I hate the 24-70/2.8

…Ok, so that’s a bit of a sensationalist headline.  I don’t really hate it.  But I’m going to offer a bit of a contriarian view on the much venerated “fast zoom” type lens.   On pretty much any photgraphy fourm/discussion a question that pops up all the time is “I’m looking to upgrade from my “kit” lens, what is a good choice”.   Invariably the responses will point toward the traditional “fast normal zoom”, ie a 24-70/2.8 or the like.

I, on the other hand prefer a slow zoom (high quality and still constant aperture, such as Canon’s F/4L lenses) and a fast prime.

Point 1: f/2.8 is one stop faster than f/4.   In other words, the difference between bumpring your iso from 200->400 (or 400-800 etc…)  Us digital photographers sometimes forget how spoiled we are… back in the day we needed every bit of speed we could get out of our glass, as film speed was often the limiting factor.  Anyone remember shooting film past ASA400?  got grainy pretty fast didn’t it 🙂   These days I will shoot my 5d at 3200 without even blinking.  And it’s only getting better from there!   Considering that an f/4 zoom is a)smaller/lighter b)greater range (24-105mm vs 24-70), I would much rather bump my iso one stop than carry the extra bulk/weight of a 2.8 zoom around all day.   Not to mention that when using strobes/lights, I’m generally working at f/4-5.6 maximum, it’s only available (low) light that demands fast glass which leads me to my second point.

point 2: in my experience, when I need low light capability *i need low light capability*, and in those cases even f/2.8 won’t cut it.   A f/1.4 lens gives you a *3 stop* advantage over an f/4 zoom (and 2 stops even over a 2.8!) – that’s the same as going from 200-1600ISO, not insignificant! or consider the low light potential of a 1.4 lens on one of the new bodies capable of doing ISO12,800 or even 25,600 – now we’re getting into the “EV -crazydark” territory.  Not to mention that at f/2.8 the prime is already stopped down two stops, while the zoom is still wide open, which will generally give you better edge to edge quality.

Ok, so maybe I’m a bit biased, as I am a “prime guy”, but I think a lot of folks underestimate the potential of the humble fixed focal length lens.  The classic 50/1.4 is a surprisingly flexible lens that can yield a huge variety of perspectives simply by taking a few steps forward or back.

Some will respond that it’s the combination of flexibility and speed that makes the 2.8 appealing, but to me it seems like you sort of get shorted on both ends – it’s not fast enough to be *really fast* and not flexible enough to preclude frequent lens switching.

(and before the hate mail starts, yes I’ve used the fast zooms plenty. Yes they are great lenses, and yes, maybe if I were a dedicated wedding shooter I’d change my mind.  All I’m saying is that there are other alternatives!)

13 thoughts on “I hate the 24-70/2.8”

  1. I’m with you on this one. I may even be more biased toward the primes than you.

    For my digital, I typically use my 50/1.4 or 105/2.8 (I absolutely love these two lenses). The only zoom I use anymore is the 10-20/4-5.6 — sure it’s pretty slow, but the difference between 10mm and 20mm is pretty huge and I like that flexibility (plus I can get some cool distortions at the 10mm end). I also have an 18-200 zoom that I used when I first got a dSLR, but I haven’t used that lens for well over a year now.

    On my film SLR, I lean more toward my 135/2.8 but I also use my 50/1.4. I have a 70-200 zoom, but I’ve only used it a couple of times. The rest of my film cameras are all fixed focal length (and fixed lens), so there’s not much of a choice there.

    I’d say that the 50/1.4 is probably one of the best lenses to own. Like you said, just take a couple of steps forward or back and you’ve got a decent “zoom” capability. The longer lenses are nice to have, but they’re more limiting in what you can capture and you have to take a lot more steps to get the “zoom”.

    One thing to consider though, with the faster zoom lens vs the slower zoom lens — even if it’s just one stop faster, that’s letting in twice as much light for your autofocus to utilize. Slower lenses have a hard time focusing in low-light conditions.

