Just as Tamron has been asking us to reconsider the accepted focal range of an ultra-wide angle zoom, up steps Canon with the rumored 16-28mm f/2. You can be sure it will be huge and costly, but do we need it? And do photographers really want a holy trinity that is so heavy and expensive?
Tamron recently announced the launch of the 17-28mm f/2.8 lens for Sony full-frame cameras, continuing its pattern of asking customers to compromise on focal range in order to keep down price, size, and weight. At the same time, Canon, it seems, has been hard at work trying to change our perception of what qualifies as the holy trinity of zoom lenses. Traditionally, this is a trio of f/2.8 zooms that every jobbing events shooter and paparazzo has in his or her bag: 16-35mm, 24-70mm, 70-200mm — or thereabouts. If you’ve got them with you, you’re covered, whether it’s the mayor proudly opening a new supermarket, some celebrity humiliating themselves by drunkenly falling out of a taxi, or the local zoo proudly revealing its brood of newborn eaglets. These are fast, heavy tanks designed to get the job done.
In its desire to innovate and shake things up — and produce extremely expensive glass — Canon last year unveiled the RF 28-70mm f/2, creating a monster of a lens that is almost twice the price of its DSLR predecessor, not to mention being almost twice the weight. 4mm were shaved off its widest angle in order to allow an extra stop of light, but at the added cost of size, weight, and pawning your least favorite child.
Bigger, Faster, Heavier — and More Expensive
Continuing this trend, it appears that Canon is about to unveil the RF 16-28mm f/2, garnering an extra smidge of aperture while losing 7mm of reach. Contrast this with what Tamron is doing with its recently-announced 17-28mm f/2.8, wider angles mean bigger optics, so by opting for 17mm over 16mm, there’s a lot of space and weight to be saved. Canon, on the other hand, looks to be sticking with 16mm, and if the rumors are accurate, you can be sure that this lens will be huge; if Canon had not shed 7mm at the longer end, this lens would have been enormous in order to maintain f/2 throughout its range. Those smarter than me will tell us whether that would even have been possible according to the laws of physics.
This is two manufacturers deploying similar approaches to achieve very different ends: while Tamron shaved some focal range to save size, weight, and price, Canon has trimmed some reach in order to achieve the exact opposite. Both are bold moves.
A New Trinity?
It's possible that an aperture of f/2 is what Canon is trying to convince the world is the new standard for the holy trinity. If that's the case, what is the future of those countless Canon photographers who shoot news and events and rely on their trio of fast zoom lenses to put food on the table? Moving to mirrorless will not be an option for years to come. Right now, the lens lineup isn’t there, and when it arrives, it will be twice as expensive and twice as heavy. Many will be shooting for agencies who are heavily invested in DSLRs, and this is another reason for them not to make that transition: it’s a massive and perhaps unnecessary investment, and their photographers out in the field might well hate them for it.
Another question that news and events snappers will be asking themselves is whether they want to trade the flexibility of overlapping focal ranges for that extra stop of light. Having the 16-35mm and 24-70mm combo in the bag means less lens swapping than 16-28mm and 28-70mm.
The other question I’m keen to pose to readers is this: do we need f/2 in a wide angle zoom? I’m currently weighing up whether I should ditch f/2.8 and opt for f/4 in order to save some money and weight. Extending from f/2.8 to f/2 definitely was not on my radar, and I’m not sure it was on anyone else’s. For the standard zoom, it makes much more sense — but for an ultra-wide zoom? Low-light performance is always useful and bokeh is always nice, but an extra stop isn’t a huge difference and creamy separation in a wide angle isn’t something I crave. Helpful, yes, but twice the price helpful?
Consider this: the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 Mark III is $1899 and weighs 2.41 lb (1093 g). The EF to R adapter with the control ring is $199 and weighs 4.59 oz (130 g) — and there's a cheaper version that weighs even less. Going on the specifications of the RF 28-70mm f/2, the 16-28mm f/2 will weigh well over 3 lb and cost significantly more than $3,000, perhaps even pushing towards $4,000.
If we scale this up across the trio of holy trinity lenses, there's almost certainly going to be a dramatic saving of weight, space, and cost if you keep your EF glass — even if you were to have an adapter for each of your three lenses. There will be many photographers excited to ditch a couple of primes in favor of an f/2 zoom, but is this going to generate the sales that Canon needs to make this evolution worthwhile?
More Proof That DSLRs Have a Future?
I love the innovation and I’m sure these lenses will be incredible, but I wonder whether Canon is telling events shooters and photojournalists everywhere that its mirrorless system is not for them. They're too big, too heavy, are less functional thanks to their more limited and less overlapping focal ranges, and EF with an adapter — or even a DSLR — makes much more sense.
My initial reaction was that it's a giant misstep on the part of Canon, and then I reminded myself to stop drinking the mirrorless Kool-Aid and take a step back. DSLRs are perfect for events and photojournalism (though not always), and Canon isn't in a hurry to change this. Perhaps, instead of rushing to accommodate everything in a new mirrorless future, it realizes that — at least for the foreseeable future — it should be creating specialist products that may give way to becoming the new standard once production lines are better established, more diversity appears, and prices start to drop.
On the other hand, manufacturers rely heavily on lens sales for their revenue, and it will be fascinating to see if this new generation of glass has the level of demand out there to allow Canon to counter a camera market that is proven to be shrinking.
If you have any thoughts, be sure to leave a comment below.
[Edit: I was reminded in the comments that Canon announced that they will be releasing the RF 15-35mm f/2.8 L later this year. Thanks!]