My 6 All-Time Favorite Lenses

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I’m not one to play favorites very often, but there are a few lenses that I reach for far more often than most. I’ve assembled this short list of my six personal favorites, with a few notes reserved for application. I think most photographers will agree there aren’t many “magic bullet” lenses that will kill across any and every situation, so I’ll try to be as specific as I can.

As a side note, I suppose it’s just coincidence that five of the six lenses are Canon. I’m not sponsored by Canon, nor do I receive any compensation for using their lenses, or including them in this post. They simply happen to be the lenses that I’ve experimented with and found that I quite liked.

If you have some favorites of your own, by all means sound off in the comment section below.

In no particular order, my six favorite lenses are:

canon-ef-24-70mm-f_28-ii-usmCanon EF 24-70mm f/2.8 II USM

Yes, the older version had its issues, but the new edition (released in early 2012) is great. It’s a workhorse for me, and though it was designed with the Canon full-frame bodies it’s not limited to those.

Anyone who is upgrading from version I will notice a few things, particularly less weight, sharper optics and a bit more plastic.

Cost: $2,199.00

Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L USM

This is always in my arsenal for shooting climbing, skiing or snowboarding. (That’s the 70-200mm I’m holding in the top photo.) As much as adventure photographers try to get close to the action, sometimes situations/geography forces us to keep our distance.

It costs half as much as the IS II because you’re dropping Image Stabilization and a little bit on the AF side, but you don’t need IS when shooting action stuff like skiing or snowboarding or if you’ve packed a tripod.

Cost: $1,449.00

canon-24-105mm-f_4-l-isCanon 24-105mm f/4 L IS

I use this lens for film paired with the DSLR. It’s a mid-range zoom with decent optical performance. If you’re getting into run & gun style shooting, I highly recommend this lens.

This lens is probably the most useful for its great image stabilization and, if you’re the autofocus type, really fast and accurate autofocus. Runs a little on the heavy side.

Cost: $1,149.00

Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

The 50mm 1.2 is a beautiful lens for portraits and for film. It shoots great in low light and you get incredible bokeh and control over depth of field. Very fast autofocus, but you get the manual override even when in auto by simply grabbing the ring.

Cost: $1,619.00

canon-35mm-14Canon EF 35mm f/1.4 USM

Like the 50mm 1.2, the 35mm 1.4 is also a beautiful lens with incredible bokeh. I find I end up using this a ton on lifestyle commercial shoots. It’s especially great when shooting backlit images.

The 35mm 1.4 produces tack-sharp and beautiful images. In fact, I just did a Roxy shoot and used this lens for more than half of the shoot.

Cost: $1,479.00

Zeiss 15mm Prime

Great lens for those moments when you need something a bit wider. I don’t usually like the look a very wide lenses, but sometimes you need it and this one shoots beautiful imagery and has great rectilinear correction. It is a manual focus, so take that into consideration. It’s also big and pricey, so it might be a better rent option (around $200 for a 3-day rental, depending on where you go.)

Cost: $5,700.00

So that’s what I roll with. I’m always excited to try out new lenses, but for the moment these are my go-to six. What are you shooting with?

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22 Responses to “My 6 All-Time Favorite Lenses”

  1. giovanny Puentes Says:

    Thanks man…great review!

  2. Gary Simpson Says:

    Jimmy, Thanks for sharing! Always like hearing what pros like yourself are using. Have you switched from Nikon to Canon exclusively? I thought you were a big Nikon photographer… I’ve heard that the 50mm f1.2 listed above is a real jewel. You said to list our favorites. So, I would have say that my trusty Nikkor 18-200 VR is my go to lens. I love that lens and shoot with it 80% of the time. Not to say it handles everything, however it’s a great all around lens.

    Gary

  3. Anthony Frabbiele Says:

    I carried the 24-105 f/4L IS up Denali last season paired up with the 6D, a little heavy set up but the versatility was worth it; especially since that was the only lens I brought on the mountain. It performed as well as I could have hoped and with the IS even got some hand-held low-light shots while traveling across the glacier in the middle of the “night”.

  4. Shazzan Says:

    That’s a great selection Jimmy, though I’ll just add a couple more choices. The Canon 50mm f/1.4 it’s also great for portraits, film and low light condition shooting, it’s a little bit smaller and less expensive than the f/1.2 not loosing so much on image quality, so might be convinient for those who travel light and on a budget. Also one of my favorites, the Canon 135mm f/2, on a cropped sensor body it’s focal length it’s very similar to the 70-200, so it comes pretty handy for those shooting sports from a long distance, not to mention the gains on image quality that comes from using a prime though you loose some versatility.

  5. Jake Says:

    Hey Jimmy, always a fan.

    I’ve just moved into the entry level world after purchasing a Nikon D3200, suitably happy with the Camera I’ll be looking replace the Kit lens soon enough though, would you have any advice on lenses sub $700 for the amateur hobbyist?

    Thanks again buddy.

  6. Dan Says:

    Hey Jimmy thanks for posting this. I was surprised to see you shooting Canon when I saw the image of you with the 70-200, I’ve been following your work for a long time and it seemed like you were a die hard Nikon guy. Any reason for the switch to Canon?

