Writer's Favorite Lens - The Canon 24-105mm f/4

Writer’s Favorite Lens – The Canon 24-105mm f/4

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I like shooting all manner of outdoor scenes. I am a sucker for landscapes and seascapes, which almost always require a wide-angle lens. I really enjoy exploring new cities with my camera, which also requires a wide-angle lens but can also be helped by a little zoom to capture details. And, of course, I like taking pictures of my family while we are out, which requires portrait focal lengths. My favorite lens, the Canon 24-105mm f/4 does all these things, and does them remarkably well.

Bernard

A wide angle allows you to get right behind your subject and also get the background. Shot at 24 mm (1/100, f/8, ISO 200)

So when the dPS writers began writing about their favorite lenses, I did not need to think more than a second to determine which lens was my favorite. I carry other lenses, like an extreme wide angle, and a longer telephoto zoom, but I find I rarely need to break them out. In fact, perusing my Lightroom library shows me that I actually used the 24-105mm to capture over 60% of all the pictures I have ever taken.

Canon 24-105mm f/4 L IS

Image courtesy of Canon

Here is a quick look at the technical specs for this lens:

  • Local lengths: 24-105 mm (38mm – 168mm on APS-C cameras)
  • Aperture: f/4 (max.) – f/22 (min.)
  • Dimensions: 8.4 cm x 10.7 cm (3.3″ x 4.2″)
  • Weight: 670g (1.47 lb.)
  • Minimum focusing distance: 45 cm

A Great “Walking-Around” Lens

Sure, there is a place for prime lenses. But gone are the days when serious photographers needed to carry around a bunch of prime lenses in order to get high quality. Sometimes you want to just carry your camera and one lens. And sometimes you just don’t want to have to change lenses.

With the 24-105mm, you can carry one lens of high quality and moderate size, and shoot with it all day. It will handle landscapes, urban, street, and people photography really well. As such, it is almost ideal for taking on the family vacation, where you will likely encounter any or all of these scenes. Rather than dig through your bag to find a lens, then change lenses, and then get the shot, you can just walk around with the 24-105mm on your camera and be ready for almost everything.

London from top of St. Paul's

The 24-105mm is great for urban shots where you want to zoom out to get the whole scene. It is also nice to walk around with one lens when you have to climb a bunch of stairs, like at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Zoomed all the way out at 24mm (1/80 sec., f/5.6, ISO 200).

This is particularly true for full-frame shooters. At full frame, zooming all the way out to 24mm will take a nice wide angle shot, and that is often as wide as you will need to go. Further, at full frame you need to get up to 105mm to cover the portrait focal lengths and get a little bit of telephoto for details. More on that in a second.

High Quality

But am I really just advocating for good walk-around lenses in general? I don’t think so. The focal lengths for these sort of lenses are nice, but they have to be of high quality, and the 24-105mm is remarkable in that regard. It is an L-series lens. It is fully weather sealed. It is sharp and has great image quality. It is known for fast and accurate focusing. My personal experience with it has borne this out. But beyond that, any test I have ever seen of this lens has given it high marks. I have honestly never seen a bad review of this lens (or even a luke-warm one).

Western Lake

Landscapes and seascapes require a good wide angle. Shot at 28mm (1/30 sec., f/16, ISO 200).

Compared to Other Mid-Range Zooms

But don’t most serious photographers use a 24-70mm for their mid-range zoom lens? Perhaps. I believe they are drawn to the aperture of f/2.8 (versus the f/4 for the 24-105mm). There is no question that the wider aperture of such lenses will get you a greater degree of background blur, and the 24-70 is a really nice lens. But I have a few reasons why the 24-105mm is a better choice for many photographers, particularly those shooting full frame:

1 – Image stabilization

Although the aperture on the 24-70mm opens up one stop more (f/2.8 versus f/4), the 24-105mm has image stabilization, which actually gives you three extra stops in low-light situations.  So unless you need to stop the action in low light, you will actually get better low-light performance out of the 24-105mm.

2 – Better for portraits

If you want to shoot portraits, the 24-70mm is not a good choice despite its wider aperture, at least if you are shooting full frame. The best focal length for portraits is in the range of 80-90mm, which is not included in the range of the 24-70 mm at full frame. It will get there with an APS-C camera since the crop factor will result in an effective focal length of up to 105mm, but not at full frame.

3 – Price/cost

The 24-105mm is a relative bargain at $1,150, since you will pay almost twice as much for the 24 -70mm f/2.8.

