Whether you’re new or have been around the block for a while, you’re likely familiar with how expensive photography can be. At this point, you’ve probably wondered if there is a lens that can do it all. With so many lenses out there, finding the perfect one can be an overwhelming task. After many years of shooting everything from zoo animals to mountains, I have concluded that the best Canon walkaround lens is the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.
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The Best Canon Walkaround Lens
When I’m on a paid gig, I carry a set of fast prime lenses that cover anywhere from 35mm to 135mm. They serve me well because of my particular style, which requires extreme shallow depth of field. However, I’ve grown quite weary of having to constantly change lenses, especially when I’m out at a birthday party shooting with my 85mm and then randomly get asked to fit 5 other people in the frame.
On my first visit to NYC, I had a chance to test out the EF 24-105mm f/4L for the first time. The first characteristics I noticed about the lens were that it was fairly lightweight, it balanced well on my 5DMarkIII, and the sample shots looked great. I immediately concluded that this is the best Canon walkaround lens for my needs, hands down.
What I Liked
- Excellent optics: When stopped down to f/5.6, it is actually sharper than my $2,000 prime lenses.
- Image Stabilization (IS): With 4 extra stops, I can get sharp shots even at 105mm and 1/8 shutter speed.
- Longer range: It has an extra 25mm on the long end compared to the popular 24-70mm lens.
- Good price: Compared to buying new, a lightly-used copy can often be picked up at a fraction of the price.
- Great AF performance: It has accurate, fast, and consistent autofocus throughout the entire focal range.
What I Didn’t Like
- Narrower aperture: It only has f/4. Although IS helps when shooting static subjects, f/2.8 is arguably more beneficial.
- Distracting bokeh: While shots at f/4 and 105mm can produce shallow DOF, the bokeh looks jagged and harsh, and not creamy at all.
- Stiff zoom ring: The zooming process isn’t smooth and requires a bit of effort. No bueno.
- Distortion: I’ve noticed a decent amount of barrel distortion near the shorter end. However, it can be easily fixed with software.
Who is This Product For?
The Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM is a great fit for photographers who often shoot landscapes or studio portraits. Since these styles involve shooting static subjects, you’d benefit more from IS than from f/2.8, especially since the lens would be stopped down to f/8 or narrower most of the time. This lens is also ideal for casual photographers who carry their cameras everywhere, and need something budget-friendly that can cover 99% of situations they might encounter.
Key Features and Benefits
To expand further on the pros and cons, I’ll tell you about certain situations in which this lens excelled. Earlier in my photography career, I contracted a few gigs where I shot performances, awards, and after parties for various big-name musicians. On my first shoot, I was told that I’d need to capture the singer, all the show attendees, and the vibe of the venue.
I chose the 24-105mm f/4L over the 24-70mm f/2.8L because I knew that 70mm would be too short for headshots and close-ups, producing too much unwanted distortion. Additionally, I knew that most of my shots would feature multiple people who may not be perfectly lined up with one another . To make sure that everyone stays in focus, it was safest to shoot with f/4, f/5.6, and beyond.
At one point, my flash conked out on me, leaving me to shoot with only ambient lighting. With any other lens, I would have had to raise my ISO up to higher levels and involuntarily add noise to my photos. However, the 24-105’s IS allowed me to get perfectly sharp shots while keeping my ISO under 800.
For several weeks after, I set a goal to photograph everything with just this one lens in order to see what it could do. I took it on a hike, then to a birthday party, and then to a concert, a studio, and a basketball game. I even went underwater (with protection, of course). If any of these sounds like activities you would participate in and bring your camera to, I highly recommend that you give this lens a try.
When reading up on a lens online, you’ll often find reviews from professionals who have taken it apart and reassembled it, used it to shoot various test charts, and can tell you every single technical aspect about it. While that’s undoubtedly valuable, you can get a much better sense of how a lens performs by reading reviews from other buyers who’ve used it in the real world.
Here are several people who have had something to say about their new purchase:
“My 1st L-Series lens and I really like it. It has tremendous versatility for your every day shots. I typically stuck with my primes but got tired of switching out lenses all the time. As my first L-Series lens, I am truly satisfied with it.” – James W.
“I bought this lens as an upgrade to my EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM kit lens (which is ok for what it is). Having used it to photograph events and studio shoots, I love the fast auto focus and incredible sharpness of every shot. This is a great addition to my camera bag, has the same build quality as my other L lenses.” – Danny L.
“I have owned this lens for close to 8 years now and it never fails to deliver. It’s best used for landscapes, some portraits, or architecture. It’s a great general all-around lens and one that’s built to last” – Angela R.
Here is a “negative” review to help you put things into perspective:
“I do dig this lens and find it to be acceptably sharp from F4, but much more so around F8. On my Canon 6D, I have been able to use it in very low light. My biggest complaint is the lens creep. Point the lens down and it will slide all the way out to 105mm. Frankly, this is very poor craftsmanship on Canon’s part as this seems to be a common problem, and one that Canon does not fix well when sent in for repairs. A ponytail holder does a ok job of adding more tension on the focus ring to help keep the lens in place during shoots.“ – David L.
Alternatives and Comparisons
In your search for the best Canon walkaround lens, you’ve likely come across the highly popular Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. Costing 2-3 times more than the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS, the 24-70L is an absolute workhorse lens. The first thing you’ll notice about it is that it feels sturdy in your hands. It is well built, heavy, and tough like a brick.
One big advantage that it has over the 24-105L is the f/2.8 aperture. Not only does the 24-70L allow for higher shutter speeds, the bokeh it produces is soft and not distracting. In fact, it is quite beautiful. While this lens lacks IS, the wider aperture makes up for it, especially if you tend to shoot moving subjects.
The 24-70L also has much less distortion on either end when compared to the 24-105L. While this lens is very sharp at all apertures, I find that my copy of the 24-105L is a tad sharper (piercingly sharp, in fact).
So, if this lens is as stellar as it sounds, why did I not nominate it as the best Canon walkaround lens?
Apart from the superior sharpness of the 24-105 f/4L (I may have gotten lucky with my copy), I find the extra 25mm to be extremely important. If I was going to have just one lens, it needs to be able to cover not just most, but all of my applications. At 70mm, I’m not able to shoot distortion-free headshots, nor am I able to get close enough when photographing live performers.
Personally, the Image Stabilization is much more useful than the f/2.8. Since my subjects are usually static, I find that the IS gives me nearly 4 extra stops of light. When shooting moving subjects at the club, I typically use some type of flash, which helps freeze the motion.
The last (and probably biggest) drawback of the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L is the significantly higher price tag. To justify the difference, the lens would have to outperform the competitor in every single aspect. For my use, this is not the case. However, if the benefits of the 24-70L fit your needs, rest assured that you would be making a stellar purchase that you won’t regret.
I hope that you’ve found this review helpful. I know how tough buying new lenses can be. When you’re potentially investing a large amount of money, you want to make sure that you’re making the best choice. Oftentimes, people don’t conduct proper research and end up with buyer’s remorse. Not to worry, I’m here to make sure that this doesn’t happen to you!
If you’re looking for the best Canon walkaround lens, look no further than the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM. This lens is extremely sharp and has superb colors/contrast. Its autofocus is very fast, accurate, and consistent. Compared to similar lenses, it comes with Image Stabilization (IS) and a larger focal range. To top it off, it is packed with incredible value and is arguably the most budget-friendly L-Series lens ever made.