  7. Anthony Roberts Says:

    Hi Jimmy,

    I’m trying to follow a similar path in adventure photography and film, and although i’m a looooooooong way behind, I want to keep on moving!! (There’s some images in the ‘adventure’ section of my photography galleries, and also a short film on my site…)

    Question; You mention the IS on the 24-105 lens. Do you have this on or off when filming? Saying that, I have just invested in a Glidecam 2000, which is awesome…! But still, i did just wonder…

    Thanks, your work is great!

    Ant

  8. David Drufke Says:

    Very similar, just swap the words “Canon” for “Nikon”, the 24-105 for the similar, but very light weight Nikon 24-120VR, the Canon 35 for the amazing Sigma 35, the 50 1.2 for a fast focusing 1.8, and the Zeiss for the similarly priced Nikon 300mm f/2.8VR.

  9. Frank King Says:

    Jimmy,

    I want to know how you carry your camera while you are hiking or climbing or skiing. I current try to keep my camera out of the backpack so I wont miss a moment but I have found that it difficult to move with my camera on a strap around my neck and I am hoping you might have a solution.

  10. Francis Says:

    Nice list. I find I use the 16-35mm f/2.8 quite a lot (my first “L” lens too). To Frank King, I personally keep my body/lens in a holster which requires a quick release and grab of the body but also keeps it padded and fairly safe.

  11. Morts Says:

    Hi Jimmy

    Always great to see other shooters favorite lenses. I have been a travel shooter for almost ten years now and have found my top-3 to be the lenses below:

    1) Carl Zeiss ZE 50mm 1.4 - yes, its manual focus but the bokeh and colour-rendering is absolute fantastic. It is a bit on the heavy side compared to Canon’s 1.4 however I find it worth every ounce as it comes out great when shooting motion as well (perfect with full frame as well as DX sensors such as the 7d etc)

    2) Canon 24-105mm - A must in all Canon-shooters bag if you ask me! yes, its does have a slight vignetting wide open but from 5.6 and down it is beautiful !

    3) Do I dare say it? the old Canon 15mm Fisheye lens (linear, not circular) It is very limited in its use, but used with caution it can create a great image - just remember that everything is enlarged so no portraits!

    also in the running: 35mm 1.4 (all positive and tack sharp), 70-200mm non-is (for the same reasons as you)

    Keep up the great posts JC and should you ever make it to Scotland, Cham or nearby let me know

    Morts,

  12. Chris Morgan Says:

    Jimmy,

    Thanks for the list of your top lenses. I shoot on Canon DSLRs, so it’s great to hear what a pro such as yourself thinks are the best lenses. I too wonder what pack you use to carry your gear into the backcountry. I still trying to figure out the best configuration to carry my camera gear and tripod on backcountry skiing tours. I’d love to hear what setup you use. Thanks again for the post!

    Chris

  13. James Edward Mills Says:

    Frank, Jimmy might have a better suggestion, but I’ve been using the Peak Design Capture camera clip for two years now and I love it. http://joytripproject.com/2012/the-capture-camera-clip/

  14. Matt Says:

    for those with a smaller budget, the 17-40 f/4.0L is a great alternative to the 16-35, list price is $839, but it can be found for around $700 and is a great lens, particularly if you are working with a aps-c sensor

  15. Alyssa Says:

    Thanks Jimmy! I live hearing what you pros use. Frank, if I am in an easy hiking situation but want my camera at the ready I use a black rapid sport strap. I can lock it down at my side while moving but have it for quick access.

  16. Chris Says:

    Hey Jimmy, great post! Thanks

    I know that photographers consider the 24-70 to be better than the 24-105, mainly due to the aperture difference - f2.8 against f4.

    In you opinion, for a low budget photo equipment, would you still consider the 24-70 a must-have lens?
    What are the main differences?

  17. jimmy Says:

    Hi Frank - I generally carry my camera in a shoulder bag - over the shoulder. Quick access is nice, but sometimes it can be too inhibiting so I need to put it away in the top of my pack. A big part of shooting is anticipating moments, so look ahead and think ahead. If it’s sunrise or sunset and you are in a beautiful area, you should be ready to shoot. If it is midday light and there isn’t much going on, pack it away etc. Happy shooting!!

  18. James Doherty Says:

    Hey Jimmy, I’m curious as to what gear you take and how you pack your camera gear and backpack gear together for a few days out on the trail. I know you must take a lot of gear with you, even taking your laptop, so how does it all get packed and into what pack?

    Thanks in advance for any information you can provide me.

    Awesome work…Stay Safe

  19. Tim Terry II Says:

    Word!

  20. Leslie Says:

    Jimmy, I love shooting climbing, skiing, and everything outdoors. What is the best tripod to get for this kind of thing??

  21. Dave Katz Says:

    Jimmy - Thanks for sharing these tips and the reasoning behind your decision making process. Super helpful. Cheers man!

  22. Sara Says:

    If you are always takin pics outdoors you will love this:

    https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/quadclip-camera-clip-quick-release-system-for-digital-slr-photography

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