To start, I have a specific use for the Canon 24-105mm ƒ4 IS: vérité/handheld video work for documentary/corporate/commercials, so that’s primarily how I’ll frame my thoughts on these lenses. I should also warn you that I shot videos samples of both the MK1 and the MK2 and honestly, it’s nearly impossible to tell a difference. If that’s all you were looking for to help inform any future rental/purchase decisions, you’re good to go—there’s hardly an optical difference! However, I still prefer the MK2 over the MK1. So here are my long-winded thoughts on both options, and why I now own a Canon 24-105mm MK2.
The Oopsie & The Situation
It was just before the holidays, so everyone was pretty drained on this one particular gig in mid-December. It was a long day, and as we wrapped at one location, ready to move on to the next one, I grabbed our run bag to load in a hodgepodge of gear (enough to get us wrapped as soon as possible). Unfortunately, it wasn’t zipped all the way, and my Canon 24-105mm flew out of the bag, nailing the slick asphalt below. It’s the moment every gear owner fears—The Big Oopsie (well, it could have been bigger, and oopsier, so there’s that).
Anyway, as you can imagine, the scene was not good. The zoom was stuck. The focus ring could hardly move. The thing was borked. So I sent it off to Canon to be repaired.
If you’ve never sent a piece of gear to Canon, you’ll need to know two things: 1) They’re very professional, and take good care of your equipment. 2) You will pay such an exorbitant price for your repair, you’ll often wonder why you even sent it in the first place. So here I was, praying it was just a $200-300 repair. I was contacted by Canon who notified me that my lens would cost $615 to repair (including shipping, so hey, that’s a bonus!). Which is outrageous to think—you can get this same lens used for an equal or lesser amount than the repair would cost. So now I have a permanent reminder that haste makes very expensive waste.
So that’s my special, specific circumstances for why I needed to buy a replacement, and as such, had to look in to what the new Canon 24-105mm had to offer over the first version.
Why I used the Canon 24-105mm ƒ4 for documentary work
As of writing this—in February 2017—the cine zoom market is just on the verge of being flooded with options. The Canon 18-80mm, the Zeiss 21-100mm, the Angenieux EZ lenses—and those are just the ones that interest me for my work, there are even more on the way. But I have work I need to do now, and investing $5,000 – $13,000 in a lens is something I need to put much thought in to (if I can even afford it!), so I need a trusted solution immediately. More often than not, I shoot in a documentary style, and I do so on the Sony FS7, primarily. I use a metabones speedbooster for most lenses, except for the few APS-C lenses I keep for specific needs (Sigma 18-35mm, Toking 11-16mm). I just prefer the look that the speedbooster gives me. So all of this specific set up leads the Canon 24-105mm to be a great choice: It has a great range, an okay aperture (ƒ4 is too high for video work, but the speedbooster helps), and image stabilization. All for a pretty cheap cost (compared to what cine zooms cost, especially considering this $5-10K cine zoom market is only just now becoming a reality). If you’re not familiar with lenses, you need to know, like everything, it’s a balance. Cost, size, features, etc. The Canon 24-105mm has been the lens for me, for now, because it’s relatively cheap, has good IS (which I don’t believe is the case with the only real competition for this lens, the Sigma 24-105mm), and has a large enough focal range that I don’t need to swap lenses to get on the fly coverage. So for right now, this is what I have to work with, and given enough light, it works out pretty well.
I rented the Canon 24-105mm MK2 (from Borrowlenses.com) and mentioned it online. My friend Toby, who runs Photorec.tv, mentioned he could get me a rental of the MK1 to do some testing. So I had a couple days between gigs to try them both out. As always, I wish I had more time, but those rentals go by quick. Everything above and below is not scientific, and completely opinion based—no charts, no graphs, just a tired person ranting about a niche product. So take it all with a grain of salt. But I haven’t found anyone out there discussing these lenses in a perspective for video, which I found surprising. So anyway, if you’re looking for nitty gritty scientific data, or a photographer’s take on this upgraded lens, I suggest one of the following:
I want to thank these people for creating their very in-depth reviews, it absolutely helped me in understanding what the new lens had to offer. I suggest that everyone check out these reviews to get a better understanding of the changes with the MK2.
