Photography & Filming

We Review the 2002 Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 Lens: A Reliable Performer

Why would anyone shot with an antique lens from the days of Britney spears and the spice girls? Well, while our opinions of their music might differ, we call can agree that the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 is still an awesome lens, despite being as old as Nickelback’s “How You Remind Me”.There are two reasons someone would use old gear over new one: they’re broke, or they’re allergic to spending money. I’ve been both, and this lens has seen me go broke as well as become very money-conscious because of it. The one thing I learned from living off baked beans and bread was that you don’t spend money on something unless you absolutely have to. So to clear out any questions on why I haven’t upgraded, I will say that I don’t see the upgrade as my top priority. The Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 is plenty good to be a lens in a professional’s arsenal in 2023.

Now let’s get to the meat of the review and see where this lens shines and where it falls short. On the upside, it is perhaps the most cost-effective 24-70mm f/2.8 you can buy. On the downside, it is not the sharpest lens available compared to modern units. Then again, how bad can it be? Let’s see.

The Pros

Build Quality

First things first this lens is built like a tank. As you can see from my very copy, this lens can take quite the beating. This lens outlived camera bodies, intense international travel, drunk people at events, me falling on it, and a lot of more embarrassing things. I really can swear by its reliability. Even after the plastic snapped, I just put some tape over it and it was back to normal. The optics and internals were not damaged a bit.

The lens is made out of metal and plastic, featuring a metal lens mount which adds a lot of years to the longevity. After so many years, the lens still feels extremely smooth on the zoom ring. It also felt smooth on the focus ring before I taped over it. Compared to a lot of other L lenses of that time, it feels much nicer. For example, the EF 24-105 f/4, while featuring IS feels a little more stubborn and hard to manipulate. Another benefit is the metal filter threads. Unfortunately, mine have been bent at this point, but unlike a plastic thread, I bent mine back in shape.

Compared to the new Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 II, this lens is far better built. This is a real bummer for me as you’d expect newer designs to be an improvement of the old ones, not the opposite.

Lastly, a word has to be said about the weather sealing of this lens. A few wildlife and sports photographers have said that they have shot in pouring rain with this and never had any issues. The most I’ve done is some rain, but then again, I never had any issues either. Just make sure to use it with the lens hood to be fully sure that nothing is getting between the two barrels.


The focal length range of this lens is perhaps one of the reasons it is so popular among so many photographers. While I tend to prefer specialized equipment over general one, I can’t find a single lens that does as good of a job as the 24-70mm. you can use it for anything from light macro photography to group pictures, to landscape. My copy of this lens lives on the camera and I never think about getting a different lens out on most productions. The wide aperture makes it suited for low-light work, while the zoom range means you can conrol your composition very well and photograph without having to crop in the future. This lens alone is enough reason to not use a dozen primes for me.


Lasnlt’y one of the big pros of the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8 is the price it retails at. Currently, you can find a used copy in good condition for anywhere between $700-$1,000 USD. What is crazier, you might get lucky and find one for $500, which was my case. Compared to other lenses that offer similar performance, this one is nearly impossible to beat price-wise.

The Cons


This lens performs really well at f/2.8 at all zoom ranges. Lens sharpness really doesn’t change that much between f/2.8-f/11, after which you might start seeing diffraction and unwanted loss of detail. I would not say that this lens is a bad performer, however of course as this is a review in hindsight, modern variants have to be considered. And the truth is that yes version II of this lens is sharper by a lot. Yet again, lens sharpness is almost a made-up concept that is confused with scene sharpness. You might have the best glass on the block, but if your subject is moving too fast, or perhaps the flash duration is too long, or the focus is slightly off, lens sharpness won’t make any difference. This is exactly why when I worked with top-of-the-range Profoto Pro-11 packs and a static subject, I captured my sharpest work on a not-so-sharp lens. 


This becomes a big con if you are shooting on film. The images vignertte a lot at 24mm f/2.8. So much so that I would advise to not shoot film in this setting. Then again, if you are on a digital camera with illumination control, you won’t see significant differences with vignetting. Another option is to shoot on an APS-C camera, which naturally captures a smaller image circle. In fact, if you are looking for the best performance from a full-frame lens, use that lens on a smaller sensor camera. It will capture only the strongest part of the image circle, leaving out the corner vignetting and sharpness.

Newer Versions Are Better

This lens is aging, and version II, let alone the RF, offers significantly better optical quality. It is sharper in the corners, as well as far better at resolving fine detail. So much so, that you might be surprised by how good the RF glass is if you’ve never used it before. Again, though, this depends largely on the style of your work. If you are someone who crops heavily, pixel-peeps, or just values detail a lot, the EF 24-70mm f/2.8 I is not for you. If you can justify the upgrade to sharper and better glass from this relatively old inexpensive one, go for it. Some time ago I was pondering an upgrade to version II, however, I found it hard to justify given the type of content I am shooting.

What I Liked

  • Build Quality
  • Reliability
  • Price

What Could Be Improved

  • New versions are better 
  • Sharpness (compared to modern variants) 
  • Vignetting

Closing Thoughts

Unlike the music of 2002, this lens is as relevant today as it was back then. It is a well-built unit that can withstand years of use without worry. As a professional photographer, I value reliability over sharpness and vignetting which are fixable. Lastly, a thing I also value this lens for is the return on investment. Without this lens I would not be able to do a lot of my work, however version I is plenty for professional work in 2023 and I don’t see a reason to upgrade in most cases.

What do you think about the Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8? Is it outdated, or do you still use it for your photography? Let us know in the comments below!

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