Which 24-105mm Lens Should I Get?

With a feature set tailor-made for general purpose use, it's no wonder that there are several Canon-mount 24-105mm lenses available for your consideration. But with so many options available, it can be confusing when trying to determine which 24-105mm zoom lens is the best choice for your particular needs. And considering that most of these lenses share a majority of significant specifications, including focal length range (FLR), max aperture (except for one), and built-in stabilization, it's easy to see why singling out the right lens could be a challenging endeavor.
 
With that in mind, let's dig into the differences between these very popular lenses to see which one might make the best addition to your kit.
 
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens
 
Announced in August 2016, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM is the newest lens in this comparison. As such, you may expect this lens to outperform the rest of the pack in just about every measureable way, having benefitted from the latest and greatest technological advancements. However, this lens' superiority is not so clear-cut.
 
From a sharpness perspective, the 24-105L IS II is very similar to its predecessor, a lens that was released 11 years prior to version II's introduction.
 
While that may sound a bit disappointing, keep in mind that the 24-104L IS USM was no slouch when it came to sharpness and version II brought forth other advancements – leading to reduced vignetting, distortion and flare – which adds up to an overall better image quality. IQ aside, version II also benefitted from build quality and design refinements as well as an upgraded Image Stabilization system capable of 4-stops of compensation (compared to version I's 3-stops). The 24-105L IS II is weather sealed, making it a great option for those who intend on photographing in inclement weather.
 
In other words, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM may not be significantly better than its predecessor, but with all things considered, it is indeed better. And considering that it debuted sporting an only slightly higher price than its predecessor, this lens provides an excellent standard (from performance and value standpoints) by which all other lenses in this category can be compared.
 
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens
 
Released in 2005, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM was the default full frame kit lens for more than a decade. As such, there are likely more 24-105Ls in the marketplace than any other L-series lens. Its versatility, reasonable price (especially if purchased via a white box sale) and solid performance made this an ideal general purpose lens for many photographers.
 
As mentioned above, the original 24-105L competes quite well from a sharpness perspective in regards to its predecessor. However, it does show more vignetting, distortion and flare compared to the same lens. Of course the 24-105L features a more classic design, but a more significant difference between it and its predecessor, as noted, is its 3-stop IS system compared to version II's upgraded 4-stop IS system. Like its successor, the 24-105L is also weather sealed (though a front filter is required for optimal sealing).
 
With version II becoming more widely available, though, you can expect the original version of the lens to be phased out in the not-so-distant future. This lens represents an excellent deal – especially when white box and grey market versions are considered – while it remains available.
 
Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM Art Lens
 
Announced in 2013, the 24-105 Art lens became Sigma's first stabilized full-format general purpose zoom lens. With a sleek design, high build quality, good image quality and a reasonable price, the 24-105 Art epitomizes the hallmarks of Sigma's Global Vision series of lenses.
 
With major features like focal length range, maximum aperture and built-in stabilization similar to the Canon L-series lenses, the Sigma represents an excellent value relative to its peers.
 
Compared to the 24-105 L II, the Sigma is slightly heavier, similar in size and lower priced. The Sigma has a higher MM (0.30x vs 0.24) to its advantage.
 
In the image quality comparison between the Art-series lens and the 24-105L II, we see the Sigma turning in slightly sharper results at the wide end, the two being very similar over most of the focal length range and the Canon taking the advantage at the long end. At 24mm, the Sigma has less CA and slightly more barrel distortion. The Sigma has slightly more vignetting at 24mm and modestly more at the long end. The Sigma is slightly more prone to flare.
 
We were pleased to find the Sigma 24-105 Art's AF performance to be quite good (often an issue with third-party lenses). It's not as fast as the Canon L-series lenses, but AF accuracy proved to be – for the most part – reliable in One Shot and AI Servo mode.
 
One drawback of the Sigma 24-105 Art – a lack of weather sealing – means that those photographers intending on photographing in adverse weather conditions may be better served by one of the Canon L-series options.
 
Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens
 
The Canon EF 24-105mm IS STM lens was announced in 2014 and, being a full-frame compatible lens with STM, foreshadowed the introduction Dual Pixel AF in Canon's future full-frame camera lineup (although it would be another 16 months before the EOS-1D X Mark II was announced).
 
Without the Luxury branding of a red ring around the end of the lens, it would be reasonable to expect the 24-105 IS STM to feature a lower build quality, inferior image quality and a lower price. In this case, however, only two out of three expectations would come to turn out to be definitively accurate.
 
The 24-105 IS STM indeed features a lower build quality and a lower price tag compared to its red-ringed counterparts, but... it performs competitively in regards to sharpness, vignetting, distortion and flare. Depending on which focal length and aperture you choose in the comparison between the 24-105 IS STM and 24-105L IS II, either could be slightly better than the other. As such, image quality alone should not be considered a primary differentiating factor.
 
Comparing the lenses further, the STM has less CA at 24mm and has slightly less pincushion distortion at mid and long focal lengths compared to the 24-105L IS II. The L lens has a wider aperture over the 42-105mm range, but the STM has a 1/3 stop advantage for a few mms (24-27mm) and has a higher MM (0.30x vs 0.24). The 24-105 IS STM is not a weather sealed lens and does not have a focus distance window.
 
Now would be a good time to address the elephant in the room – the 24-105 IS STM's variable max aperture with a 1-stop narrower max aperture (from 67-105mm) compared to the rest of the lenses mentioned above. This means that you'll need twice as much light using the same ISO and shutter speed with the 24-105 IS STM compared to using one of the f/4 max aperture lenses above (or to put it another way, you'll need a shutter speed twice as long or a 1-stop higher ISO to achieve the same exposure). The 1-stop narrower aperture can be especially detrimental if photographing in dimly-lit conditions.
 
On the plus side, the 24-105 IS STM includes Canon's stepping motor-driven AF system which allows for smooth and nearly silent autofocusing in video mode, a valuable feature for DSLR filmmakers.
 
Size and Weight
 
As is evident by the image atop this post, the Canon 24-105L IS II is the longest lens in this comparison, the Sigma 24-105 Art is the widest and the 24-105 IS STM is the shortest. Indiscernible by the picture, the Sigma Art lens is also the heaviest.
 
ModelWeightDimensions w/o HoodFilterYear 
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM Lens28.1 oz(795g)3.3 x 4.6"(83.5 x 118mm)77mm2016
Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM Lens23.7 oz(670g)3.3 x 4.2"(83.5 x 107mm)77mm2005
Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM Lens18.5 oz(525g)3.3 x 4.1"(83.4 x 104mm)77mm2014
Sigma 24-105mm f/4.0 DG OS HSM Art Lens31.2 oz(885g)3.5 x 4.3"(88.6 x 109.4mm)82mm2013

Summary
 
While there are minor differences, as reiterated throughout this comparison, image quality is not likely a determining factor when deciding among these lenses. As such, other factors – such as max aperture, image stabilization performance, weather sealing and price – become more prominent factors.
 
With all things considered, most will find the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM to be the best fit for their needs as long as the budget stretches to its (very reasonable) price tag. If the budget is limited, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM and Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG HSM Art remain very solid options, with the Canon lens being our preference thanks to its weather sealed design. On the other hand, if DSLR filmmaking is a high priority, the Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM will likely be the best choice, forgoing the f/4 constant maximum aperture in favor of a smooth and quiet AF system.
Posted: 5/8/2017 8:51:00 AM CT   Posted By: Sean
Posted to: Canon News
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