Move over, F/2.8
Steve Landeros shot this San Francisco apartment tower with Canon’s EF 17–40mm f/4L lens on an EOS 5D Mark II.
Other variable-aperture zoom characteristics make the f/4 class look, well, more classy. Consumer zooms usually aren’t as ruggedly constructed or protected from the elements as the f/4 zooms are. Zoomed longer, they produce a dimmer image in a DSLR’s viewfinder, which can affect your ability to compose and to focus manually. It can also slow down autofocus, for which f/5.6 is the threshold for operation in many cameras, especially in low light. If you’re shooting with an f/4.5–6.3 zoom, this alone would be reason to upgrade to f/4.
Interesting Zoom Ranges
Working with an f/4 maximum aperture gives optical engineers the ability to produce zoom lenses that simply aren’t practical, or even possible, at f/2.8.
Two good examples: Canon’s EF 24–105mm f/4L IS USM and Nikon’s comparable 24–120mm f/4G AF-S ED VR. Neither manufacturer offers f/2.8 glass that reaches as satisfyingly wide and deep into the portrait-perfect telephoto range as do these two. For many photographers, there’s a significant difference between a standard-range zoom that signs off at 105mm or 120mm, and one that finishes at a scant 70mm.
Steve Landeros, a Petaluma, CA,-based fine-art shooter is one of those photographers. “Canon’s 24–105mm was my first f/4,” he says. “It’s basically a kit lens for high-end cameras, with excellent build quality.
It has a surprising zoom range and a great price [$1,150, street], considering you can get a true wide angle at one end and decent reach at the other. On a cropped body, it’s a very decent reach. If you’re looking for one lens that can do everything, it would be this one.”
Another unique f/4 zoom option: Long telephotos. Canon’s newly announced EF 200–400mm f/4L IS USM, with its built-in 1.4X converter, joins its Nikon counterpart, the 200–400mm f/4G AF-S Zoom-Nikkor ED VR II. Streeting for $11,799 and $6,750, respectively, these can be called “favorably priced” only when you figure in the number of lenses they replace. Nevertheless, had either of these sports-perfect zooms been produced in f/2.8 versions, the resulting bulk and greater expense would have put them out of reach of many photographers (witness Sigma’s $26,000, 34.5-pound 200–500mm f/2.8 APO EX DG IF). We often see these f/4 tele zooms along the sidelines, by the way, and they’re usually handheld.
Round Up: F/4 All Stars