Is the difference between an f/2.8 and an f/4 lens really worth the price?

Aug 28, 2022

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

Is the difference between an f/2.8 and an f/4 lens really worth the price?

Aug 28, 2022

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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You’re buying a new lens and there are two versions available of the same focal length. Do you go for the f/4 aperture, or do you splash out an extra grand for two extra stops of light, buy the f/2.8 lens and walk away smug that you’ve bought the ‘best’ option?

It’s a common question and most photographers will tell you that you ‘get what you pay for’, especially when it comes to glass. However, it’s not that straight forward. Obviously it depends on what and how you shoot. In this video Nigel Danson takes a not very scientific approach to discovering the answer to this question. He is a landscape photographer so the video pertains mostly to that genre, although it’s an interesting experiment no matter what you shoot.

Nigel is testing out the Nikon 24-70mm lenses in both apertures. Now generally for landscape photography you don’t shoot wide open very often. So it makes sense then that there would be very little difference between the two lenses. He is largely shooting at f/11 and is also focus stacking in post. Surely then we shouldn’t see much of a difference, at least not a thousand dollar difference.

Size matters

Ignore what everyone tries to tell you, size really does matter! One major difference between the lenses is indeed the physical size. The f/4 lens, having less complicated innards (that’s my technical term!) is of course a smaller and lighter lens. This could be really useful if you’re a landscape or travel photographer. Just keeping weight and dimensions down could make the difference between taking just one lens or more out with you.

Sharpness

In order to really evaluate the difference between the lenses, Nigel has printed identical images out. He actually had to write on each print which one was taken with which lens. That should tell you something about the amount of visible differences.

The f/4 lens is just ever so slightly softer around the edges of the image than the f/2.8 lens. The middle of the image is pretty much identical. Nigel says that overall for his needs, the f/4 suits him well and he will generally pick that one over the larger f/2.8 lens unless he’s not walking far.

His parting thought is an important one for any of us that suffer from GAS (Gear Aquisition Syndrome). More expensive equipment will not make you a better photographer. If you really need the option of shooting wide open, for instance if you are a concert photographer, then by all means, go ahead and spend the money. But you should know if you really need that. If you’re generally shooting in the mid-range of apertures and a lighter weight lens would be beneficial to you, then perhaps you don’t always need to buy the most expensive option.

 

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Alex Baker

Alex Baker

Alex Baker is a portrait and lifestyle driven photographer based in Valencia, Spain. She works on a range of projects from commercial to fine art and has had work featured in publications such as The Daily Mail, Conde Nast Traveller and El Mundo, and has exhibited work across Europe

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18 responses to “Is the difference between an f/2.8 and an f/4 lens really worth the price?”

  1. timothyhood Avatar
    timothyhood

    So, if I understand correctly, there’s no huge difference when shooting these two particular lenses at f11. OK, but what about when you need more light? How do they compare when shooting at f2.8? Well, I guess the f4 lens gets you 1/4 the light or a 4x slower shutter speed which could have your images plagued with motion blur.

    I have a 2.8 I love yet I still find scenarios where I need to tweak ISO to squeeze out a higher shutter speed. If your photography involves plenty of light and things that don’t move much and always shooting at f8 or f11, one might ask why you even need an f4 lens and why not a 5.6 or 6.3?

    1. Lynchenstein Avatar
      Lynchenstein

      Yes, Nigel is a landscape photographer and this article is from his perspective. I, like you, also can really make use of the extra light a 2.8 offers for what I shoot. He was comparing the 24-70 f4 vs the f2.8 as that is what Nikon offers in the Z mount. There’s the 28-75 f2.8 but it’s not quite at the same level (I know, I own one) I think he’s simply stating that for his use cases, often the much cheaper f4 is good enough. Your needs may require a different choice.

      1. timothyhood Avatar
        timothyhood

        Understood. I just took exception to the general nature of the title and the article’s presumption that there is never a scenario where one might need a 2.8 vs. a 4. A reader shouldn’t have to know the background of the author to put that into the context of what they are writing to understand their meaning and intent.

        1. blokeinusa Avatar
          blokeinusa

          Did you read the article? It clearly states he’s a landscape photographer and not a concert or sports photographer. But I’m willing to bet 80% of the readers don’t need or can afford 2.8 glass. If the title read “is the cost difference between a Lambo and a civic with it?” Would that be more of a telling article?

          1. timothyhood Avatar
            timothyhood

            See my comment above.

        2. Kaouthia Avatar
          Kaouthia

          The article specifically mentions landscape several times. And from watching the video and looking at the images contained within it, it’s also pretty obvious he’s not shooting weddings and interior architecture.

          You don’t need to know anybody’s background. You just need to actually go beyond the title. :)

          1. timothyhood Avatar
            timothyhood

            I guess I’m the only one that expects a story to be more widely applicable than a small subset of an anticipated audience. I stand by my opinion that pigeon-holing a discussion to one small area of photography renders the article and the video generally useless. Perhaps the author is planning on creating a series of videos, one for each subgenre of photography. That seems much better than simply devoting some time to discussing how the comparison would be different for other genres. Or perhaps the goal was to prove a point by eliminating any discussion of anything that contradicts that point.

          2. Kaouthia Avatar
            Kaouthia

            You could say that about pretty much anything to do with photography. People who have no interest in photography probably feel the same way about every single photography related website that exists. The creator of the video talks about how it applies to him and his needs. It’s not like landscape photography is a small niche. Why would you expect him to do it for genres he doesn’t shoot? If you feel a genre is missing, why don’t you go do the tests and comparisons for yourself and put YOUR OWN OPINION out there for ignorant people to pick holes in? :)

          3. timothyhood Avatar
            timothyhood

            You win the battle of insults I didn’t realize was happening. I’ll step down now so you can find another civil discourse to disrupt.

          4. Kaouthia Avatar
            Kaouthia

            Battle of insults? I was simply pointing out the obvious to which you seem completely oblivious.

          5. Thommy Sides Avatar
            Thommy Sides

            Three toshay’s to the man in the dark mustache!!!

          6. timothyhood Avatar
            timothyhood

            Touché?

          7. Thommy Sides Avatar
            Thommy Sides

            Toshay again!!!

          8. Thommy Sides Avatar
            Thommy Sides

            You should go into politics!

          9. Thommy Sides Avatar
            Thommy Sides

            Toshay!!!

        3. Alex Avatar
          Alex

          Did you even read the last paragraph? I think that should clear everything up…yes of course it depends on what you shoot! If you’re always shooting at f/8 and above then it’s a question worth asking.

  2. Daniel D. Teoli Jr Avatar
    Daniel D. Teoli Jr

    You don’t need f stops to be a tripod shooter taking photos of sunsets or boat docks on smokey lakes.

    You need f stops for this…shot @ f1.4.
    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/9f9ed5268b763cde2528675a69af4e0d5428f423fcbafc9832de960640d691c1.jpg

    If you plan to shoot wide open, always test your lens. Some lenses are crap wide open. I test all my lens from wide open to f5.6 to find out which to pack for low light shoots.

  3. Thommy Sides Avatar
    Thommy Sides

    The f4 does offer a bit less bokeh and so, shooting some landscapes that might be a better lens to use in some situations. I think it would be good to have both, if you can. If your shooting dead trees in the forest….your in no hurry, and so changing lenses is no big deal. I enjoy reading articles such as this, that come with different points of view. Stimulates the mind….lol. No…. I’m not from Vulcan…ha ha!