Why You Shouldn't Overlook f/4 Lenses

When it comes to zoom lenses, the professional standard is f/2.8, which offers a suitably wide aperture for isolating subjects and working in low-light situations. However, many f/2.8 zooms also have f/4 variants, which are both far cheaper and much more portable. This great video essay discusses why you might want to consider f/4 options for your camera bag. 

Coming to you from Park Cameras, this interesting video discusses the benefits of f/4 lenses. f/4 lenses are often overlooked because they are thought to be too slow, and while a decade or two again, that extra stop of aperture might have been more crucial, the autofocus and high-ISO capabilities of many modern camera bodies have made it easier to work with narrower apertures. And f/4 lenses often offer some significant advantages over their f/2.8 counterparts. For example, there is the new FE 20-70mm f/4 G lens from Sony. At $1,098, it is less than half the price of the FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II, about 30% lighter, and offers an extra 4mm of reach at the wide end. If you do not need the benefits of an f/2.8 aperture, consider saving some money and weight and going the f/4 route. Check out the video above for the full rundown.

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Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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I love dim, sharp, portable, affordable zooms, like Sony's 28-60/4.0-5.6, the less affordable Sony 24-105/4, and Tamron's 70-300/4.5-6.3. They're great for shooting in good light, and I use them on long walks for shooting landscapes and cityscapes. OTOH, as an event pro, I shoot a lot in very dim light, and for that f2.8 is just not bright enough, so I use brighter primes.

I long debated buying a 2.8 zoom vs a 4.0 zoom. The cost and weight vs 1 stop of light didn’t add up on my evaluation. Instead my 4.0 zoom has a little 1.4 prime brother.

But sometimes — not always — lens makers put extra effort into their faster offerings, as added enticement to spend a bucketful more money.

In the film days, they could get away with charging an arm and a leg for a faster lens, even if it was soft and vignetty wide open. Olympus was among the first to make a line of exceptionally good fast lenses, and that seems to have caught on.

I tend to go after high image quality, regardless of brightness, but these days, that often means getting the brightest lens, as well.

I never shoot my portraits wider than F4. Super wide apertures are overrated imo. I've shot a lot at wide apertures but for me it's annoying because as soon as the model angles them self only one of the eyes will be in focus and it ruins my images.

Chris Rogers further down nailed it. I need my model to be in focus from the back of the head to the tip of the nose so that means f4 at least. I try to get f8 to f11 in the studio, it’s even more critical on GFX.


For years, f4 lenses were the mainstay of a wildlife photographer's kit. The 600mm f4 and 500mm f4 were what just about every serious or professional wildlife photographer used as their primary lens. f4 lenses are far from being overlooked when it comes to wildlife photography.


I somehow think supertelephotos aren't what this post is about...

There comes a point where there simply is not enough light to reliably or quickly focus on your subject. An f/4 lens reaches that point 1-stop sooner than an f/2.8 lens. If you plan to be shooting in those types of situations, then an f/2.8 lens is a no-brainer. For everyone else, unless super shallow DOF is important to you, then an f/4 lens is smaller/lighter/cheaper.

I have to take issue with the "not enough light" argument that I've seen a few people make.

I've done street photography at night and even when shooting with a DSLR I've never had issues with light. Since moving to mirrorless it's been even easier, though brand matters a little bit. Some brands (or more accurately, models) lag a little in low light. Can't remember which ones, because my current Sonys are fine.

I'd hazard that super shallow DOF is a niche market and the desire for f/2.8 is more about snobbery or desire to appear professional than anything practical.

It's one stop. With the cost of a 2.8 or wider lens you can just buy a newer camera body that can give you three to 4 stops or more of better image quality at higher iso's. That more than compensates for the F4 aperture. I was shooting an event with a photographer yesterday that was shooting with "Worse" lenses but he was getting better low light photos because his camera handled extreme high ISO's way better than mine did. His kit was also MUCH lighter.

I've always been a fan of f4.0 zooms and fast primes (especially the compact f2.0 primes). Small light and cost effective. I don't make my living with a camera so cost effective is most important. My favorite combination is the EF 17-40 f4 and the EF 70-300 L (f4-5.6 though) adapted to my RP. Along with the RF 35 f1.8 and the RF 50 f1.8.
Canon is pricing the f4.0 RF zooms a bit out of reach though. Maybe Sigma or Tamron can help....oh wait....

My feelings exactly. The EF 70-300 L is a fine lens and doesn't need replacing in my kit. Combined with the 24-70mm/f4 EF L and the RFs 16/2.8, 35/1.8, 50/1.8 & 85/2 I own a setup that suits my needs. The zooms for relatively light weight allround use and the primes for low light or when I need shallower DOF.

I also have the RF 16/2.8 and 24/1.8
They are fine lenses but usually left behind because I just love the 17-40 L. If they redo it in the RF mount, I'll buy it as a soon as it is available.

The 70-300L will never be sold. It's a perfect size and range. And it makes my 7D2 (also another keeper) shine.

My last lens purchase was the Canon 70-200 F4 IS. It's a good lens and for weight and cost reasons, am glad I bought it instead of the 70-200 F2.8. (to be fair I haven't owned this lens)

But I predominantly use a Tamron 24-70 F2.8. And spending the extra money vs a F4 was very worthwhile.

When I had a Canon 70-200 F/2.8, it was incredibly rare for me to shoot at 2.8. Most shots were 5.6-8. This is probably more around what I shoot than anything else.

When I sold all my Canon gear and moved to Sony, I got a 24-105 F/4 and a 200-600 F/5.6-6.3. While there are times that at F/6.3 I'd like the ability to use a lower ISO, the fact is that even then that's about as open as you'd dare for the photos I take. Even then, it's sometimes hit and miss with the focus.

"that's about as open as you'd dare"

I try to avoid glass that you have to be "daring" in order to shoot wide open.

I've really enjoyed my Nikkor 70-210AF. It worked well in a studio lighting environment.

I remember reading an article in Popular Photography right around ten years ago about how great quality f/4 zoom lenses were the new go-to glass for anybody not made of money. Basically, they contended that these lenses were a big step up from the consumer level variable aperture lenses in sharpness and handling without having to fork over the heavy cash and deal with the heavy glass of the f/2.8's.

I eventually bit on the trend. I had a full array of consumer grade glass and supplanted it with a 17-40, 24-105 and 70-200. All f/4L EF lenses. Those three lenses have been able to stand up to every challenge I've thrown at them, and I will continue to use them as long as they work.

I had and liked a 17-40 f4L and 70-200 f4L. But, Panasonic's 7-14mm f4 Micro Four Thirds zoom outperformed, and replaced, my 17-40 f4L. Similar sharpness in the center, but better at the edges.