01 April 2011
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4 L Lens Review The EF 24mm f/1.4 L is one of the most frequently used lenses in my collection. It's small, lightweight, rugged, has a fast f/1.4 max aperture and exceptional image quality. Like many other prime lenses, the EF 24mm f/1.4 L is small and light. It doesn't take up much room in your camera bag. It's very easy to carry around all day, and not a problem to pack for trips. Small lenses also make you less conspicuous, which is key for going unnoticed on the street and getting natural, relaxed reactions when documenting people in social situations.
Mark II Upgrade My lens is the first version 24mm f/1.4 L, which Canon has replaced with the EF 24mm f/1.4 L II. The new one is a little bigger, has a different hood and one more aperture blade. I have not used the newer version, but 100% and 50% crop comparisons over at The Digital Picture reveal significant improvements in image quality. My equipment reviews are far less technical than other sites', so much of this review will apply to both versions of the lens. Since general qualities like focal length and max aperture haven't changed, my discussion of these things as they relate to real world shooting aren't version-specific. So on to the review...
Focal Length and Field of View So, speaking of people, remember that this is a wide angle lens. When you get in close, the distortion can do weird things to facial features. But take a few steps back and it's great for making images of people in their environment... or fitting a lot of bodies in the frame.
Canon EOS 5D w/ 24mm f/1.4 L @ f/8, 1/80 sec., ISO 320 This lens' field of view is "kind of" wide on APS-C and very wide on full frame. When used on a cropped sensor camera such as a Digital Rebel or any of the prosumer models, you get a 38mm equivalent f.o.v. that sits somewhere between wide and normal. Pop it on a full frame camera like the 5D or 1Ds and you get the widest possible f.o.v. without crossing into ultra-wide territory. The 24L does a nice job of keeping lines straight. Lesser wide angle lenses will make straight lines bulge out, but the distortion seen here is minimal. The following image is uncorrected for distortion. Hover your mouse over it to see the corrected version.
Uncorrected Version | Corrected Version
Wide f/1.4 Max Aperture An f/1.4 max aperture means the opening through which light passes into this lens can open up very large. Letting in lots of light at once means faster shutter speeds are possible than with smaller apertures, making this a fast lens. Shooting wide open at f/1.4 can create blurry out-of-focus backgrounds. The 24mm focal length emphasizes distance between near and far objects which means you won't get quite as blurry a background as fast portrait lenses like the 135mm f/2 L will produce, but blurry backgrounds are still possible. To get the most blur possible, bring your subject close and put as much distance between them and the background as possible. Example:
Canon EOS 5D w/ 24mm f/1.4 L @ f/1.4, 1/4000 sec., ISO 100
Great in Low Light This lens can open up and let in a lot of light. The combination of short focal length and large max aperture means you can hand-hold in low light at very slow shutter speeds. Unlike long lenses that magnify your own body movements along with the scene, wide angle lenses are much easier to hold still for sharp images. Consider this image of the NYC skyline which was done at night without a tripod, handheld at just one fifth of a second.
Canon EOS 5D w/ 24mm f/1.4 L @ f/3.5, 1/5 sec., ISO 400 Here's an even more extreme example, shot handheld at f/1.4 and again 1/5 sec. That's not a post-sunset blue sky... I made this image at 1 AM. That's moon light.
Canon EOS 5D w/ 24mm f/1.4 L @ f/1.4, 1/5 sec., ISO 1600
I Really Like This Lens I can never decide which is my favorite lens because that changes depending on what there is to shoot, but going by the numbers this is currently the lens I get the most from. According to my Lightroom database, 97 out of my 500 favorite photos were made with the 24mm f/1.4 L. That's 19.4%, more than any other lens in my collection, and includes my favorite photo to date:
Canon EOS 5D w/ 24mm f/1.4 L @ f/16, 6 secs., ISO 500 Here are a few more:
Canon EOS 5D w/ 24mm f/1.4 L @ f/10, 15 secs., ISO 200
Canon EOS 5D w/ 24mm f/1.4 L @ f/3.2, 1/125 sec., ISO 1250
Canon EOS 5D w/ 24mm f/1.4 L @ f/2, 1/25 sec., ISO 1600 As I wrote in the beginning of this review, I'm using the older "Mark I" version. Canon has since discontinued that version and replaced it with the EF 24mm f/1.4 L II.