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24-70mm Lenses: Everything You Need to Know

The ultimate guide to 24-70mm lenses

Why do photographers everywhere seem to be obsessed with 24-70mm lenses? Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been shooting for a while, you’ve likely encountered the 24-70mm lens, and it’s important that you understand just what makes this lens so popular – and why you might want to consider investing in one.

Below, I walk you through what makes the 24-70mm lens so special. You’ll learn about why it’s such a great choice for all kinds of photography, its technical aspects, and some handy tips for making the most out of it. I also share plenty of 24-70mm photo examples, so you know what to expect after buying.

Let’s get started.

What is a 24-70mm lens?

24-70mm lens photography

You might have heard photographers raving about the 24-70mm lens – and for good reason. Let’s dig into what exactly this lens is.

A 24-70mm lens isn’t exactly a wide-angle lens, nor is it a telephoto lens. It’s what’s often called a standard zoom or a wide-to-telephoto zoom. Why? Because it starts at a wide-angle focal length of 24mm and goes all the way up to a short-telephoto focal length of 70mm. It’s a lens that covers a lot of ground in one package.

If you’re using an APS-C camera, things change a bit. A 24-70mm lens on an APS-C camera offers an effective focal length of roughly 35-105mm. In other words, it tones down the wide-angle perspective and gives you a bit more reach on the long end.

The 24-70mm zoom is incredibly popular. In fact, I would say it’s one of the most common, if not the most common, zoom lenses used by enthusiasts and professionals. It’s a go-to lens for many because of its amazing versatility, impressive optics, and great design.

And it’s not just one or two manufacturers making these lenses. All the big names in the lens world offer 24-70mm glass, which tells you something about its importance in photography.

Common subjects for 24-70mm photography

24-70mm lens photography

The 24-70mm lens is highly versatile, so it’s used to photograph in a wide variety of scenarios. Here are a few genres where this lens really shines:

Portrait photography: The 24-70mm lens can capture stunning wide-angle portraits as well as full-body poses and tight headshots. It’ll also prevent you from needing to change lenses while shooting. Imagine the flow and the connection you can maintain with your subject without pausing to swap glass.

Wedding and event photography: The 24-70mm focal length range allows for both wider and tighter compositions so you can capture the grandeur of a wedding ceremony at 24mm and then zoom in for intimate shots of the bride and groom at 70mm. Planning to photograph indoor or nighttime events? The f/2.8 version of this lens ensures quality images in challenging lighting conditions.

Landscape photography: While the 24mm end doesn’t offer the ultra-wide perspective loved by many landscape shooters, it still provides a reasonably wide field of view. Imagine a breathtaking mountain range or a vast desert; you can capture the entire expanse at 24mm and then zoom in to 50mm or 70mm for more intimate compositions.

Still-life photography: 24-70mm lenses can also come in handy when photographing food, products, and other still-life subjects; as I explore in greater detail below, these lenses tend to offer surprisingly solid close-focusing capabilities. Plus, the optics are impressively sharp – always a benefit when doing close-up photography!

24-70mm lens photography

Bottom line: A 24-70mm lens won’t limit you to specific types of photography, and it’s like having several lenses in one. Whether you’re capturing faces, events, or nature’s beauty, this lens will adapt to your needs and provide endless creative possibilities.

24-70mm f/2.8 vs 24-70mm f/4 lenses

24-70mm lens photography

If you’re considering your first 24-70mm lens, you might be confused by the number of options out there. Maybe you’re struggling to decide which version to buy. Let me help clear things up for you.

The 24-70mm lens is generally offered in two variations: f/2.8 and f/4. This number refers to the maximum aperture offered by the lens: the f/2.8 version is able to use a wider f/2.8 aperture, whereas the f/4 version can only widen the aperture to f/4. As a result, the f/2.8 version can take in more light compared to the f/4 version.

