I can’t even begin to describe how excited I was about trying out the new Canon RF 24-240mm f/4-6.3 IS.
Usually, when I’m out on an expedition, I’m schlepping around the 28-300mm lens attached to my 5D Mark IV, which is heavy and bulky. The main reason was that the last thing I want to do is change lenses, whether I’m on Greenland’s icy terrain, Kilimanjaro’s windswept peaks, or Chile’s dusty Atacama Desert. Too cold, too much of a hassle, too time-consuming, too dusty — all good reasons.
That’s why I always travel with two cameras: one with a wide-angle lens (11-24mm), one with a superzoom. This way, I was covered for the best possible focal length range.
Of course, I’d rather work with fixed focal length lenses, but sometimes you have to compromise. Finally, the new 24-240mm lens combined with the compact EOS R mirrorless camera meant I had something that would meet most of my requirements, at least on paper.
Would it be everything the specs promised to be? Would I be happy with the results? Let me share some of the pros and cons of working with this lens in Pakistan.
Weight and size
Once I had the lens in my hands, I felt slightly skeptical. Weighing in at just 750g (26.4oz) and barely 12cm (4.7in) long, it’s considerably lighter and smaller than my 70-200mm lens. I was supposed to shoot photos with that? I was willing to comprise, but not at any price.
But after a few test shots, I decided to take the lens to Pakistan and make it my primary lens. Over three weeks, I followed two extreme athletes who were mountain biking around the Karakorum range, hoping to get to the K2 base camp. I had to cover close to 160km (100mi) on foot, starting at 2,000m (6,500ft) and climbing to 5,650m (18,500ft), one way.
Every last gram had to be carefully considered. For the first time, the size and weight ratio compared to the wide-angle combo was reversed. The photography equipment I carried with me daily, two bodies and two lenses, weighed just under 4kg (8.8lbs). So that I could readily use both cameras, I had them on a hip holster. I looked like a gunslinger in the wild west, and I was just as fast on the draw!
Huge zoom range
24 to 240 millimeters on full-frame. I really didn’t need more, especially since my second body, with the ultra-wide-angle, covers a range of 11 to 24 mm. It’s hard to get a much wider angle. Did I ever reach the limit with my 240mm? Never! I’m used to taking photos with my 70-200mm, so I was pretty pleased about the extra 40mm. A Lightroom analysis confirmed this: over 60% of all the photos and videos I took on the trip used the 24-240mm.
An important consideration when I document an expedition like this: I usually only get one chance at a shot. Things I document are often one-offs that the athletes can’t repeat. I was able to take two to three different shots with one lens. Wide-angled landscape shots where the athlete appears small at 24mm, a closer shot of the athlete at 100mm, or a full-frame portrait at 240mm. All that within seconds, using the same camera and the same set-up.
Image stabilization is of key importance to me. The simple fact that I was not just capturing photos of this expedition, but also filming it, meant that this feature was just what I needed. Because I take action shots using a relatively high shutter speed, I don’t really need image stabilization for photography. However, when I was holding the camera while filming, I noticed huge differences.
It was virtually impossible to use a tripod on this adventure (except for the interviews at the end of the day). Compare these two clips. The one on the left doesn’t use the stabilization feature, whereas the one on the right uses lens and in-camera stabilization in Advanced Mode at 240mm. When filming, stabilization is worth its weight in gold!
Compared to the 28-300 on a 5D Mark IV, there are huge differences when it comes to quality. The 24-240mm lens is sharp, right up to the corners, and the vignetting, compared to the 28‑300, is pretty much negligible, even with the aperture fully open. Of all the attributes, it was the image quality that surprised me the most: for a lens of this size and weight, I was expecting lower imaging capabilities.
Where there’s light, there’s also shadow. Here’s a list of the details that I didn’t like or would have liked:
No lens hood included
My sample lens was sent to me without a lens hood (not available at time of delivery). If you buy the lens, you’ll have the same problem. It seems that all Canon entry-level lenses are sold without a lens hood. Of course, you can buy one separately, something I’d definitely recommend. In addition to blocking scattered light, it also protects the front lens from blows and scratches (I NEVER use a lens cap).
Limited weather sealing
The lens is intended for the consumer and not the professional. For a list price of around $900 US, you can hardly expect the weather sealing you’d get with a professional lens. While the lens craftsmanship is excellent, it’s best to be careful when working under extreme outdoor conditions. The lens has limited dust or spray protection.
On this trip, temperatures ranged from +30° Celsius to -10° Celsius (86°F to 14°F); it was snowy, rainy, windy and stormy, I spent 16 nights in a tent, and had no other protection for my camera besides my camera bag. After almost three weeks of extreme conditions, the lens still delivered. With a bit of care, this lens can be used as an everyday lens, even under more extreme conditions.
Relatively small aperture of f/6.3 at 240mm
Unfortunately, due to its design, this is as good as it gets. If you want a small, light lens with a large zoom range, you’ll have to compromise when it comes to aperture. But for 240mm, the largest possible aperture setting of f/6.3 is on the small side. Still, I was able to get a few awesome portrait shots with pretty nice bokeh.
Only for the new mirrorless EOS R systems
The lens only fits on the new EOS R or EOS RP cameras with the RF mount. If you’re working with a conventional Canon DSLR, you can’t use the lens. You have to transition to the mirrorless system if you want to benefit from what the lens has to offer.
If you like working with wide-open apertures and you want or need the highest possible image quality, and if you often shoot in wet or dusty conditions, this lens is not ideal and there are better (pro-lens) choices.
As for myself, I’ve found the perfect lens for my expeditions and travels. It’s a good and practical compromise between size, weight, quality and zoom range. If you travel a lot and are not a fan of changing lenses, the 24-240mm lens is ideal, provided you already have a Canon mirrorless camera or you’re ready to make that leap.
In my opinion, this lens would be a reason to consider switching to the Canon mirrorless system.
About the author: Martin Bissig is a professional photographer and Canon Europe Ambassador based in Switzerland. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Bissig’s work on his website and Instagram.