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5 reasons why you need a 16-35mm lens

Last updatedDec 23, 2020

The 16-35mm lens is my favourite lens in my entire kit, no question.

Out of the “trinity” of zooms (the 16-35mm, 24-70mm, & 70-200mm), I find it to be the most interesting of the 3 to use, and forcing myself to use it in what others would seem to be “unconventional” ways provides me with unique results.

I always advocate for the 16-35mm lens over all others, but it certainly isn’t the easiest of the 3 to pick up and get started with straight away - there’s a learning curve.

But, if you master it, I promise you’ll never look back. Here’s 5 reasons you might want to pick one up over anything else.

  • Part of the scene - 5 reasons why you need a 16-35mm lens - Pat Kay Blog

    1. You’re a part of the scene

    It’s not a 24-70mm, and that’s a good thing.

    I’ve said this many times across many channels, and this is a line of thinking that’s largely unconventional, but I’m actually really opposed to using a 24-70mm (or even worse, a 24-105mm), because the ability to “do it all” turns me in to a lazy photographer (however for different reasons, this thinking doesn’t apply if you do video, though).

    With a 16-35mm lens, not only is 35mm a perfect walk-about focal range, but the wider angles force you to interact with your subjects or your scenes, rather than snipe away at them from afar.

    Rather than perv on someone from across the street, you have to interact or force yourself to build up the courage to get close if you want a good street photograph. You’re talking to shop keepers at a market, you’re in the tiny backstreets of a rustic city, you might even have to earn the trust of a furry animal friend to get a good shot.

    The 16-35mm focal range forces you into the action, and rather than being just a passive participant and documenter of the scene, you become part of the scene itself. It’s personal.

  • 35mm is perfect - 5 reasons why you need a 16-35mm lens - Pat Kay Blog

    2. 35mm is a perfect compromise

    The narrower end of a 16-35mm lens, 35mm, is a focal length that many, many people love as their favourite focal length.

    It’s not too “normal” like a 50mm, and not insanely wide (although you have that option too with this zoom, +10 points to versatility). Many people regard their 35mm primes as “the perfect walk-about lens”, and I agree.

    This article would actually be titled “5 reasons why you need a 35mm prime lens”, if it wasn’t for the fact that modern zooms are so good now a-days, there’s no real reason (aside from speed) to have multiple lenses of the same focal length, so why not just get something even more versatile in a zoom?

    Sure, you can’t get a f1.4 16-35mm, but would you really want one anyway? It’d be huge. The new Canon 28-70mm f2 is the size of a newborn baby, and that’s still a full stop away (and it’s not even that wide).

    A 16-35mm lens provides all the versatility of 35mm, plus the perspectives the human eye doesn’t usually see (or can even visualise very well) at 24mm and under.

  • 3. You don’t need as much stabilisation

    The wider you go, the less image stabilisation you need.

    Test this out with video for yourself if you don’t believe me. Little bumps, shakes, unwanted movements are all noticeably reduced the wider your scene becomes.

    Also for images, a general rule of thumb for shutter speed is 1 over your focal length to achieve sharp shots. Double that for security and double that again for focal lengths above 100mm and you’re golden. That means at 16mm, it’s not unrealistic to be able to get sharp, hand-held images at 1/20sec shutter speed.

    On my Sony with its in-body stabilisation, I can hand-hold a shot at 0.5” sec shutter speed and have it still turn out tack sharp.

    Compare that to something like 1/100sec for a 70mm focal range, and that’s a 2 1/3rd stops of light you can get back. Not bad, huh?

  • Landscapes - 5 reasons why you need a 16-35mm lens - Pat Kay Blog

    4. Great for scapes

    Of course the 16-35mm lens is an absolute staple for landscape photographers the world over.

    It’s wide enough to capture grand, epic scenes and wide vistas - I can just imagine the tiny person silhouette right now. But it’s also narrow enough to punch in to scenes that perhaps aren’t as grand as they could be.

    Not to mention the lens thread sizes are filter-friendly. Most lenses under 16mm have bulging, bulbous front elements that make filters more of a hassle to put on and take off.

  • Contextual portraits - 5 reasons why you need a 16-35mm lens - Pat Kay Blog

    5. Great for contextual portraits

    I personally love using the 16-35mm lens for contextual portraits and street photography.

    By “contextual portraits”, what I mean are portraits that show the context that the subject is in.

    I actually love shooting portraits in this way over the tight, “waist up”-style (or smaller) because showing context to contrast with a subject often creates a richer, more interesting story than just the subject themselves.

Thoughts? Do you own a 16-35mm lens?

If not, you should!

For me, it’s an irreplaceable lens in my kit, and it might turn out to be yours too.

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