  2. I use my 35/2 most. Thic lens gives me all I need. It brother is the 85/1,8. These have never failed me! When I have time and can walk around for better perspective etc. these two lenses will work for me!

    I am buying a fast 28-70 for my concert and event photgraphy.

  3. Also, if you’re on APS-C (majority of enthusiast shooters), the 17-55 makes a lot more sense IMHO. It’s much wider, and also comes equipped with IS. It’s functionally much more useful than a 24-70.

  4. Well let’s be honest. Those who know, know that prime lenses are just better. Better quality, better images. I’m not exactly a gearhead, but I know this for sure.

  5. Even though I shoot mostly landscape and nature work I agree completely. In the field I’d rather carry an f/4L over the huge f/2.8L’s any day. For example, the 70-200mm f/4L versus the 70-200mm f/2.8L lens. The f/4L is one third smaller and lighter and less than 1/2 the price. It’s the same in telephoto primes. The 300mm f/4L IS is much much smaller and lighter than it’s cousin the 300 f/2.8L IS.

    For me, image stabilization offers a much better bang for the buck and when I really need low light coverage I just set the ISO to 800, 1600 or 3200.

  6. Preaching to the choir on this one!

    My EF 24-70mm f/2.8L is gathering dust at this point. The only body it seems to be used on anymore is my old EOS 1N.

    I mainly use my primes and am planning to upgrade two of them to L primes in the coming year. I may keep the zoom around for certain types of events, but I’m also strongly considering just selling it.

  7. See, you guys are missing the point slightly. I was in a similar position to what is described above – got a bit of cash to burn on getting a better lens, but went for 2.8L over 4L for exactly the same reason.

    You can bump up the ISO whenever you need to work in lower light, so don’t need IS, but you can never get a 2.8’s bokeh on an F4 lens.

    I agree that 24-105 F4 with an 50 F1.4 for whenever bokeh is needed would be better still, but sometimes jack-of-all-trades, master-of-none is simpler… In summary: each to their own 🙂

    Let the flames begin…

  8. When I have read the title I though “he’s crazy” but after reading, I can say that you wrote exactly what I think about lenses.
    Unfortunately many people who I know doesn’t think the same of me and so I am often the black sheep.
    Nice post, congratulations.

  9. I just bought a new Canon xsi a few months ago and was trying to decide which expensive zoom lens I was going to get as an everyday walkaround.
    But my wonderful wife bought me a 50mm f/1.8 lens for Christmas, and now I think I might be on the prime lens bandwagon. I love the simplicity, low weight, and especially the small size of the prime lens. So now I’m thinking my next lens might actually be a 24mm or 35mm L for a more versatile focal length, and keep the kit lens for a while longer when I need the zoom range.
    Thanks for the insightful post!

  10. Rich,
    I love the 50/1.8 as well, and the 35L is simply a spectacular lens (haven’t used the 24L). On your xsi it will be approximately a “normal” b/c of the crop factor, but oh what a normal 🙂 Hey if it was good enough for Cartier-Bresson, it’s good enough for me!

  11. I use a 24-70 f/4 for 90% of my photos, but I generally carry either a 50 f/1.8 or 35 f/2 in case I need blurrier backgrounds or action stopping speed.

    The combined weight is not that different from that of a 24-70 f/2.8 but the combi’ gives me Canon’s latest 4-stop IS in the zoom lens, so I can hand hold for static and slow moving subjects even in quite dim light, and for when I need speed I have a genuinely fast prime.

    I agree that it is a much more versatile combination.

  12. I use a 24-70 f/2.8 for almost 80% of my photos. I always carry with me a 50 f/1.4 and a 14 f/2.8.

    I definitly love the 50mm 1.4 is great to focus on subject !
    Nice article, i partially agree with You!
    All the best

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