What is a good general purpose lens – one lens to rule them all?

If a zoom, for shooting assignments/projects: probably the 24-70L or the equivalent EF-S 17-55mm 2.8 for crop body cameras. Fast, sharp and useful for many applications. I always have this lens handy, no matter what assignment. The 24-105mm F4 IS L is also an excellent candidate, particularly for travel. It’s a great compromise between a wide focal range, aperture and IS, at a very reasonable size and weight, while delivering high quality images.

If a prime: probably the 35mm L or the 50m 1.4. Sharp and lightweight. Remember that you can always crop an image in post, but you can’t magically crop “out” in post.
For someone totally new to photography:

Keep it really simple: the 50mm 1.4. It is small and sharp and will help you get the basics.

For your first L lens: (a lens for someone getting more seriously into photography):

If you are just starting out, you probably already have a 18-55 or 28-80 equivalent zoom, and adding a 70-200 F4 L zoom. Great image quality, at reasonable cost and size. The 70-200 F4 L will

I want to try a 70-200 L zoom, but holy smokes, there are four of them! Can you explain the differences between the 70-200 options?

All of the 70-200 lenses produce sharp, contrasty images with great color and bokeh. There are five varieties: F4 non-IS, F4 IS, F2.8 non-IS, F2.8 IS Mark 1 and F2.8 IS Mark 2. (If you are new to these lenses and none of the explanations make any sense to you, feel free to call me at 215.821.7161 and I can ask you a few questions and give you a recommendation based on what you are trying to do.)

The F4 versions are the smaller versions lightest of the series. A good choice for long days in brighter outdoor conditions. Bad choice for indoors work. The F4 IS is a bit better for indoor work.

The 70-200 F2.8 non-IS is like the F4 above, good for bright indoor situations. The penalty for the 2.8 aperture is a noticeably heavier and larger lens versus the F4 versions.

The 70-200 F2.8 IS Mark 2 and 1 are both fantastic indoor and outdoor workhorse lenses. Most pros have one or the other. Great for low light indoor situations – the image stabilization (IS) unit will really help out when your shutter slows down to 1/30th or so.

The 70-200 F2.8 IS Mark 2 ($95) is an upgrade to the 70-200 2.8 IS. It is sharper, and the image stabilizer is a bit more effective, so you can slow the shutter speeds down even more.

What about for low light work?

The L primes are all good candidates. Combined with a 5D Mark 3 sensor that performs well in low light, you will find that these lenses can see very well in low light.

And for weddings?

I bring around 10-13 lenses for the weddings that I shoot, so it is hard to say what to use. Depends a lot on your style.

I find these ones I use the most: 35mm L, 85mm L, 70-200 2.8 IS L Mark 2 and the 24-70 2.8 L. But I usually bring another 8 lenses.

For sports?

The 70-200 2.8 IS L Mark 2, the 300mm 2.8 IS L and the 135mm L. Very sharp, very fast focusing lenses. You will feel right at home next to the pros from Sports Illustrated. If you need extra range, put a 1.4x or 2x extended on them. They will still work beautifully.

For portraits?

The 85mm 1.2 L Mark 2, the 135mm L and the 70-200 2.8 IS Mark 2. All ridiculously sharp, fantastic color. The 85mm 1.2 L Mark 2 can be slow to focus. Beginners beware.


The L primes are all very popular with filmmakers, and in particular, the 85mm 1.2 L and 135mm L. The bokeh on those optics makes it look like you are shooting with $100k cine lenses. If you are making a skateboarding movie, you will want the 15mm fisheye, of course.


Of course, the 24mm TS-E Mark 2 and 17mm TS-E tilt shift lenses. But if you are an architectural photographer, you already knew that.

Something that will give a different look?

The 45mm tilt shift can produce some hauntingly images (when used properly – it has a bit of a learning curve).

News photojournalism and documentary work?

Tough call. Really depends how you shoot. For fast situations, the three L zooms are what I would reach for (the 16-35 2.8 Mark 2, the 24-70 and the 70-200 Mark 2). For slow, low light work, the L primes are the obvious choice.

A lens that will make my spouse less upset at me for ruining the monthly budget?

Haha. Well, in that case, the 70-200 F4. Sharp, inexpensive, and the long focal length will make your spouse look 10 pounds lighter. Who wouldn’t appreciate that?