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Insights & Thoughts

Dear Lens Makers: It’s Time to Break the Mold!

By Matthew Saville on November 27th 2017

Do you ever feel like the “standard” zoom ranges, such as 24-70mm and 70-200mm, just aren’t practical for what YOU do as a photographer? You’re not alone…

I’ve been Everywhere, Man

Kearsarge Pass, 2016 | Photo by Michael Yuen

This may not be something to brag about, but my 10+ year career as a photographer may very well take the cake when it comes to the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none.”

If I had a healthier ego I might say, “…master of one or two.” I’ve been doing wedding photography for almost 15 years now, and it has paid my bills for over 10. I’ve been passionate about landscape photography for even longer, but sunsets don’t pay your bills as easily as weddings do.

I’ve also shot innumerable other things over the years, from architectural and corporate event photography, to children’s theater and gymnastics photography, to commercial product photography. If it’s a genre in photography, I’ve probably dabbled in it.

As a Nikon DSLR shooter since 2004, I’ve done a fair share of professional work on DX (APS-C) crop-sensor camera bodies, as well as dedicated DX lenses. Also, as someone who didn’t always have an unlimited gear budget, I’ve done a considerable amount of shooting with whatever lens I had laying around, on whatever camera body I could get my hands on.

This led to a lot of odd gear combinations, including full-frame lenses on APS-C cameras (of course), and also APS-C lenses on full-frame cameras, and all more times than I care to admit. This experience has led me to understand focal lengths on a whole different level. Any time I had the “wrong” lens for a job, it helped open my eyes to see the world differently.

With all of that said, I would like to ask readers that question…

Do you ever feel like the “standard” zoom ranges, such as 24-70mm and 70-200mm, just aren’t practical for what you do as a photographer?

THE “HOLY TRINITY” OF F/2.8 ZOOMS

Of course the most common stereotype in professional gear ownership is the “trinity” of f/2.8 professional zooms: an ultra-wide, a mid-range, and a telephoto.

The almighty 70-200mm

The 70-200mm f/2.8 focal range hasn’t deviated in almost two decades, when we last saw 80mm or 210mm numbers instead.

Honestly, as a portrait and wedding photographer I often find myself wishing I had a little more on the wide end, and not needing so much on the long end. A 60-150mm f/2.8, or a 50-135mm f/2.8, would be fantastic portrait lenses, especially if either of them could be lighter and smaller than an existing 70-200mm f/2.8.

(I used to love using my lightweight Sigma 50-150mm f/2.8 DC on my Nikon D700 for portraits and theater; it was great when cropped to roughly 1.2x, and the lens was about a pound lighter than a 70-200 2.8!)

 

 

New Faster-than-2.8 portrait zooms

Also, since we’re starting to see f/2 and f/1.8 zooms on the market, why haven’t we seen a full-frame f/2 portrait prime yet? We have the Sigma 24-35mm f/2 for full-frame, and the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 for APS-C, but why not a 50-85mm f/1.8 or f/2 for full-frame? I’d personally rather have one of the other f/2.8 ranges I mentioned, but I could see this faster zoom also being popular.

New Wide-mid-range f/2.8 zooms

24-70mm is another fantastic zoom range, useful for a whole lot of things. However again, for a lot of the general portraiture and event coverage I do, I find myself frequently wishing I had a 35-105mm f/2.8 instead. In other words, I used to constantly find myself putting my 24-70mm on my DX D300, instead of my FX D700.

Hopefully for every person out there who says “just put your 24-70 on a D500, problem solved!” …there is someone else out there who understands the desire to keep using a full-frame camera.

Alternately, going wider instead of longer, what about a 20-50mm f/2.8, or a ~17-40mm f/2.8? A wide zoom such as that would pair well with a 50-135mm f/2.8; throw in a 50mm f/1.4 or 35mm f/1.4 for good measure, and that’s a stellar kit in just 2-3 lenses, none of which ought to weigh more than an existing f/2.8 zoom, and possibly less!

