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

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.

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. If you enjoyed this article and want to read more, you can click "Follow" below next to my name for more to come. 

Michelle VanTine's picture

Michelle creates scroll-stopping images for amazing brands and amazing people. She works with businesses, public figures, sports & products. Titled “Top Sports Photographers in Miami” in 2019 (#5) and 2020 (#4), she was the only female on the list both years. Follow the fun on IG @michellevantinephotography @sportsphotographermiami

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I just find that using RF lenses removes the extra step of mounting the adapter. I still have an EF 85mm which I use mainly for portraits. But, most of my shooting is done with my other lenses which are RF. The focusing is really quick and snappy especially after the last two firmware updates.

Agreed completely! Have you seen any quality upgrade in your images or is it too minute to notice?

I haven't noticed much beyond the fact that I can crop more with cleaner results than before. But, then again, I wasn't working with a 50MP camera before.

I just leave the adapter on the body and just change the lens like I would on an EF body.
I am sure the RF lenses are fadt focusing but my 100-400mm mii w/2xiii is amazingly fast on my R7.
So far plenty good for me and not doing it for money can see no reason for a RF lens. Images are sharper on the R7 as well.

We all have unique shooting stiles, priorities and needs. This is what worked for me. I have compared the new equivalent RF to all my current EF lenses. I decided it was not worth upgrading the EF 100 2.8L IS, the 16-35 4.0L IS nor my 85 1.4L IS. I got an adapter for each so there is not need to add/remove adapters. This was cheaper than replacing any of these three lenses. I purchased only 1 RF lens, the 100-500 and I am very happy with it. For what I shoot I may add a fast wide prime. The leading candidate is not even a Canon lens, but the Tamron 1.4. Summary: the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.

Yes agreed those are great points. I'm shooting with my Canon 100mm EF with the ring and it's hands down my absolute favorite still. I wonder if the RF is a notable difference but I'm not ready to dish out the money when I'm completely happy with the 100mm. The 24-70 - for me- was a big improvement as I shot a lot of flat lays

The increased flat field correction of the RF lens is obviously an advantage when shooting flat set pieces. But flat field correction often comes with a penalty of "busier" bokeh. It would have been interesting to see if a wide aperture shot of a close subject with bright highlights in the background would have looked smoother with the EF lens than the RF lens.

Was I supposed to see a difference? I think the author is trying to describe field curvature but I don't see any difference in the pictures.

Are you serious? I think you might need new glasses! The difference is huge. Look at any fine detail in any of the images in the corners.

Ah yes, fine detail in the corners, the cornerstone of any outstanding photograph.

In a product image that may be used in a magazine spread or even billboard? Fine detail in the corners absolutely matters. You can have critical subject matter right at the edge of frame in these type of photos, just like Michelle shows in her article.

Is this huge for a landscape photographer? Probably not, but for this type of work the difference is evident

100% I would ABSOLUTELY loose my contract if I turned in the images that fall out of focus on my specific clientele. Certain fields have different levels of scrutiny as you noted

Shooting many product shots wide open with a 24-70 lens are you? I would have thought any half decent, experienced photographer would stop down to at least f8 and ensure all of the subject is in focus, whilst also using some kind of prime lens to produce these images.

I agree Brodie. I'm really not a gear junkie. If something works- I don't find the need to upgrade. My Canon 100mm EF w the ring is still hands down my favorite go to. I had fully planned on writing this piece as a "save your money" piece. On camera as I was shooting they looked the same even. As Stuart noted some people don't have the need to have that high of level of detail on their work, but for me, If I turn an image into a client who's launching a national campaign with edges that are blurry... that's 100% being sent back. I was really surprised which is why I wrote the article

Crazy if you cannot see the difference, the author has made it very evident in the photos with the enlarged areas

This is good info. Especially for budget conscious photographers who still want great image quality while enjoying the benefits of EF mount lenses.

thank you I'm glad you enjoyed it. It depends as I mentioned, the level of scrutiny on your work, and also what you're using the lens for. As much as I adored my 24-70 upgrade I'm still using my 10mm with the ring and that is HANDS DOWN my absolute favorite. I find no reason at all to upgrade that one

I've found the RF16-35 f/2.8 shows an even bigger improvement wide open in the corners than the 24-70. It's actually a very good astro lens which can't be said of the EF version. I also have the 100-500. It's no sharper than the 100-400 but the lighter weight and the extra 100mm of reach made it worthwhile for me.

I love using my RF16-35 f/2.8 for landscapes and find it to be a great lens.

