Canon 24-105mm: Mark 1 vs Mark 2

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.

24-105

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.

Testing Grounds

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:

DXO

Ken Rockwell

The Digital Picture

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?).

Using Final Cut Pro X for Quick Color Correction

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 12.37.40 PM

Yesterday I had a really hard time getting a project in to Black Magic’s DaVinci Resolve (lots of mixed media, QTDecoder bug which I still haven’t figured out, but I think it has to do with H.264 media from a Canon 5DMKIII). I don’t have the time to troubleshoot right now, so I decided to brave the FCPX color correction avenue (because that’s what the project was cut in). It’s not as robust as DaVinci, but you can still do a lot—Much more than I initially thought. Unsurprisingly, Apple’s take on color correction is just as distant from the norm as FCPX is for editing.

 

Color correction "classic"
Color Correction “classic” (DaVinci Resolve)

 

It's like the original iMac's silly one-click mouse...sleek, shiny, and frustrating.
Apple’s new color correction method—It’s like the original iMac’s silly one-click mouse…sleek, shiny, and frustrating. (FCPX)

 

 

First thing to know: You’ll be moving pucks around. A lot. And it’s still not fun (when doing your primary correction). If you’ve ever opened FCPX up, you’ve probably seen them. One for highlights, mid tones, shadows, and global. I prefer the 3-color wheels, as is common throughout post production applications. This is possible with some third-party plugins (FilmConvert being one of them), but I’d rather just be in DaVinci (when it works).

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-15 at 12.44.52 AM
These color correction wheels are a little difficult to work with…but still a good effort.

 

As for the pucks in FCPX, they do actually become a pleasant surprise to use when adjusting specific hue v hue/hue v luma/hue v saturation scenarios. As you can see in the examples below (check out that sweet .gif I finally figured out how to make!), changing specific hue properties in DaVinci Resolve is a powerful and easy process. The best way I’ve found to mimic this usage in FCPX is to apply color masks, which can be a surprisingly powerful tool. It’s easy to add or subtract a range from a color mask select (by holding shift or option while you have the droplet tool selected on a new color correction level).

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 12.48.33 PM
Oops, I’m getting too much of the shorts along with the green trees…that’s what you get for shooting 8bit 4:2:0 and color correcting in an editing application!

 

If you have a decent GPU, it’s not a problem to keep stacking these color corrections. It does start to get disorganized very quickly though. In DaVinci you can create many ‘nodes,’ and arrange them graphically in a flow chart representation. But FCPX is limited to a simplified version. You also don’t need to create a new instance or node every time you want to adjust a hue in DaVinci, so you can see where FCPX is really for just a few minor touch ups—it’s not great for organization, creating ‘looks,’ or dealing with any higher-end color correction abilities (nodes interacting, and other complex stuff that’s way over my head).

 

Screen Shot 2014-11-14 at 12.48.06 PM
This is how you adjust hue specifics in DaVinci…pretty simple.

 

When it comes to hotkeys, I’ve found that FCPX is what you make of it. You can assign a toggle for color correction (hidden deep within the keyboard prefs, option+command+k) which is pretty essential. I set it to Command+D to emulate DaVinci’s disable feature (though it overwrote something, but I’m not really an editor, so I was throwing caution to the wind—stuff gets crazy in post-production). Command+7 will get you your video scopes (which are actually pretty nice), Command+6 brings up the color correction palette, and control+tab will toggle color/sat/luma tabs. They’re pretty handy shortcuts (you can see the workflow in the gif below).

 

CC_FCPX

 

You could write a really rather lengthy book on DaVinci Resolve, but when it comes to FCPX’s color correction abilities, you’d be looking at more of a pamphlet at best. I still get caught up on small things that shouldn’t be an issue—like when you make a shape mask, you have to go to the very bottom of the color correction pane to toggle “inside” and “outside”…you’ll definitely miss that the first few times. Still, it’s more powerful than you think. It’s no Color (the color correction application that used to be bundled with Final Cut Studio), but for a really quick turn around, it should get you most of the way there—just don’t expect to be using power windows on this bad boy.

 

Look at all that sweet, sweet real estate!
Look at all that sweet, sweet real estate!

 

Filming and Photographing Hubbardton Forge

Back in late March, I was hired to film and photograph a Vermont-based business called Hubbardton Forge. AOL teamed up with Ford to do an article and short video about one American-based business for every state. This particular shoot was challenging as I only had two hours to film at the forge (to create a one minute video that was up to me to cut and find the story), as well as take enough photos to delivery about 25 selects to the client. It was tough, but really fun. My favorite aspects of filmmaking are traveling, meeting new people, and learning about something I previously knew nothing about—I was able to do all of those on my trip to Hubbardton Forge.

While the shoot itself was a challenge (that I was only able to complete with the great support of the Hubbardton Forge employees), the post production process (which had an equally tight schedule) was where I learned some new techniques for delivering a good product quickly.

In my previous post, I wrote about getting client photo selections out of Zenfolio and in to Lightroom, which was for this gig. The clients seemed to really enjoy using Zenfolio, and it was very easy for me to get the list and start the color correction process. I also broke down and finally purchased VSCO film pack 02. The VSCO film packs really helped correct some of the left over nasty colors thanks to industrial lighting. It also gave the images a nice film look, and helped me deliver the final product much faster than I could have if I was doing everything by hand (the “orange skin fix” preset is worth the fee alone).

The hero of this project was FCPX and my new 27″ iMac. I finally upgraded from a Mac Pro 1,1 (7 years old!) to an i7, 4GB of video RAM power house (I never thought I’d call an iMac a powerhouse). I got the rig just in time—literally the day before. And I’m so glad I did. I didn’t have to wait for transcodes, I didn’t have any crashes, and with 16GB of RAM, I could have Lightroom and FCPX open at the same time without any issues!