Move over, F/2.8
Jimmy Chin captured climber Conrad Anker using a 12–24mm f/4G Zoom- Nikkor IF-ED AF-S DX on a Nikon D2X body.
Somewhere between the consumer’s variable-aperture kit lens and the pro’s constant-aperture f/2.8 monster reigns the light and compact f/4 zoom. New models are coming on the market, and photographers—professionals and amateurs alike—are flocking to them. Why now?
Call it the Happy Median. The constant-aperture f/4 zoom represents a perfect balance between big, heavy, and expensive f/2.8 glass designed for professional photographers and lighter, more compact, and affordable variable-aperture lenses for casual shooters. So it’s no surprise that the just-right f/4 is winning a steady stream of converts from both camps. More than a dozen models in several focal ranges are made by Canon, Nikon, Panasonic, Pentax, and Tokina for DSLRs and Micro Four Thirds interchangeable-lens compacts; Sigma makes an f/3.5 zoom that offers similar benefits.
We spoke with a handful of pros for whom f/4s have become essential, go-to glass. Their reasons prove nearly identical: These lenses provide attractive features at a reasonable price, and because of improvements in camera technology, they can make better pictures than ever before.
The constant aperture appeals to still shooters, and to a burgeoning number of photographers shooting video, too. Since video shooters prefer smaller apertures for more depth of field and easier focusing, they rarely need f/2.8. They also love the image quality and utility of the constant aperture without the bulk of the f/2.8. We expect the number of f/4 video fans to grow.
The current trend toward f/4 zooms probably dates back to 1999 with Canon’s EF 70–200mm f/4L USM. That lens, which 14 years later remains in production, offered a compelling blend of amateur and pro features. Before 1999, pro Canon shooters had to labor under the 2.89-pound EF 70–200mm f/2.8L USM or go with a bag of primes.
This pioneer has since been joined by plenty of others, from wide-angles to longer telephotos. In June, Kenko Tokina announced a new 12–28mm f/4 Tokina AT-X lens for DSLRs with APS-C-sized sensors.
All of the current f/4 zooms provide a compelling mix of bright, constant apertures, light weight, durability, great handling and balance, excellent optical performance—and at relatively reasonable street prices to boot.
Round Up: F/4 All Stars