What’s your favourite lens?

©Neil Turner, November 2014. Surfer heads towards Bournemouth Pier as the waves get bigger during a storm.

©Neil Turner, November 2014. Surfer heads towards Bournemouth Pier as the waves get bigger during a storm.

It’s been a while since I’ve directly answered a question from a reader on this blog. I haven’t been ignoring people – it’s just that the questions best suited to an answer on here haven’t been coming my way. A fellow news photographer causing mischief asked this one last week:

“What’s your favourite lens?”

It’s tough to answer because one of the things I love doing in my work is to use as wide a variety of focal lengths as possible and to use the right lens for the situation (if I own it and/or have it with me of course). I’ve written before about the best lens for portraits and I’ve written about zooms versus primes quite recently and so I thought that I’d give a couple of different answers to the question.

Most used lens

There is one lens that I use more than any other, one that I’d find it hardest to live and work without and which has given amazing service over many years. That lens is my Canon 70-200 f2.8L IS. Put simply, I shoot more ‘keepers’ and have more pictures published with this lens than any other that I’ve ever owned. Mine is approaching thirteen years of age and it replaced the almost identical non-IS version of the lens when I got it. It’s been serviced and repaired more times than I can count but it keeps going and it is still a great lens.

Most intuitive lens

I have another lens that I love which is nowhere near as versatile but has a quality and a simplicity that constantly makes me smile. That lens is my Canon 135mm f2L. It’s tough to say exactly why I love it so much except that the results I get from using it and the ease with which I seem to be able to compose pictures are both a step up from any other prime lens that I own. I shot a job in a pub at night just before Christmas. It was pretty dark and there was a live band playing but I managed to get some nice images at 3200 ISO, 1/100th of second at f2. Hand-holding the lens on a 5D MkIII is a doodle because it is so well balanced and having gear that fits into your hands that well encourages you to push yourself a little more

Most recent lens

Recently I have been using the 135 as part of a two lens set-up with the new Canon 35mm f2 IS – which is itself something of a revelation. This is the third Canon 35mm prime that I’ve owned (non-IS f2 and the f1.4L) as well as being part of the range of the two small zooms that I use a lot (16-35mm f2.8L and 24-70 f2.8L). In the past I’ve owned Olympus, Nikon and Leica 35s as well so I guess that you could say that it is a focal length that I have a lot of experience with! The new 35mm f2 IS is fast to focus, very sharp and a bargain at under £500.

I have a theory about why 135mm lenses on full-frame cameras are such a joy to use for me: the first serious lens that I ever owned on my first SLR was a 135 instead of the normal 50mm that came as part of a kit back then (late 1970s) and I trained myself to see using a medium telephoto instead of a standard lens. When I bought my Olympus OM1 system in the early 1980s a 135mm f2.8 was my second purchase following on from a 50mm f1.8. I can also remember getting the Nikkor 135mm f2 AIS in the late 1980s and falling in love with the pictures I shot with that too. A definite pattern wouldn’t you say? It’s a bit of a cod-theory but it is the best answer that I can come up with. I like my current 50mms well enough (I actually have three of them) but my ‘eye’ appears to prefer the 135.

At some point this year I will need to buy some new gear (I think that I say that every year) and it would make sense to buy a new 70-200 with a new 24-70 because those are the two lenses that I do the vast bulk of my work with. It would be the correct business decision – especially if Canon do bring out the much rumoured 50+ megapixel camera but I might just get my old 24-70 and 70-200 serviced again and go for something from left-field – especially if someone brings out a newer and even better 135mm lens.


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