Jeff Ascough on the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM zoom
© Jeff Ascough
Over the past few months Canon Ambassador Jeff Ascough has been photographing weddings in his distinctive documentary style, primarily with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III DSLR teamed with the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM zoom lens. He spoke to CPN about his experiences shooting with the latest incarnation of an already much-loved standard zoom lens; one that is smaller, lighter, more durable and optically more sophisticated than its predecessor.
CPN: How much have you been shooting with the 'Mark II' 24-70mm zoom lens?
Jeff Ascough (Jeff): ”Pretty much all the time. The only time I haven’t been using it is in super low light [conditions], but apart from that it has been my most used lens this past [wedding] season. It’s a terrific piece of kit.”
CPN: This lens is almost 150g lighter and is smaller than its predecessor. Have you noticed this and has it helped with your workflow?
Jeff: “Absolutely – it’s a very different lens. In addition to the Mark I version, which I loved, I also had the old 28-70mm before that – so I’ve kind of gone through all three incarnations of it. This is a completely different lens though – it’s a lot smaller and it’s a lot lighter. It also zooms the right way now – there’s not this ‘inverted zoom’ action anymore, where the lens retracts when you go to telephoto and sticks out when you go to wide-angle.”
CPN: So is the updated version of the lens now easier to handle and work with?
Jeff: “Yes. One of the biggest problems with the old 24-70mm was that it was really quite a heavy lens and, once you stuck the lens hood on, it became a big looking lens as well. Using it for eight to 10 hours a day was quite a trial as well. The new lens is a lot easier to manage, a lot lighter. It’s a really nice size for the [EOS] 5D Mark III body without the optional battery grip.
CPN: The lens is more durable and is better weather-sealed than its EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM predecessor. What is your opinion on the build quality of the lens?
Jeff: “To be honest the old 24-70mm wasn’t the best made lens I’ve ever used. But this one seems a lot ‘tighter’ – that’s how I describe it – everything is more positive. It’s much more solid.
Ergonomically it’s much better – it’s a smaller lens and I’ve got quite small hands, so when you use it with a camera ergonomically it’s much nicer to use. The zoom ring is really nice because it’s not as wide as the other lens was in terms of the actual ‘throat’ of the lens – you haven’t got to move it so far to get it to zoom in and out. The focus is really nice as well – that’s just on the end of my scale with my fingers.”
CPN: The lens has a nine-blade diaphragm instead of eight blades on the previous version and is said to be good for out-of-focus highlights and bokeh. Have you noticed this?
Jeff: “I haven’t noticed that the out-of-focus areas are one way or another in terms of saying ‘that’s absolutely amazing’, but what caught my eye was the initial sharpness of the lens. Also, I’m not one of those people who looks at out-of-focus areas and goes ‘Wow! That’s an amazing out-of-focus area’, but in terms of the overall sharpness it’s incredible, especially at [f] 2.8.
The lens behaves like a prime lens, if that makes sense. Obviously it’s a zoom but, in terms of the actual way it behaves, when you take pictures with it the quality is almost like you shot them with a prime lens. The image quality is so sharp – it’s quite frightening how sharp this lens is.”
CPN: Earlier you mentioned using the focus ring – how do you generally prefer to focus?
Jeff: “These days, with the EOS 5D Mark III, I use autofocus pretty much all of the time. With the 5D Mark II I used to use manual focus quite a bit, especially in low light, because it used to hunt a little bit. The Mark III doesn’t hunt in low light – it tends to lock on [focus] very quickly. So manual focus will either be for effect – if I want the subject out of focus in the foreground I will just [manually] tweak the focus – but most of the time it is [using] the autofocus points in the camera now. The zoom ring is really, really smooth and it’s right where it should be – with the previous lens it was a little bit further away from the camera body.”
CPN: Do you ever use full-time manual focus?
Jeff: “Not these days – to be honest I now wear glasses when I’m shooting, so I rely more and more on the autofocus than I have done previously. With the 5D Mark II I used to use manual focus quite a bit in low light and for low contrast areas. But I can’t remember using manual focus last [wedding] season at all with the 5D Mark III.”
CPN: Have you found that the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens performs well in low light?
Jeff: “With it being slightly smaller and slightly lighter [than the previous lens] I think you can get away with probably an extra stop of hand-held shooting. The old lens used to be a bit ‘flaky’ if you went below 1/80th of a second. With this lens I’ve been as low as 1/40th of a second and not had too much trouble with it, particularly at the wide-angle end [of the zoom]. Obviously at the telephoto end you will run more of a risk of getting camera shake but I’ve hand-held it down to 1/40th of a second easily at the 24mm end of the zoom and not had a problem at all.
