I was reading lens reviews on the Rockwell site — mostly because it came up as first result in Google search — and he was saying professionals don't need and don't use mid-range zoom lenses like 24-70 and they use a tele, an ultra-wide and then also a 50mm for night shots in dark.

Get over buying a midrange zoom today. This isn't as bad as you think. Few, if any, pros use mid-range zooms. Most use a wide zoom and a tele zoom, and maybe drop a 50mm in their pocket for low light.

I currently have one lens only and it is a 35mm f1.8, and my interest is city photography at day and night — streets and buildings, mostly. But on occasion if I go to a forest or on a vacation somewhere I would like not to miss the beautiful moments and take a photo.

So for my needs, what kind of lenses do I even need? and do you agree with his opinion about not needing a 24-70? (I have a full frame camera, D-610 Nikon.)

  • There are Professionals who use those Lenses, i know of atleast one ;)
    – user35363
    Dec 18, 2014 at 14:35
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    "Do professionals really never use [insert anything]?" No. Sometimes they use it, many times it may even be a good idea. That is always the answer to that question.
    – Tim S.
    Dec 18, 2014 at 17:22
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    Professionals can take a good picture with any camera they get their hands on. It's just easier to take a good picture when you happen to be carrying something better suited to that particular picture at that particular moment. The best tool for a task is the one that best suits the way you approach that task and that you have available to you at the time you need it. Screwdrivers make lousy hammers, hammers make worse screwdrivers, but there are times for both.
    – keshlam
    Dec 19, 2014 at 0:38
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    In my opinion, your actual question is what Ken was trying to address. He gives a wrong justification: professionals do in fact use such a lens. But you are then asking if you (an amateur who is not doing event photography) should get one. You should not. I think that's what Rockwell's trying to address: don't assume that what professionals use should be your goal as an amateur. It's a completely different world.
    – Wayne
    Dec 19, 2014 at 14:56
  • Those Ive seen almost exclusively use the 24-70 lens... Dec 25, 2014 at 16:14

9 Answers 9


Rockwell presents his opinion as fact even when it is actually a contested opinion. Yes, professionals use 24-70 lenses. They aren't for every situation, but there are plenty where they are great go to lenses.

The Canon 24-70 f/2.8 II, for example, is one of the most popular zoom lenses ever. I do wedding photography and during the reception, the 24-70 lives on my camera 85% of the time. Nikon's f/2.8 in that segment is no slouch either if I'm remembering correctly, but double check that as I don't shoot Nikon and so my knowledge of their lens systems is not nearly as good as that of Canon.

What Ken (Rockwell) was likely trying to get at is the fact that prime lenses are far cheaper for the quality level and so he is advocating use of prime lenses rather than a standard zoom, since you can move with your feet relatively easily in most cases to adjust for the position when using that near of a focal length. Telephoto zooms are a bit harder to use as primes since you'd have to walk a lot further to adjust your framing.

In the real world however, sometimes you don't have the time or ability to move those few feet to get the composition you need or you need to rapidly be able to change the perspective of your lens. Event photography is a perfect example of this. In those cases, a professional photographer can and should use the lens that best lets them cover the situation and a fast standard zoom lens fills that niche superbly.

For your situation of shooting mostly buildings where you can set the shot up, you are probably best served by following his advice though. Your subjects don't move and you need maximum low light capability. The extra stop or two of aperture in addition to the cost savings and/or sharpness advantage of prime lenses will give you the most bang for your buck in shooting static objects since repositioning and swapping lenses isn't an issue.

You'd do fine with a fast zoom, but you'll be paying more than you need to for capabilities you will use less frequently.

  • Could you please elaborate on why extra stop or two are useful for the city photography? I would assume, one shoots those with a closed aperture to get wider depth of field. So extra stops shouldn't matter much as lens wouldn't be usually used with aperture wide open...
    – n0rd
    Jul 5, 2017 at 7:08
  • @Nord that's for the night shooting. If they are exclusively looking at light trail stuff it won't necessarily matter much, but if they want what appears to be static images they may have to contend with motion. The faster lens will allow faster exposures.
    – AJ Henderson
    Jul 5, 2017 at 12:51

Annie Leibovitz used a Canon 24-70 2.8L for her photoshoot of the Queen Elizabeth of England. So the statement that professionals don't use that lens isn't true. I have shot professionally for 6 years and my 2 go to lenses are the Canon 24-70 2.8L and Canon 70-200 2.8L IS depending on the circumstances.

