5 Lenses Every Aspiring Documentary Photographer Should Have in Their Bag

Found scurrying around in the dead of night, and seen in the harshest of conditions during the day, documentarians and photojournalists are a unique breed of photographer.

The lenses photojournalists use need to be adept to ever changing conditions, and be able to withstand the hardest of jolts, and the hottest, coldest, and rainiest of days. To be successful in this field, a wide range of focal lengths needs to be covered. The challenge comes in finding lenses that are up to the task of being used and abused over and over again without the photographer having to ever worry about their glass. Here is a list of the five lenses every documentary photographer should have in their bag.

Tokina 24-70 f2.8

The Tokina 24-70 f2.8 covers a great focal range, it’s built like a tank, and will help you get the shot in the toughest lighting conditions. It’s the perfect lens for documentary photographers.

If someone ever approached me and said, “You only get to use one lens for the rest of your life, what will you choose?” the 24-70 f2.8 is the lens I would choose every day of the week; more specifically the Tokina 24-70; it’ s just that good.

In our review we said

“The Tokina 24-70mm f2.8 is a really fantastic lens if you’re a professional who doesn’t need weather sealing or even if you’re a high end hobbyist/semi-pro. There is lots of love about it. The image quality it can deliver is something other manufacturers should be looking at closely.”

Yes you could quite easily go and buy the Canon, Nikon, or Sony version of this lens, but the Tokina has image quality that not only meets, and in some cases exceeds, the image quality from some of the first party offerings.

Buy Now $799-$899: Amazon

Pro Tip – To make sure your lenses are safe in the elements, grab some waterproof lens covers.

Sigma 35 f1.4 Art

The current line up of Sigma Art lenses is nothing short of spectacular. Sigma has upped their game so much in the last few years, and the Sigma 35mm 1.4 is no exception to this rule. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is a stunning lens certainly deserving of the Art name.

In our review we said

“I’ve found the lens to be more than sharp enough for my needs and loved almost every image it delivered from my 5D Mk II. For the money, this lens doesn’t seem like it can be beat. There are offerings from Zeiss, Rokinon, and Canon that are all really quite exceptional. However, most people want a lens that autofocuses and this lens gives the most bang for the buck.”

The 35mm focal range is great for use in tighter spaces, and is great for when you want to capture more of the scene and story you are trying to convey. The image quality will ensure that you capture all the detail you need, and with an aperture of 1.4 you’ll be able to see in the dark without having to eat a million carrots. The Sigma 35mm f1.4 is available in Canon, Nikon, Sony E, Pentax, and Sigma mounts.

Buy Now $815: Amazon

Pro Tip – Protect your investment and that precious glass from scratches and dust with a high quality filter.

Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 G2

The Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 Di VC USD G2 is one of the best lenses in the fast telephoto class, especially when you factor in price.

The 70-200mm focal range allows you to capture decently wide images at 70mm, but also allows you to get nice and tight when you might not be able to get closer to your subject, while the constant aperture of f2.8 means that you can get the shot in low light.

 In our review we said

“The Tamron SP 70-200mm f2.8 Di VC USD G2 is honestly a fantastic option for many photographers out there. Portrait and landscape photographers will appreciate the great image quality and versatility it allows. Photojournalists and wedding photographers will seriously love the autofocus speed and accuracy it can deliver. And most of all, it’s really not badly priced for what it’s offering.”

The Tamron 70-200 G2 has optical stabilization (VC, vibration compensation in Tamron’s language), it’s weather sealed, and the zoom and manual focus rings are nicely dampened which makes this lens a joy to use. The Tamron 70-200mm f2.8 Di VC USD G2 is available in both Canon and Nikon mounts.

Buy Now $1,299: Amazon

Tip – Keep your glass squeaky clean with high quality lens cleaning solution.

Rokinon 14mm f2.4 SP

When it comes to ultra-wide lenses the choices photographers have are really limited in number. However, don’t fear because this is a segment the guys and girls over at Samyang/Rokinon have been working on for many years, and the latest version of their 14mm lens, the Rokinon 14mm f2.4 SP, has improved drastically in both build and optical quality fronts.

In our review we said

“I REALLY, REALLY like the Rokinon 14mm f2.4 SP. It outputs great images on Canon sensors and I can imagine how fantastic it would be on Sony sensors. Rokinon has stepped their game up a whole lot in regards to build quality.”

As a documentarian there will no doubt be times that you will find yourself in incredibly tight quarters where you will be wishing you had a fast ultra-wide. The Rokinon 14mm f2.4 SP is a killer lens that will get you out of a bind in a pinch and won’t leave you wanting for more when it comes to image quality.

 

Photo without that light

Buy Now $799: Amazon

Tip – Keep all of your lenses dust free with a quality lens pen.

(Insert your camera brand here) 50mm f1.8

The amazing nifty fifty; it’s the lens that just loves to give, and quite honestly it’s the one lens every photographer should have in their trusty camera bag at all times.

Whether you shoot Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, or Fuji, the 50mm f1.8 is a must have, it’s as simple as that. The small footprint means this lens is super light, unlike a lot of the lenses listed above, and the 50mm focal length is as close as camera lenses can get when compared to what the human eyes see naturally.

All variations of this lens from Canon, Nikon, and Sony are fast when it comes to focusing, and images are nice and sharp, but the best part about this lens is the prices. These lenses are so cheap it should be considered a crime to not have one in your collection. The nifty fifty will never fail you, it’s your best friend, it will always be there for you, and it will always have your back.

So there you have it, from ultra-wide angle to telephoto, these five lenses will help you cover every single angle you could possibly need to document your story. What lenses do you think should be in a documentarian’s lens bag? Let us know in the comments below.

Brett Day

Brett Day is the Gear Editor at The Phoblographer and has been a photographer for as long as he can remember. Brett has his own photography business that focuses on corporate events and portraiture. In his spare time, Brett loves to practice landscape and wildlife photography. When he's not behind a camera, he's enjoying life with his wife and two kids, or he's playing video games, drinking coffee, and eating Cheetos.