Comparing the Canon 16-35mm and Canon 24mm at the Peninsula Hotel
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Each year I always rent quite a bit of equipment. On some shoots, I need to rent additional lighting or backup equipment. Sometimes I just need a specific lens that I can’t imagine using regularly. Most of the time though, I rent equipment to test it out before I make a purchase.
Sometimes I just love certain lenses and cameras even though they’re technically not the best. For example, my 40mm pancake lens is a cheap, little thing and yet I absolutely love it. It’s really not that great but it’s just so easy and small. It’s hard to know how something will feel to use before actually trying it out. The 40mm lens is really inexpensive so I ended up just buying it outright but with equipment over $1,000 I usually rent before making a purchase. I had been contemplating the Canon 16-35mm and Canon TS-E 24mm lenses for sometime and finally had an opportunity to rent them.
At the end of 2018, I got asked to photograph the Peninsula Hotel in Chicago and there wasn’t a stringent creative brief involved. I was to focus on the holiday decorations but the overall direction of the images was up to me (which is always a very fun way to start a project). Since most of the images would be indoors, I figured the two lenses would be perfect to test out on the interiors against my usual Canon 24-70mm.
In 2017, I rented the Canon 16-35mm and the Canon 24-70mm. Initially, I thought I would purchase the 16-35mm. I nearly decided to make the purchase before even testing the lens out but I’ve learned not to rush these things. Returning and reselling gear is a pain and over the last few years I’ve learned to slow down to make better decisions. It turned out for the best because I ultimately went with the Canon 24-70mm and haven’t regretted it. It’s a great lens. Anyway, I decided to revisit the Canon 16-35mm again.
Currently, I own a Zeiss 15mm and when I want something dramatically wide that’s my go to. Between the 15mm and the 24-70mm, I don’t feel like the 16-35mm range fills enough of a gap for me to justify making a purchase.
Lastly, shooting wide has recently become really popular with a bunch of photographers that shoot for social media and I don’t feel the need to follow the crowd. It was fun to have it for a weekend but it’s not a lens I’m dying to have in my camera bag.
I tend to think about wide angle lens the same way I think about composite images. When done correctly, they’re amazing. They have an unnatural look so even a casual viewer will feel that mental buzzing of the brain pointing out that something is wrong. The world doesn’t look like this and it’s okay. It’s a creative interpretation but it still requires some thought about composition. Ultimately, I think I’d much prefer using wide angle images sporadically versus leaning on it constantly.
Over the last 2 years, I’ve slowly dipped my toe into interior and architecture photography. For a long time, it was just an add on to restaurant shoots or travels shoots but over the last year, I’ve gotten a couple of interior only focused shoots. With food photography, I assisted a number of photographers when I was starting out and that helped me build a decent base of knowledge. From there, it’s just taken tons of practice. For some reason, I’ve found it much harder to find interior and architecture photographers to assist so it’s just taken me a lot of solo practice plus a ton of trial and error.
Anyway, I know most of the interior photographers I particularly admire use tilt-shift lenses. That wasn’t quite enough for me to consider a tilt-shift lens for myself but I started thinking that it would be interesting to use one with food photography. I don’t know any food photographers using a tilt-shift and that’s sort of interesting to me (but I suppose being a contrarian just to be one is just as silly as following the crowd). Whenever I do table top photos from an angle, the bottom of the image often has more bokeh than I want and I figured a tilt-shift lens could help with that.
My guess that a tilt-shift lens would help with angled table top photos was accurate. The image above and to the left is from the Canon TS-E 24mm and the one to the right is from the Canon 24-70mm. The Happy Holidays is much sharper but it also took me forever to set up.
I spent about 3 days shooting with the tilt-shift and while I conceptually understood it, I found it really hard to get it setup exactly the way I wanted. I’d probably need to use it consistently for about a month before I felt confident enough to really use it on a shoot, especially if I felt any sort of time crunch. This is towards the top of my list of items I’ll likely purchase at some point in the future when I’m feeling flush and have enough time to mess around with a new piece of equipment but I’m putting it on the back burner.
This lens is my current work horse. I use it for 90% of my projects. It works for interior photography. It works for food photography. It works for portrait photography. It’s great. For years I predominately used the Sigma Art 35mm. When I was still fumbling a bit with the technical aspect of what shutter speed, aperture and ISO to use for each circumstance, it was nice not to add the option of zoom into all of that. Once finding my settings began to feel like second nature, it was easy to add a zoom lens into the mix.
In some ways, I feel like the tilt shift is the next element to add to my photography. I’m currently at a point with my equipment and photography practice, where I can imagine an image in mind my mind and I know exactly what I need to do to execute on the idea. For now though, I’m quite happy with my photography gear.
Final Thoughts on testing camera lenses
When I was initially starting out, I read a lot of photography gear reviews. I often found they muddied my perspective more than clarified. For me, specs and charts were interesting but not what I cared about. I wanted to see photos of the same set up but with different gear, like this cinema lens comparison.
I eventually gave up reading gear reviews and would look through Flixel and look for EXIF data on images I particularly liked. With professional photography gear, focusing on the the tiny differences in sharpness or noise doesn’t really matter in 99.9% of my shoots. I think the feel of the equipment, how it fits into my overall workflow and how the gear impact the aesthetic of the final image is way more important to me and that’s how I’ve decided to think about these things.