My story of the Canon 24-70 f/2.8l USM

So there I was, strolling down the aisles of a used camera shop when suddenly I hit the Canon lenses.  Being that I was a proud new owner of an EOS 7D from December '10, I decided to peruse and gander.  To my surprise, there were a lot of junk lenses that people wouldn't even wave a stick at (28-80 f3.5 to whatever, 18-55 kits, a few busted 50mm f1.8s which aren't that bad if they're new being that I actually own one), but then at the far right there were the real gems (telephotos from 135 f/2l all the way up to the 70-200s).  Disregarding both extremes, I focused more on the middle section - lo-and-behold, the 24-70mm f/2.8l USM.

I've always been a big fan of standard zooms as well as primes, but being that the readily available standard zooms are quite unforgiving when it comes to detail and contrast, you really have to look at the Ls to find something real.  The EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 IS USM is quite frankly the only one that people should really even consider (if you're not full frame, that is) but that lens just wasn't available to me at the time.  And prior to the purchase of which I'll mention later, I highly contemplated a 24-105 f/4l IS USM as my standard zoom, but that's a whole other review.  That's where the 24-70 came in.  On a crop factor sensor this is actually a 38.4 - 112mm range which YES YES I KNOW is not very useful, but to be honest I've given up on landscape photography.  I'm trying to focus more on street and portraiture work, which makes this lens perfect.  38.4 is close to the 40-50mm that mimics human eye-sight, 112 (at f/2.8 even) makes some very pleasing head/shoulder work, and then there's everything in-between.

As for image quality, pics come in clear from f4 to f11, while f2.8 is a tad on the soft side with notice-able chromatic ab.  If you're considering this lens over the f4l, make sure to remember that while this is better in low-light, stopping down to f4 would benefit a lot.  that being said, the f4l 24-105 would need to be stopped down to f5.6 to also combat softness but makes up for it with image stability, therefore evenly matching the low-light capabilities between these two lenses in my opinion.  Vignetting isn't a problem anywhere after wide-open at 24mm, and not even noticeable on a crop-body so it's not even worth mentioning.

That's not to say there are no cons to this lens.  It's HEAVY.  2 pounds.  2.  Plus that 7D and it's battery, it equals roughly 4 pounds aka a 6-pack.  You're carrying a 6er of Bud up to your eye and trying to hold it steady for 1/100th of a second.  It's big too.  I got average-sized hands, but I can't even wrap my fingers around it's frame, let alone find a place to rest them while cradling it.  The zoom ring, which I'll explain in the following paragraphs, is super tight, but will probably loosen up in time.  But besides these things, I can't find anything else to gripe about, really.

So anyways, back to the story.  As I ask the clerk to show me the lens, I immediately go online on the mobile phone and research used prices for this lens (which I'll divulge was purchased for around 900USD) and found most of them hovering around 1100 in lightly used/mint condition, while a new one retails for around 1600-1700.  Keep in mind that this lens IS used, but this is what it had to show for it - No lens pouch.  Smudge scars on the lens hood.  fingernail scratch on the frame where the red ring lies.  THAT'S IT.  Glass was pristine (and you can tell cuz the previous owner even included a UV Filter) both front and rear, no dust, no smudges, not even a nick on the outer frame or wear on the metal mount.  Nothing.

Going over every single detail of the lens, I noticed the serial number and production date beginning with US03, meaning it's 7 years old, born on March of 2004.  That means that the lens was 2 years newer than it's first generation after it replaced the 28-70, so it gave Canon time to adjust accordingly.  So here I was, holding a 7 year old 900g piece of metal, plastic, and ultra-low dispersion (UD) glass when suddenly it hit me; this is a DEAL.  This is what those auction sites list as "like-new" condition.  The tag listed this as a rank B lens, where S is new, A is mint condition, AB is slightly used, and B following accordingly (and just for reference, C is when there are noticeable scratches and/or detrimental wear).  So what was wrong with it?  I was soon to find out.

I bought it.  Cash.  Brought it home, took it out the same night, went over to a friend's house to shoot his 2 year old kid, brought it back and found out.  This punk-bastard is SOFT.  f2.8 was the worst which I expected, but even at 5.6 and f8 the edges just weren't crisp enough for me.  I couldn't decipher text, the corners blended like mayo and butter on a flapjack, and worse of all there was CA to boot!  CA on soft edges!  At f8!  What the hell can I do with that!?

Re-reading the reviews I had previously read, I found that a lot of people had "bad copies" which in the layperson's terms means "a lemon."  I was out of luck.  I admitted to the fact that that's why I paid such a low premium for it.  I was then planning my escape route; 'maybe I can sell it by auction' which immediately made me realize why there were so many samples when I researched.  They were selling off the 'bad copies.'  Crap.  They had a secret and I was about to have one as well.

Then it dawned on me: Canon should man up for this!  A multi-billion dollar company like Canon wouldn't just let this slide, they must have a way to combat this.  Enter Canon Marketing and Service Center.  Residing in Osaka, Japan I was lucky to have a Canon Headquarters only a few stops away from my apartment, so I decided a trip down there might solve a few problems.

