Introduction

Contax zeiss 21mm f2.8 Distagon v Canon 24mm f1.4 L Mark 1
[published february 2007]

Whatever the reason for which Canon’s 24mm L languishes under a cloud of general dissatisfaction, the sole sample we’ve put through its paces has proven to be an outstanding performer, sweeping all before it in the 24mm World Cup, besting the shiny new Zeiss ZF 25mm and earning a secure berth in the camera bag. Given its unique speed advantage, full auto-compatibility and weather sealing, it’s made itself indispensable for architectural and low light work on full frame, and it’s very much at home on an APS-sensor body.

Apparently, this isn’t good enough for some.

More accurately, we’ve received many emails from 24L owners, the majority of which bemoan that they’re not seeing anything like the results this particular sample delivers. I hope this test will lay to rest any doubts about its ability. If the lens is prised from the clutches of my cold dead hands, look out for serial 26686 date stamped US0901 on the used market, incidentally.

I’ve become so confident in the ability of this lens that I was curious to shoot a like for like test with the acknowledged master of this focal length (give or take): the Zeiss Distagon 21mm f2.8 on a Pham Minh Son adaptor. I can only give an impression of how they perform: unresolvable framing and perspective difficulties prevent precise comparison. However, a little judicous foot zooming and tripod cranking will give us a moderately level playing field. Though the difference between 21mm and 24mm is far greater than the different between 25mm and 28mm, in reality only about one metre more elbow room was required for the 20m distant subject to approximate the same framing.

Make no mistake, do not misunderestimate the purpose of this mini-review: we know the outcome in broad terms before we begin: the Canon will be punished by this comparison – what we’re looking for is an honourable accounting of itself in the face of insuperable opposition.

Tests conducted with a Canon 5D: all files shot at ISO100 with mirror lock on a Manfrotto/Bogen tripod with Acratech ball head, white balance set manually to daylight and captured in Adobe RGB. In camera settings were as standard, bar contrast reduction of -3 and saturation boosted +1. RAW files were developed through Phase Capture One (with shadow extraction) via Magne Neilsen’s profiles (high-saturation) into the ProPhoto colour space at 8-bit. All images received USM of 125/0.3/3.