Can You Tell the Difference Between the 24-70mm EF and RF Lenses? Look For Yourself and Prepare to Be Shocked

I upgraded my camera to the Canon EOS R5 last year and have since been shooting with my adapter ring and the EF lenses. If this sounds like jargon to you: let me catch you up to speed. Canon launched its first mirrorless camera in 2018, and the mount on the mirrorless cameras is different than the ones of the previous DSLRs. As a workaround, you can use an adapter ring to shoot with your older EF lenses on the new mirrorless cameras. 

After shooting for a year with the adapter ring, I finally bit the bullet and purchased my first RF lens coming in at $2,399. In this article, I’m going to give you a comparison with side-by-side images as well as my surprising discovery as I scrutinized the upgrade from the Canon EF 24-70mm to the RF 24-70mm f/2.8.

On the left is the newer RF 24-70mm lens designed for mirrorless cameras. On the right is the older EF 24-70mm lens with the adapter ring.

I have to be honest: the 24-70mm is not my go-to lens. In my mind, it’s kind of the jack of all trades and master of none, which, ironically, is why I have it. It does a great job at everything. Great. Not mind-blowing, but also never disappointing. I have my go-to for product work, the 100mm, my go-to for sports, the 16-35 mm, my go-to for portraits, the 70-200mm, and so on. The reason I decided to upgrade the 24-70mm is that although it’s not my quintessential glass or anything, it does everything well. On many jobs, I need to capture a wide range of imagery at a fast pace. When I shoot races, for example, I may be capturing runners flying by at a wider angle, but then I notice the detail and need to zoom in. With the 24-70mm, I can quickly zoom in to grab the fleeting moment, then back out to full body shots again. It is the beloved lens of wedding and event photographers for that same reason. It allows photographers to take wide and tight images, and it always delivers a good shot. Everyone needs a jack of all trades in their gear bag.

This shows the versatility of the 24-70mm, as it has a broad focal length.

I had been shooting with the EF 24-70mm lens and the adapter ring for some time now. I liked the images, but on occasion, I found myself frustrated at how it seemed to struggle to focus and track, so I made the plunge and bought the new RF version.

These are SOOC (Straight-Out-Of-Camera). The left photo was taken with the older EF lens used with the adapter ring, and the image on the right is the newer RF version designed for mirrorless cameras.

As I was preparing to shoot for this article, I was confident I knew where I would fall on the matter. Even as I took these images and imported them to have a closer look, I found myself mentally sifting through title ideas: “save your money for gas…” The images looked the same. Big surprise. I’m not a gearhead. I never have been. I care about gear insomuch as I can produce the quality of work I want. I’m not the kind to buy the newest shiny toy every time B&H drops their weekly newsletter in my inbox. But then, something happened. I zoomed in.

The left image is shot with the EF 24-70mm and the adapter. You can see the problem of the focus falling off on the edges. On the right image, shot with the RF 24-70mm, you can see the edges retain their sharpness and detail

One of the reasons I never use my 24-70mm for product photography is because the focus falls off on the edges of the frame even with narrower apertures. I was surprised when I looked at all my images from this series and found the same result repeated: the edges were not losing focus. Though I was meticulously careful to keep all the settings the same, including my focal point, I was sure the stark difference was from a mistake I had made in focusing. The next day, when I was back in the studio, I did the test again with my product of the day. I was astonished to see the same results yet again: the edges were sharp.

The image on the top is the EF 24-70mm lens with the adapter ring. You can see here again where the focus falls off at the edges of the image. To my surprise, once again, the RF significantly out-performed the EF lens by retaining sharpness and detail. 

In addition to being surprised by the improved edge performance, I didn’t have any of the focusing issues I’ve found myself irked over. The focus was fast, quiet, and precise. Some upgrades that Canon boasts of with the RF upgrade are hard to measure in the studio. To name a few, though, they have upgraded the seals on the lens, which help prevent your lens from getting water damage, and they have greater vibration-proofing which means that the lens has better durability. If you’re a sports or event photographer, this is something that will come in handy for you. Canon also claims that this lens gives up to five stops of image stabilization correction, bringing it to a remarkable eight stops if combined with the stabilization of the R5 body.

Is it worth dropping over $2,000 on? I can’t answer that for you.

Everyone has different needs, budgets, and different levels of scrutiny on their work. Is it a big deal if you miss a few shots when the camera is struggling to find its focal point with the adapter ring? Do you have an unforgiving level of scrutiny on your images? If the answer to both of those is no, perhaps you should save for something more suited to your needs. If, however, you have found yourself at a shoot embarrassed, fiddling with your focus or sitting in Lightroom, flagging too many images for the bin, this is a well-invested upgrade. For me, it was such a better experience, I’m thinking of putting website blockers on B&H just so I don’t buy the whole RF suite. That’s impressive since I’m not a gearhead. 

Have you bought any of the RF lenses? If so, leave a comment and tell us what your upgrade experience has been.

Credits: FStoppers

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