Nikon Lifestyle Ambassador Kate Hopewell-Smith was one of only two photographers in the world to test-drive the prototype of the new 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR. It's a lens she previously rated as a 'workhorse' but not one that she would have classed as a favourite - until now. We discover why she found it so hard to give back to Nikon Japan, and why it will be the next lens she buys…

What was your first reaction when you were asked to put the prototype through its paces?

It was a bit of a shock, especially when I found out that only two of us were testing it. I was a bit daunted, to be honest, and I was very frank with Nikon from the start that the 24-70mm f/2.8 was not a lens that I loved. For me it's been a workhorse but not something that's hugely creative, and it's certainly never been top of my favourite lens list. But I went into the trial open-minded, thinking, OK, I don't love it, but let's see what it can do, and it's been a fascinating experience.

Was the brief quite strict?

I was asked to concentrate on working at the 24mm and 70mm ends, and on testing the VR using slower shutter speeds. They wanted every single RAW file sent to Japan, because the technicians had to check everything at 100%. I ended up filing a couple of thousand RAW files. If I ever had the opportunity to trial a lens for Nikon again, I'd be more mindful that every shot is being looked at! When the lens arrived it was taped up so no one could see any branding or focal length information, and no one was allowed to touch it except me. But, apart from that, it was very much, 'Right, you've got the lens, now go and do your thing!

And your initial impressions of the new version?

It's an entirely new lens from the first 24-70mm. It's not just a matter of it additionally having VR. It's an entirely different beast. It's incredibly smooth, fast, and beautiful to use; yes, it's heavier than the original, but it's very well balanced and remarkably easy to work with. I think almost anyone could pick it up and get amazing results. It's often the first serious lens that people buy, and this version could make them fall in love with photography.

I almost think that now it's my favourite lens. Being forced to shoot with it so much and to push it and test it, I did a lot of portraiture at 70mm and I was really quite shocked at the results. I also realised pretty quickly that I don't shoot much at the 24mm end – I don't like distortion, and indoors on location I really noticed it. So, where possible, I chose to work outside with it at the wider end and this included some equine photography. So trialling it has made me change the way I work.

I've missed it since I sent it back. I really want to get one now, and that's been a big surprise. I'm certainly picking up my own 24-70mm a lot more, particularly for portraiture, where it's about expression or composition, not depth of field.

What are the stand-out features for you?

I've learned to appreciate its flexibility as a result of having to shoot with it for a month. It can take you almost anywhere – it's got the macro end for incredible close-ups, right up to the 70mm end, which has beautiful depth of field. It's incredibly versatile.

It was part of my brief to use it in natural light both indoors and outdoors. All the ballet shots were taken at f/2.8 – the lens performed incredibly well at the widest aperture. You can get too caught up in the graphs, but I can definitely confirm that it's sharper than the original across the frame! For a people photographer who works on location and needs the flexibility of a zoom, it's incredible.

Apart from using the 24-70mm more, what’s new in your work?

I first tried my hand at filming last year when I did a lifestyle-portrait promo on the D810 for Nikon and discovered I absolutely loved doing it. When they first asked me to shoot the promo I had to admit that I'd never pressed 'record' and that it somehow seemed a bit scary. So Nikon said it's really not as hard as you think – and they were right. And, luckily, my boyfriend is hugely keen on filming so he's happy to do all the editing, as I don't think I'm prepared to take on a whole new editing suite!

Film is a whole different ballgame from stills. It's so different being able to express something in a few seconds of movement, and it's so dependent on the right music, too – it's incredibly hard and time-consuming to find the right sound. So it's been a whole learning curve, but I believe it's important to make changes after a few years – it helps with attracting new clients, new audiences for your work. Most recently, I produced a short promo on the D810 to express what boudoir photography is to me, as it's such a misunderstood term.

And, of course, you’ve been reappointed as Nikon Lifestyle Ambassador this year…

Yes, that was amazing. I'm still slightly in shock about it. But I was delighted, as I love working with the Nikon team. I've been doing a lot of industry training, meeting other photographers and doing sessions at Nikon School, and it's given me a lot of opportunities to meet people I never otherwise would have.

So, your official Ambassador’s verdict on the new 24-70mm?

It's a huge improvement on what was already a very good lens. It's brilliant at story telling, and very versatile – and it's probably safe to say that it will be the next lens I buy! Now I know what the new one is capable of… the old one is good, but the new one is so much better.

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