What is your “go to lens”?
During the course of an art show season, this question will be asked, typically by hobbyist photographers.
To answer the question, I generally provide a quick, brief response – “I have four lenses, each is my “go to” lens depending upon what I wish to shoot, relative to subject, perspective, placement, etc.”
At art shows, I can get very busy and thus try to keep the non-sales questions short. In the lull periods, I may expand the answer, though slightly.
Interestingly, the lens selection is never a question for those planning to purchase a print. They like the resulting image – it doesn’t matter what equipment I used to capture it.
Although I have owned many Canon L lenses over time (including 16-35mm f/2.8 II & III, 100-400, 500mm f/4 IS USM I & II, 50mm f/1.2 L, as well as others), below are my current lenses, carried in my Gura Gear G-32 pack. (All lenses are Canon).
- 24-70mm f/2.8 L USM II
- 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM II
- 180mm f/3.5 L macro
- 300m f/2.8 L IS USM II
Starting with something – but never the same
Truth be told, I always start with a lens mounted on my camera when I enter the field, anticipating what I might find and how I desire to photograph the subject.
As an example, if I’m planning on doing close-up photography, I will start with the 180 macro.
In large open areas (the mountain valleys, or Lake Michigan with open sky), the 24-70 will be the first lens of choice.
For those situations where I plan to photograph isolated areas of the landscape, (waves of Lake Michigan, more intimate views of the forest, etc.), I’ll utilize the 70-200.
The 300 is for those selected landscapes as well as the few wildlife I capture around the area.
Starting with one lens doesn’t guarantee it will remain the active lens for that day. If something is of great interest which requires a different lens, I will definitely switch.
When that occurs, my “go to” lens just changed.
Little use of extenders
While I own both the 12mm and 25mm extenders, I rarely use either.
Beyond the experimentation, they are used sporadically on the 70-200 and 180 macro.
Teleconverters when needed
Occasionally, the 1.4x III teleconverter is employed on the 70-200mm lens, and rarely on the 300mm. The 2x III is reserved mostly for use with the 300 lens.
There are situations where adding the 1.4x III to the 180 macro has proven very beneficial. For the most part, though, I like to use the lens without the teleconverter whenever possible.
Percentage breakout (2012 – 2016)
For a quick comparison of lens usage, I totaled all images within my Ligthroom library for years 2012 – 2016 inclusive.
This five year window provided a good representative sampling for this quick evaluation. Although I also used a 50mm, 300mm and 500mm lens sparingly throughout this period, these lenses were not included.
- 70-200mm (54.16%)
- 180 macro (20.2%)
- 24-70mm (18.17%)
- 16-35mm (7.45%)
The 70-200, at least by percentages
From this short 5 year evaluation, the answer to the “go to” lens question is the 70-200.
With this zoom lens, I use its’ full focal range. With the 70-200 already on the camera, if a subject of interest is at 70mm, rather than switching to the 24-70, I’ll use the mounted lens.
Perhaps I also keep more images shot with this lens than I do the others.
Sold the 16-35mm (2018 update)
In 2018, after additional evaluation of lens usage, I found that I rarely used the 16-35mm lens.
Even more rarely, I used the focal lengths of 16-24mm. In critically evaluating the wide angle images, most were around the 24mm plus range. The images that I had captured in the 24-35mm range with this lens could easily have been captured with the 24-70 as well.
This evaluation led me to removed this lens from bag and sell it.
The Final Selection
Ultimately, the lens selection depends upon the subject, perspective, and what I want the image to say.