The optical difference between 24-70mm f/2.8 and f/4 lenses might not seem massive. For some photographers, it isn’t. But it can matter significantly in a few specific scenarios. And when choosing between an f/2.8 and f/4 lens, there are some additional consequences that you’ll want to consider.

First of all, because the f/2.8 version can gather more light, it allows for better handheld images in darker scenarios. Thanks to the light boost, you won’t need to drop your shutter speed or raise your ISO, and this means you can capture images that are sharper and less noisy. (It’s the reason why many wedding and event photographers only work with a 24-70mm f/2.8.)

Second, wider apertures produce a shallower depth of field effect, so the f/2.8 version allows for more intense background bokeh. This is especially important in portrait photography. If you’re serious about portraits, I recommend purchasing the 24-70mm f/2.8 over the 24-70mm f/4. Can you still produce nice background blur with an f/4 lens? Yes, but it’ll be a lot harder to do, and often won’t look quite as good.

On the other hand, these wide-aperture zooms do tend to be heftier than their narrow-aperture counterparts. And they are far, far pricier.

Therefore, unless you specifically need an f/2.8 version of the 24-70mm lens for handheld low-light shooting or background bokeh effects, it’s a good idea to go for the f/4 version. It’ll get you the same results – at half the price, and with half the heft.

24-70mm lens photography
24-70mm f/2.8 lenses tend to be larger and heavier than 24-70mm f/4 lenses.

Making the right choice between these two versions requires you to know what you’re after. Consider your shooting style, subjects, and budget. Both options have their merits, and understanding them will guide you toward the perfect 24-70mm lens for your photography needs.

Reasons you should use a 24-70mm lens

Not yet sold on a 24-70mm lens? No problem! Here are a few reasons why I love my 24-70mm glass:

1. There is no learning curve

24-70mm lens woman in a tree

The focal length of a 24-70mm lens stretches from wide-angle to short telephoto – but the bulk of its range sits in the standard focal length spot, which corresponds closely to the human eye. Therefore, to use a 24-70mm lens, you don’t need to learn to see differently; instead, looking through a 24-70mm, you’ll get a very natural field of view.

In fact, when you’re photographing as the eye sees, it’s much easier to learn composition. You can spot interesting subjects, bring your camera to your eye, and snap away – whereas ultra-wide lenses and telephoto lenses force you to think about the field of view, distortion, compression, and how they change the scene.

Even at 24mm, distortion is limited. So you can do wide-angle photography without worrying about wide-angle effects. And at 70mm, you can zoom in for tighter compositions while still capturing a relatively neutral perspective.

Plus, the 50mm focal length is outstanding for portrait photography: not so long that you lose intimacy, and not so wide that you stretch the subject. Instead, it’s just right.

2. 24-70mm lenses offer close focusing

24-70mm wolf close-up shot

24-70mm lenses are designed for standard-sized subjects, right?

Well, yes…and no.

You see, while these lenses are often created with portrait, landscape, and nature subjects in mind, they also offer impressive close-focusing capabilities. The minimum focusing distance does vary from model to model, but it’s generally around 15 inches (38 centimeters).

In other words, you can use a 24-70mm lens to capture stunning close-up shots – of flowers, leaves, portrait details, and more. What’s especially exciting is how flexible a 24-70mm lens can be; if you’re photographing a portrait subject, you can step back for a nice full-body shot, move in slightly for a head-and-shoulders composition, then move in even closer for a detail photo of your subject’s eyes, ears, or clothing.

Event photographers use this close-focusing flexibility all the time. Zoom out for a shot of the wedding guests, step in for a shot of the centerpieces, zoom out for a shot of the ceiling, step in for a shot of the place settings.

And if you like to shoot landscapes, you can capture sweeping scenics at 24mm, then zoom in to 70mm and get in close for details of rocks, sand patterns, etc.

It’s so convenient, and it’s all thanks to the power of a 24-70mm lens.