The price of the 24-105mm becomes even better if you buy it along with a camera, as it is the “kit lens” for some high-end Canon cameras.

The Importance of Lens Diameter

One final note on price, and that is to consider the effect of the purchase of filters. I use a lot of filters, as do many outdoor photographers. I carry three different strength neutral density filters, a polarizer, and a graduated neutral density filter kit. Some photographers might add a UV filter to that list as well. So it is worth mentioning that another good thing about the 24-105mm is that its lens diameter of 77 mm is the same as other common Canon lenses (it is the same for the three lenses I use most often).

Grand Canyon

When out hiking, you often want to keep your weight down, so a walking around lens like the 24-105 works great. Shot at 58 mm (1/200 sec., f/11, ISO 250).

Why is that important? Because having the same lens diameter on different lenses means that I can use the same set of filters on all of them. If I had to buy new sets of filters for lenses of different diameters, it would get very expensive, very fast. That is especially true if you are using high-quality filters (and you should be, since it directly affects the optics).

Lenses that share the 77 mm diameter with the 24-105mm include the:

  • 100 – 400 mm f/4.5 – 5.6
  • 70 – 200 mm f/2.8
  • 17 – 55 mm f/2.8
  • 17 – 40 mm f/4
  • 16 – 35 mm f/4
  • 10 – 22 mm f/3.5 – 4.5

Not for Everyone

So I think the 24-105mm f/4 is the perfect combination of great focal lengths, high quality, and reasonable price. It will allow you to take landscapes, urban scenes, street photos, and family pictures. You might never take it off your camera.

Longhorn

Sometimes you want to zoom in a bit. Shot at 82 mm (1/100 sec., f/8, ISO 400).

But, of course, the 24-105mm is not for everyone. Even among those looking for a good walking-around lens, the $1,150 price tag might be too strong. In addition, there are a lot of things this lens won’t do, like macro, for example.  It doesn’t have enough reach for sports or wildlife photography. Although the focal length of the 24-105mm does cover the “portrait lengths,” portrait and wedding photographers will doubtlessly want a faster lens. In fact, anyone shooting inside will likely want a faster lens (larger maximum aperture).

When you are photographing horses, you need to be ready for a variety of focal lengths.  Sometimes they will walk up to you looking for a treat, and sometimes they stay away.  These stayed away, so I needed all 105 mm.  (Shot at 105 mm, 1/160 sec., f/11, ISO 200)

When you are photographing horses, you need to be ready for a variety of focal lengths. Sometimes they will walk up to you looking for a treat, and sometimes they stay away. These stayed away, so I needed all 105 mm. (Shot at 105 mm, 1/160 sec., f/11, ISO 200)

Conclusion

For many, the 24-105mm will be a great choice. Rarely do you see this combination of focal length, quality, and price. I would say that it would make a great addition to your photography bag, except that it is likely that this lens won’t spent much time in your bag (unless your camera is also in your bag). I agree with Bryan Carnahan of The Digital Picture, who writes that “if I had only one lens, this would be the one.”

Note: this lens featured on our recent 30 Most Popular DSLR Lenses with our Readers List where there are 29 other lenses worth checking out.

Read more from our Cameras & Equipment category

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  • While the Canon 24-105 has served me well for a few years now, I’ve made the jump recently, to the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 VC. While on paper it may not be quite as sharp as the Canon 24-70 II, it’s a great step up from the 24-105. I don’t even lose the image stabilization. It comes down to personal choice and I’m not bothered about losing the 70-105 range one bit. Thanks for the post. Good read.

  • Richard Taylor

    It is a great walk around/travel lens on a full frame camera. The only problem is that it is not real reliable (Error 01, ribon cable problem) considering the price. Mine failed after approx 17,000 photographs.

  • I’m a wedding photographer & I’m using 24-105 with Canon 6D. I cover whole wedding on this lens. A totally all round lens for me. Wide enough to cover many peoples in frame & tele enough to take close ups. Focusing is amazing fast n lens is very sharp. I got this lens as kit lens with 6D n using it for almost 2 years. Apart from this lens, I’ve Canon 50mm 1.8 & Tokina 100mm macro. But I don’t use them frequently.
    Apart from my profession, I love landscape photography & this lens is giving me fully satisfaction. Its wide enough to take many nice landscapes. & weather shield gives the protection in rainy seasons. Loved this lens’s performance. Glad that I stretched my budget & bought it as a kit lens. (Visit my flickr page for some pics ~ https://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkesh2703/ )
    & also a note that, If u’r buying a full frame DSLR (whether Canon or Nikon), try your best to buy it with their given kit lenses (24-105 for Canon, 24-120 for Nikon). B’coz u will have to spend around 600-650$ additional on body price. & it will save so much money that you can buy another lens or accessories like camera bags, memory cards, tripods, flash, filters etc.
    A really a gem lens from Canon.

