The Best Lenses for Photojournalism

Selecting the right lens at the right time is at the core of the topic here today. Photojournalism calls for a wide range of skills, and a selection of lenses to match. 

So, which is the best lens for photojournalism? There is no short answer here. There isn’t any one lens. The best lens for journalism depends on the photographer, the way they shoot, and the subject at hand. As a result, the lens that a photojournalist selects could change from shoot to shoot.

What is Photojournalism?

The Photography Scrum by KK

Photojournalism, is that immensely satisfying, yet sometimes wildly dangerous profession where a photographer goes out into the world and documents it so that the rest of the world can experience it through their eyes. Their goal is to tell a visual story, and gain the empathy of the reader

Many of us as photographers, aspire to this profession, yet few have the guts and talent required. It is a tough job that often doesn’t get the recognition that it deserves. It requires great technical and practical problem-solving skills and presence of mind. It is hardly ever glamorous.

The problem with defining the best lenses for Photojournalism is that there are so many fields of journalism that there is no real “defining set” of lenses. Each kind of journalism calls for a different set of lenses.

Take for example, the sports journalist… He would use lenses that fall into the Sports Photography set. I’m going to go out on a limb now, and ‘guess’ that what all you guys want to read about are the photojournalists who have the ‘real’ journalist’s job. The foreign correspondent… The guy who records wars, drought, floods, changes in government and so on. Let’s cut to the chase.

What do Photojournalists Ask for in a Lens?

Photojournalists do pretty much the same things as regular journalists; and then some… They end up carrying their gear around almost all the time when they’re on assignment, and land up in places that newspaper journalists never need to venture into.

All this makes it hard for them. Their choice of lenses, camera body and other accessories depends on the kind of picture that they expect to be taking. Typically they have a vast range of gear from which they can choose.

A photojournalist’s equipment choice would need to be usable for multiple purposes, lightweight, fast, and really, really reliable.

Very often, they choose lenses with large apertures. Large apertures help them focus more easily and quickly, because they let in more light. It also gives them the flexibility to shoot in low-light scenarios. The trade-off is in weight. Lenses with large apertures usually have very large front elements made of high quality optical glass… This makes it heavy.

They also have an odd assortment of prime and zoom lenses, with more importance given to zoom lenses for ease of use and composition.

Primes are selected for clarity and wide apertures, especially at the long focal length range, and zooms for ease of composition in situations that may demand a quick change from telephoto to wide-angle.

The exact equipment that goes into their bag on any given day depends on the assignment that they have been given.

Still… There must be some common qualities for the lenses that they tend to choose, right? What are these qualities? Let’s take a look.

  • The lens should have sturdy build quality and be able to withstand rough continuous usage day-in and day-out for years. Journalists can’t afford to miss a shot because their equipment failed. 
  • The lens should have exceptional optical quality, but not at the expense of functionality. This means that they often choose high-end zoom lenses instead of using many prime lenses. 
  • The lens should be able to take on rough weather and not fail. 
  • It should be backed by a good service network should it fail while on assignment abroad. The spare parts required to fix it should be available with reasonable ease. 
  • It should be reliable, and not fail at critical moments. 

Photographic Style and Final Usage

Of course, the personal style of individual photographers also plays a crucial factor in the choice of equipment… Is the style of photography more like street photography, or war reportage, or is it something more elaborate with lights, tripod, etc?

This will mean the difference between a light camera bag, and one that is geared towards the best quality, even at the expense of weight. All this also determines what lenses the photojournalist will choose.

Personal Photography Style

However, personal style often overrides many other considerations.  Some photographers may almost always use a 50mm, while others may use a 400mm f/4.0 L at one moment and switch to a 24mm wide the very next…

Subject Matter Being Photographed

To complicate matters, the subject being photographed also determines the kind of lens being used. For example, there’s absolutely no point using a 50mm while photographing a Formula 1 race (unless you’re photographing the crowd) and there’s no point trying to use a 400mm in a mob… you’ll only get their noses…

List of Lenses Best Suited for Photojournalism

So now, with no further ado, let’s look at some lenses. The list can also go on and on, so I’m listing here, some of the specialty lenses that you’re likely to find on journalists’ cameras.

Canon Lenses

EF 600mm f/4L IS USM | (Stats)
EF 500mm f/4L IS USM | (Stats)
EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM | (Stats)
EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM | (Stats)
EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM | (Stats)

Nikon Lenses

AF-S Nikkor 600mm f/4D IF-ED II | (Stats)
AF-S Nikkor 500mm f/4D IF-ED II | (Stats)
AF-S Nikkor 400mm f/2.8D IF-ED II | (Stats)
AF-S NIKKOR 300mm f/2.8G ED VR II | (Stats)
AF Zoom-Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8D ED | (Stats)
AF VR Zoom-Nikkor 80-400mm f/4.5-5.6D ED | (Stats)
AF-S VR Zoom-Nikkor 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G IF-ED | (Stats)

If you’re interested in any particular type of photojournalism (portraits, for example), do look it up in one of the posts I’ve written in “The Lens Resource.”

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