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