What's the Most Overrated Lens?

What's the Most Overrated Lens?

I keep seeing articles and videos on underrated and overrated features of photography, so it's time to step out in front of the firing line with my contentious answer to the above question.

Fellow editor Alex Cooke's recent article titled "If You Could Only Shoot With One Lens, What Would It Be?" got me thinking. We have discussions based on similar questions on a daily basis, and are usually pretty in sync. But his answer to that question, while not completely different to my answer as I too would go for a prime, did prompt me to finally write this article: What's the most overrated lens?

These sort of questions are invariably quite tricky because you have to tick a number of boxes for your answer to be a viable candidate for discussion. That is, a lens must be good enough that it has mass appeal and is a common feature in camera bags around the world, but not so good that calling it overrated would be unfair. I have had a knee-jerk response to this question without it ever being posed quite as directly; a lens that is as staple as any and in almost every beginner's gear article you'll ever read. But for the sake of discussion, I'll go through what my thought process would be if I didn't already have my answer.

I'll add in a caveat to say that your answer can be both very specific (a particular model, of a particular brand's lens) or the more difficult route of naming a type of lens (say, all 35mm lenses.)

In terms of types of lenses that are common, the 24-70mm and the 70-200mm are always around and about the discussion over kit. I've owned at least one of each for as long as I can remember, and it's difficult to say they're overrated. Particularly for coverage of events, weddings, and assignments, you're well supported with this duo. You could put forward arguments for one particular model or brand of each being overrated, but having used Canon, Sony, and Sigma, I haven't found it to be the case quite yet; so that's out.

The next up for consideration would be the UWAs. No UWA has been particularly prevalent to my eye, or unjustified in its prevalence, and the type of lens as a whole is crucial to many genres. Then we move on to prime lenses. The 85mm is a popular choice and raved about; so it could be a candidate for being considered "overrated". Is it though? Not to my eyes. I've had one of the cheapest version of this prime — Canon 85mm f/1.8 — for a long time and I would certainly upgrade to an f/1.2 if I could justify the cost. But we're getting warmer, and for me, we're right next door.

So what do I consider to be the most overrated lens?

The 50mm f/1.8

Not specifically the Canon, or the Nikon, or any of the other brands. All modern f/1.8 50mm lenses. Every photographer upon buying their first camera has this little cheap prime rammed down their throat at every turn. I'm not unreasonable — I promise — I'm aware of its upsides; it's by far the cheapest way to a wide aperture, it can sort-of fit in to a number of different photography genres, and it's nice and light. I'm not saying it's a bad lens, what I am saying is it's overrated.

It is in the must-have, god-like lens tier and for me, it doesn't warrant it. The 50mm is a half measure; for portraits you'd generally do better with a longer prime, or even dropping down to a 35mm. For landscapes, it again sits in that awkward range between wide-angle, and longer. For the more niche categories of photography it's even less useful. I can honestly say that in all my years as a photographer, on private shoots, commercial shoots, and shooting just for fun, I've never thought "ah the 50mm would work nicely here."

Yes, it's cheap, it's light, and it's a good way for beginners to play around with narrow depth of field, but should it have this title of a staple in photographers' camera bags? Absolutely not. If it wasn't cheap, it'd be completely forgettable. So while it has its perks for beginners, the reverence for the 50mm f/1.8 is just confused driftwood being washed along by sound advice that it's a nice lens for beginners.

Shoot me down or offer an alternative lens that's overrated in the comments below.

Lead image by smsx_supp_612.

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Brian Knight's picture

I bought the Sony 24-105 G lens. I bought it for traveling though, not for work. It had good reviews across the board, no matter where you looked. I found it to be quite drab, with horrendous distortion at all focal lengths. It worked for some landscapes, but portraits? Forget it.

Michael Comeau's picture

Funny. I shoot lots of portraits with that lens and find it totally fine.

Brian Knight's picture

Glad it worked out for you. Maybe, more of a personal let down for me than it being over rated. Or something could have been wrong with my copy.

Eric Salas's picture

I used it in Mexico for a week long swimsuit and boudoir shoot with 30 models... loved it and didn’t mind it being F/4 at all considering I wanted my photos to showcase the model and the locations.