That will probably be my next upgrade... the 16-35. I love that lens and use it alot for sports. It has a lot of knicks and scatches. Thanks for sharing that

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you're referring to the RF 15-35, not 16-35. The extra millimeter at the wide end was what convinced me to make the purchase. I had never previously owned an f/2.8 zoom in this range, so I can't compare. Even though some of the reviews have not been extremely enthusiastic, I have no complaints. It gives me great images. The 100-500L-- probably my most used RF lens--is also fantastic. The extra 100mm makes all the difference. But my favorite is the 70-200. I was always put off by the bulk of 70-200 lenses and ended up selling my EF lens due to underuse. Now, I have no hesitation when a shoot calls for that range. Again, I don't know if the RF IQ is better, but it is no worst, and the compact package can't be beat.

I think your experience could be repeated with a whole host of lenses. Optically the difference was never going to be much of an issue, come on both L series glass, but performance is another thing. Both focus and tracking when using some adaptor is always going to introduce that potential weak link that feeds into one’s confidence. That is an issue for sure, confidence in your gear that negatively impacts on the weakest and most fragile link in any photographic chain, you the photographer.

That was so well worded! Maybe you should be a writer for Fstoppers!!!!

It's not the Canon EF-RF adapter. The older EF lenses all focus as well or better on the R5 with an adapter than they did on, say, a 5D Mark IV. The same EF lenses perform better in terms of AF speed/accuracy/consistency on a 1D X Mark III than they do on a 6D. No adapter is involved with either of those two cameras. It's the difference between the two cameras.

There's no dropoff in lens performance between using EF lenses on EF mount cameras and using EF lenses with a Canon adapter on RF mount EOS cameras. It's the faster, more accurate AF motors in most of the RF lenses, the better AF performance of the R5/R6/R3, and the faster communication speed between RF cameras and RF lenses that accounts for the difference. The EF lenses communicate with R-series cameras at the same slower speed they communicate with EF cameras.

Have you tried to turn of digital enhancement in the camera?

No I haven't

Then we don't know how good the lens really is.

And it may be that if the lens profiles are downloaded in DPP, the EF lens might do better.

It is not unknown that photographers preprocess images with DPP before working on them in PhotoShop.

I ditched all my ef lenses and went all in. 85mm rf 1.2 is a beast, so I returned it. I have the 100 Rf macro. Does flowers and portraits. Lovely. 15-35 rf is incomparable. Have trouble taking it off my camera. Walk around 24-105 rf is way better than the one it replaces and demonstrably better. I also have the 35mm rf which is the new nifty fifty, light and efficient, macros or whatever. 50mm 1.2 rf, my favorite of all time. And the 70-200 rf 2.8 makes the older one look older. These lenses have a life of their own. I shoot something everyday. The quality of life out of the camera is just different and the focusing much more accurate and faster.

I just traded in my EF 100 Macro and got the RF version. Again, focusing is just faster. I even used it for a portrait shoot!

Oh wow!!!!! You're making me want them ALL!!!! My 16-35 I use for sports a lot and it's taken a beating. When I upgrade next I think that will be the one!

Maybe I got lost when you didn't identify if you were talking about the EF or RF lens. Unless I misread the article, the impression I got was the RF lens was superior to the EF in every way and while that wouldn't have shocked me, it would be nice to wrap up the article with clear descriptions of the 2 versions of the lens. Didn't you say that the RF lens was clearly superior to the EF version? A lens is designed for a specific piece of hardware and just offering an adapter doesn't magically improve the lens. Plus the design of the lenses is likely decades apart. With new computer modeling, lens designs can only get better.

I use an R5 with the 24-70 RF 2.8 lens and also have the 16-35 RF and a 100-500 RF. Certainly a fixed focal length lens designed for the specific camera will typically outperform a zoom but I find I typically stick with my RF 24-70 for virtually all my work. When I can take a full-length shot of a model and blow it up until the eyelashes fill the screen and are tack sharp tells me what I want to know.

What is perfect for one photographer will sometimes suck for another and you can't just say this is the best lens to use. As a long-time Canon shooter, I used to carry three F1's with three different lenses hanging around my neck. Being able to replace three cameras with one is a great plus. In addition, being able to store 2,500 50 Mb images on my memory card certainly improves my workflow.

I notice everyone is talking about the RF 16-35mm.
It's actually 15-35mm, that one mm is a big deal at the wide end.
I bought the 15-35mm and it's amazing, but amazingly expensive too.
I got mine as used mint/returnable on eBay and it's lovely.
There's also a RF 14-35mm f/4 that's still spendy but less than the 15-35mm.
There's no RF 16-35mm.

