Reader lens question

Richard, a frequent reader, asks:

I have been researching the Canon L series lens’ 16-35 F/2.8 vs 24-70 F/2.8. I have my daughter’s graduation in May, which combines an indoor ceremony with an outside function. I expect I will be further away for most shots, but want sharpness, quality and a fast lens in either case. I also have my Canon 50mm F/1.4 for the real nice inside close-ups, where speed/blur is important. I am leaning towards the 24-70 F/2.8 as I think I will get more long-term use for the various kids events, sport shots, family gatherings etc.

And I agree, Richard.

First: an f/2.8 lens is going to be much better than a f/5.6 “consumer grade” lens – two stops more light, and two stops more blurred background, whenever you like them. Get fast lenses and you will never regret it. Nothing beats low f-numbers.

I actually own both those lenses, so I can tell you about them – they are great lenses both. Both those “luxury” lenses (that is what “L” stands for in Canon-speak) are very sharp, focus quickly, and have good build quality.

What do you use them for?

  • If you own a full frame camera, 16-35 is very wide, and 24-70 is a “wide to almost longish” general purpose lens.
  • If on the other hand you own a crop camera, 16-35 is “wide to standard” and 24-70 is “a bit wide to a somewhat long”.

Wide is great for landscapes, architecture, parties, perspective. The 24-70 range, on the other hand, is a general purpose workhorse lens. Some pros only own this one lens. Yes, 16-35 is fantastic, but not general purpose: 24-70, on the other hand, is general purpose, from weddings to parties to portraits.

So on the whole, I would say 24-70 first, and 16-35 later. For a graduation, 70mm may not be long enough if you cannot get close to the stage, but you can, in that case, always rent a 70-200mm lens for a day. Renting is good!

Another of Richard’s questions concerned extenders – I shall address this at a later point.