If you’ve been happy with the kit lens that came with your DSLR, great, but you’re in for a surprise when you step up to something better. Kit lenses are vanilla—and very useful, all things considered—but there’s a whole world of options out there. If you’re serious about your images, it’s time to take a closer look at the menu.
In a nutshell, lenses are either zoo or prime (fixed focal length). Primes generally have large maximum apertures and generally outperform zooms. Zooms provide greater flexibility—you can compose different crops right in the viewfinder—but often are larger and slower. If two ƒ-numbers are etched on a zoom, ƒ/3.5-5.6, for example, the first is the aperture at the wide-angle setting and the second is the ƒ-stop at telephoto. Baby, ƒ/5.6 is slow. Primes and the best zooms have only one maximum aperture, and it’s available at all times.
Full-frame DSLRs, which have sensors the same size as 35mm film, require lenses capable of transmitting a circle of light large enough to cover the entire sensor surface. Cameras with the smaller APS-C-sized sensors have smaller sensors, so they work with a wider array of lenses. You can easily use lenses made for fullframe cameras on crop-frame models, but not vice versa.
Another consequence stemming from differences in sensor size is effective focal length. On a full-sized-sensor DSLR, a 20mm has the same field of view that it would if it were used on a 35mm film camera. But on a crop-frame camera, a Nikon D90, for instance, the effective focal length becomes 30mm because the sensor is smaller, and only receives light from a portion of the sensor, effectively cropping the focal area.
Some lenses offer image stabilization. Different manufacturers give it different names—Canon calls it IS, Tamron, VC, for Vibration Compensation, etc.—but it all boils down to technology that corrects automatically
for camera shake and allows you to take pictures at lower shutter speeds without that blurry motion smear. Given the choice, opt for the stabilized version—your images will be sharp more often—unless, of course, you have a camera that has stabilization built in, like most Sony DSLRs.
Terms like "aspheric" and "anomalous dispersion" glass elements can lead into the weeds of distraction. Most of this language describes optical properties that improve the final image. Aspheric describes a piece of glass that wasn’t ground in the traditional (easy) way, with a final shape that’s not spherical. AD, or anomalous dispersion, means a special type of glass that’s used to achieve more precise control of "chromatic aberrations" (CA). CA occurs because of light’s natural tendency not to focus all colors on the same point.
Canon introduced a number of lenses starting with the Canon EF 100-400mm ƒ/4.5-5.6L II USM ($2,999), EF 35mm ƒ/1.4 II USM ($1,799), EF 11-24mm ƒ/4L USM ($2,299) and EF 50mm ƒ/1.8 STM ($125), a remake of a classic. This 50mm lens features an STM motor, which acts with the Movie Servo AF mode on some DSLRs for nearly silent focusing—a real benefit when shooting video.
Things have been heating up for the Fujifi lm X-series photographer with the release of new lenses for the company’s mirrorless system. Additions to the company’s renowned optics line are the Fujinon XF16-55mm ƒ/2.8 R LM WR ($1,049), XF16mm ƒ/1.4 R WR ($999) and the short telephoto XF90mm ƒ/2 R LM WR ($950). Fujifilm also announced two new lenses available only bundled in a kit, the XC50-230mm ƒ/4.5-6.7 OIS II and XC16-50mm ƒ/3.5-5.6 OIS II.
The all-manual Lensbaby Velvet 56mm ƒ/1.6 lens ($500-$600, depending on model) features a singlet-doublet-singlet optical design and delivers a dreamy glowing effect, perfect for portraits. It also provides 1:2 magnification and manually focuses to 5 inches for close-ups. Stopping down to the minimum aperture (ƒ/16) reduces intentional blurring effects. It’s available for Canon, Nikon, Sony A and E, Fujifilm
X, Micro 4/3 and Samsung NX.
Olympus increased the range of lenses available for its and Panasonic’s Micro Four Thirds cameras with the arrival of three new lenses—two zooms and a prime fisheye. The zooms are the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 14-150mm ƒ/4-5.6II ($599) and M.ZUIKO Digital ED 7-14mm ƒ/2.8 PRO ($1,299), and the prime lens is the remarkable M.ZUIKO Digital ED 8mm ƒ/1.8 Fisheye Pro ($999). All the lenses in the PRO line feature outstanding edge-to-edge optical performance and excellent image quality.