3. The focal length range is incredibly versatile

I’ve already touched on this, but it’s arguably the most important benefit of a 24-70mm lens, so it deserves its own section.

You see, with a 24-70mm lens, you can shoot at a slew of different focal lengths, from wide to standard to telephoto, and this range offers limitless possibilities in the face of demanding photoshoots.

First of all, when doing a single photoshoot, you can easily go from a wide angle to a zoom, adjusting quickly as the scene and your subjects change. And you won’t have to switch out your lens at all, which will keep the flow of the photoshoot intact and will prevent you from missing key moments as you switch from one lens to the next.

Plus, the versatility of a 24-70mm lens means that you can work with it and nothing else, even as you go gallivanting across the world for destination shoots and vacations. Imagine heading to a photoshoot with just one lens in your bag. Nice, right?

4. The build is robust and comfortable

24-70mm lens photography

Most 24-70mm lenses are impressively robust, featuring a solid build that’s designed to last. Manufacturers know that these are “walkaround” lenses, so they’ve made sure a 24-70mm can handle anything you might face, from rain and snow to blowing sand and dust.

If you frequently shoot in deserts, near waterfalls, or at the beach, then a 24-70mm lens will be a lifesaver, allowing you to capture all sorts of compositions without worrying about ruining your precious optics. Of course, you should always practice proper lens care; I don’t recommend you drop your lens in the water, let it get soaked, and so on. But as far as lenses go, 24-70mm options tend to be very solid.

(And you’ll need a well-built camera, too; while 24-70mm lenses are amazing, they can’t protect your camera electronics!)

Additionally, 24-70mm lenses feel great in the hands. They’re not so long that you’ll get tired after a few hours, and they’re not so short that you have nothing to grip. You can comfortably use a 24-70mm lens for day-long photoshoots, and you’ll always feel like you’re working with an actual, solid lens.

5. The size and weight are perfect for pretty much everything

On average, 24-70mm lenses measure around 3.3 x 3.3 x 4.9 inches (8.4 x 8.4 x 12.4 centimeters), and they weigh approximately 2 pounds (900 grams).

While these lenses aren’t tiny, they’re certainly not large, nor are they heavy. They fit in pretty much any camera bag you’ll ever encounter, even when they’re attached to a camera – so you can carry your setup in a shoulder-sling bag or a backpack without any trouble. Plus, because 24-70mm lenses are pretty short, you can hang your camera around your neck and you won’t feel like you’re carrying a brick.

In fact, my 50mm (f/1.2) lens weighs more than my 24-70mm lens, even though it’s shorter. And I’ve even managed to put my camera and 24-70mm lens in a regular old purse (which can come in handy in quite a few situations).

Bottom line: A 24-70mm lens is sized for photographic adventures of all types, from treks in the mountains to casual walks around the city to travel photography across the globe.

24-70mm lens man playing cello

Tips for working with a 24-70mm lens

You’ve got your 24-70mm lens and you’re excited to use it. But before you start snapping away, there are some tips and tricks that can help you get the most out of this lens:

1. Practice using the lens at every focal length

dog near a fountain 24-70mm

First off, make sure you understand what each focal length in your lens’s range (24mm to 70mm) can do.

Spend some time experimenting with different focal lengths. See how they affect your compositions.

Try photographing a single subject at 24mm, then at 35mm, then at 50mm, then at 70mm. Pull up the images on your computer and observe them side by side. Ask yourself: How does each focal length change the view of the subject?

Soon, you’ll get to know how each focal length will look – even before you look through the viewfinder. You won’t waste valuable time zooming in and out to find the perfect shot.

2. Watch the distortion

two men in the desert 24-70mm lens photography

When shooting at the wide end of your 24-70mm lens, you may notice some distortion.

This means that straight lines will seem to converge, and objects close to the lens might look a bit stretched or skewed.

Distortion like this – known as perspective distortion – isn’t always bad, and it can be used artistically to great effect. But it’s important to be hyper-aware of its effects because it can result in unflattering photos if you’re not careful.

