There are lots of reasons why to choose a lens over another lens. For this discussion, I’m skipping any discussion over specific brands of lenses. This is really more of a discussion about focal length, aperture, and other lens features rather than sharpness, contrast, or other technical specifications. Not to say those are not really important, but they are for a different topic. Though some people will buy old lenses or intentionally use damaged lenses for a certain look and feel to their images. I haven’t gotten into that yet. For me, I’m always shooting the best glass that I can afford so it’s assumed that they are the best quality. More importantly, is the focal length. All these lenses below will tell a different story. They frame the subject in a different way. Being a photographer means having a working knowledge of how all these lenses will look without having to look through each one to find the right one. It takes practice but with dedication, I think anyone can learn how they work best and what they don’t do so well.
NWBRA Final 2018Canon 1DX Mark II, Sigma 120-300mm F/2.8 Sports, 133mm 1/250, f/4, ISO 1000, Flash Fired
I’m most frequently shooting team roping or barrel racing. So, I’m stationary and the action is moving around in front of me. For this reason, I need a zoom lens when working. I’m shooting on full frame 1DX Mark II’s at the time of this writing. So, you’ll have to convert if you’re using a different size sensor like an APS-C, Micro Four Thirds, Medium format or something else. Let's start with the 120-300mm f/2.8 made by Sigma. This is part of their Sports line so it is top notch glass. I love this focal range for barrel racing because it lets me sit further away than if use a 70-200mm for example. I make sure every lens I own has a maximum aperture of 2.8 or faster, except one. We’ll go over that one soon. This is because I sometimes shoot in low light but also because you’ll find that the highest quality glass is typically associated with 2.8 or faster aperture. I also love this lens for team roping. It’s perfect for most areas but I end up swapping it out for the 70-200mm for the lower number ropings. This is because I have a different shot in mind for high number ropers and lower number ropers. Having a certain shot in mind is my main reason for choosing a lens in the first place. I first think about the shot or types of shots that I’m looking for and what kind of shooting situation I’m going to find myself in.
The Patriot 2019 Team RopingCanon 1DX Mark II, Canon 70-200mm F/2.8L II, 252mm, f/4, 1/250, ISO 640
The more control I have over the situation the fewer focal lengths I’ll need to rely on to do the job. For example, if I’m walking around somewhere exploring and I don’t know what I’ll be shooting then I’ll want a zoom lens with lots of range like 24-70mm or 70-200mm. These are both great lens choices for many situations and a staple in photographers’ kits all over the world. However, you didn’t come here to read about what everyone else is doing. If I can just have creative control or I’m looking to tell a specific story then I’ll reach for a prime lens. Prime lenses are also known as fixed lenses. They do not zoom. They are fixed at a specific focal length like 85mm. These are great if you can move in relation to your subject or if you can wait for your subject to move into the right spot.
Let's start by going over what’s in my kit and why it’s in my kit. Then I’ll end by going over the lenses I’ve had and sold. I’ll start with my widest lenses (smallest focal length) and go to my longest lenses (largest focal length). For zoom lenses, I’ll put them in order using their widest focal range. Example: 70-200mm will go after the 24-70mm but before the 85mm. This way I’m not playing favorites and it's a more logical post. Also, this will make it easy to skip around to see what I say about wide angle or telephoto or super telephoto or.... you get the picture. LOL This could get a little long winded so it’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure.
First, the lens I’ve had in my kit the longest is also the widest one I own. It’s a 14mm f/2.8 from Bower. It’s the worst overall quality lens in there but when I need 14mm then it does the trick. It’s really not bad at all which is why I have it but compared to the rest of the lenses I’m about to talk about, it’s really not on par. It does have its uses though. Also, it was only $250, if I remember correctly, so it’s perfect for beginners. I’ve found that its great for Astrophotography. At f/2.8 it lets a good amount of light in and can yield decent results for shooting the Milky Way. Especially when you need that ultra wide shot. You’ll want something interesting really close in the foreground to draw your viewers in. It’s a manual focus which is what you’ll be doing for astrophotography anyways. I’ll shoot time lapses with it sometimes so I can capture the whole scene.
The lens that comes up next in my kit is the Canon 16-35mm f/4. This is a Canon L-Series lens so you know it’s great. It’s my only lens that isn’t f/2.8 or faster. That’s because I bought it to make videos with. It is really quite small and light because it’s max aperture is f/4. But it’s great for so many other reasons too. I’ll grab this lens when I wanna create interesting scenes that draw viewers in. I’ll often place a leading line really close to the end of the lens and shoot stopped way down like f/22 making everything sharp. This lens is great for telling stories. You can show your subject as well as the environment it is in. I’ll often pop this lens on for vlogging (Video Blogging) because it is easy to hold with my arm stretched out. It gets smooth shots because it has excellent image stabilization built in.
