside it’s not a problem as the sound is way lower than most ambient sounds. I rarely have the mic mounted on the camera anyway for interviews etc so I’ve not found it to be a problem.
Really found this useful – I have been contemplating the 24-105 and the 24-70 for a while, and you have come to the same conclusions as me. I own the 30mm Sigma 1.4, so for low light im covered. The 24-105 seems the obvious choice for my needs, but you have convinced me! Cheers.
great site mate, informative reading. What do you think now that the new 24-70mm 2.8 IS L USM is out? Not that anyone can afford it but what are you thoughts now that lens has IS?
Hi Andy. The new 24-70 doesn’t actually have IS. Like many I was hoping it would have it but for some reason Canon decided they would leave IS for the new wide primes.
Hi there, thank for the review – I’m just moving away from vid cams to DSLR, oped for the 60d based on sound and twisty screen, DOF and quality – im gonna opt for the 24-105 too, f4 is a bit of a worry but as you said for the rarer times I need low light shoots, throw on a 50 mm and bobs your uncle. Cheers for taking the time to review, I was torn between the 24 – 70 and the 105 so again ts Noel
Interesting article Paul, it’s great to see the some footage of the 24-105mm in use.
It looks and sounds like a good choice for a full frame camera like the 5D.
I’m a 7D and 60D shooter and 24 just isn’t wide enough if that’s the only lens I’m going to use. Therefore for weddings, christening and other family events I use the Canon EF-S 17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM lens. It’s not an L but the results are fantastic. No-one I’ve met yet can tell the difference between this and an L series zoom. Sure, it’s not built as well as an L but the glass is brilliant. It has IS and at f/2.8 I get a bit more out of the light before I have to get the primes out.
At 55 it’s no where near as long the 24-105 but it’s a different style of shooting to get similar results I’d imagine.
I bought this lens for hand held work and it’s brilliant! I also tossed up between this and the 24-70 but I think for getting quick shots, fast in changing and uncontrolled environments you need a lens with IS.
On the fader end I bought a LCW variND Fader because it has a filter thread on the outside, and I found an 82mm rubber circular lens hood on an ebay store (Zykkor make I think) and it works great because now I just twist the lens hood to vary the ND and it’s nothing as fiddly as trying to use the included petal hood or the cardboard and tape solution I had also engineered!!
I found your review because I was looking to see if anyone else has a problem with the noise of the stabilizer on this 24-105 lens, and your review seems to be the only one that mentions such a problem. I was worried that this may have been a defect in my lens, so I was just wondering if this is the same for all the 24-105mm USM’s out there.
I had the same realization, and bought the same lens for my 7d/60d setup. It is absolutely worth the money, and I don’t notice noise problems, but then again, I’m doing most of my recording via external mics and sync in post (gotta love the h4n for that – this thing is the best recorder I’ve ever owned). And the stabilization makes for greatly usable footage, even when handheld, but with a basic shoulder rig, the lens really shines – it’s like having a well designed portable movie camera without having to swap lenses.
Great post: totally agree.
I do use the 50 1.2 and the 28 1.4 lenses (which I also kit pack) frequently for interviews, and for that they are absolutely fantastic. But when I’m packing, I usually just throw the 7d, LCDVF viewfinder, and this lens in the bag with an IKAN Multi-K, rode mic and h4n — you’re pretty much good to go after that. It’s versatile!
Hoping and waiting for a 2.8 version of this lens.
Thanks for your review. It confirmed my suspicion that the Stabilizer was what caused a lot of noise on the sound of my video footage.
Hey Paul, great site by the way> Have you got any ideas how to use this lens with a matte box? I have tired two options both unsuccessfully:
1. Using a clip on matte box; although lightweight, the matte box was still too heavy, especially once I got those 4×4 glass filters in there. It’s putting real pressure on the lens.
2. Using a clip on matte box mounted on bars, leaving the matte box loose on the bars so that it moves forward and back with the zoom of the lens. Still too much weight on the lens, it’s definitely putting the zoom barrel under pressure and causing the zoom action to be really heavy.
Any ideas? Nick
Hi Nick. I’ve not tried to use this lens with a matte box yet but I definitely wouldn’t advise any method where the lens had to support the weight of the box and filters.
If I had to use it I’d probably let the lens move inside the matte box and then adjust the position of the box on the rails accordingly for each shot.
I’m just wondering how you ND this lens? Do you use 4×4 filters or fader ND? I would like a fader ND for this lens but am unsure about quality and vignetting. Would you recommend the 77mm for this lens or maybe a bigger diameter with step up ring to reduce vignetting. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Cheers, Nick
Hi Nick. I’ve only used a fixed 0.9 ND with it so far, next time I’m using it I’ll try out the fader ND and see if it causes any issues.
Paul, I would recommend the Singh-Ray Vari ND over even the new LCW Fader ND Mark II. I’ve seen them side-by-side and while there is some loss of sharpness with both, especially at tele lengths, the Fader ND is unacceptable to me.
Paul, I’ve been looking forward to your review about the lens as I have just ordered one myself. I was also concerned with the f4 but since I was going to use it more for nature videography, I thought it shouldn’t be to big of an issue. Nice review. Enjoy your site.
Paul, that’s a great review and nice test footage. I plumped for the 24-70mm f2.8 L series to go with my 7d. I love the lens, but you are right IS is an issue. At a recent wedding shoot I did, right at the top end of the zoom I had issues. Everything looked ok on the viewfinder at the time but once I was in post I saw the effects of no IS…
I’ve always been put off by lenses for video that have an f stop around 4 simply because of DOF and low light. But I have to say your review has made me think twice. For sure having to switch out lenses mid shoot with video is far from ideal. But for outdoor work I think you’ve hit on a good compromise here. Looking forward to seeing more from you with this lens.
Thanks Jon. It’s interesting how many people are still put off by slower lenses, maybe it goes back to the 35mm adapter days where you had to have fast lenses to avoid seeing the glass in the adapter. For me the most important thing is a constant aperture and if possible the option of IS.