A photojournalist is often called upon to photograph a scene at a moment’s notice. It can be a car accident one day, a music festival, the next and a protest the day after. With that in mind, there are two useful lenses that every photojournalist should carry in their bag to cover such a diverse range of photographic opportunities.
The 24-70mm f/2.8
There are many variations of this lens, from Canon and Nikon, of course, but also now in more affordable versions with Sigma and Tamron that, like the Nikon, have image stabilization. In fact, it’s only Canon’s offering amongst the major brands that leave that feature out.
That said, the fast 2.8 aperture means it’s not usually necessary. Compared to the variable-aperture zooms you see included with cameras, you get a fast constant aperture that’s decent in low light, and a focal length that can let you get a wide scene-setting shot and then punch-in on the details. There’s no other lens for full-frame bodies that covers such a useful range at this speed.
The fast aperture means that these are often a company’s top-shelf lenses. I’ve often referred to the Canon and Nikon 24-70 f/2.8 lenses as “variable primes.” They are that sharp.
Crop shooters aren’t left out of the party either. Fuji makes an excellent 16-55mm f/2.8 lens that is a rough equivalent on the company’s APS-C bodies, and Panasonic and Olympus make their own versions of the lens for Micro 4/3 shooters.
The 85mm is a great portrait lens (because an environmental portrait is something journalists are also often called upon to do), but it’s also a great smaller option for low-light work. When the 2.8 lens just won’t cut it (and as fast and expensive as they are, sometimes they won’t) that’s when it’s time to step up to the 85mm f/1.2, 1.4, or 1.8 variants to let in some more light with a wider aperture. Many versions are all available in various Canon, Nikon Sigma, Tamron and other flavors. Most manufacturers offer high-end variants, though you’ll often be just fine with the slightly slower models, which are often much easier on the wallet.
My favorite take on this focal length is Fuji’s 56mm f/1.2 mm lens, which works out to about 84 mm full-frame equivalent. Canon also makes an 85mm f/1.2, but image quality and focus accuracy aren’t anywhere close to the Fuji, owing to the latter’s sensor-based autofocus system in the company’s cameras.
Bonus Lens: 70-200 f/2.8
Of course, there are times you need to get closer than an 85mm lens will get you – and that’s why keeping the old reliable in your trunk or in an extra bag is a good idea. The 70-200mm f/2.8 helps you get that extra reach, though the reason I list it as a bonus lens is that I often look at the situation I’m about to be dumped into before grabbing for it.
I’ll bring it with me if I think I’ll need the reach, but I’ll otherwise sacrifice range for mobility and stealth in a journalistic situation and only carry my 24-70 and 85mm.
Canon and Nikon both make excellent versions of this lens, and there are many third-party options from the likes of Sigma and Tamron on the market. Sony shooters also recently got a new version of this lens (and the fast 24-70) for its line of full-frame cameras as well.
These are just the lenses that I’ve had the most luck with when it comes to photojournalism. Photojournalists, event shooters, and wedding shooters – what’s your weapon of choice when it comes to fast-paced shooting that these jobs require? Sound off in the comments below.