What I like about the MK2
BUILD: The build of the 24-105mm mk2 is what sets it apart from its predecessor. The focus ring is smoother, bigger, and overall more reliable for manual focus. This is something that a photographer might not find necessary at all, especially if you’re going to have this lens live on AF. But for video work, we need manual focus. The MK1’s focus ring was always a little small, and a little sticky. It wasn’t awful, but I definitely didn’t get smooth focus racking like I can with the MK2. This is a huge step forward if you’re using this lens like I am.
STABILIZATION: The stabilization has been improved…or what I would say, has been changed. The 24-105mm is not only valuable because of it’s range, but because of image stabilization. This is a key element for handheld documentary work. I had been using the MK1 for years, so I know how the IS worked (at least with my copy). I knew what it could and couldn’t do. I knew I could get away with a certain amount of drifting to fake a slider/dolly shot, or that at 24mm I could follow a subject and the IS would do some work to smooth out the offset of my walk. But Canon did something different with the MK2’s IS, which is both good and bad. I found that for static shots, it was markedly improved, taking out micro jitters and just delivering an overall solid image. But for weird moves like orbiting, or quick movements, the IS would freak out a bit, as if it was trying too hard to compensate for the movement. Where the MK1’s IS would just take it in stride, and do what it could. I guess you could relate it to noise reduction—when you get a really good noise pattern, a computer can get in there and make the image look beautiful, because it has so many data points to work with. But when it doesn’t, it starts making bad guesses, and the noise reduction becomes very apparent. The same can be said with the IS in the MK2. When it’s good, it’s great. When it’s bad, it’s rough. But it’s a net gain in my opinion over the previous lens.
LOCK: Having a zoom lock at 24mm is great (although I’d prefer to have this throughout the zoom range).
OPTICS: Distortion at 24mm seems to be improved, and I did notice a difference with flaring. Ten aperture blades means we get rounder out of focus highlights, which I’m always for! This is completely anecdotal, but I believe the bokeh is better on the MK2.
What I don’t like about the MK2
PRICE: Obviously, cost is an issue. But if you take it for face value, it’s technically only $100 more new than the MK1. No one should be buying the Canon 24-105mm MK1 new, so in a way price isn’t too big of an issue (or so I choose to tell myself). And as we all know, this price will come down with time. So don’t rush out to buy unless you have to (which is unfortunately my situation).
OPTICS: Optical improvement is limited. I don’t like that the sharpness in the center has declined. However overall sharpness has improved, which is welcome. Breathing was pretty rough, but it’s not any better on the MK1 (and also, it’s a stills lens, so it’s expected). I guess I was hoping for some optical improvements, but instead it seems Canon looked to perfect the build of there 10+ year old lens. I can’t blame them—they sell a ton of these things, especially being a kit lens.
Which lens I would suggest (and what I’m going with)
Well, spoiler alert: I’ve already placed an order on the MK2. I found the new focus ring to be too valuable of an upgrade to pass up. I think the IS will be helpful as well. And buying new will help me with warranty, which I’m definitely going to pay attention to from now on (and you should too, even on top of insurance). I really struggled with this though, because I found plenty of used copies online. But ultimately it seems the MK2 is right for me (after discussing it, or rather, constantly bugging my business partner and wife about the decision for a few days now).
But that doesn’t mean it’s right for everyone. In fact, I think my purchase is an outlier. If you have the MK1 and it still works, there is really no reason to upgrade. If you’re a photographer, I really don’t know why you’d upgrade at all…ever. If like me you need to buy one because of gear failure, I’d still suggest renting first to check it out. Either way, I can’t see why I photographer would really be interested in the MK2, aside from some extra stops of IS. For video work, it’s definitely worth looking in to, but if your budget is tight, just get a used MK1.
Huge thanks to Tobias Gelston, Photorec.tv, and lensprotogo.com for hooking me up with a rental of the MK1 version of the lens while mine meets its maker (literally?).