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Fast 24s, Surprisingly Cool

Over the years I have shunned the 24mm focal length. Now to be clear, I do like the focal length but back in my hard core film days shooting Canon F-1 and T90 bodies with FD glass, I shot almost exclusively primes. In fact at one point I owned 19 lenses for the Canon FD system and 17 were primes. I did not however own a 24mm lens. Now I did Jones a bit for Canon’s FD 24/1.4 L back in the day but that lens cost more than a block of gold and I was happy with my FD 28/2.0 and my FD 20/2.8. I should have sold those two and got the L, but I never did.

Back in those days my reasoning was that the 24 was just a tad too wide for any kind of people images or a standard wide shot like you get with a 35mm or 28mm. You had to be mindful of tilting the camera to avoid too much of that stretched or leaning back look. Yet it wasn’t wide enough to really exaggerate it like the ultra wide 20mm or even wider lenses could. So I always thought of 24mm as that in between wide angle that didn’t really know what it wanted to be. If I wanted to really stretch things out, I’d reach for one of my three ultra wides which were the 20/2.8, 17/4.0, and 14/2.8.

Of course being the in between was the whole point of the 24mm. It was versatile and I missed out on some amazing shots I could have gotten with the FD 24/1.4 L. Even in the auto focus EF era which is now well over 30 years old, I still hadn’t ponied up the coin for the EF 24/1.4 L.

Well, Canon has a Mark II version of the EF 24 L now and at the last PhotoFair show in Newark, I found a guy with the Mark I sitting on his table. It was just the way I like ’em, a little beat up with clean glass. He was asking about $500 for it and we wheeled and dealed a bit until we agreed on $400. Suddenly I had a 24mm F/1.4 L. Nice thing about PhotoFair is you can see it, touch it, test it out. I did, and it was all good.

Well I’m here to tell you that having a fast wide angle is amazing. Who would of thought you could shoot a 24mm lens and have a meaningful discussion about the quality of the bokeh? Well even a 24mm lens can throw the back ground out of focus at 1.4. This older Mark I lens has a minimum focus distance of about 9 inches. You can get pretty darn close. Close focus coupled to that 1.4 opening leads to reasonably soft backgrounds.

I do a fair bit of reading about lenses, including some of those comprehensive lens tests on sites like DXOmark and DP Review. This Mark I lens was universally loved when it came out in 1997 but as digital cameras improved the lens began to show its weaknesses. It is sharp but not super sharp in the center and it is pretty soft on the corners wide open. In 2008 the mark II came out and was widely considered to be a vast improvement.

With that in mind I was a bit nervous about how this lens would perform. I do like a good sharp image. When I got the lens back home I started playing around with it and after a short while I was feeling like, “where have you been all my life?” So it is true this lens at F1.4 is a tad soft even in the center and pretty soft on the corners. But it controls distortion really well and doesn’t flare unless you shoot into a crazy lighting situation and even then it is well controlled. At F/2.8 it is tack sharp in the center and very sharp in the corners. Notice I said a “tad” soft. It is not soft but it does miss some fine details that some of my sharper lenses will resolve. The first picture I have below is taken at the minimum focus distance wide open, which is about the worst scenario to expect sharp images, yet it is sharp. Not tack sharp, but sharp.

This is a fun lens and I am quite happy to own it. Users of other camera systems can get a lens like this as well. Nikon has a 24/1.4, Sony has one, and Sigma makes an Art 24/1.4 for Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sony FE.

Kodak Signet, EOS-R 24/1.4 L at F/1.4 near minimum focus of 9 inches

Muffin in the bathroom, EOS-R 24/1.4 L at F/1.4

Betsy, EOS-R  24/1.4 L at F/1.4

Leaves in the yard, EOS-R  24/1.4L at F/2.8

Why Buy a Canon EOS-R?

EOS-R with LTM 50 F1.2 on helicoil adapter

Last year Canon introduced its first full frame mirrorless camera body. Canon was no stranger to mirrorless, in fact other than Sony they had more mirrorless bodies in production than any other brand. But unlike Sony, Canon waited a long time to go big on the sensor. This gave Sony a huge edge having a five year head start on Canon in the full frame mirrorless space. Sony was further enabled by virtue of their semi-exclusive deal with Carl Zeiss for high end glass to rival Nikon and Canon’s best. When both Canon and Nikon entered the full frame arena, they were five years behind on glass, or were they?