  • Quite right. I think the key to the OP's question is the last sentence, however: "So for my needs, what kind of lenses do I even need? and do you agree with his opinion about not needing a 24-70?" Professionals such as yourself will have a couple of $2,000+ lenses for specific tasks, but an amateur is probably not well-served by them. I think Ken's trying to say that, but in a ridiculous way, hence the question.
    – Wayne
    Dec 19, 2014 at 14:53

Which professionals? Different photographers obviously have different needs. As a rule, be suspect of any statement that treats the needs of such a large class of people the same.

The Canon EF 24-70 f/4L is a very popular lens, but at $1000, it's not exactly targeted at consumers.

  • I never used a 24-70. I chose the 24-105 instead... (I know, not helpful...)
    – chuqui
    Dec 16, 2014 at 22:48
  • @chuqui Not particularly helpful, no. The counterpoint is that pros are more likely to want the extra f-stop (f/2.8 for the -70, versus f/4 for the -105) than the extra little bit of zoom range. Dec 17, 2014 at 1:33
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    Fully agree. I think we need to remind ourselves that as a basic definition, "pro" means you get paid for photography. That's all pro is. It says nothing about gear, although there is a correlation.
    – Fer
    Dec 24, 2014 at 0:30

@AJ said all that I would have said and more about kenrockwell.com; but I would like to expand more on your specific requirement (and on AJ's recommendation) as this is also the kind of photography that I do the most.

For your situation of shooting mostly buildings where you can set the shot up, you are probably best served by following his advice though. Your subjects don't move and you need maximum low light capability. The extra stop or two of aperture in addition to the cost savings and/or sharpness advantage of prime lenses will give you the most bang for your buck in shooting static objects since repositioning and swapping lenses isn't an issue.

A big part that I believe was not highlighted is the practicality and agility of your moving about during the day - you want to be mobile and agile throughout the day as you move about the city.

Carrying a fixed aperture zoom like the 24-70 or its big brother the 70-200 adds a significant weight and heft to your gear. You may think that its a good trade off, instead of having to swap out some primes you have one lens throughout the day but the truth is 2.8 is just not fast enough for the kind of street photography you are after, in anything but the brightest of days.

In indoors where you can take advantage of a flash the 24-70 and the 70-200 are great lenses; and where you may not be able to stand as close/far from your subject these really come into their own. They are almost a pre-requisite for any kind of event photography, especially the 70-200; however due to to its cost and heft its usually impractical for casual photographers.

One more reason you may not want to carry an imposing piece of gear like a 24-70 or a tripod is because it shouts photographer and it may get you in trouble with the authorities (they may ask you for a permit to shoot, thinking you are a professional). This happened to me twice when I had my tripod with me. You mentioned traveling and vacations; there are issues with "professional looking" gear being subject to tax and permits.

For all those reasons and more, fast primes are a better, practical choice for your kind of work.

  • 1
    I have to disagree about f/2.8 not being fast enough. Yes, primes give you more breathing room which makes them a better bet for this, but f/2.8 lenses work just fine in dimly lit churches and reception halls even without flash. That's the point of getting f/2.8 lenses for weddings. If you are using flash, there is no reason you wouldn't be ok with an f/5.6 (well other than the wider dof, but that isn't a good reason to spend an extra $1500 per lens).
    – AJ Henderson
    Dec 17, 2014 at 20:28
  • I rented the 70-200 and the 24-70 and although they provide great range, I found the 2.8 more useful in its DOF than its light capture; but I know many people use them simply for the 2.8's light gathering capabilities. For what the OP was originally planning, I think you'd have to agree that such a big heavy lens would not add much vs. a faster lighter prime; even if we ignore the DOF and simply worry about practical application. I also forgot to mention that most street photography (not landscape) is candid and having a honking lens takes away that stealth factor. Dec 18, 2014 at 4:30
  • Agreed that primes better serve their need (which is what I concluded in my post as well.) My objection was simply to the statement "but the truth is 2.8 is just not fast enough for the kind of street photography you are after". They are fast enough, they are just too bulky and expensive compared to their prime counter-parts.
    – AJ Henderson
    Dec 18, 2014 at 4:47

For cityscapes and general urban subjects, your 35mm prime is bound to be very good. When I do that sort of thing, I usually carry too much stuff with me: 12-24mm f2.8, 24-75mm f2.8, 36-300mm f/4, tripod, remote/timer, cleaning kit, batteries/cards/etc. Either all that or a compact cam and tiny tripod. You may want to consider keeping your prime attached, and also carrying a mid-range zoom as you describe. Count the number of times you miss a shot because you didn't have the right lens. I bet it's a low number.