IMO it’s a fantastic lens.

Terry Wright's picture

Not that your photo isn't great, because hot damn, but I have to play devil's advocate here and say the model makes that image, not the lens.

Eric Salas's picture

Using an attractive model doesn’t mean you’ll automatically come away with a good photo. I chose the equipment, location, shot, and edited the photo...but that’s another conversation.

The original comment said to “forget it” for portraits. I’m just showing I used it primarily for portraits because it served the purpose and performed well.

Terry Wright's picture

Exactly. I agree, lens is only a fraction of the equation, and I also agree that it's perfectly acceptable as a choice in this picture. I just wanted to make it clear to everyone else.

marc gabor's picture

lens has nothing to do with these images. the model is forgettable. feels like the kind of models we were looking at 20 years ago and totally irrelevant to any conversation about beauty in 2019.

Terry Wright's picture

So edgy. You should be a edgelord.

Ed Sanford's picture

That's the point. If it's a good shot, who cares what lens it was.

The models always make the image..

Eric Salas's picture

Don’t be so scared to travel outside of your mama’s basement.

Venson Stein's picture

50mm is fine for portraits. You won't get the compression effect, which is often desirable, but nevertheless it is fine.

Eric Salas's picture

I think people also forget that the final image is not the only factor in the debate of if a lens is “overrated” or not.
Yes, image quality is of upmost importance but we all also have to keep in mind speed of AF in all types of light (low, high, artificial, backlit...), how it reacts to light (flaring, vignette, saturation, etc) and in these discussions many people haven’t shot a particular lens in all these types of lighting/situation.

Unlike most, I actually did.

Eric Salas's picture

I used it exclusively on my A7Riii and have no problems. Tact sharp.

Eric Salas's picture

The correct expression you’re looking for is actually “it is bad form” but since you don’t make mistakes I’ll assume you’re just a dumbass.

Simple speak to text fail on my part, thankfully dickheads like you exists to police the forums

Thank you for your service

Speaking of a decent travel lens. I've always wished Sony had something similar to the Nikon 28-300mm.

Eric Salas's picture

They’ve got a 24-240

Eric Salas's picture

I never said it was good, I said it exists.

Motti Bembaron's picture

In my opinion, it's the 24-70mm. It's not a real portrait lens and it's not really a telephoto lens. Personally, for portraits, I use 50mm, 85mm, and the excellent 180mm f/2.8. For events (which I do very little now), I use the 24-120mm f/4 on top of my primes.

I sold my 24-70 a long time ago and never felt that I needed it.

Funny, I am in the process of selling my Otus 55mm f1.8 because the 50mm f1.8 S is very very good, and also because it seems crystal clea that both the 55mm f0.95 and the 50mm f1.2 will be significantly better than the Otus.

Yeah... right... regardless, the Otus 55mm f1.4 has just been sold! I feel a bit lighter... seriously I can't believe you had the time to take a screen shot, add idiot and 2 arrows... I envy you man! :-)

Motti Bembaron's picture

I used to have the old 28-70 f/2.8. I had it for almost ten years and loved it. The weight killed me and it was not great in the corners so family photos were getting a bit challenging.

The 24-120 is great for parties, dance floor and when lots of people are around. It does not focus as quickly but when doing parties it is usually performing quite well.

I just find the 24-70 to be a middle lens, nor there or here.

art meripol's picture

agreed! never long enough or wide enough.

Simon Patterson's picture

Yep, same here. It's a plain vanilla range for mine. I use a 50mm f/1.4 for anything that could use those fields of view.

Fritz Asuro's picture

LOL, "not real portrait lens". Technically, all lenses can be used on whatever field of photography.

Michael Kormos's picture

Canon 85mm f/1.2. Good at just about everything except... shooting at f/1.2.

Tony Clark's picture

I have owned all three versions of the 85L and the 1.4L/IS is the first that I trust shot wide open.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Haha, I was going to jump in and say this. Replaced mine with the 1.8 and I've been just fine. The 85mm is more a conversation piece than it is practical.

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