Both Nikon and Canon have adapters that allow the use of the old DSLR lenses on the new mirrorless bodies. But Nikon is at a severe disadvantage versus Canon regarding the use of legacy glass. Nikon’s beleaguered F mount dates to 1959 and most of the lenses that utilize the mount will only work in a very limited fashion on the new mirrorless Z cameras. The newer AF-I, AF-S and AF-P lenses work very well. For Canon any EOS-EF mount lens ever made will work on the EOS-R with the adapter. On day one Canon had the entire catalog of EF lenses dating to 1987 that worked on the EOS-R and they work better on the EOS-R than they do on the cameras they were actually designed for!

The biggest advantage to the mirrorless bodies is the short back focus of 16mm – 20mm depending on brand. This shorter flange distance has two excellent benefits, one is that lens designers are able to produce vastly superior performing lenses when they don’t have to work around a mirror box. This shorter flange distance has the PhotoFair favorite advantage and my personal fav as well: you can adapt old school rangefinder lenses and nearly any lens in fact to work on the body. The other advantage to mirrorless is the fact the the camera focuses right off the sensor itself rather than through a mirror system that can become out of alignment with the sensor requiring tedious focus correction procedures.

Now before I go on, any person currently using Sony mirrorless or Nikon DSLRs quite likely should stay with their current brand. Nikon DSLR users with a heavy investment in premium Nikon glass definitely ought to stick with Nikon. Canon DSLR owners ought to stick with Canon as well, duh. But why buy a EOS-R if you have a perfectly good working Canon DSLR? Well friends, that is the question of the day.

Lets be real clear, “Bones” McCoy said this about the DSLR “He’s dead, Jim.” OK he was actually talking about an unfortunate red shirt, but the words ring true for the single lens reflex design. Mirrorless is the future of professional and serious amateur photography.

Canon and Nikon both decided to use a wide lens mount. Canon already had an enormous 54mm wide mount on the EOS cameras and they used it to great effect with some of the fastest SLR glass ever made! Nikon went an extra 1mm to 55mm on the Z mount. Canon unlike Nikon is already producing ridiculous awesome lenses that no one ever thought possible. For some reason Nikon is holding back on the exotics other than a special manual focusing 58mm F/0.95. I wonder if Canon is snickering… “we did one of those in 1961. I assure you, the modern Nikon will be much better… for eight grand it damn well better be! Canon launched the 50mm f/1.2 L that is optically superior in every metric to the EF version. They followed with a sinister 28-70mm F/2 yes two point oh! They continue their march with crazy excellent L series glass the 85/1.2L and a ‘Defocus Smoothing’ version. A full suite of 2.8 L zooms to complete the “holy trinity” of glass 15-35/2.8, 24-70/2.8, 70-200/2.8 and the latter is by far the smallest pro grade 2.8 tele zoom in the universe!

EOS-R with LTM Canon Rangefinder 50/1.2 on Leica M macro helicoil adapter

So the pitch for EOS-R is pretty simple, Canon is going to quickly put the bulk of their engineers on mirrorless and the lens line up they already have is pushing boundaries of optical design. As a long time Canon user the switch to the R was too easy. I have the EF adapter with the cool control ring and my scary large collection of L series lenses mounts up and works perfectly. The camera is fast, a little smaller than a DSLR and offers the most sophisticated focusing system Canon has ever made and perhaps anyone has ever made. It has well over 5000 focus points which is ten times what Nikon or Sony have. Canon’s exclusive dual pixel AF is an industry leading technology as well. Furthermore I have several adapters for old school camera mounts including a Leica M adapter with a macro helicoil focus feature. Rangefinder lenses often had terrible close focusing limited to roughly 3 feet. The helicoid adapter adds a few millimeters of rear focus to allow for much closer focusing. Even the vintage glass is improved on a mirrorless camera 🙂

Many of the review pundits out there were disappointed in the EOS-R. They complained that at $2295 which was $300 more than the then current Sony A7 III, it should have had IBIS (In Body Image Stabilization) which Sony had. They bemoaned the lack of dual card slots which Sony also had. Seriously they were on about that like the camera was garbage town because it lacked those features. Full disclosure I was really hoping it would have IBIS and I was a little bummed it did not. I love mounting my old Leica and Canon range finder glass to the full frame EOS-R so IBIS would have been most welcome. The pundits continue to demand that Canon launch a “Pro Version.” Never mind that Sony didn’t launch the A9 until 2017, four full years after the first A7.