As a guy who once got paid a half-gallon of cider and gas money, I can confidently say that at least one "professional" found a mid-range zoom absolutely essential. The thing I noticed was that at full-frame-equivalent (FFE) of 36-105mm, I never needed to go beyond that zoom range. I also have a 24-75mm FFE, which I would easily have been able to use for that purpose, and would be even more inclined to use as an urban walkabout lens. Both are at f2.8, which was unnecessarily fast for my purposes, but the option was available.


Rockwell loves to make dogmatic pronouncements just for effect. I love his site but you have to take everything with a grain of salt. Because of his style, many people love to hate him. For example he wrote a piece about why he uses JPEG instead of Raw. Of course he's 100% right when you read the article and realize the specific circumstances he's talking about. But that doesn't stop people from hating on him. In this particular case, of course professional photographers use 20-70 lenses. I'm sure Rockwell is trying to make some point.


It depends on what kind of a pro. I've rarely seen a wedding photographer or walk around event photography without one in the bag. Those that don't have a fixed aperture midrange zoom usually have a fast prime, and it's usually a 35/85 on 2 cameras, not the 50mm. I shoot commercial photography and personally don't own one. I have that range covered with a 17-40F4L and 70-200 F4L, I don't mind changing lenses, and I don't really like that middle range. 50mm is my least favorite focal length, so I don't even "cover" that as Rockwell suggests. A 50mm for me is even LESS useful than a 24-70 would be (I have and prefer the 35L, but it's certainly the cheapest route to good pictures for your average photography with a kit zoom, which I think was his point.)

The few "events" I actually shoot, the 70-200 range is actually better because I'm usually in the crowd or a press pit with people on a stage. As mentioned, I use the 70-200 F4 for that or the 135L if its getting dark.


I think there's a point buried in Ken's remark, it's just not what he states: a mid-range, low-ratio zoom is great for certain professional use, but can paint you into a corner as an amateur.

As other posters have pointed out, a fast, comparitively-heavy, expensive ($2,000) 24-70mm f2.8 is a great idea for someone who shoots things like weddings. You're doing people pictures, so won't often want to go wider than 24mm, and the classic 35mm film camera portrait lens was something like a 70mm or 100mm. So it's fast, gives shallow depth of field (very useful in a crowded room), and covers most of your bases for making people look good at an event like that.

As an amateur, you're probably going to want something wider than 24mm (say something in the 18-20mm range), and you're probably going to want something longer than 70mm (say 200mm or 300mm). So now you have a middle-of-the-road lens and go out and buy two others? Not to mention, you have no assistant, you're not required to schlep other pro equipment around, so do you really want to carry three lenses?

Then ask yourself: do you spend big $$ on each of these lenses, or not? The cost-factors aren't the same as for full-frame cameras, but I have an 18-300mm for my D-7100, and it basically covers all of the bases except for lower-light, non-flash work. For the lower-light case I can beat f2.8 by more than a stop (f1.8) with a relatively inexpensive prime lens. So for the price of the professional's 24-70mm f2.8, I got 18-300mm, a faster low-light prime (50mm in my case), and an external flash. (Or I got an 18-300mm lens with the camera thrown in for free.)

(Of course the 18-300mm is f3.5-5.6, so it's definitely slower, and I'm not pricing full-frame lenses. Then again, I really do think the D-7100 is the sweet spot for an "enthusiast" amateur camera in Nikon's line.)

EDIT: The OP's question, in the end, is should he get a 24-70mm. The answer is probably "no". The fact that event photographers love it doesn't make it useful for a more generalist amateur. Perhaps I give Rockwell too much credit, but it's my impression that the "professionals use it, so I should aspire to it" attitude is what he's flippantly trying to address.


I can help you form an opinion with an example: We recently shot a skating event with what some call the Nikon "holy trinity" lens collection mounted on five Nikon D800s. (for a lens review see http://youtu.be/jvDWVwlQaB0)

Here is a link to a short edit of the footage: http://youtu.be/j8muk0XJ6sc

The 24-70mm lens was used for the shots at ice level (except for the wide shots looking out from the tree, which were 18-24mm)

0:20 and 1:09 are examples of how one needs both the 24mm and 70mm sides of the lens. For this type of work, where the action is super fast and where you have no control over lighting and shutter speed (shutter set to 2x frame rate), having an F2.8 lens was really important.

You can form your own opinion on how well the three lenses covered the event. (or not) The wide shots were all 18-24, the ice level was 24-70 and the tele shots from high up 70-200mm.

For the interested, HDMI liveview output was captured in Apple Prores HQ by Atomos Ninja 2 recorders, directly recording onto 240GB Sandisk SSDs.

Finally, below is IMHO an excellent technical article on good Nikon full size camera lens choices: http://www.dxomark.com/Reviews/Which-lenses-for-your-Nikon-D800/Nikon-D800-and-standard-lens-choices

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