  • Must be some problem in your lens, I’m using it from almost 2 years (more than 50,000 clicks) & still working in good condition.

  • Jon

    Step up/down filter attachments (jumping from 77mm to 82mm) is not a big deal. About 30 bucks. One set of filters (82mm) and a step down/up adapter is no big deal. I have the 24-70mm ii and can easily use the same set of filters with my 70-200mm f2.8, 100mm f2.8 Macro, 135mm f2.0

    Your right tho…the focal length (24-105mm) is really great for walking around!!

  • Marcelo

    “You might never take it off your camera.”
    ..I have had this Canon L lens on my 7D for the past 4 years and have yet to take it off..
    “if I only had one lens, this would be the one”
    ..I do in fact only have one lens, and this is it. I am an avid hobbyist and have done everything from portrait to landscape to street photography with this lens over the past 4 years and have only rare instances where I would have preferred a more specialized lens (i.e. wider angle, wider aperture, macro…).
    Don’t misunderstand, I have every intention of purchasing more lenses (fast prime & macro) as I proceed with my photography, however the mere fact that there have only been rare instances where I have felt somewhat limited with my gear is a HUGE testament to the quality, diversity & durability of this lens.
    I would whole heartedly recommend this lens as a primary lens or part of your arsenal for any photographer. Beginner or Pro. Cheers and keep shooting!

    Marcelo

  • Tim

    Absolutely a great lens! Plus, you can buy it now online for much less money. I paid $639 for mine (new) through Ebay.

  • Richard Taylor

    It is not just my lens. I purchased mine back in 2008. It is not just my lens as there are quite a few reports on the forums of this problem.

  • The step up and down filters are really annoying to me. I never seem to get them off the filter when using the low-profile filters or worse a Circular-Polarizer.. Terrible. I ended up going with a filter-holder System that just takes 100x100mm filters and has different adapter rings (Lee and Cokin make these)

  • Shaz

    Recently went to Chile, shot street, landscape and everything from seascapes to Atacama desert – including night stars, to Andes. This one lens did the lot.

  • J Public

    I use the Canon crop sensor and have similar feelings about their 15-85 lens.

  • greg
  • greg

    I am waiting my lens tomorrow .price for 24-70mm f4 is 691euro.if you want have a look http://www.purnimadigital.com/canon-24-70mm-4-l-is-usm.html

  • dave

    If Canon or Sigma could make a 24-105 f/2.8 L IS it would sell like hot cakes. I do enjoy the f4 though.

  • davetac

    Definitely the EF24-105mm f4L IS USM your best bet if you are looking for a superb all rounder. I have recently swapped my EF70-200mm f4L USM for a Canon EF100-400mm f4.5-5.6L IS USM which is super for sport and wildlife. For occasional extra wide shots I also have another Canon. EF17-40mm f4L USM. I’m not really into macro so I have a non L series EF50mm f2.5 compact macro.
    If I were to be marooned on a dessert island however I’d for sure pick the 24-105 to take with me.

  • Michael

    I shoot with a 6D and have recently abandoned my 24-105 for a 24-70 2.8 mkii. I’m really ambivalent about the 24-105. It’s been on more than one trip OS, shot a bit of informal wedding, walked the streets looking for a good time and the lens impressed more often than not. It’s a warm lens, so images are nicely saturated, it’s image stabilised, so I never miss a shot through camera shake, and it’s a good size for travel. But I never use it at f4 as it’s too soft for me, and even at f5.6,and f8, it’s pretty good without being exceptional. But I am a pixel peeper and shots from this lens do look good, full size, on screen, and the punters certainly won’t look at the pix and think “soft”, but I’m a pixel peeper.

    Recently bought the Canon 200mm f2.8 prime. Now that lens really shows me how much I love image stabilisation. Sharper than the 24-105, lovely background blur, but no IS so in my hands it likes 1/500+ shutter speed for everyday shooting, and even then I get the occasional shakey shot. Oh well, you can’t have it all.

