Pye Jirsa Explains Why These Are the Two Lenses You Should Own First

When we think of "need to own" lenses, sometimes we ignore the utility for the aesthetics. Other times, when looking at new equipment it really comes down to the usability of a lens and whether it should be taking up space in your bag. If you’re trying to make those decisions now, Pye Jirsa may be able to help.

The utility of equipment is different for everyone, and in the case of wedding photographer and owner of SLR Lounge, Pye Jirsa, it really is about what lenses can reap the highest benefit to not only the style of his work but to the clients he works with every weekend. Jirsa has gone through his catalog of 2018 images and noticed a striking realization, that 65 percent of his images are taken with the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. If you’ve ever watched or listened to Jirsa previously, you’ll likely remember his personal disdain for the 24-70mm lens. Even with this acknowledgement, the versatility of lens and focal length cannot be overlooked.

One of my favorite lenses ever, the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III USM, is the second lens that Jirsa believes should be on your list of must own equipment for any event or portrait photographer. The complementary zoom range and fast aperture make this lens a must have for photojournalist and portrait photographers alike. Coming in second in his catalog with 25 percent of all his images being taken with the 70-200mm, it shows with its ability to separate the subject from the background while eliminating distracting elements from your subjects. Though on the heavy side, the telephoto zoom is a lens that deserves to take up space in every photographer's bag. 

Jirsa promises to reveal a separate video to round out the primes he uses as well as reveal how those lenses break down into the other 10 percent of his catalog. I’ve never been a fan of the 24-70mm lens for event work, but have routinely used the Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS II USM lens for events when I knew that lens changes would be too slow. It’s not the fastest lens nor the sharpest and probably the lens I most loathe in my bag (even though I use the Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM much, much less). The focal length starting at 24mm and reaching out to a portrait length lens is just incredibly versatile for most event work and keeps you from missing a moment.

So, how do you feel about the 24-70mm lens (or the 24-105mm focal length for that matter) and do you think you share the same usage amounts in your own work as Jirsa? Is there a different lens that you own that you don’t love but can’t live without?

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57 Comments

Previous comments

I learnt a long time ago that good equipment might be expensive but what can be more expensive is missing a moment because of the limitations of your gear.

K G's picture

I agree, it doesn't suggest before watching that this is aimed at pros, and pros will already know what they need. Many if them only use primes too so this is aimed at lemmings who want to shoot the same boring images every other wedding photographer does. It's fine to offer suggestions but it's nonsense to say these are must haves. Is this the same guy that was critiquing wedding images and was slating ones much better than anything on his own site? Hmmm

Pye Jirsa's picture

Thanks for publishing this JT!

JT Blenker's picture

Definitely an eye opening video if any wedding, event, or portrait photographer who is wondering where to start (or add to their lens collection) with all the lens choices available that work well to tell personable and intimate stories.

marc gabor's picture

For me, on a full frame Nikon it's a 35mm (any of them will do) and a 60mm macro. Covers pretty much everything I shoot. The 35mm allows me to shoot a little more freely and the 60 is for a more composed look.

I have the 35mm 1.4 Zeiss FE and if there was one lens I could use it would be that lens. The only issue is there are many times when the 24-70 and even 16-35 are required. I also have the 50mm 1.4 planar and that is hands down the best lens I have ever used in terms of image quality. Blows away the 24-70.

Agree 100%!

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Kind of funny considering I have delivered images for over a decade without owning neither a 70-200 or a 24-70... :-)

In fairness, I'm not a wedding photographer, nor a photojournalist or event photographer today. I have however shot 20+ weddings in the early years of my career as well as my fair share of events and press images.

Never used the 70-200 or 24-70 zoom lenses for that either.

I always find these kinds of generalizing opinions on which lens to use for what kind of situation entertaining as it really assumes everyone shoots the same things and in the same way.

Joel Hazel's picture

I’m assuming then Paul that you’ve researched your own catalog and found that over the thousands of images you’ve captured over the years, that the majority of your focal lengths fall outside of the 24-200 range. Not to mention, you’ve also done your own market research and have found that 2/3 of the “Holy Trinity” is really just a marketing gimmick designed by camera manufactures to get you to buy lenses, that in reality, no one uses. Of all the photographers out there, the vast majority only shoot real estate, wildlife or macro right? Where 24-200 just wouldn’t be wide enough or not long enough. Seems the only legitimate reason why you would troll Pye for recommending the 24-70 and 70-200.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

I don't have a catalog, I have no use for a single catalog with all my client's images. Do not assume everyone uses LR. I use sessions and C1.

I'm not senile yet, I have no trouble remembering what kind of lenses I use. So the research is not really needed, I do not use Zoom lenses and haven't done so for the last decade.

As for the rest of your rambling.. good luck with that.

Yeah, I'm the troll.. says the guy with no real name or website. Cheerios!

Joel Hazel's picture

My point Paul.. is that 24-200 will cover a wide swath of photographers, no matter if your shooting astro, portraits, landscape, event, etc. You knock the article because “it assumes everyone shoots the same things in the same way”. But by definition that wide of a range and fast of lens allows more flexibility, not less. I asked you to go back and look at your catalog (didn’t know that term was software specific) to determine what images you could not have captured using those two lenses. Do you do some specific type of shooting that it would’ve been impossible to use them? What percentage? Honestly, I’m curious.

