Move over, F/2.8
Canon’s EF 24–70mm f/4L IS USM is sized between the smaller EF-S 18–55mm f/3.5–5.6 IS II kit lens and the larger EF 24–70mm f/2.8L II USM.
The Time is Now
A number of factors make this the f/4’s moment to shine. With each advance in image quality that today’s DSLRs make at ever higher ISOs, the attraction of f/2.8 takes a hit. Improved image stabilization systems similarly undercut the low-light advantage of that bigger maximum aperture. Because photographers can now reap clean images in low light at f/4 and ISO 1600 (and beyond), many are making an end run around f/2.8 to f/4 and saving hundreds of dollars in the process.
“The need for a fast f/2.8-type lens in low light is much less now with newer cameras like the Canon EOS 5D Mark III,” says travel specialist Ian Lloyd. “These cameras have better sensitivity with less noise at high ISOs. With that, plus stabilization, my need for fast lenses when traveling has become almost nonexistent.”
Says Piscataway, NJ-based sports shooter Ron Wyatt (www.ronwyattphotos.com), “If I’m shooting mainly night sports where every stop of light counts, I might go with an f/2.8 because it means I could keep ISOs below 800 and get clean images. If I’m shooting with a Canon EOS 5D Mark III or a Nikon D600, though, I might go with f/4s. Both bodies let me bump up to ISO 1200, 1600, even 2000 without losing any image quality, but saving myself a bunch of money and physical discomfort.”
Speaking of Nikon’s 200– 400mm f/4G Nikkor AF-S VR II, Wyatt adds, “With its zoom range, handholdable weight, and stabilization system, it adds up to the single best lens I’ve ever used.”
The potential audience for this category of glass is likely to keep on growing. The introduction of favorably priced full-frame DSLRs such as the Canon EOS 6D ($1,899, street) and Nikon D600 ($2,097, street) produces a new pool of serious shooters drawn to the relatively economical f/4 wide- and standard-type zooms. It’s no coincidence that a common kit zoom for the Canon 6D is an f/4: the stabilized, ruggedly built and very popular Canon EF 24–105mm f/4L.
Another target audience: women. “I think the increasing numbers of women [photographers] has added to the appeal of the f/4 lens category,” says Rudy Winston, a technical information advisor for Canon. “Size and weight are two things we always hear about at [trade] shows from our serious female customers.”
The f/4 will never fully replace the beloved f/2.8 zoom, with its ability to grab that extra bit of light or super-shallow focus. But if you’re looking for a top-notch zoom for travel, portraits, sports, landscapes—any situation where size and speed both matter—the f/4 is your new best friend.
Round Up: F/4 All Stars