There is a saying that zoom lenses can make you a lazy photographer. And that might be true if you use them the wrong way.
I was recently given the opportunity to test out the new Sony 24-70mm f/2.8 GM II lens, and while I do want to touch on the specifics of this lens a bit, while using it, I was reminded why I prefer prime lenses.
Now, I don’t make this statement because this lens isn’t good. In fact, this lens is pretty dang amazing, and it may actually be the first zoom lens I decide to add back into my bag since making the moving to primes over eight years ago. This lens has things like an aperture ring, an iris lock, a de-clicking switch, and two custom function buttons. It even has a switch where you can adjust the feel of the zoom, either making it tight or smooth, which is essentially a way to make the lens more user-friendly for video or photos, depending on your needs.
This new version also fixes one of my biggest gripes with zoom lenses, the sheer size and weight of them. In fact, this lens is about as small and light as my Carl Zeiss 35mm f/1.4, and if you compare it to the first version, you can instantly see the difference. If you think about it, it is a pretty impressive feat of engineering. Not only have they taken this high-end G-Master lens and made it an all-around better lens using an entirely new optical path, a new floating focus mechanism tied to four XD-linear motors, and an even better handle on things like distortion and chromatic aberration, they also made it significantly smaller and lighter. In fact, it’s the smallest and lightest 24-70mm f/2.8 on the market!
But all this aside, the reason you might use your zoom lens the wrong way is that for the longest time, I was actually using them the wrong way myself. And while testing this lens out, even now after strictly using primes for eight years, I quickly fell back into old habits.
When you’re photographing something at 24mm and you decide you want to fill the frame a bit more with the subject, what a ton of photographers will do is simply zoom in a bit. And this makes sense, right? The subject is far and I want to get closer, so I zoom in. The problem is that, in my opinion, this is the completely wrong way to approach this situation. Because if you’re at 24mm and you simply zoom to 70mm to fill your frame, you have completely changed the optical characteristics of your lens.
So, the image you saw you wanted to slightly change by “getting closer” has now changed entirely, because you didn’t actually get closer. What you really did was essentially change lenses. In the below example, I have my daughter approximately the same size in the frame, and there is a noticeable difference in the angle of view even going from 24mm to 36mm.
I’ve seen this done a ton of times when watching other photographers work. Usually, a photographer will stand in some arbitrary location and their feet become almost glued to that spot. From here, they get their wide, medium, and tight images and never move a single inch. Or on a wedding day, the photographer will plant themselves on the back wall of the room and simply zoom their way in and out of the moment. The problem is that you shouldn’t be using the zoom function of your lens to get closer to or farther away from your subject. Instead, you should use the zoom function of your lens to pick your desired focal length. And you should base this decision on the optical qualities of that focal length and not on your location in relation to your subject.
When I first started shooting weddings, I didn’t understand this. And even when I moved to prime lenses, I honestly didn’t really know. All I knew is that when I was stuck on a prime lens, I had to work harder to get the image I wanted, but as a result, I also got better images. After a while, I realized it was because I was moving my feet. So, instead of just zooming my way around a room, I was picking the lens for its storytelling characteristics and then getting my camera where it needed to be in order to tell that story.
So, if you shoot on zoom lenses, and you find you don’t really move your feet a ton. I think this little mental shift can actually make you a better photographer. The cool thing about this whole moving your feet thing is that not only are you now using your focal length for the right reasons, but as you move around more, you see more angles, explore more compositional options, and get more comfortable being inside the moment rather than trying to zoom your way into it. This, in turn, helps the viewer feel like they are in the moment as well.
The last thing I want to touch on is that this opinion is entirely based on you having the freedom to move. If you’re a wildlife photographer, you can’t really get up and move around without scaring off your subject, Likewise, if you’re on an African safari, you can’t reasonably be expected to get out of the vehicle and get closer to your subject to fill the frame. And in the wedding world, if you’re at a church ceremony where you can only shoot from the back pew, then yes, totally rock that zoom function. But you would be much better served in your craft if you can learn to use your zoom lens to simply choose your focal length and then from there, use your feet to get closer or farther from your subject as needed.
In closing, I do think the new Sony 24-70mm is an amazing lens. Anyone in the market for something light, compact, and versatile should consider getting it. But, I also believe a good number of photographers could benefit from using this type of lens in a more intentional way. But that’s just me. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.