Notice too, the article isn’t titled “the only two lenses you’ll ever need”.. we all have different preferences and needs depending on our genre. Starting out though, having that much flexibility in just two lenses ... can’t understand your viewpoint.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

I suggest you re-read my reply if you have a hard time understanding that not everyone needs to research their "catalog" to know what focal length they use. Especially not if you use primes as I do.

I never commented on flexibility I only commented on the notion that 70-200 and 24-70 are equally beneficial to every photographer in that genre.

Your assumptions that FL is the sole factor that goes into choosing a lens is fascinating.

Joel Hazel's picture

I find it fascinating that you fail to answer an honest question. Based on the history of your shooting (notice I didn’t use catalog), is there or is there not, a shot you could not capture using either of those lenses? What percentage? You seem to know what focal lengths you use so well (don’t recall ever stating FL is the only factor but okay...?) so why don’t you answer the question?

Paul Lindqvist's picture

I already stated I do not use a 70-200 or 24-70 lens. I never said I did not use the FL in that range. Nor did I say a shot couldn't be taken with them. I think you got this backward my point was that neither of these lenses was needed to deliver images to my clients. I never stated they could not be used.

Well, you argue like FL is the only factor, there are plenty of reasons not shoot with zooms.

But yes I do work where these two zoom lenses would be useless or far from optimal.

I'm currently shooting a job where the electronic aperture control is a no go, how many zoom lenses do you know that lacks electronic aperture control?

Also, when shooting a full menu for a restaurant chain, where we need every dish perfectly sharp from front of the plate to back at angle what do you think would work best, a Schneider T/S or a zoom lens like the 70-200?

Shooting close-ups with shallow depth of the field do you think I prefer the rendition of very well corrected prime with an APO design opposed to a zoom?

Joel Hazel's picture

That’s my point Paul.

The title of the article might not be complete, but Pye does specify at the beginning of the video “if your a photojournalist, wedding, event or portrait photographer..” He’s not generalizing for “everyone or assuming everyone shoots the same way” as you stated in your original comment .. he’s suggesting if you mainly shoot that type of work and only can have two lenses in the bag... it’s the best bang for your buck. Your focus is obviously different (congrats on the resturant gig btw) but not sure it was fair to characterize the article as you originally did.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

As you can see in my first reply I clearly stated I'm not working in any of those fields, however, I've shot 20+ weddings and done both press and events for quite some time.

Considering I used to shoot weddings with the ZF lineup you could probably guess I would not need either zoom lenses if I were to shoot similar imagery today. Nor would I want to, there are plenty of photographers who prefer primes over zooms even for the genre mentioned above.

So yes there is a generalization that every photographer in that genre would benefit more from two zooms than primes no?

Joel Hazel's picture

Seems like you would’ve found something to bitch about no matter what two lenses he would’ve suggested. Would’ve been far to much of a generalization for you.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

Well, it's you who can't stand another opinion as I have had to rehash my first post and explain rudimentary facts about how people do not work the exact same way with the exact same gear regardless of genre.

Nothing has changed since my initial post, but your profile, which is a good thing! Well done!

I used to carry the 70-200/2.8 for many years. Then I noticed a lot of my colleagues were using the f4 version. I now use the 100-400 for most of my work and while I do not really need either when they are required I am absolutely glad I have them. I usually prefer 35 and 50 and if necessary 24-70.

Paul Lindqvist's picture

I have owned 70-200, 24-70, 17-35. 16-35 nothing wrong with the focal lengths I simply do not use the range. I work with primes and as such which FL I use doesn't really come as a surprise to me.

What I do find interesting is when people ask what kind of FL they need for a certain task, it's like asking what kind of modifier should I use on my strobe. It all depends on what you want to achieve

So first thing before buying a lens is to figure out that out. I'm always a bit skeptic for people who claims lens A is a must have. Again it all depends, a zoom is not always the best tool, nor is a prime. It all depends on how you work and what you achieve with your imagery

when i want to take a picture i use 24-70, when I want to make a picture i use 35 of 50/1.4.

the 24-70 is a spork.

I would suggest a minor substitution- a 70-200 F4 rather than the F2.8- half the size/weight and cheaper... I found I was rarely using f2.8 for events- DOF too shallow (and at 200 F4 still a very shallow DOF/good bokeh for portrait work). Having that 2nd lens in the bag is a lot easier to carry all day.

Six months ago, i purchased a Sigma 50-500mm and found that, even though it's a heavy beast, I use it more and more for composition. Sure, it's not the fastest lens, but going from 1:1 up to 10:1 without swapping lenses is invaluable.

Zoran Grbic's picture

Hint: « Pye Jirsa Explains Why These Are the Two CANON Lenses You Should Own First » I own Fuji equipment and these tips are of strictly no use to me.

Francisco B's picture

Seems like a reasonable suggestion for event/portrait photography, don't understand why so many people are getting agro over recommending two zoom lens to cover 24-200. If you know where your zoom lens are optimally sharp there is no reason those lens can't be your bread and butter.

Andre Goulet's picture

Depends how you work. I shot many weddings with a Hasselblad and used the 80mm 90% of the time, and the 150mm for the bridal portraits and such. Without zooms though, you do get a lot more exercise!

Nowadays I really like f/4 zooms and fast primes. The zooms are for grunt work and the primes are for crafting shots exactly the way I want them.

Andrew Merefield's picture

Purely on focal length, I would prefer my old 35-135 from my pre digital days. It was a f4-5.6 but it was small, light and sharp and could shoot almost anything portrait related. Unfortunately the focus motor went and it's too old to get repairs easily.