[Rewind: Tokina 14-20mm f/2 Review]

new Ultra-wide f/2.8 zooms

Let’s talk some more about ultra-wides for a minute. Nikon made a 14-24mm f/2.8 in 2007, but they never updated their lighter, smaller, (and filter-thread-accepting) 17-35mm f/2.8. Meanwhile, Canon has updated their full-frame 16-35mm f/2.8 twice now, Tamron (and Pentax) made a 15-30mm f/2.8, and Sony also covers the classic 16-35mm range.

There are even more exotic focal ranges popping up in the f/4 zoom category, like the Canon 11-24mm f/4 and the Sigma and Sony 12-24mm f/4’s.

As a Nikon user, I definitely wish Nikon would make a new f/2.8 ultra-wide zoom, one that accepts front filters and doesn’t weigh 2-3 lbs.

[Rewind: Nikon 16-80mm f/2.8-4 Review | A Pro Grade Kit Lens?]

OPTICAL DESIGN LIMITATIONS

Now, hopefully the optical engineers in the crowd have held back until now, instead of launching a barrage of scathing comments about “optical impossibilities.”

Yes, I do understand that zoom lenses are extremely difficult to design. I also understand that certain zoom ranges, particularly any which comes even close to crossing from wide to telephoto, are far more difficult to design than others.

In other words, making a full-frame 18-50mm f/2.8 might be far more difficult than a full-frame 16-35mm f/2.8. Or, making a 50-150mm f/2.8 might be inherently more complicated than making a 70-200mm f/2.8. I get it.

And while I I would love to have a discussion on the different methods that different optical designs manage to bend light so amazingly well from 24mm to 70mm all in the same lens, now is not the time or place. Today I am only hear to dream up a bizarre wish list of new lenses, and see if anybody else feels the same way as me.

So, who would like to have a 17-40mm or 18-50mm f/2.8 zoom, and pair it with a 50-150mm f/2.8 zoom, or *gasp* a 50-135mm f/2 zoom?

Which of you are portrait or event photographers who would rather have a 35-105mm f/2.8, and, say, a 150mm or 180mm f/2.8 macro? Any of these ranges would make for an amazing wedding photography kit, that’s for sure.

A FEW DREAM PRIME LENSES

I know that we’ve mostly talked about professional f/2.8 zoom lenses so far, but while we’re at it, why don’t we throw in a couple new primes to pair up with our “wacky” new dream f/2.8 zooms?

As a wedding photojournalist, for example, let’s say I get my 20-50mm f/2.8 and 60-150mm f/2.8. I rarely ever need to go wider than 20/24mm, so I would much rather have a compact 16mm or 17mm prime, instead of a huge or expensive 16-XX zoom. I used to own the relatively cheap and lightweight Tokina 17mm f/3.5 ATX-Pro, and it was a perfect compromise between focal range and portability. I’d buy it again, but would love updated AF and slightly better sharpness.

Unfortunately, there is currently a gap between the 14mm prime range, and the 20mm prime range, aside from a few rather exotic lenses.

On the telephoto end, portrait photographers could really use some more 105mm and 135mm primes that don’t weigh 2.5 bricks. The incredible f/1.4 and f/1.8 ultra-sharp primes we’ve seen in the last couple years are impressive, but there is a whole class of prime users going un-served: those who don’t choose primes for their sheer aperture or insane wide-open sharpness, but instead for their portability and snappy focusing. Unfortunately, a giant hunk of glass is neither portable, nor “snappy” to focus.

Traditionally this range has been occupied nicely by a few ~105mm macro lenses, but I  think if a lens gave up its 1:1 macro capability in favor of f/2 instead of f/2.8, it might weigh (and cost) something more reasonable than the likes of the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 and the Nikon 105mm f/1.4.

Too much Lens overlap?