4G Ranch SupplyCanon 1DX Mark II, Canon 16-35mm f/4L, 35mm, 1/1000, F/10, ISO 3200
Since the 16-35mm lens is a zoom lens, this next lens is actually in that range. It’s a 20mm f/1.4 from Sigma. It’s part of their Art series. I honestly don’t use this as much as I should but when it comes to astrophotography, this is my go-to lens of choice ever since I bought it. I typically stop it down to f/2 to get a little more depth of field and extra sharp stars. I feel like it is probably my fault because I can’t seem to muster the patience to find focus at f/1.4. This lens lets me lower my ISO and get really clean shots of the Milky Way. The 16-35mm is excellent for landscapes and wide vistas, but getting up close to your subject can produce some amazing images. Even a portrait, when done right, can be pleasing with this range.
Bottle in Ocean Lake, Riverton, WYCanon 1DX Mark II, Sigma 20mm f/1.4, 20mm, f/1.4, 1/4000, ISO 100
I’ve also used the 24-70mm for astrophotography. I’m currently shooting the Canon L-series version II. It’s the next longest lens in my kit. Shooting at 24mm and f/2.8 yields great results but this lens has too many uses to count. Anything from landscapes to portraits can all be found right here. Unfortunately, it is not image stabilized but that seems to be the only negative thing I can say about this lens. Like I said earlier, this is a great go-to lens if you want variety and will probably end up needing low light performance. This lens really shines at f/2.8 or f/22. At f/2.8 I’m getting that shallow depth of field for a portrait or letting in as much light as possible for Milky Way photos. But at f/22, 24mm, and focused at 2’10’’ (the hyperfocal distance when shooting at those settings on a full frame sensor). You’ll get everything from about 6’’ in front of your camera to infinity sharp. That’s great for telling stories. Just be sure you have a clear subject. This can look like a snapshot from an iPhone pretty easily. I’ve gone out and shot all day at this setting so many times and those images remain some of my favorite. Get close to a foreground element or have a leading line feel like it is jumping out at your viewers and pulling them in. This lens is a must have in my opinion. In my daily work life, this is the lens we use for award shots. We can quickly switch from one or two people to a whole group with a simple twist and maybe a step or two back. LOL
Sedona, ArizonaCanon 5DSR, Canon 24-70mm f/2.8 II, 24mm, f/9, 5s, ISO 3200, Bracketed Exposure blended together in Photoshop.
Moving up from there is the 70-200mm f/2.8. I’m currently shooting with the Canon L-series version II but as I said earlier, this is more about the focal length and aperture. This lens is image stabilized so shooting handheld in low light is easy as can be. This is the ultimate workhorse. I’ve shot with this focal range more than any other. It’s so good at everything. I love it for portraits, for walking around, for team roping, and so much more. I used to use it for barrel racing until I got my hands on the 120-300mm. This is a great lens to put a 1.4x teleconverter on to get a little bit more reach in a pinch. If you’re thinking about buying this or you’re just getting started in photography then you won’t go wrong here. You’ll easily get that out of focus background for portraits or anytime you want to isolate your subject from the background. It offers a good amount of background compression. This is easily the most used lens in my kit. I’ve worn out a few of these. LOL
Quincey ReynoldsCanon 5DSR, Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L II, 200mm, f/2.8, 1/160, ISO 100.
Next on the list is the Canon 85mm f/1.2L. OMG. If you want to WOW your clients, just pop on this lovely lens and start creating magic. It’s one of the strangest lenses to look at in my kit. It’s short and fat but has a huge aperture. I love my 85mm f/1.2 for portraits for example. I might have my subject lay down on her stomach on a couch shooting wide open at f/1.2. I’ll have to get perfect focus on her eyes because the depth of field is so shallow that her nose will start to get a little out of focus and her feet will be just buttery smooth bokeh. Bokeh is a term for the blurry background. This lens will let viewers know who or what matters most in your frame. It will be clear because he/she/it will be the only thing in focus. The falloff is impressive even a full-length portrait is quite remarkable but it certainly has a sweet spot. I find that if I’m close enough to fill about 1/2 of my frame with my subjects head then I’ll be near minimum focusing distance. That’s where this lens really makes an impression.
