These three lenses should make all your photography woes go away. They cover a huge focal length range and are of high quality. But are they the only lenses you need?
Across many camera and lens manufacturers, there's a set of three lenses that are designed to work together as a team that should cover almost any situation you find yourself in. Ideal for beginners with money to burn or for pros that want reliability and convenience, these three zoom lenses cover wide angle, standard, and telephoto focal lengths, all with a sweet, sweet, constant fast aperture.
Though touted as being your go-to lenses to cover pretty much any situation from portraits to sports, landscapes to astro, are they really as good as the manufacturers say? Do they provide you with everything you need to capture a wide range of images whether for fun or on assignment for a job? Well, there are advantages to carrying just these three lenses in your camera bag, but there are drawbacks too, so let's take a look at how the lenses fare together and compare them to other, less expensive lenses.
When we talk about the "holy trinity" of lenses, we're talking about three lenses that work together in a group that allow photographers the flexibility to shoot in almost any situation with precision and efficiency. Those three lenses usually consist of a wide-angle zoom, a standard zoom, and a telephoto zoom. The focal length span of these lenses normally cover around 14mm up to 200mm (depending on the camera brand) and have a constant fast aperture of f/2.8. Yes, there are versions that shoot at an aperture of f/4, but I'm discounting them here as they're not usually the flagship, "holy trinity" models as described by the camera brands.
The benefits of owning all three is that in most situations, you won't need any other lens, so by purchasing a camera body and these three lenses, you'll be set up to go out and shoot whatever you want. This is great for beginners who want the best quality kit but aren't sure which focal length they'll use the most or ideal for the pro that works on assignment and needs to be flexible while maintaining the highest-quality optics. But are these three lenses all you really need to shoot with, or should you look elsewhere for your photographic needs? Let's take a look at the first staple feature of these three lenses: the zoom.
The most obvious feature that all three lenses have is the ability to zoom. The wide angle covers between 14mm and 35mm zoom range, the standard usually between 24mm and 70mm, and the telephoto zoom between 70mm to 200mm, leaving virtually no focal length untouched. This seems to make sense at first, because then you'll never have to pick up another lens to fill the gaps, but do you really need this kind of coverage?
Well, probably not. Are you really going to swap out your 14-24mm for a 30mm? Or will you more likely just take a couple of steps backwards to fit everything in? Of course, this depends on how long you have to shoot the subject, but the same approach can be applied to the holy trinity. Do you really need that 14-24mm, or would you be able to just compose with your feet and step back a bit with the 24-70mm? Okay, if you're doing astrophotography and need an ultra-wide view, then yes, you probably will want that extra width, but for many other applications, you'll probably be able to make do without.
Instead then, you could take one or two of the lenses from the trinity and pair it with a less expensive prime lens. For example, you might opt for the 14-24mm and the 70-200mm but pop a 50mm f/1.2 in the middle. You'd still have a standard focal length lens in the middle, and yes, you won't be able to shoot at 35mm or 65mm, but you could take a few steps back and forth until you've got your composition just right. This introduction of prime lenses also brings me to the other disadvantage of shooting with only the trinity: aperture.
The Aperture Range
The holy trinity group features constant f/2.8 apertures throughout the lens range, and while that is a wide aperture and very impressive for zoom lenses because the manufacturing system and increased glass in zoom lenses makes it more difficult to get wide apertures and sharp results, prime lenses can shoot faster.
A typical 50mm prime that you could pick up for a fraction of the cost of one of the trinity lenses can capture at f/1.2 or f/1.4. Although this small difference of seemingly just one digit doesn't look a lot, it gives massively different results when shooting. See below for a portrait taken at f/1.4 and f/2.8, respectively, on a 50mm f/1.4G, to see the difference.
This is crucial for photographers that shoot in low light. That might be landscape photographers that favor twilight, wedding photographers shooting in dark churches, or events photographers that capture indoor concerts. These extra two stops of light can mean that shutter speeds can increase to capture moving subjects more clearly, or the ISO can drop in order to reduce image noise. So, why then do people ever shoot on the holy trinity, if prime lenses are faster and less expensive?
It's just easier to pack three lenses and not have to worry about covering all your bases. There's less to think about when packing your bag, because you know each lens is good and the zoom ranges have you covered. Plus, the f/2.8 aperture is usually wide enough for most situations. Will a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens give the same unique character and charm a 35mm f/1.8 or f/1.4 offers? No. But unless you're pushing the envelope already, you probably have other things to concentrate on, such as dialing in the right exposure and using off-camera flash.
There's also less lens switching, and if you're shooting somewhere dusty, windy, or with frequent inclement weather, you'll know how important it is to stop any kind of dirt or grime from getting into the camera body and onto the image sensor. It should also speed up your shooting, such as at weddings, because you can recompose without needing to move around which is especially helpful during COVID-19 restricted weddings where movement is limited and social distancing has to be adhered to.
The holy trinity package actually features some cracking lenses, though, and that's clearly seen in the edge-to-edge sharpness of the photos that these lenses help create. They're made to a high standard, as can be seen with the decent lens coatings, which help to reduce flare and keep the lens easy to clean or wipe off without damaging the glass underneath.
At the end of the day, it's what works for you. If you need the character of a prime with a fast aperture and don't mind compromising on lens swaps or composing with your feet, then great. I agree with this approach, because that's what I do most of the time. But for those that require that extra flexibility and peace of mind, then the holy trinity is the only three lenses you'll probably ever want to pack.
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