Well pundits it’s time to get schooled… newsflash the Sony A7 and A7r as well as the Nikon Z6 and Z7 and yes, even the EOS-R, ARE professional cameras. They are not the “flagship” models like Sony’s A9, Nikon’s DSLR D5 or Canon’s DSLR 1DX Mk II. Most pro’s do not need what the flagship bodies have. The sports guys shooting the Super Bowl definitely need that. A professional studio shooter does not. These so called expert pundits often fail to even recognize that the flagship bodies are sacrificing resolution for pure speed. Many full time professional photographers choose resolution over speed. In fact I run into working pros all the time using Canon EOS 5D Mk IV cameras which are pretty similar in stats to the EOS-R. There are also a fair number of Nikon pros using the D850 which is also reasonably similar in specs to the Z7. And I have run into full time pros using Sony A7 cameras.

My friends, Canon lowered the price of the EOS-R to $1799 and if you don’t need all the bells and whistles they have the EOS-RP at a price of $1299, that camera is a bit smaller as well. The EOS-R at $1799 is a fantastic camera. I paid $2295 for mine last year and I think it’s fantastic at THAT price!

Annabee with EOS-R and EF 85mm F/1.2 L Mk II © 2019 Rod Sager

Here is the deal about full frame mirrorless cameras. If you plan on using these exclusively for the purpose of mounting classic glass from Leica, Canon, Zeiss and such as well as other vintage lenses, and you do not own a Sony, Nikon, or Canon full frame camera, get the Sony A7r III or the new A7r IV. These cameras have IBIS that works on your old school lenses, the smaller lens mount makes the cameras a bit smaller, and if you want to buy a couple of modern E mount lenses to travel with, the smaller mount makes those lenses smaller… MUCH smaller than either Nikon Z or Canon RF mount lenses.

If you see yourself using the modern lenses and want the absolute highest and best quality especially from future lenses, either Nikon or Canon is your ticket. Why? Because even Carl Zeiss is limited with that tiny lens mount, soon Nikon will start destroying Sony with new lens designs that they can’t match due to physical limitations in the lens mount. Oh, and Canon already is mopping them up with this barrage of L series RF glass. Canon is rewriting the record book with lenses that push optical barriers and deliver ridiculously sharp images. Since Canon has not launched a step up body to the EOS-R yet 30.1 megapixels is the ceiling for now. Nikon’s Z7 offers 45mp and IBIS. If resolution is your thing, Nikon holds an edge, oddly they don’t have any high end Z mount glass to take advantage of the 45mp. Canon has all kinds of new crazy sharp glass for the RF mount but no high resolution body to take full advantage either.

So why buy the EOS-R? Because mirrorless is the future, DSLRs are dead, Canon has the best “pro lenses” in the mirrorless space, you can’t mount vintage rangefinder lenses to you clunky DSLR. Mirrorless cameras are more quiet, have real time exposure in the viewfinder, and many other genuine advantages. All the energy and focus is in mirrorless.

Many pundits bashing the R seem to forget the amazing touch screen experience on the Canon, the fully articulating rear LCD, the touch to move focus points which is brilliant, none of these features is available from either Sony or Nikon. Sony users have been SCREAMING for a fully articulating rear LCD since the A7 launched over FIVE years ago. It has been a persistent demand in the market that Sony has ignored, as have many you tubers in their bashing rants against the EOS R. Let’s not forget that Canon has the largest catalog of fully electronic lenses on the planet… it’s not even close BTW… seriously not even remotely close. Every single EF mount lens made by Canon and from every single third party lens maker like Tamron, Sigma, Tokina, etc. since 1987 works on the EOS-R. Those EF lenses are almost certainly faster and better on the R than a DSLR. Hundreds of millions of fully electronic lenses new and used that work like they are native to the camera are out there, new in the box or circulating online and on the shelves of camera stores. And like most mirrorless bodies you can adapt almost any lens to work on the camera. That is why I bought the EOS-R and now you can get one for $500 less than I paid last fall.

Once you get your mirrorless camera, be it a Sony, Nikon, or Canon, you should start heading to the camera shows looking for amazing vintage lenses to adapt. Oh! How convenient, there is a show on Saturday in Newark CA! The PhotoFair! 

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