  • mohammed aslam

    what do u guyz think about a sigma 70-300mm ?

  • Mark

    Image quality is amazing. The only drawback these days is weight. Stick it on a full-frame and you’re carrying nearly 1.5kg in your hands (especially if using a battery grip). It’s certainly capable and mine is almost permanently welded to my camera but it has now taken a back seat to my RX100M3 for multi-purpose shooting.

  • It is a great lens and i am glad that you think it rocks too. As a fairly new Photographer i did loads of research and chose their lens to do the majority of my shots. Glad it was a good choice – i am very pleased:-) Great article.

  • Thanks Pinkesh. I am looking to get into Wedding Photography and budget bit limited but seeing your post gives me hope that I can shoot a wedding with what I’ve got – i will check out your snaps – thanks.

  • I agree, its a great lens.

  • Pio Danilo Cuadra

    I am a professional photographer and I have a 24-105 mounted on a 5D Mark II. Its a fantastic all around lens which I used both in stills and video. However lately, It has to undergo an expensive repair at Canon due to error 1, which turns out to be some anomaly in the power diaphragm(aperture) and image stabilizer assemblies..Be aware that a lot of photographers worldwide have experienced similar problems an have posted their complaints/comments, online, on this particular L lens. Overall I like this lens and its my main workhorse.

  • JJG

    Agreed – great lens, but what about the lens creep? Mine is constantly creeping out to 105mm and it drives me crazy, especially when shooting in situations that I don’t need all 105mm all the time.

  • That lens should not creep – I’d get it serviced or send it to Canon for testing.

  • Agree with Darlene. Mine doesn’t do that, and I’m not aware of it being a particular problem with this lens.

  • Thanks for the heads-up. I’ve not experienced this or heard about it. Perhaps if others experience it they can chime in.

  • That is all true. But I look at it this way: photographers back in the day had to carry enormous view cameras and tons of gear with them. So, even with the biggest DSLRs and lenses like the 24-105 (or even bigger ones), we have it remarkably easy.

  • Agree. That would be my desert island pick as well.

  • Cannot argue with that (so long as the price was right).

  • Good stuff. It is a huge percentage of my shots as well. I cannot think of a better “first” lens.

  • Michael

    I recently purchased Canon EOS 6D with the EF24-105mm f/4L USM lens as a kit lens. This is my first full frame DSLR. I did not realize how much money I’ve saved buying this wonderful pro-quality lens as a kit lens. Before I was shooting with Canon cropped sensor DSLR and none L series lenses (EF-S types). There is huge difference in the quality of images it captures giving me very detailed crisp and sharp images. Also, I have noticed the high quality of construction and the smoothness of the lens operation. The zooming is very precise and smooth, the AF is fast and accurate. I think this lens is going to be attached to my new 6D 99% of the time. I have another EF 50mm F/1.8 II prime lens that I might use strictly indoors in low ambient light with large apertures (larger than f/4), however, having 6D excellent ISO performance, I could jump my ISO into 1600 or higher and still would be able to use EF24-105mm f/4L USM lens at f/4 especially using IS with my monopod plus I usually shoot indoors with my 580 EX Speedlite modified with either small softbox or DIY bouncing panels.

  • Yes, it is a great buy as a kit lens. I originally got mine as a kit lens when I bought my 5D mark 2 and saved some money that way.

    Interestingly, I just bought a 6D as well, so I’m now using the exact same setup as you. And yes, that lens is by far the one most attached to my camera.

  • Higbe33

    I agree on the nice focal range, however Sigma is my choice for a 24-105.

  • Higbe33

    I had one. Very sharp lens, however non IS and you will be happier with the Canon IS version.

  • Vince Contreras

    I’ve used for years and it’s served me well. I shoot mostly nature photography and the zoom allows me do everything from dragonflies right in front of me to birds high in a tree.

  • Rod Best

    I love this lens. It is my go to lens and is almost always on my camera. Even though I current am sporting a crop sensor body, I still love the lens. It was the perfect lens when I rented a FF recently for a day of shooting covered bridges in VT. It never left my camera and I got some fantastic images!!

  • Rod Best

    I love this lens. It is my go to lens and is almost always on my camera. Even though I am currently sporting a crop sensor body, I still love the lens. It was the perfect lens when I rented a FF recently for a day of shooting covered bridges in VT. It never left my camera and I got some fantastic images!!

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