24-70mm Lens Buyers Guide (Why You Need One & Best Models)
A 24-70mm could be the only lens you ever need, but what makes them so popular? Discover the best 24-70mm lenses for Canon, Nikon, Sony and more.
By Usnea Lebendig
The 24-70mm lens is literally one of the most popular zoom lenses on the market. Just about every pro who works on location has some form of this iconic lens in their kit.
In this article, we’ll take a look at why the 24-70mm lens is so popular, list the best options for leading brands, and immerse ourselves into everything related to this versatile wide-angle to mid-range telephoto lens.
So if you’re wondering why you need a 24-70mm lens or which 24-70mm is best, read on to find out!
Best 24-70mm Canon Lenses
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM
The Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens is the gold standard for Canon DSLRs. Images shot with this beauty come out remarkably crisp and clear. The color quality is out of this world, the AF speed is fantastic, and believe it or not, the image sharpness just about rivals that of a prime lens.
It’s solidly built, weather-sealed, and has protective fluorine coatings on all exposed elements.
At just under $1900, this is no cheap lens, but you get what you pay for in terms of image quality, performance, and lens construction.
The only real drawback of the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II is that it doesn’t come with image stabilization.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM
Don’t need a fast lens? You can get a Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM lens for a fraction of the price of the f/2.8L II.
But the price isn’t the only reason to buy this little beauty: it’s smaller and lighter than its faster sibling, has a maximum magnification of .70xmm for super close-up shooting, and best of all, comes with image stabilization.
Unfortunately, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM isn’t so easy to find these days. With a little searching, though, you should be able to find it used or refurbished for under $600.
Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2
The best third-party lens for a Canon camera is the Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2. It has all the excellence of the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, but adds in 4-stops of camera shake compensation.
The Canon f/2.8 wins out a slight bit on edge sharpness, but otherwise, the image quality is pretty comparable.
The clincher? The price! It’s a full $800 cheaper than its Canon counterpart.
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art Lens
For Sigma lovers, the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art Lens is the best option. It’s sharp, and has superb image quality, and comes with four stops of image stabilization.
You may have to tune the autofocus using the Sigma USB Dock, which isn’t included. Once tuned though, the AF on the Sigma 24-70mm is super fast and accurate – much like all the Sigma ART lenses.
Tokina 24-70mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro FX
The best Canon budget lens in this zoom range, the Tamron 24-70 f/2.8 is built like a tank. If you can get past the weight however, you’ll be sure to appreciate the $$ savings. With a little searching, you can find it new for under $800.
Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8L IS USM
Just about all Canon RF lenses are simply fantastic and the 24-70L is no exception. It has stunning image quality, fast and accurate autofocus, and image stabilization.
An added plus is that its minimum focusing distance is just 0.69ft. That won’t replace a macro lens, but you’ll be able to take some pretty stunning close-ups.
At just under $2300 it’s pricey, but that’s the nature of the beast with RF lenses – see more Canon lenses here.
Best 24-70mm Nikon Lenses
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8G ED
An oldie but goody, the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G is the industry standard for Nikon shooters. It has superb image quality, and along with the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 G2, it has the sharpest center of all the Nikon options.
It doesn’t have image stabilization, which is disappointing, but its fast and accurate AF, quality build, and excellent all-around performance make this lens hard to beat. You can usually find it for around $1800.
Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E VR
If you want image stabilization and prefer native lenses, you’ll have to bump up to the NIKKOR 24-70mm f/2.8E VR. It’s heavy and expensive, but a strong performer. It’s also sharper in the corners and edge to edge than its more compact sibling – especially when stopped down to f/5.6 and smaller.
Is the VR worth the extra $600? Only you can say. If you find yourself in dark conditions without a tripod more often than not, then probably yes. Otherwise, stick to the G series or take a look at the Tamron 24-70mm below.
Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 DI VC USD G2
If you’re not opposed to third-party lenses, the Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 is seriously hard to beat. Its image quality and center sharpness rivals that of the Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8G, but the Tamron version comes with VR…and it’s $700 less.
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Art Lens ($1099)
The Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 isn’t as strong a performer wide-open as the Nikon f/2.8G or the Tamron f/2.8. That being said if you tend to shoot stopped down a bit this lens is a fair choice. It’s fast, has excellent IS, and a reasonable price point.
Just make sure you have the Sigma dock so you can fine-tune the autofocus performance.
Tokina 24-70mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro FX
At around $800, the Tokina 24-70mm offers great optical quality for considerably less than the other f/2.8 options. It’s not as sharp as the Nikon f/2.8G ED or the Tamron, but it does just fine at f/5.6 and smaller apertures. It doesn’t come with IS.
Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S
For those shooting on a Nikon mirrorless camera, the Nikon Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S is an utterly fantastic lens. It has stunning optics, fantastic performance, and new coating technologies that make their debut with this lens.
Be prepared, though – at just under $2,300 your wallet will take a sizable hit.
Best 24-70mm Sony Lenses
The go-to 24-70mm lens in the Sony world is the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM. Super-sharp at all apertures except wide-open, this lens produces exceptional image quality, feels nice in the hand, and has outstanding build quality all the way around.
Doesn’t come with image stabilization, but since many Sony mirrorless cameras do, this likely won’t be an issue. Like most Sony GM lenses, though, it’s pricey (~$2000).
Tamron SP 24-70mm f/2.8 DI VC USD G2
The closest lens Tamron offers for Sony in this range is the SP 28-75mm. Light and compact, this sweet little lens is considerably lighter than just about any other option, has beautiful image quality, excellent bokeh, and Tamron’s specialized BBAR coating for controlling flares.
It also retails for less than $900 – half that of its Sony sibling.
Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 DG DN Art ($1010)
For Sigma lens lovers, the Sigma 24-70mm f/2.8 is your best option. It’s reputedly not as sharp as its Sony and Tamron competitors, but with proper tuning on the Sigma Dock (an extra $60 or so), it’s likely that this lens performs at the excellence expected of a Sigma Art lens.
Sony Carl Zeiss Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS
If you’re looking for a native Sony lens but don’t want to fork out the $2000 for the f/2.8 maximum aperture, the Sony FE 24-70mm f/4 is the next in line. At more than half the price of its faster sibling, it’s fast, sharp, and a bit lighter. It also comes with image stabilization.
Best 24-70mm (equivalent) Fujifilm Lenses
Fujifilm X-series cameras use a crop sensor (as opposed to full frame), but they’re of such quality we feel it would be remiss to leave them out of this list.
Fujinon XF16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR
The best Fujifilm equivalent to the pro-grade 24-70mm f/2.8 is the Fujinon XF16-55mm f/2.8. It has amazing sharpness at every focal length, lightning-fast autofocus, beautiful bokeh, and substantial resistance to chromatic aberration, ghosting and flare.
You also get a bit more zoom range on the far end, as it’s equivalent to 24-84mm on a 35mm camera.
The only drawbacks are its size and weight and lack of image stabilization.
Fujinon XF18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS
If the XF16-55 f/2.8 is too pricey for you or you’re looking for image stabilization, you can drop down to the XF18-55mm f/2.8-4.
Far from the “kit lens” some describe it to be, the XF18-55mm is well-designed, has excellent optics, and the OIS ensures that you can catch more usable shots handheld.
(Equivalent to a 27-85mm lens on a full-frame camera.)
Why You Need a 24-70mm Lens
Not sure if you need a 24-70 lens in your kit? Here are some of the top reasons to get one:
7 Pros of a 24-70mm
1. Fantastically Versatile
This particular focal range takes you from an angle wide enough for landscape photography to one narrow enough for portraits. In the middle, you get the “nifty fifty“, and at 70mm, there’s enough compression to make your foreground seem closer to the background for some dynamic portraits. It’s this versatility that makes it the “workhorse” of lenses for so many in the photography business.
2. It’s Fast!
The 24-70mm is physically short enough that you can move quickly through the entire zoom range in a split second. It also allows most cameras to focus quickly, something extremely beneficial in event and wedding photography, where things can change on a dime.
3. You Can Get CLOSE
Just about every 24-70mm lens has a surprisingly short minimum focusing distance, allowing for amazing close-ups.
4. Great for Beginners
Much of the focal range of the 24-70mm lies right in the range that corresponds to human vision. That means you don’t have to take issues like field of view, distortion, or compression into consideration, except when you’re at the extremes of the focal range.
5. Most are Seriously Built to Last
The lens construction on most 24-70mm lenses is particularly robust. (That’s one reason why they’re heavy.) Most are weather-resistant as well.
6. Great Ergonomics
The heft and weight of these zooms make them fit nicely in the hand.
7. Puts You “In the Action”
The 24-70 is designed to shoot in close quarters, making it easier to capture “in-the-moment” images that make the viewer feel like they are part of the action.
5 Cons of a 24-70mm
Good glass is pricey and the 24-70mm is no exception. The number and type of glass elements needed for consistent exceptional performance at both ends of its range, combined with its robust build, make the majority of these lenses pricey.
2. In Most Cases Primes are Sharper and Faster
No zoom can really match the optical quality a prime lens. While some of the highest-end 24-70mm lenses will be almost as sharp, none will focus as quickly.
Primes also aren’t as limited when it comes to maximum aperture and are significantly faster in terms of light gathering, making them superior when it comes to shooting in low-light situations.
If you invest in one of the f/2.8 lenses, you’ll be carrying around a fair amount of high-end glass that is neither small nor light. Don’t be surprised if you feel it after an all-day shoot.
4. May Not be the Focal Range You Need
Not everyone needs this particular focal range. For example, many landscape photographers will need a wider angle. Studio portrait photographers will usually want a lens with a focal length a bit longer. Wildlife and sports photographers will be looking more at lenses in the telephoto range.
5. Bokeh Doesn’t Compare to that of a Prime Lens
While f/2.8 does a reasonable job of isolating the subject from the background, it will never compare to the bokeh of an f/1.8 or f/1.4 prime.
24-70mm Lens FAQs
What is the 24-70mm lens good for?
The 24-70mm lens is great for event photography, portraiture, and walking around town when you don’t want to bother with changing lenses. It gives you maximum versatility with a single lens during photo shoots on location as well.
Is 24-70mm good for street photography?
The versatile focal length of the 24-70mm lens makes it excellent for street photography. It allows you to get everything from large scene shots to portrait close-ups, all without changing lenses.
Why is 24-70mm so expensive?
The quality of the optics combined with the solid build of 24-70mm lenses makes them particularly expensive. This is especially true of those with a constant maximum aperture of f/2.8.
Is 70mm good for portraits?
While many portrait photographers prefer longer focal lengths, 70mm works fine for most portraits.
So do you need a 24-70mm lens? Like everything else in digital photography, that depends on your subject matter and what types of images you’re looking to capture.
If you’re looking to get into event or wedding photography, then most likely yes. If you regularly do shoots where your subject matter changes quickly, then again, yes. Also, the 24-70mm is a great lens if you’re looking for an everyday carry.
If, however, you only shoot portraits and/or static subjects, you might want to stick to a few favorite primes. Both landscape photography and astrophotography will likely need a wide-angle zoom with shorter focal lengths.
One thing that is irrefutable though, is that versatility of this lens is a huge benefit when shooting on location, especially if you need to adapt quickly to changing situations. That’s the primary reason why wedding photographers simply love this lens.
What about you? Do you have one in your kit or intend to get one?
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