The autofocus in low light is terrific; it’s better than some of my prime lenses in that respect. My 50mm and 24mm [prime lenses] would hunt a little bit but actually the zoom equivalent [of these focal lengths] will just lock on immediately – it’s a great lens from that point of view.”
CPN: Is the lens’ constant f/2.8 aperture throughout the zoom range an advantage to you?
Jeff: “The one thing I have noticed with this lens compared to the last one is that you get ‘true’ f/2.8 through the whole zoom range. With the old 24-70mm [lens] you used to have very subtle and very slight differences in the actual exposure between 24mm and 70mm.
The other thing I noticed with the old lens is that sometimes you could find that the actual lens could give you anything up to half a stop under exposure, compared to a prime lens at the same aperture. I’m guessing because of all the elements in the lens stopping light going through. The new lens is absolutely consistent across the whole zoom range – exposure is absolutely consistent when compared to the primes.”
CPN: The lens has a close focusing distance of 0.38m – does this help your wedding work and when would you use it?
Jeff: “For any sort of close-up details – anything on tables, the back of dresses… that kind of thing. That’s where the close distance works well. It saves you having to reach for a lens that will focus a bit closer. The previous zoom lens wasn’t any slouch with regards to this but this lens seems really good.”
CPN: How have you found the combination of shooting with the EOS 5D Mark III DSLR and the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens?
Jeff: “I’ve only ever used the lens with the 5D Mark III, and I’ve used it with the battery grip and without the grip. With the grip it’s really beautifully balanced and its a joy to work with albeit with the disadvantage of the extra weight. Without the grip it’s still well balanced but it’s a little bit ‘lens heavy’. It’s a lot, lot better than the previous version. I tend to use it all day without the grip, but it works really well with or without the battery grip.”
CPN: In terms of the overall performance of the lens have you noticed its quality in your pictures?
Jeff: “Like I said before it’s like a prime lens – it’s like having a series of prime lenses in one lens. It’s phenomenal – it was like when Canon brought out the Mark II version of the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM [zoom lens] and everybody went ‘Wow! Look at the difference, it’s like shooting with prime lenses’. This [lens] is exactly the same. The quality of the pictures is just incredible – they are always incredibly sharp pictures. The first thing you notice about it is how sharp the lens is – it’s quite an amazing piece of kit.”
CPN: Has the lens changed the way you work in any way?
Jeff: “When you’re actually shooting it just makes everything simpler – there’s no lens choices to make and you don’t have to swap lenses over to take a particular image and then swap it back to take something else. You can literally just ‘go with the flow’ the whole day.
I’m more confident shooting in low light than I was with the previous version [of the lens]. With the previous lens if you got into low light I’d have to switch to a prime lens just to make sure I’d got it focused properly. With this lens I can shoot in any sort of light. I’m more likely to keep it on the camera body and just crank the ISO up so that I can continue to shoot with it.
Most of the time I’m tending to use it purely on its own – one camera and one lens. If I need to get wider or go telephoto I just change the lens. In terms of the way I work that’s simplified everything completely – it’s much, much easier to work with one camera body and one lens than it is to keep messing about with changing lenses and carrying bags.”
CPN: Would you then tend to switch to the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens for wide shots?
Jeff: “These days it’s normally wider than that – if I have to go wider than a 24mm [focal length] I usually get the [EF8-15mm] fisheye out. That’s my favourite wide-angle lens at the moment. I’m more likely to use it, mainly because the sharpness is comparable with the 24-70mm [lens], whereas the 16-35mm doesn’t look as sharp or as crisp in comparison to the 24-70mm. I don’t want to have a variation across lenses, so I’m more likely to use the 8-15mm.”
CPN: Is there anything else you noticed or would have liked when working with the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens?
Jeff: “Something else I’ve noticed is the actual colour retention of the lens is very good. I’m sitting here looking at a picture on the studio wall that was shot with it and the way it handles the colours is just really, really nice. The colours are very natural with this lens. Overall, it’s a terrific lens.”
Biography: Jeff Ascough
© Jeff Ascough
Jeff Ascough started his career in 1989 as a portrait photographer and in 1993 set up his own photography business. In 1995 he began shooting weddings in his distinctive, award-winning documentary style. Jeff is the only British photographer to be included in ‘American Photo’ magazine's list of the 10 best wedding photographers in the world and holds the 'Lens and Light' honour with the invitation-only organisation 'Best of Wedding Photography' for his "stunning, modern, artistic imagery at the frontier of the field." Both the BBC and Italian luxury bridal magazine 'Just Married' voted him as one of the top five wedding photographers in the world and he has won 'You and Your Wedding' magazine’s Photographer of the Year title three times. He has been a Canon Ambassador since 2008.