Ziv Koren on the EF24-70mm: setting new standards
© Ziv Koren/Polaris Images
The 24-70mm zoom range is popular with photographers working in many genres, but Canon’s EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens is setting new levels of performance. Photojournalist Ziv Koren spoke to CPN writer Ian Farrell about working with this recently updated zoom...
Ziv Koren has been a professional photojournalist for over 20 years, starting out as a photographer in the Israeli armed forces before working for national newspapers and photo agencies. He has been a staff photographer for the Polaris Images agency since 2003 and his work – often depicting international humanitarian issues – has been the subject of numerous exhibitions and awards around the world.
Koren shoots in locations ranging from Finland to India, as well as documenting the Israel-Palestine conflict and the broader social issues surrounding life in the Middle East. It’s a job that takes him all over the world, and EOS-1 series cameras have been his constant companions. “I started shooting with Canon when the first EOS-1 SLR was launched,” says Koren, recalling how an insurance claim after he was mugged shooting street riots enabled him to switch camera systems. “That was 20 years ago, and I’ve probably used every EOS-1 series camera since then. I moved up through the EOS-1N and EOS-1V and went digital when the EOS-1D came along.”
Taking a wide-angle view
Nowadays Ziv Koren has two DSLRs in his bag – an EOS-1D X and an EOS 5D Mark III – along with lenses ranging in focal lengths from 16mm up to 200mm. “I am pretty much a wide-angle person,” he reveals. “Rather than keeping my distance, I like being close to objects and creating a visually interesting perspective with wide-angle lenses.”
For this reason Koren says he has usually stuck to the EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM ultra wide-angle zoom and a pair of fast-aperture prime lenses, in the shape of the Canon EF24mm f/1.4L II USM and EF35mm f/1.4L USM. “A more traditional standard zoom hadn’t been on my radar until the new EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM came along,” he confesses.
“The standard EF35mm f/1.4L USM used to sit on my camera all the time, but now it’s the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM that I use the most. It’s very useful, especially in the mid-range, and the quality is amazing – just like a prime lens. I’ve never shot with a zoom that delivers images like this. It compares to the 24mm f/1.4L lens that I use too,” he says.
Ziv Koren also praises the zoom lens’ AF speed, build quality, handling and more portable design. “I think really this lens has nothing to do with the previous model. It’s a completely new design from the ground up. The overall impression is just one of quality. And that goes well with many of the other products I’ve seen from Canon recently, like the EOS 5D Mark III and the EOS-1D X. On paper it’s difficult to explain what is so much better about them but, once you’ve started shooting, it doesn’t take long to realise the huge change in quality that’s been achieved.”
After almost a year of shooting with the new 24-70mm, Ziv Koren is confident to vouch for the lens’ resilience. “I’ve been to some hardcore locations and it’s still performing perfectly,” he says. “I’ve shot in Lapland with the camera hanging off my shoulder while I bounced along on a snowmobile. I’ve photographed the army on exercises, which is hard work. And I’ve worked on the streets of India in all the dust and humidity that goes with it.”
On assignment at the Kumbh Mela
One such assignment, earlier in 2013, saw Ziv Koren travel to Allahabad in India for the Kumbh Mela – the mass pilgrimage of Hindus to one of four locations around the country. “This was something I was very excited to see,” he says. “The biggest social gathering in history, with over 100 million people. On one day some 60 million people attended at once – that’s roughly the same as the population of the UK, France or Italy; all journeying to the same place on the same day.”
Ziv Koren found himself using the 24-70mm more and more while travelling in Allahabad, because of the logistics involved with working in such a location. “It was very nice to be working in a relatively safe place for once, not an earthquake or a conflict zone, but the job definitely brought its own set of challenges with it.” he says. “There is no transportation and you end up walking about 15 kilometres per day carrying all the water and food you need with you, as well as the camera gear of course. On the one hand you want the best gear with you, but on the other the space and weight available is a real limitation... so the 24-70mm was great here.”
Koren describes how he carried just one bag containing food and water, and most of his camera equipment on belts. “We left our accommodation at midnight to try and get to the river by dawn, not knowing if we could even get there by the route we were taking. But it worked out well and we got lucky in the end,” he says. “There are no cafés or restaurants, though. You can’t take a break. You just have to keep going. It’s very intense.”
The images Ziv Koren shot at the Kumbh Mela give a sense of the scale of the event, even though he insists that it is hard to truly appreciate the size of what is happening. “The surrounding landscape is very flat so it’s hard to get to a point where you can look across the crowds,” he says.
“I found myself using the 24-70mm more than the 16-35mm and I think that’s because I wanted those really high resolution images. I’ve made some massive enlargements of those images for exhibitions, and you’d think they’d been shot on medium format, the quality is that good.”
Seeing in the dark
Much of Ziv Koren’s work involves shooting in low-light conditions, and this is an area in which he has been able to take advantage of the many technological improvements in digital photography in recent years. “The ability of my cameras to capture detail in such dim conditions is extraordinary,” he says. “I am happy to go to ISO 5000 or ISO 10,000 and still make decent enlargements from the files I get.”
He admits: “I do still reach for the 24mm and 35mm prime lenses in very dark conditions, but I usually have the 24-70mm on the other body too and shoot with that for extra versatility.”
Currently, Ziv Koren is putting the finishing touches to a project documenting the borders of his native Israel, at a time when the Middle East region is seeing significant unrest. “We are bordered by Syria and Egypt, which are burning at the moment, as well as Jordan and Lebanon, and the West Bank and Gaza inside Israel. It was very interesting and extremely challenging seeing what is happening along all of these borders at the moment. But even getting to them is tricky since access is controlled largely by the military.”
The ability of the EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM to deliver superlative image quality, a versatile focal length range and cast-iron reliability are exactly what Ziv Koren demands. And we’re pretty sure the lens will become the new standard for many other photographers, working in areas like landscape, travel and wedding photography.
Biography: Ziv Koren
© Remy Cortin
In a career spanning over 20 years Canon Ambassador Ziv Koren has been a military photographer in the Israeli army, a newspaper photo editor and he is now a freelance photographer affiliated to Polaris Images. His work has won numerous awards around the world and has been published in leading publications in many countries. In 2000 one of his images was chosen by World Press Photo as one of the 200 best pictures from the previous 45 years.