The Honest Answer: Do You Need an F2.8 or an F4 Zoom Lens?

Whether a photographer needs a f2.8 or f4 lens is something that’s very confusing for most folks.

Could you honestly answer whether or not you’re a better fit for an f2.8 or an f4 zoom lens? It’s a valid question; lots of photographers I’ve spoken to in the past months have been content with an f4 zoom lens when I would have thought they needed an f2.8 zoom instead. Which is better? That’s a complicated question to answer. Which do you need? That’s something we’re going to dive into below.

Editor’s Note: We’ve written about this before, but people want more!

Ergonomics

We’ve tested a number of f2.8 and f4 zoom lenses. For the purposes of this piece, we’re focusing on 24-70mm f2.8 and 24-105mm f4 lenses. Ergonomically speaking, they’re often made similarly. While 24-70mm f2.8 lenses can be wider with a bit more girth, 24-105mm f4 lenses can be longer. In the hand, that will mean different things. Every photographer is bound to get used to them after some time. With that said, we believe the ergonomics of both of these lens types are pretty negligible.

“When I think of professional zoom lenses, the 24-70mm, 70-200mm is a must for a “bread and butter” kit. If these two are the only lenses you have in your kit, you’ll be covered in 95% of photographic situations.”

The Essential Professional f2.8 Zoom Lenses for Every Camera System

Build Quality

In our experience, we’ve found f2.8 lenses to be better built. Part of this is due to size and construction. Maybe it’s because they’re typically heavier, but they feel more solid. My hypothesis for this is because manufacturers know that more professional photographers will reach for a lens like this instead of an f4. From what we’ve seen, lots of these f2.8 and f4 lenses are very well weather sealed. Photographers who reach for either of them shouldn’t have a lot of problems. For the absolute best build quality, we’re going to have to award it to f2.8 lenses. Sony’s 24-105mm f4 isn’t that well built in our opinion, but Canon’s 24-105mm and 24-70mm f2.8 lenses are incredibly solid. Sigma’s are also very well built overall, though the 24-70mm f2.8 is the better-protected lens offering.

24-70mm F2.8 Lenses Reviews to Look At

Weight and Size

If you’re looking for lighter lenses, the f4 versions are going to take the cake here. They typically weigh less than their f2.8 cousins and are in some ways more portable. For years, a 24-105mm f4 L IS lens was my bread and butter offering. I can’t really complain in this case.

What tends to make f2.8 lenses very bulky is the addition of image stabilization. But recent lenses haven’t been all that awful. They’ve become very manageable.

24-105mm F4 Lens Reviews to Check Out

Image Quality

When they’re both at f4, the f2.8 lenses tend to be sharper. But that’s easily negated in post-production or by adding a flash to the output. You’ll be happy with the output from either lens and so too will the clients you’re going after. Digital cameras deliver results so good at one extra stop of ISO output that, unless you really want the more shallow depth of field, it won’t matter much.