Cedar KohrCanon 5DSR, Canon 85mm f/1.2L, f/1.2, 85mm, 1/800, ISO 100, Flash HSS
If I need to focus really close to something really small or I’m going for an abstract scene then I’ll reach for the next lens on my list, the Canon 100mm Macro f/2.8L. This is seriously such a great lens. I’ve shot landscape shots, and portraits but where it really steps up is macro photography. That’s how it got its name after all. If you want truly 1:1 macro shots then this lens will get you there. You’ll get extreme detail. Of course, other lenses can get you past 1:1 even 1:5 but this is such a good choice. It’s stabilized so I’ll often take this into a museum or somewhere and shoot all day with this one lens. Many of my favorite abstracts were found in busy scenes. I just got really close, opened it all the way up and fired away. It’s so good combined with a little pocket light like the Apurture light that is about the size of a business card. I’ll often bring that light and lens combo into an area where flash isn’t allowed or it draws too much unwanted attention.
Sunbathing on a SunflowerCanon 5DSR, Canon 100mm Macro f/2.8L, 100mm, f/4, ISO 1000, 1/160
My latest addition to my kit is the 105mm Sigma f/1.4. This is the craziest looking lens that I own. It’s a little bit longer than the 85mm but much wider. This little guy takes a 105mm filter too. This is much better for full-length portraits. To get a little more compression and fall off than the 85mm when shooting a little further away. It hasn’t been in my hands very long but it’s easy to see that it won’t be leaving anytime soon. I think it will be great for action too when I can get close enough to fill the frame with one subject. It’s also part of their Art series so it’s incredibly sharp with plenty of contrast.
Exploring Old BuildingsCanon 1DX Mark II, Sigma 105mm f/1.4, 105mm, f/1.4, 1/1250, ISO 125
Last but certainly not least is my Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 Sports. This is such an incredible lens. I only wish I had gotten it sooner. It’s my go to for open ropers, barrel racers, or anytime you need to be able to zoom in reach your subject. 300mm at f/2.8 and about 50’ away is about the sweet spot for this lens. I just love the photos I can get with this lens on. I’m often grabbing candid portraits after high team back wins and everyone is cheering. Without switching lenses or grabbing a different camera this lens is perfect for what I do. Plus, if my friend’s kid is playing football sometimes the coach will let me sit on the sidelines and blast a few shots. The best part is, you can get in anywhere to shoot whatever you want with this mounted to a 1DX2 LOL It looks that impressive.
Crago Performance HorsesCanon 1DX Mark II, Sigma 120-300mm, 1/250, f/3.5, 120mm, Flash Fired, ISO 400.
Nearly all these lenses are storm proof, dustproof, and downright tough. I might occasionally blow the dust off the front element after shooting most of the day in a dusty arena but I won’t concern myself with pouring rain. If they are still roping and running barrel then I’m still shooting. I have to be able to shoot no matter what. I can’t afford for my gear to break down. I’m there to do a job and I need gear that keeps up. I hope this little post has helped you. If you have any questions please let me know.
Thanks for reading my post! If you’re interested in some of the lenses I’ve owned but have since sold then continue reading. :)
My experience with some lenses that I’ve owned and sold.
The kit lenses that came with my old 70D (my first camera) go upgraded quickly. They really didn’t hold up to inspection. I upgraded to the 18-270 Tamron which isn’t a great lens either but it had so much more zoom range. It was good for starting out because I didn’t know what I wanted. Now they offer a 16-400mm I think. That would be a good starter lens for someone trying to learn. But the max aperture on those lenses will leave you frustrated often. I’ve had an 8mm fisheye lens too. That was fun for a week or so but I got it just before upgrading to a full frame and it was made for a crop sensor. I’ve owned a Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 but I wore it out. It was a good lens but the Canon version is built like a tank and has better glass. No brainer to upgrade if you’ve got the money. I’ve recently owned the Sigma 150-600m f/5.6-6.3 Sports lens. It was fun to shoot birds and wildlife in bright conditions but just about the time that the good natural light comes, this lens is a major let down. Shooting at f/6.3 is so awful that I had to sell it. I still have a 2x teleconverter for those situations when shooting at 600mm f/5.6 would be ok. Plus, the teleconverter hardly takes up any space. I’ve probably owned more lenses than I can remember. Typically, I’ve found that if its max aperture is smaller than f/4 that I won’t be happy with it and therefore I won’t even bother to buy it. I’m usually pushing my gear to its limit to get the shots. So, I’m usually at wide open, with relatively fast shutter speed and high ISO.
Backlit TreeCanon 1DX, Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.2, 1/800, f/7.1, ISO 1000, Hand Held