Do these focal ranges overlap a whole lot? Yes, absolutely. But each of them could be very practical for a certain type of photography. Obviously I wouldn’t own both a 35-105mm f/2.8 and a 50-135mm f/2.8 – few would. But, depending on what I shoot, either of them could make a lot more sense than an existing zoom.

We live in a time where exotic new zoom ranges and apertures are popping up left and right. I just wish lens makers would also get a little creative and think outside the box of existing, “ordinary” focal ranges too.

What dream lens would you like to see?

It is now time for you to comment, and either tell me that you feel the same and would love to see this-or-that slightly different range zoom, …or kindly tell me to put down whatever it is I’ve been smoking that gave me such bizarre lens ideas. I’m excited (and a little scared) to read your comments, so please leave them below! (Spare us the requests for a 10-1000mm f/1.2, please.)


Matthew Saville is a full-time wedding photographer at Lin & Jirsa Photography, and a senior editor & writer at SLR Lounge.

Follow his personal wilderness adventures: Astro-Landscapes.com

See some of his latest wedding photography featured on: LinandJirsa.com

17 Comments

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  1. Glenn Adrian

    I’m a ASP-C canon user.  At events I commonly use the 70-200mm 2.8.  It’s very flexible at a distance.  So large and heavy though.  I have not felt the need to get I 24-70 yet.  When not shooting to a distant stage I use the 50mm for portraits, or the 18-35 1.8 for closer shots.  Great quality lens, but long and heavy.  Just started using the 11-16 2.8  for wide shots.  11mm = 17.6mm on the ASP-C.  But I would like a 16-50mm 2.8.  Unless it’s at night it could replace both the 18-35mm and the 50mm, saving a lot of weight.

    So currently missing 36-49mm and 51-69mm.  But plan my next lens will cover 16-50mm.  I oddly almost never seem to need 55-65mm.  If I do I can use the 50mm and crop.

    Also want a 150-600mm to cover the odd times I need longer.

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  2. James Mitchell

    For the kind of landscape pics I take (purely hobby work), I’d like a diffraction-limited 30mm f/5.6 (Nikon FF or GFX) — if I’m stopping down to there anyway, why not optimize the hell outta that instead of fighting for greater aperture?

    Failing that, I’d like to be able to mount my butter-sharp Canon XI’s 65mm f/0.75 or 90mm f/1.0 — either one, just because sometimes sharpness isn’t as fun as weird.  :) 

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    • Matthew Saville

      “sometimes sharpness isn’t as fun as weird”.

      Never have I heard a more eloquent way of putting this very important thing to remember, James. Thank you for making my day.

      BTW, I’m loving the fact that folks are wishing for f/5.6 lenses, and not just super-fast primes or zooms. It seems that most of the time f/5.6 is considered “too dark” for anything other than a variable aperture zoom, or a super-telephoto lens like the 800mm or the 200-500 “compact” zoom lol.

      I personally would love to see a full-frame 20mm or 24mm f/4 or f/5.6 modern prime lens that is ultra-sharp and yet not ridiculously heavy or expensive. Two of the classic landscape lenses, the 24mm f/2.8 AIS and the 20mm f/4 AI, were Galen Rowell’s go-to lenses back in the days of 35mm film, and they were both teeny-tiny, AND they were rock-solid construction thanks to being metal and manual focus.

      But, I suppose the release of some new AI-S lenses would be a pipe dream, even though the Rokinon and Zeiss lenses are WILDLY popular among landscape shooters. That’s really ironic.

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    • Glenn Adrian

      I normally only use the 1.8 when I have minimal light, and no option of adding some.

      When shooting with near zero to zero light I prefer to use f5.6-f11 just to assure myself of being in (manual) focus and then add flash.

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  3. Kristopher Galuska

    I’d like a 35-105 f1.8-2.8 with a slight macro 1:2 or even 1:4 on the telephoto end. I dont need constant aperture. Id rather it be brighter in the wide angle for low light event or the occasional astro. And after shooting portraits with a 90mm 2.8 macro the ability to get closer creates all the shallow depth of field I’d ever need!

