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SLR Lounge’s Top Lenses | Why You Need A 24-70mm f/2.8

By Holly Roa on September 22nd 2017

Many photographers, if forced to choose only one lens to use for the rest of their days, would select a fast 24-70mm. It is an incredibly versatile focal length. There are even commercial photography schools that provide a list of required equipment they feel a graduate needed to transition into the professional world, where the single lens on it is a 24-70.

The faculty in charge of guiding purchases knew incoming students would have a wide variety of career interests, from food to fashion, from product to portraits, and yet they felt confident that every one of their diverse body of students could succeed in the world with this one lens.

And of course, they were right. While it may not be the single most ideal lens for every situation, it can get the job done in most.

 

WHY SHOOT WITH A 24-70mm f/2.8

Some 24-70 lenses, like Canon’s 24-70mm f/2.8L II, for example, can rival primes in terms of sharpness. While time and energy can often be better spent on activities other than pixel-peeping, it’s definitely a satisfying feeling when you can zoom to 100% and find razor-sharp edges.


As mentioned several times throughout this article, a 24-70mm on a full-frame body is among the most versatile focal ranges you can find, which is its biggest selling point. Not only does it allow for a great deal of diversity in your portfolio with naught but a single lens, on a microcosmic level it allows for a diversity of looks on any individual shoot and is great for adaptation to circumstance.

For instance, on a pet shoot, where subjects can be notoriously all over the place, it’s really useful to be able to quickly change your perspective. Both ends can be good for close-up portraits of pets, with the wide end offering a quirky and fun look and the long end is more traditional. The wide end can also be great for including environmental elements for environmental portraits. The available range allows for more variety from the same subject and location than would a typical prime. Furthermore, it’s fast enough for low-light and subject isolation.

Once you get used to fast apertures, it becomes painful to feel the constraint of slower glass. While f/2.8 obviously isn’t going to do as well in low light as f/1.2, it’s still plenty fast, and a fast 24-70 will have a fast 2.8 aperture  throughout the entire focal range. This is ideal for low-light shooting, as you won’t lose any light at the long end, but the physics of constructing a lens with a constant maximum aperture do drive up the size and weight, and consequently, the price.

THE DRAWBACKS

While the 24-70mm f/2.8 is a wonderful lens, and while it is incredibly versatile, it does have its limitations. While some versions are as sharp as a prime, they aren’t as fast at gathering light or at focusing. If you shoot in extremely low light or crave the blurriest of blurry backgrounds, you may want a fast prime in your camera bag.

Those fast primes can also be incredibly inexpensive by comparison, something that a good 24-70mm f/2.8 typically isn’t. If you scrimp and save to buy your kit and choose a 24-70mm f/2.8, it very well may be your only lens for some time due to the fact the best ones costs around $2k. Good thing it covers so many bases…

Another instance where primes have a leg-up is size and weight. 24-70mm f/2.8 lenses are usually packed with premium elements, and they are neither small nor light. If you’re shooting with one all day, a cramped wrist is not that unlikely.

You may find yourself wishing for a bit more reach when using a 24-70 on a full-frame camera. An answer to that dilemma is a 24-105mm f/4 lens. You gain some reach but lose some speed (though racked out at 105, even at f/4 you can arguably isolate a subject better), so it’s a definite trade-off.

[REWIND:] CANON 24-105MM F/4L IS USM II REVIEW | CANON’S NEW VERSATILITY KING?

Telephoto lovers, in general, may be underwhelmed, but a 24-70mm f/2.8 does dovetail beautifully with another good old photographer favorite – the 70-200mm. If you own them both, you’ve got a lot of important focal lengths covered.

On the other end, 24mm is wide but not ultra wide. If you crave a larger-than-life angle of view, you’ll have to look into something a bit more specialized.

IS A 24-70mm f/2.8 RIGHT FOR YOU?

Are you a photographer who, when asked what you like to shoot, pauses a moment to consider and replies, “Hmm, really I shoot a bit of everything?” If so, a 24-70mm f/2.8 is perfect for you. If you feel bogged down with a fixed focal length and want a walk-around, do-it-all type of lens, look into a 24-70mm f/2.8.

Do you, or do you want to, shoot weddings? A 24-70mm f/2.8 is a must-have in a wedding photographer’s kit, or any event photographer really. It keeps coming back to that versatility and aperture with this lens. – that’s really what a 24-70mm f/2.8 is all about. Wedding and event photographers need these things more than most as they navigate ever-changing circumstances and need to adapt, and fast, to capture moments everywhere.

[REWIND:] SIGMA 24-70MM ART REVIEW | FORMIDABLE OR FORGETTABLE?

You may notice that ‘f/2.8’ has been emphasized throughout this article, and that is fully intentional. There are 24-70mm f/4 lenses available and they are significantly less expensive than their f/2.8 counterparts, but with the stellar performance available in current 24-105mm f/4 lenses, and similar price tags to the f/4 versions of 24-70mm lenses, there’s not much reason to choose a 24-70mm f/4 over a 24-105mm f/4 if budget is a concern.

A final note – this post is based on the experience of shooting with a 24-70mm on a full-frame body. It’s still a great lens on an APS-C body, but you gain some reach and lose some of the wide end. If you’d like to try out a similar focal length on an APS-C body, look to a 17-55mm f/2.8 or a 17-50mm f/2.8.

THE LENSES

What’s your go-to? Do you have a 24-70mm in your kit? Are you shopping for one now?

CREDITS: All photographs are copyrighted their respective owners and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artists.

About

Seattle based photographer with a side of videography, specializing in work involving animals, but basically a Jill of all trades.
Instagram: @HJRphotos

Q&A Discussions

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  1. Akhil Bhimjee

    Really good and interesting article. However, I sense that while the 24-105 f4 lens may be a good versatile lens, it has some drawbacks mainly because of the low light performance at f4. And consequently having to raise Iso to get a decent shutter speed to avoid blurry photos, Pye also illustrated that it was not so sharp in one of the tests conducted. It swayed my decision to purchase it as I photograph most events indoors and require the fast apeture. So as for my oh so close investment of getting the latest Canon  24-105 f4 which I had been longing to get, I had decided to go for the Tamron 24-70 f2.8 that offers a little extra punch in low light performance . I know it’s under $2k, although it sure is a very powerful lens that also received a lot of brilliant reviews from other professional photographers around the world. Conclusion, I’m a happy shopper! 

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  2. Antony Cail

    On my eos 60D (aps-c), I find the 70-200 f/2.8 ii sharper than the 24-70 f/2.8 ii. These too lenses are wonderful and I shoot only with these too lenses. 

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  3. A Wayne

    [A Wayne has deleted this comment]

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  4. Ravi Kumar

    Very good lenses Canon 24 -70 f2.8 usm  ii love the lenses 

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  5. adam sanford

    Also, in your banner graphic up top: you’ve got a hood for a 28-300L sitting on your 24-70 2.8L Mk I.

    The correct hood for the Mk I is famously large as that lens actually reverse zooms (longest physical length at the *widest* FL), which allows a hood like this to shade the front element correctly at all FLs. 

    The other three (and just about all other 24-something zooms) get physically longer with longer FLs, so you can only correctly
    shade the wide end of the FL range; the upside is that the hood is
    considerably smaller for your bag.

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  6. adam sanford

    A staple instrument.  The things you can’t shoot with a 24-70 2.8 are dwarfed by those you can. 

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