If you are trying to minimize distortion at 24mm, make sure that your subjects are decently far from the front of the lens, and do your best to keep the lens parallel to the ground (i.e., not angled upward or downward).

3. Don’t rely too heavily on the zoom

24-70mm lens photography

A zoom lens can make it tempting to stand in one spot and just twist the lens barrel to change the composition. But while the zoom on 24-70mm lenses is fantastic and highly useful, but it doesn’t replace the need to move physically closer to your subject.

For one, moving around can help you fine-tune your compositions. And it can also give you a completely different perspective.

So get into the habit of using a mix of movement and focal-length adjustment. That way, you’ll get the best results and discover perspectives you might have otherwise missed.

Remember, photography is as much about the movement and physical positioning of the photographer as it is about the focal length!

4. Turn on that image stabilization

man standing among lights 24-70mm lens photography

Many 24-70mm lenses come with image stabilization. It’s a handy little feature that helps counteract camera shake; that way, you can photograph handheld at slower shutter speeds in the 1/20s-1/60s range, which is especially useful in low-light scenarios such as evening portrait sessions and indoor events.

So whenever you’re photographing a relatively stationary subject and you don’t have access to a tripod (or you simply don’t want to use one), switch on that image stabilization.

That said, there are a couple of caveats to bear in mind. First, if you are using a tripod, make sure that you switch that image stabilization off. Otherwise, you might find that it actually increases the blur in your photos.

And second, be aware that image stabilization generally won’t help you capture sharp photos of moving subjects. For that, you’ll need a fast shutter speed.

5. Watch the background

dog surrounded by flowers 24-70mm lens photography

The 24-70mm lens might not be considered a true wide-angle lens, but it still offers some wide focal lengths, especially in the 24-50mm range. And when shooting wide-angle compositions, you might notice that the background in your shots often turns out relatively sharp, even if you’re using a wide aperture.

What does this mean for you?

It means you need to pay careful attention to what’s happening behind your subject. A distracting background can easily take the focus away from your main subject. Maybe it’s a bright sign in a street scene or a branch sticking out in a nature shot. Whatever it is, you’ll want to make the effort to keep it out of your shots.

If you find yourself in an area where the background might cause some issues, try moving around your subject. Walk to the right or left, get down low, or even climb up high if you can. It’s all about finding the right angle that lets your subject shine without any background interference.

6. Consider using a lens filter for protection

Investing in a good 24-70mm lens can be a significant expense. Such a lens will generally be optically excellent, and you’ll want to take care of it as much as possible.

That’s why I recommend adding a UV filter or a clear filter to the front of your lens. It’ll protect your precious glass from accidental bumps or those unexpected finger smudges.

So if you’re planning to spend a lot of time with your 24-70mm lens, do consider investing in a good-quality lens filter. It’s a simple step that can go a long way in keeping your lens safe and your images looking their best.

24-70mm lens photography: final words

And there you have it! You’ve learned all about the 24-70mm lens and its impressive capabilities, including why it’s so incredibly popular.

You’ve also learned about the different versions available and even picked up some handy tips. Whether you’re capturing the grandeur of landscapes, the intimacy of a wedding, or the expression of a portrait, this lens offers the flexibility you need.

Investing in a 24-70mm lens might just be the step that takes your photography to the next level. The world through a 24-70mm lens is rich and varied, and it’s waiting for you to explore!

Now over to you:

Do you think you’ll buy a 24-70mm lens? What do you plan to use it for? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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Anabel DFlux
Anabel DFlux

is a published photographer in Los Angeles, California. Having started her photography business at the age of 15, Anabel has dedicated her life to her photographic passion. From canine sports to exotic animals, to some of the biggest musicians in the world – Anabel’s work doesn’t fall into any specific niche. She believes there are no limits to what you can create, and to photograph everything that gives you that spark of inspiration.

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