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  4. Merijn Geurts

    If some company (Sigma?) can make a 35-85/2.0 it can potentially be the only lens a wedding photographer ever needs.

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    • Matthew Saville

      I agree. Such a zoom would be incredible. Honestly though, considering how big and heavy the existing 24-35mm f/2 is from Sigma, I think a lens that goes from 35-85 would be about 3 pounds or more. Ouch…

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    • Glenn Adrian

      Yup, the 18-35 1.8 is very large and heavy.

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  5. Ben McPhee

    I want a 49mm prime. 

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  6. adam sanford

    I live in 16mm-50mm FF and no one sells that.  Crossing that divide requires a lens swap.

    So I’d love either a 16-50 f/4 IS or a 24-50 f/2.

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  7. Stephen Jennings

    A 70-200 f/2 would be insanely huge, but a 50-135 f/2 would be considerably smaller. 135 f/2 lenses are not usually that big, I honestly don’t see why we have not seen a faster zoom in that range. Even a smaller range, 85-135 f/2 would be amazing. But what I’d buy no matter the cost would be a 35-85 f/1.8 zoom. Don’t care how much it cost or how huge it would be, it would literally cover everything you need as a photographer. You could literally only own that one lens. Which.. might be why it doesn’t exist. 

    I switched to Fuji and they did right by making their 24-70 more practical by making it a 16-55mm .. which is 24-82.5mm. The only downside is that they should have made is or at least another version of it f/1.8 to compensate for the APS-c sensor. But over all I find it much better to shoot with than my old Nikon 24-70; that little bit on the long end I find better for portraits.

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    • Matthew Saville

      Considering the difference in DOF and overall sensitivity, though, the Fuji 16-55 is roughly the same lens as the Nikon 24-85 VR, which is indeed a fantastic, lightweight alternative to the 24-70. ;-)

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  8. Lasse Sivertsen

    I would personally love some specific crop frame lenses. I shoot Canon and I really miss an official fast prime lineup for the crop bodies. 

    My only choice for a fast 50 equivalent and compact lens, is the Sigma 30mm f1.4. But it’s wide open sharpness is poor and it’s riddled with CA. The AF is also hit n’ miss

    The sigma 18-35 f1.8 is actually one of the best lenses for a crop body, it would fulfill my need for the fast 50 equivalent, but it’s huge! The zoom range is, however, very handy, although it doesn’t go wide enough for my taste. 

    In general, the fast general purpose zooms for crop bodies are never very wide. 

    My wishlist

    15- ~35mm f2 or f2.8

    Official Canon ~30mm f1.4

    Official Canon ~22mm f2, perhaps with IS.

    An ultrawide prime for crop, with AF, f2.8 would be fine.

    A crop version of Sigma 24-35 f2, perhaps a 15-22 f1.4?

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    • Matthew Saville

      Oh, don’t get me started on crop-sensor lens wish lists haha! That’s a whole different post by itself… 

      I too would have loved to see APS-C DSLRs better served back in the day, but I feel like now that mirrorless is “taking over” the market for beginners and general hobbyists, we are highly unlikely to see very many more APS-C “exotic” lenses.

      The Sigma 18-35mm f/1.8 is the only lens I’d recommend to cover your desired range of ~35mm, but it’s not f/1.4.

      The Tokina 14-20mm f/2 is fantastic though, if you get a good one and don’t have any trouble with the focusing. I trust Tokina to make an ultra-sharp ultra-wide a whole lot more than Canon, especially in the APS-C category. Canon’s track record for sharpness any wider than 35-50mm has been absolutely terrible until very recently, and all of those lenses are rather exotic and expensive.

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  9. Jonathan Brady

    Completely agree. I’ve been asking for a 35-70 f/2 for years! I’d also love a 60-120 f/2 or f/2.8

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  10. Albert Evangelista

    Great article Matt, I never ever thought about this, but it’s definitely in my head now. It totally makes sense!

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