Arriving I was greeted (regularly) by random Japanese businessmen behind the counter looking through customers' lenses like telescopes when suddenly I was called over by a young, perky Japanese business women, who couldn't have been more than 25 years old.  "What seems to be the problem" is what she immediately asked me in Japanese which I found odd being that it's not a common thing for Japanese people to do; they would ask what they can do for you rather than assume something is wrong but being that this was a service center, I shrugged it off and took it with a grain of salt.  I told her that the images were soft, CA was high for my expectations, and that (which I only realized the night before) the zoom barrel made a scratching noise as it reached the 24mm extension mark, followed by a clunk as I lowered the camera passed 60 degrees of declination and again with inclination.  The girl replied that it's probably due to wear and tear, and I retorted (with her muttering the exact same thing at the exact same time) that it's probably due to the fact that the previous owner held it near his side as he walked around.  This was proven when the camera's scratching noise was most profound when held in portrait position.  Try it, pick up your camera now and hold it to your side by your pocket.  Portrait orientation, right?  Good, now imagine 7 years of that.  I then held the camera upside down and anti-portrait (180 degrees from how you would hold it vertically) and the scratching noise was gone.  To be honest, it felt like new.

The girl then pulls out a pricing book and explains that if the camera needs repair, the prices shown would be what I would expect.  Things looked grim.  50USD for gaskets? 150 for glass elements?  I won't even mention the price to replace the UD element.  I asked her what I should expect and she said that it's probably just a loose roller due to a screw or a worn guide-track.  40 bucks.  Hmm, ok.  But then she said that that's just for the part - disassembly would cost 130USD to begin with.  That means, the guy sitting in front of my lens, contemplating would would be wrong with it, would theoretically be making $130USD to find out.  Not bad of a gig.

I bit the bullet.  "Let's do it."  I didn't want to have to find a way to sell this lens.  "So max is maybe $200?  $250?" She replied with a very clever but ultimately angering response: "I don't know, but I can tell you the minimum is $130."  Good thing her smile calmed me down, enough for me to not want to burn the counter to ashes right then and there.

She looked down at my camera bag and noticed that I had brought my 7D as well, with a 50mm f/1.8 attached.  "If you'd let me, I could also calibrate your lenses and camera for you, free of charge.  This is a standard practice at Canon and we do it for all of our customers as a gratuity for considering a repair."  Why not, I figured.  Hey, maybe that's all it was: just a need for calibration.  Who knows, maybe $130 for a calibration would be... no wait that's still too expensive.  Sigh.  Whatever girl, just fix it.

They did.

5 days later I receive an e-mail stating that the repair has been completed, and that (being that the factory is not more than a few miles away from the service center) my camera was ready to be picked up.  I was excited to say the least, with a Mastercard in my hands.  I arrive and the same girl greets me with that same smile.  "I have good news.  Your lens is back!"  She reaches down and grabs 2 shrink-wrapped bricks: one with the 7D and 50mm, the other with the 24-70.  "Please check it." and slides me a CF memory card.  Sandisk Extreme III 8gb.  Wow, uh, thanks.  All I needed was a dinky 512MB one, but ok.  The lens is unwrapped.  The 7D is waiting.  I unmount the 50, mount the beast, rotate and "click." I immediately grab the zoom ring.


One word repeated in my head: "Mint."  It felt like new and yes, I went to various camera shops and felt what a new one felt like for comparison reasons.  It felt almost a little too tight.  "That'll loosen up in time" she replies.  I snap a couple of pics of the customer standing next to me.  The fern in the corner.  The door frame I entered through.  The edges of the carpet.  Everything, looked, crispy.  Even the customer's balding head shone a few fibers of hair, glistening in the fluorescent lighting just fighting their way through to freedom.  "This is incredible" I stated, to which she replied "Yokatta!" ("I'm glad!"), again not a standard reply for business.

Then she slides the bill over.  17995yen, which is roughly $200USD.  Hmmm.  Wasn't that exactly how much was guessed?  So let me get this straight, they are NOT trying to dick me out of money?  She actually told me the possible price, and it was true?  Wow.  Thanks.   "It looks like the guide-track holding the zoom barrel was ... uh... mamou?  I don't know how to say that in English." (iPhone app 'Kotoba!' reads 'wear.  abrasion.')  So... what you're saying is that what you told me 5 days ago was exactly correct?  Then under closer inspection, they even went ahead and wiped down the filter I had on - I recalled a few smudges I just couldn't get out of the edges around the rim.  The 50mm was also spot-less, as was the front and top screens on the 7D.  "Oh, also a calibration was done for all of your equipment."  Really?  Damn.  Uh, thanks.

So there you have it.  Canon service center.  One step towards in the right direction to a more civilized society where repairmen are honest, trustworthy, on-time, and OCD-like keen to details.  Now, sitting on my desk on top of brochures and next to a can of Pringles is a TRUE pristine condition, like-new, MINT, 24-70mm f/2.8l USM for a grand total of $1100 and the sharpest pics this side of Cracker Barrel cheddar.

Oh and by the way yes I did ask the girl for her contact info and yes she did give it to me but I think she's married.  Go figure.

Test shots to follow.  Pics of Canon girl will not be included.