FOCUS ON: EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM

February 28, 2011

Are great images a product of the photographer, or their camera equipment? This series (formerly known as "Lens of the Month")explores the idea that it's BOTH: Featuring a professional photographer and a single Canon lens, the Canon Digital Learning Center focuses on the relationship that artists can have with their gear.

Canon Digital Learning Center (CDLC): What type of photography do you do professionally? What field(s) do you prefer for personal projects or as a hobby?

Jennifer Wu (JW): Professionally I do landscape and astro photography. I love doing photography of all kinds and this is what I love the most. Being under the night sky and photographing the Milky Way is a breathtaking experience. I decided to focus on nature and landscape almost 10 years ago, although I have been photographing landscapes for 24 years now. While doing other types of photography, I was out in the Sierra Nevada doing nature and landscape as a hobby. I started out by taking a class in high school in 1984 and enjoyed it even though my images were terrible! Film came out blank or scratched or messed up in some way -- but I continued. I went on to college and decided to major in photography. During this time I assisted some excellent professional photographers. I began with assignments for Morefood photography and small products. Then, I worked for the local newspaper and journal.

Wanting to photograph people and their expressions, I changed directions once again, this time to wedding and portrait photography. I did this until December 1999. Now, with nature and landscape, I do a variety of things such as photographic workshops, stock photography, art festivals and gallery shows.

For a personal project I would love to do more wildlife photography. I really like baby animals. They have the oh-so-cute factor that makes me go "ah" and melt my heart. Of course I like stunning and beautiful scenes nature can provide, but there is a different beauty to photographing animals. There is a connection when seeing an animal. I love the expressions and quirky things they do. I just returned from a week in Denali National Park, Alaska. My time was torn between photographing the landscape and hiking in the mountains or watching and photographing the wildlife. Both are wonderful, however one of my favorite experiences was seeing bear cubs that were just a few months old. They were so small next to their mother and so adorable.

CDLC: What are the most important features you need in the lenses you use professionally? What about for personal work (if there is a difference)?

JW: There are several features that I look for in a lens. Number one is sharpness. If a lens is not sharp I will not use it. The prints I would make would be too soft for large display images. L series lenses have the sharpness I am looking for. Fixed lenses used to be the requirement for sharp images, however now zoom lenses are very good, so I use them.

Focal length of the lens is something I consider. Zoom lenses allow for more focal-length options than fixed focal-length lenses. The flexibility of different focal lengths allows me to compose the image just as I would like it to be, because every image is different! I like to use lenses at different focal lengths so the zoom lenses allow me to be creative. There are three main lenses I enjoy using that give me coverage from 16mm to 200mm in focal length: the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L, the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L, and the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens.

The next important feature is the aperture. Using a lens with a wide-open aperture, such as at f/2.8 allows me to blur out the background nicely. When photographing a flower at close range I might add an extension tube or the 500D close up lens to help me get in closer to the subject.

In addition, I might need the wide-open aperture for low-light conditions. When photographing the stars and the night sky I usually use a wide aperture such as f/2.8. This allows me to capture the scene when I would not be able to otherwise.

Another factor is weather sealing. The L lens's weather sealing is something that I rely on. I have put the lenses in some tough situations. Say, I am out photographing in the rain, snow and dust. I want a lens I can count on in bad weather.

There is no difference in the features I am looking for in lenses both professionally and in personal work. I want to create beautiful images and to do this, I require the best quality possible.

CDLC: What is your favorite Canon lens, and why?

JW: There are so many fun lenses to use, such as the EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye, but my favorite lens is the 24-70mm f/2.8L. The majority of my photographs are done with this lens. I use the 24mm wide-angle settings as well as zooming to 70mm. Having a favorite lens and using it often is my personal preference. It's just a matter of what focal length you like to use. I find that I photograph the most in that 24mm to 70mm range because I like that amount of coverage area. I can include the background in a landscape image and get the whole scene in the shot. It is this perspective I want to create.

I also enjoy using the 24-70mm lens for photographing people. Many photographers use the 70-200mm zooms, and I like those one too. However, the 24-70mm allows me to be close to the model and reach out and touch the face slightly or move it slightly without being a mile away. The model can see my face and subtle movements for suggestions on posing and moving. There is more of a connection and the model can pick up on my movements, expressions and energy and match it. Another aspect I like about the lens is that it focuses fast. That is helpful for portraits. Using the 24-70mm instead of the 70-200mm gives me more area of coverage in the background of the scene so I have to make sure that I don't include any distracting elements or get too much of the background. On the other hand, shooting on location shows more of the scene and gives the view a sense of the place.

Two other lenses I often use are the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM and the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM. These both provide me with f/2.8 aperture and L-lens quality with flexibility of changing focal lengths.

CDLC: In what types of assignments do you think this lens will really excel and why?

JW: This is the perfect lens for a nature and landscape assignment. I can photograph a broad landscape with the 24mm and zoom into 70mm when I want less of the scene. All of the images here in this gallery are straight from the camera and not cropped. I used the lens hood almost all the time to help keep out any unwanted flare or reflections. I like the way I can use the 24-70mm lens for a variety of subjects, from the wide-angle shots of the night sky and ocean sunsets to the close-up details of the leaves and portrait of the tiger.

CDLC: What, if any, challenges did you experience working with this lens?

JW: This is a really fantastic lens. As I've mentioned, it is sharp and has nice contrast and color.

As for any challenges, the only thing that I can think of is that it is a zoom lens. One quality of all zoom lenses is that with the additional elements you will get more lens flare when shooting into the sun, although there is less flare on L lenses than non-L lenses. For those images with the sun in the frame, such as when photographing sunrise or sunset, I might use the fixed 24 mm lens. I like having the varying focal lengths that the zoom lens provides as it allows me to be creative so this one factor does not bother me.

People often ask me, "Why do you use the 24-70mm lens instead of the EF 24-105mm f/4L IS? That one has more focal length and image stabilization." I like the 24-70mm focal length and if I need more, then I can switch to the 70-200 mm lens. I am almost always photographing on a tripod so I don't find I need the image stabilization. However those who are handholding portraits in low light might want the image stabilization feature.

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