Wherever I go on my assignments, people want to talk about gear, and one of the common questions they ask is which lens to buy or use. Like so many things photo-related, lens choice is highly personal, but I almost always grab one of two lenses from my bag: my 24mm-70mm or my fixed-length 35mm. I probably shoot with these two lenses 80 to 90 percent of the time.

The 24-70mm zoom is the definition of versatility. It gives me a wide spectrum of reach for all of my shots – whether I shoot wide landscapes pulled back at 24mm, like this sunset shot from a Russia surf trip, or a few portraits at 35mm or 50mm. And if I want a little more reach I can push in fully at 70mm. It’s a great all-around lens that covers all my needs as a landscape/adventure photographer. Once in awhile I’ll reach in my bag for a 200mm but it’s very rare unless I really want to zoom in on details. Other than that, the 24-70mm is what lives on my main camera at all times.

Then there’s the fixed focal length 35mm lens. Granted, you’re stuck in that focal length but the tradeoff is that it’s really light and small, making it easy to carry with whether you’re hiking up a rad mountain or traversing down a ski slope. Unlike with bigger lenses, I don’t have to worry about my camera flying around and hitting a rock or getting broken.

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Usually a fixed lens lets you push your aperture bigger letting in more light for certain shots – especially when I shoot at night with star trails. I have so much more control on how I can shoot since I can open wide at f/1.8 if necessary. The image quality is so crisp, too, and there’s very little distortion for portraits or even landscapes.

Finally, being restricted in that focal length forces me to move my feet and experience the landscape if I want to get a different vantage point, rather than relying on the zoom of a lens like the 24-70. That’s a blessing in disguise.

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LOOKING TO BUY?
Nikon’s f/2.8G ED AF-S Nikkor 24-70 is a fast (for the category) f2.8 and among the sharpest zooms available. $1,885 – BUY

Of course, that’s a pro-level lens with a pro-level price. A much more affordable option is the 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR AF-S Nikkor. It’s smaller, more compact, and about a third of the price, but at 3.5-4.5 is much slower, a hindrance for action and low light. $596 – BUY

Got a Canon? The little red stripe on the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM denotes the top optical glass and durability in the Canon line. It’s analogous to Nikon’s offering, for almost the same price, but Canon also throws in Photoshop Elements and a 16GB memory card. $1,889 – BUY

Canon also make a lighter, trimmer 24-70mm, the EF 24-70mm f/4.0L IS USM, but it still has top-shelf optics. The aperture opens to f/4 through the whole range. $899 – BUY

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Sony makes a very sharp, very fast A-mount 24-70mm, the f/2.8 Carl Zeiss Vario Sonnar T ($1,998; BUY), as well as an f/4 for significantly less – the F4 Vario-Tessar T* FE OSS ($1,200; BUY).

High Resolution is dedicated to the commitment of making better pictures, through tips, philosophy, gear, and more.

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