That's interesting that they widened it. In your opinion was it worth the upgrade?

I'd say yes, but I didn't have the 16-35 to compare LOL

I'm wondering why you didn't go for a tiltshift lens for product photography, like the good old TS-E 90mm f2.8 (as it's far cheaper than the newer version, which is semi macro, and, of course, sharper and way more expensive).
Anyway, one buys what one needs. I sold my 24-70/f2.8 ii to get the RF 24-105/4 for flexibility when travelling and I don't regret it (well, most of the time). Thanks for the information on the RF 24-70/2.8.

I suppose I have mostly thought of those for usage in architectural work. It might be something to try. I mostly prefer my 100mm lens for product work

Well, the 100mm is a good choice, of course, but for sharpness combined with a great depth of field the tilt function is very handy, as you can use a large aperture avoiding a decline in sharpness when stopping down very much. Of course it also depends on your style.
A german jeweller I know shoots her work primarily with the 100mm macro lens, so if it works for you, let it work.

Macro lenses tend to be tuned to perform best at shorter subject distances. TS-E lenses are optimized for longer subject distances. If doing flat set work where the camera sensor and flat set are parallel, tilt does not offer any advantage.

I bought an R5 and at first just worked with the 24-70. It felt transformational. Mostly the speed, ease of use, consistent, amazing, image rendering. I didn't know if it was objectively better than anything else I had ever worked with, but I could tell that it fit the way I see and do things better than other systems I had worked with (Nikon, Fuji, previous Canon systems). It was the first time a camera system felt like a completely intuitive extension of myself. I decided to go all in and bought the 15-35, then the 100-500, then the 100. All....amazing. They do what I always wanted lenses in those ranges to do, and do them extraordinarily well. I mostly do landscape, woodland, and macro photography. I added the 35 macro. - the only non "L" glass I have for my Canon kit. Love that as well! Mostly use it for taking pictures of stuff I sell on Ebay, but it's a great walk around lens when you want a smaller kit. I've sold everything else and just shoot with this system and a Leica Q2/ m when I am creating black and white images.
I found this article spot on. I borrowed a bunch of EF lenses to see if I could save some dollars going that direction. EF lenses are good. For me, it was worth it to get native glass for the R5.

Excellently written Bill, maybe you should be an FStoppers writer! I completely share your feeling about the new lens. I wasn't expecting very much from the upgrade but I was extremely surprised. Now I'm eying the 15-35. I just bought the Lindsay Adler Optical snoot by Westcott 2 weeks after the RF- so I have to be a good girl and wait. But I do think the 15-35 will be my next upgrade. Thank you for your well written feedback!

Nobody is shooting product photography at f2.8. Sports photography with a 16-35 is not common, usually just as a remote. The 70-200 doesn't always work well for group shots, especially if lighting is involved. Nobody is going to really notice quality issues with an EF 24-70 on the R, especially after post processing assuming you have that skill. R lens are over-priced and the real benefit won't be known until higher newer bodies are introduced in the 70-100mb range.

You must no know very many pro sports photographers! Definitely not the not at 2.8 aperture setting for the shot- that's just the name of the lens.

You've obviously never shot NBA or college basketball from court side. Not all sports are field sports!

it's virtually impossible to tell the difference between the two lenses without a lot of magnification

real differences are neither consistent nor demonstrative

Its a useful article. Both lens are great, and even though the RF is better, its hard to justify almost double the price given how you can get a used EF mkii for around $1,200. I am slowly shifting to RF lens now because they are generally more compact and i dont need to use the adapter. But am not really in a rush to replace my entire kit.

I think this is a perfectly worded perspective. I have a whole slew of EFs that do a fantastic job and I'm not feeling a huge need to drop thousands at once to have the newest and shiniest.

Absolutely! As business hopefully continues we'll get more RF glass. But right now the EF L are still amazing. Like my older EF lens, the RF will pay for themselves over the years and still retain their value.

Am I the only one concerned that it is a comparison between an OLDER EF lens and a new RF? Any used zoom lens, even an L Series, can lose alignment which usually shows the most at the edges. Also, once it loses its new lens smell, realignments don't always last. Finally, one would hope that a new lens on a new camera with updated firmware would be faster focusing than an older lens on a control ring. I'd enjoy a comparison of new lenses on new cameras. Great pieces of equipment are great, until they're not.

I find the point of comparing a lens that many own to a new one very valid, contrary to you. The article shows very well what the difference is. Many people might be asking themselves if it is worth upgrading their lens and they get input here.

Thank you! That was the purpose of the article... is it worth dropping the money for the upgrade.

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