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Canon EF 24mm f/2.8

Review Date: Oct 9, 2009 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $290.00 | Rating: 9 

Pros: compact, light and inexpensive; great on FF, even to the corners; sharp and contrasty; surprisingly good wide-open; very pleasant bokeh
Lacks USM, not so great flare handling (get the hood), didn't perform as well on APS-C

This lens has turned out to be a big surprise for me.

I originally bought it to use with my 10D on honeymoon, as my usual go-to lens (35/1.4L) was too bulky and a bit too tight (56mm equivalent) on APS-C. The pictures came out ok - good sharpness and contrast - but lacked a certain something that I'm accustomed to from my 35/1.4 or 85/1.8 primes. When I returned from the trip, I re-boxed it and decided to put it up for sale.

About a year and a half later I hadn't gotten around to selling the lens yet, and I had just acquired a used 5D. My dream of full frame was realized and I felt my 35/1.4 was plenty wide enough, so I didn't even think to try the 24/2.8 - how could it even compare? I figured if it wasn't great on the 10D, it would be even worse on the 5D.

Boy was I wrong. A potential buyer asked me to test the lens, and my friend encouraged me to try it on the 5D, so I went out and snapped a couple test shots at lunch. They looked fantastic! I then took the lens home and tried it in low ambient light, and was shocked at how great the pictures looked. It was sharp and contrasty, with good uniformity all the way out to the corners. Stop it down one click to f/3.2 and it gets even sharper, and by f/4 quality is pretty much optimal. In this respect it behaves much more like an L than a cheap lens, many of which need to be stoped down to f/5.6 or so before they look really good.

I've used the majority of Canon primes between 20mm and 135mm, both L and non-L, and while the 24/2.8 doesn't have the trademark warmth and richness of the L's, it is very much in the same league as the better non-L's like the 85/1.8 and 100 macro. The bokeh in particular is a real surprise - not as creamy as the 24L or 35L, but very smooth and pleasant with nothing objectionable going on. But if I were to pick one aspect of the lens that excels, it would have to be the colors, which strike a near perfect balance of vibrance and naturalness. Blues in particular are wonderfully saturated, ideal for shooting landscapes and water - I bought a polarizer, but never really need it.

There are a few cons which are well-explored in the other reviews so I won't dwell on them too much. The lens feels cheap compared to the USM primes, but I don't see any reason why it wouldn't be durable. It vignettes a bit wide open, but then so does my 35L, and it doesn't bother me - in fact I rather like the effect. The biggest downside I find vs. an L prime, other than the slower aperture, is flare handling. With the 35L I can shoot into a setting sun to get a nice warm effect with well controlled halos, but the 24/2.8 will just wash out and not look particularly good, so shooting into the sun is pretty much out. I'm also not sure why it was so underwhelming on my 10D... it could be the newer sensors with their improved microlenses get more out of wideangles than my old 10D, but it just wasn't as contrasty and interesting as on the 5D. (It could also be that the 38mm-equivalent FOV bored me.)

Some people have complained of not so great sharpness, excessive CA, etc. - my best guess is they are using it on a body that it doesn't work so well (e.g. a crop with small pixel pitch), and/or they got a bad copy. I'm not sure if my copy is especially good but the performance is really outstanding.

In any case, I'm just glad I discovered this lens on my 5D before I sold it! If you don't need the extreme low-light capabilities of the 24/1.4L, definitely check this sleeper out.

Canon EF 35mm f/2

Review Date: Oct 28, 2003 Recommend? yes | Price paid: $229.00 | Rating: 6 

Pros: sharp, low distortion, macro-like close focusing, light and compact
color and contrast just ok (on the level of the better mid-price zooms e.g. 24-85mm, not any better than 50/1.8), so-so build quality (but ok for the price), nosiy non-USM motor

i was really hoping this lens was for me. i actually wound up trying three copies from B&H. the first had a chip inside the rear element, the second had a hairline scratch on the front... terrible quality control. the third wound up being fine, and all three actually took good pictures on my EOS-10D. very sharp, close to my copy of the 50/1.8, but there was something about color and contrast that bothered me. with a Hoya S-HMC filter color seemed very drab; i later removed the filter and it was better but i still felt the color performance was just so-so, certainly no better than the 50/1.8 or even my Canon 24-85mm zoom. contrast was just ok as well, the response is pretty contrasty for midtones and highlights but shadow detail was not to my liking... the lens has a slightly dark look to it that tends to obscure shadow detail. it also can look a little grainy at times, i'm not sure why... i'm obviously spolied by my 135/2L, but i tend to prefer my $70 50/1.8 as well. the 35/2 comes close to the 50mm, but the results are never quite as good for me. the MF ring is not quite as useless as the one on the 50/1.8, but it's not a whole lot better either.

still, this is a good quality lens, esp. for the money asked. it's nice and light, the AF while being buzzy is pretty quick and accurate, and you can take very clear almost macro shots - i've gotten good results with subjects as close as 15cm from the front of the lens. it's also very sharp down to f/2.8, and usable at f/2.2 (wide open f/2 is soft). it will give you better results than most zooms @ 35mm, e.g. Canon 24-85mm or 28-135mm IS... the 24-70L will beat it handily in color and contrast but sharpness will be a toss-up, and of course the L is about 6x heavier and more expensive. as for myself, i'm making the step up to the 35/1.4L. i don't really need the extra speed below f/2 but the superior contrast and color of the L make it worth it to me.