Panasonic released three lenses for the Micro Four Thirds system, the Panasonic LUMIX G Macro 30mm ƒ/2.8 ASPH MEGA O.I.S. ($400), LUMIX G 42.5mm ƒ/1.7 ASPH POWER O.I.S. ($368) and LUMIX G25mm ƒ/1.7 ASPH ($400). The 30mm and 42.5mm feature Panasonic’s popular and effective image stabilization, MEGA O.I.S.
Nikon announced eight new lenses this year for their FX and DX cameras. FX shooters got the AF-S 300mm ƒ/4E ED VR ($1,997), AF-S 600mm ƒ/4E FL ED VR ($13,000), AF-S 500mm ƒ/4E FL ED VR ($10,297), AF-S 24mm ƒ/1.8G ED ($750), AF-S 200-500mm ƒ/5.6E ED VR ($1,400) and AF-S 24-70mm ƒ/2.8E ED VR ($2,397). DX shooters got the new AF-S DX 55-200mm ƒ/4.5-5.6G VR II ($350) and AF-S DX 16-80mm ƒ/2.8-4E ED VR ($1,097).
Ricoh introduced three lenses for the Pentax camera system. The HD Pentax-D FA* 70-200mm ƒ/2.8ED DC AW ($2,296) fi lls a slot found in virtually all manufacturer lineups, with an aperture of ƒ/2.8 throughout the zoom range and a fast, silent AF system. Going longer, the HD Pentax-D FA 150-450mm ƒ/4.5-5.6ED DC AW ($1,976) is fast and compact, and is a welcomed addition to their fine lens lineup. The DA 18-
50mm ƒ/4-5.6 DC WR RE ($259) gives shooters a versatile standard zoom.
Rapidly becoming a household name, Samyang (also branded as Rokinon) lenses like the Samyang 100mm ƒ/2.8 ED UMC Macro ($550) make it easy to understand their rise in popularity. For macro use, it achieves a 1:1 maximum magnifi cation ratio along with a minimum focusing distance of 1 foot. Designed for crop-frame (APS-C)-sensor cameras, it’s available in all popular camera mounts including
Samsung and Fujifilm, and performs like a fast, long telephoto when used on these models.
Sony has released new lenses for both their E-mount mirrorless cameras and A-mount DSLR cameras. For A-series shooters, Sony introduced the 70-300mm ƒ/4.5-5.6 G SSM II ($1,200), Vario-Sonnar T* 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 ZA SSM II ($1,200) and Vario-Sonnar T* 16-35mm ƒ/2.8 ZA SSM II ($2,200). In the Emount, the company introduced the FE 24-240mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 OSS ($975), FE 90mm ƒ/2.8 Macro G OSS ($1,100), Distagon T* FE 35mm ƒ/1.4 ZA ($1,600) and FE 28mm ƒ/2 ($450).
The Tokina AT-X 24-70mm ƒ/2.8 PRO FX ($999) for Canon and Nikon full-frame DSLRs uses three glass molded aspherical elements and three SD Super-Low Dispersion elements to maximize performance.
The new Silent Drive-Module provides fast and silent autofocus quiet enough for video applications. A One Touch Focus Clutch mechanism enables seamless switching between autofocus and manual focusing.
The latest Sigma lenses are in the Art series, their line with the bestperformance and best image quality. The Sigma 24-35mm ƒ/2 DG HSM | A ($1,000) is the world’s fi rst full-frame zoom with an ƒ/2 aperture. The 24mm ƒ/1.4 DG HSM | A ($760-$850, depending on mount) gives photographers a wider option than the standard 35mm lens, and it’s perfect for tack-sharp images of anything from portraits to landscapes.
On the heels of their blockbuster 15-30mm full-frame zoom, Tamron announced two new prime lenses for full-frame DSLRs. The SP 35mm ƒ/1.8 Di VC USD ($600) and SP 45mm ƒ/1.8 Di VC USD ($600) both feature close focusing (7.9 and 11.4 inches, respectively), an all-new cosmetic appearance and integral VC (Vibration Compensation) image stabilization. Tamron also introduced the affordable zoom 18-200mm ƒ/3.5-6.3 Di II VC ($250).
The new Batis line for Sony mirrorless full-frame E-mount cameras places Zeiss at the innovation forefront once again. Available in 25mm ƒ/2 ($1,300) and 85mm ƒ/1.8 ($1,200) confi gurations, the series provides ideal focal lengths for wide-angle street shooting and for portraiture. Built to the highest standards with the most advanced materials and techniques, both feature something new for camera lenses: the focusing distance and depth of field are read from a bright OLED display on the lens barrel.