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Technical

May 2009

With over 60 EF lenses in the current Canon range, the primes and zooms that a photographer actually owns and uses can vary widely depending on the subjects that they specialise in. Architecture photographers are more likely to own a TS-E lens than a 500mm long-tom telephoto – but the reverse is equally true of wildlife photographers. In this new series, we’ll be finding out not only what lenses different photographers carry around in their kitbag, but also discovering which they use the most often and why. Ed Sheen finds out why two top photographers always reach for a standard zoom as their optic of choice.

Our journey starts off by looking at what is probably the most popular type of lens owned by any Canon photographer: whatever their specialisation or experience, few dare manage without a standard zoom. After all, this is the one lens that comes bundled with the camera, and is designed to give a range of focal lengths for everyday use. But which professionals find that they actually use this type of all-purpose lens the most?

Gavin Gough – EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM

gavin_gough
 

Travel photographer Gavin Gough.

Travel specialist Gavin Gough has taken pictures all around the world, but his passion for Asia has recently led him to move his business to Bangkok. In addition to shooting commissioned work, he also sells stock imagery through Getty Images and Lonely Planet Images. He is self-taught but now passes on his mastery of colour and composition to others at the Bangkok Photo School.

Gavin’s favourite lens is his Canon EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM zoom. He explains: "I've been using this zoom for about four years. It has become my ‘go-to’ lens and it’s invariably what’s attached to my camera when I step off the plane at a new location. It’s the one that I take with me when I'm reduced to carrying one body and lens.”

For Gavin the wide aperture of this lens is its appeal: "I have a selection of Canon L-series lenses in my bag and they're all there for different reasons. All are at least f/2.8: that wide aperture is essential for me,” he says. "I'm often working in unpredictable, or low-light, conditions and faster lenses give me maximum flexibility.” Nestling amongst his Canon optics are the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, the EF85mm f/1.2L II USM and the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM, however, the 24-70mm zoom is his ‘workhorse’.

© Gavin Gough

Tattooed hands in Jaipur, India - shot on the EOS-1Ds Mark II with the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM. Exposure was 1/400sec at f/4.5, ISO 200.

"The standard zoom range enables me to get in close without worrying about distortion and at the long end the depth-of-field is sufficiently narrow to produce engaging portraits,” he explains. "The autofocus is quick and reliable but I know from experience that, like any lens, it will struggle in low-contrast situations - so I am ready to switch to manual focus when necessary. I still focus manually quite a lot of the time, but that's the result of habit rather than a reflection on the focusing ability of the lens.”

For Gavin the optical weak point of his 24-70mm f/2.8L also happens to be its biggest strength. For him the quality of the optics becomes really impressive at f/8 – so this is what he stops down to for contextual work. "The rest of the time the lens is almost exclusively set to f/2.8. It suits my style of photography to reduce the depth-of-field and pick out elements in a scene. The shot of the man in the doorway in Thailand was taken at f/2.8 as that's the aperture that I switch to when moving between locations,” he says. "If I see an interesting face then I want the wide aperture to throw backgrounds out of focus and if I see a moving subject then I probably want the fastest shutter speed available.”

© Gavin Gough

Local man in doorway, Cha’am, Thailand - shot with the EOS-1Ds Mark II fitted with the EF24-70mm f/2.8L: exposure was 1/320sec at f/2.8, ISO 200.

Gavin says that it was originally a close call between this zoom and a 50mm prime. "The wider aperture was tempting but I picked the zoom as it lets me frame images just as I want them. Although a 50mm prime might resolve images a little more clearly, the benefit would be lost if I need to in post-production to get the composition I want. "The Marrakech orange wall photograph (the lead image with this article, shown at the top of this page) was taken at 43mm and proves the benefit of having a zoom, as there was only one place in the square to sit inconspicuously waiting for the passers-by to be in the perfect place in the frame,” admits Gavin.

Julian Knight – EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM

 

Freelance fashion and advertising photographer Julian Knight.

UK-based fashion and advertising photographer Julian Knight has been working as a freelance photographer for five years. In a tale of ‘poacher turned gamekeeper’, the 41-year-old previously worked as an art director in the advertising industry – but now takes the shots, rather than simply calling them. His distinctive studio style is characterised by the use of strong colour, carefully constructed sets and painstaking post-production in Photoshop.

Julian Knight’s favoured lens is EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM. "I'm not shooting action, and use flash lighting, so the f/4 maximum aperture is more than adequate,” says Julian. The extra reach of this lens is, for him, a big plus: "I like the long range of this zoom, as it allows me the flexibility I prefer to crop in when shooting both fashion and beauty.”

© Julian Knight

A shot from a fashion shoot for a jewellery designer – Julian Knight shot this on a Canon EOS 5D with the EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM zoom lens and three studio flash lights. The exposure for this shot was 1/160sec at f/9, ISO 125.

Julian will occasionally switch to his EF14mm f/2.8L or EF200mm f/2.8L II if he needs a more extreme angle of view, but the 24-105mm is his day-to-day studio companion. He is happy to take advantage of everything that it can do to ensure he has sharp shots for his client. "I mostly use this lens on autofocus,” says Julian. "The AF speed of autofocusing is definitely fast enough for my requirements – and I never turn off the Image Stabilization.”

Even the one weakness that Julian has spotted in the lens has not proven to be a problem. "There may tend to be some be slight vignetting when it is set at 24mm and f/4,” he confesses, "however this isn't big deal as it’s easily fixed when I'm in the Adobe Camera RAW plug-in.”

For Julian the potential hazards to his zoom are less obvious, as his indoor work means that there is little need to brave the elements. But he still swears by his 24-105mm’s dust proofing: "It is definitely a benefit”, he says, "as the studio air is often thick with make-up particles and hairspray!”

© Julian Knight

A beauty test shot by Julian Knight taken on the EOS 5D with the EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens. Three studio lights were used and exposure was 1/160sec at f/9, ISO 125.

So, there’s one thing that the travelling lensman and the studio-bound specialist agree on – the legendary weatherproofing of their favourite L-series lenses. The appeal of a properly sealed lens is more obvious for Gavin Gough. "The dust and water resistant qualities of this lens when paired with an EOS-1 series camera mean that I can keep shooting when the heavens open or when the wind blows up a sand storm. It's not waterproof, and I wouldn't push my luck, but I've often stayed out in inclement conditions when other photographers are stowing their gear safely away from the elements.”

The versatility, ruggedness, AF speed, zoom range, framing options and wide aperture are among the reasons that Gavin Gough and Julian Knight are able to rely on their standard zooms to deliver great results. Both of them make a pretty compelling case for taking a closer look at the abilities of these two lenses so, if you haven't considered them yet, they are well worth exploring further.