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Rediscovering the fast normal zoom

Rediscovering the fast normal zoom

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I've got a newfound appreciation for the fast, constant aperture zoom these days.

By Jack Howard

June 11, 2010

Spending some time with the normal zoom lens has rekindled my excitement about this entire class of fast normal zoom lenses.


I have to admit, that I normally suggest that shooters on a budget looking to build a basic photojournalist kit on any camera platform skip the fast normal zoom and go with a smaller economical prime lens instead of one of these pricy, bulky zooms.

That being said, I have been loving spending time with the Sony A-850 and the Sony 24-70 f/2.8 Vario-Sonnar ZA normal zoom and have very much rediscovered the charm and allure of this class of lens and am now rethinking my advice.

For the past two months, most of my photographs have been very personal: in-and-around-the-house portraits and moments of my new daughter, wife, and family (which includes our great German Shephard, Bailey, seen here!), usually shot available light. I'm loving the painted nature of the off-focal plane elements at wide apertures, and the ability to focus closer without as much subject and perspective distortion as with a wide-angle zoom.

I'm beginning to understand again why so many photographers are passionate about this class of lens and wouldn't think to leave home without it, despite the bulk and weight.

There's just something fantastic about this style of lens for people and portraiture. Of course I known this for a long time, and when I was a staffer at a newspaper, I used the Canon 24-70 f/2.8L a lot in my work. But when I went freelance, and didn't have a major daily photo department's budget, this is the something that had to give. I went with a compact 50mm prime instead.

Believe me, there's also a lot to love about a fast, normal prime, too! Sure, to go with an old adage, your feet are a great zoom lens, too, but when it comes to quickly recomposing in tight quarters, a fast, constant zoom is a great thing.

Every camera manufacturer–and independent lens maker–has a slight variation on this theme. The Olympus version is ultra-fast at f/2.0 and of course, is a 14-35mm lens, because of the 2x factor of the four-thirds mount. The Pentax version is a 16-50mm f/2.8, since there's not a fullframe Pentax SLR in market, so this translates to about a 25.6-80mm f/2.8 on the K-7 and K-x. And Nikon's 24-70 f/2.8 paired with a fullframe high ISO champ like the D3S is an amazing combination.

I'm thinking it's just about time I update this story of my favorite lenses, because the Sony Zeiss Vario-Sonnar 24-70 f/2.8 has now joined this club, because this lens has recently captured some beautiful memories of an amazing time in my life.


We want to know: Is there a particular piece of gear that you've rediscovered or re-appreciated in your time as a photographer?


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