The best standard zoom lens upgrades for Canon

Full-frame lenses

1. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

This Mk II edition is the reinvention of a classic

Effective zoom range: 24-70mm | Lens construction: 18 elements in 13 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.38m | Filter size: 82mm | Dimensions: 89x113mm | Weight: 805g

Excellent image quality
Fast, whisper-quiet autofocus
Build quality
No optical stabilizer

The standard zoom of choice for pro photographers, Canon’s original 24-70mm f/2.8L was something of a classic. As you’d expect from Canon’s range-topping standard zoom, autofocus comes courtesy of a fast and whisper-quiet ring-type ultrasonic system. Image quality is excellent, with great sharpness and contrast even when shooting wide-open. Sharpness has been improved towards the edges of the frame but, even so, the ability to capture consistently sharp handheld images can suffer due to the lack of an optical stabilizer, featured in all of the other lenses on test. The lack of stabilization aside, this simply delivers the best performance of any lens in the group.

2. Tamron SP AF 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD for Canon

An anti-shake advantage over Canon’s competitor

Effective zoom range: 24-70mm | Lens construction: 17 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 9 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.38m | Filter size: 82m | Dimensions: 84x117mm | Weight: 825g

Quality autofocus system
Great feel and handling
Effective optical stabilization
Average corner-sharpness

The Tamron is well built with a rock-solid feel and great handling. High-quality glass includes three LD (Low Dispersion) elements and two XR (Extra Refractive index) elements. It doesn’t feature Tamron’s more recently introduced nano-structure coatings but the lens proves impressively resistant to ghosting and flare. The Tamron loses out to the Canon 24-70mm for corner-sharpness. Centre sharpness is excellent, however, especially at the wide-angle end of the zoom range, even when shooting wide-open. There’s a little more barrel distortion at 24mm than from the Canon lens but, overall, performance is very good. In the UK, it’s unbeatable value at the price.

3. Sigma 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM A for Canon

High-end quality makes this enticing

Effective zoom range: 24-105mm | Lens construction: 19 elements in 14 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 7 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.45m | Filter size: 82m | Dimensions: 89x109mm | Weight: 885g

Quality build
Compelling price
Lack of weather-seals
No automatic in-camera corrections

One of Sigma’s first ‘Art’ line lenses, this one is built for quality and goes toe-to-toe with Canon’s 24-105mm lens in both zoom range and aperture rating. Similarly, it features optical stabilization and high-end build quality, as well as upmarket glass, in this case including FLD (Fluorite-grade Low Dispersion), SLD (Special Low Dispersion) and aspherical elements. The construction of the Sigma lens feels similarly solid to the Canon, but doesn’t feature weather-seals. Like the 17-70mm ‘Contemporary’ lens for APS-C cameras, this one is compatible with Sigma’s optional USB Dock. Compared with the Canon 24-105mm lens, the diaphragm has one less blade, at nine rather than ten, but the aperture is nevertheless well-rounded.

4. Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM

Another Canon standard zoom gets upgraded

Effective zoom range: 24-105mm | Lens construction: 17 elements in 12 groups | No. of diaphragm blades: 10 blades | Minimum focus distance: 0.45m | Filter size: 77m | Dimensions: 84x118mm | Weight: 795g

Extensive weather-seals
Four-stop image stabilizer
Constant aperture value
Barrel distortion 

The new Mk II has been redesigned to be tougher and more resistant to shock and vibration, as well as featuring fluorine coatings on the front and rear elements. More importantly, the optics have been revamped, with the aim of improving sharpness across the whole image frame, throughout the zoom range. Barrel distortion from the preceding 24-105mm lens was notoriously bad at the short end of the zoom range, but the Mk II performs a little better. It’s also a bit sharper, autofocus is a little quicker and bokeh is smoother, thanks to the fitment of ten, rather than eight, diaphragm blades. Overall, however, each of the improvements is quite subtle rather than making a hugely noticeable difference.