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The Lens Lowdown for 2012: A Retailer’s Guide to Today’s Unique Optical Opportunities

April 2012 By Jason Schneider
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The year 2012 may well go down as one of the most exciting and rewarding times in recent memory when it comes to selling interchangeable lenses. The underlying reasons are not hard to fathom. The latest DSLRs in all categories from broad-spectrum entry-level to enthusiast and pro/prosumer models continue to excite legions of consumers with ever-more-advanced features and capabilities (such as the Full HD video explosion) that generate buzz and motivate shooters to upgrade.

Add to this the rapidly expanding compact interchangeable-lens (CILC) category that brings interchangeable-lens capability to a wider spectrum of compact consumer styles than ever before, and you have the makings of a genuine seller’s market. The fact that many savvy enthusiasts understand that lenses are a long-term investment that helps upgrade their shooting experience going forward is evident in the brisk sales figures for lenses in the $500 to $1,500 category, Indeed, it is no longer uncommon for knowledgeable shooters to spend more on lenses per year than they do on camera bodies!

The upward momentum and vibrancy of the lens market has certainly not gone unnoticed by camera makers like Nikon, Canon, Sony, Olympus and Pentax, or the major independent lens manufacturers, Sigma and Tamron, all of which have released a barrage of enticing lenses of all types, ranges and apertures, many with intriguing capabilities. However, in examining the most recent “interesting lenses” from all sources, no single trend clearly emerges as the dominant one. Instead it’s an eclectic collection of mini trends that reflect the varied interests and styles of today’s shooters.

Recent Optical Innovations

For the first time, major independent lens makers have jumped into the compact interchangeable-lens camera (CILC) fray with both feet, offering optics for Sony’s E-mount APS-C-format NEX cameras—a testament to the increasing sales figures for these models. New wide-aperture telephoto lenses from Nikon, Sony and Zeiss attest to the increasing popularity of portraiture, and these lenses have clearly been designed to provide more natural bokeh (out-of-focus background), a quality prized by wedding, portrait and landscape photographers.

Independent lens makers are also contesting categories previously dominated by the major camera companies, such as the full-frame 24-70mm f/2.8 with built-in image stabilization, and camera makers are fighting back with improved versions of these classic pro lenses.

As always, there are fascinating new niche products like the ultra-flat 40mm f/2.8 Pentax, the 40mm f/2.8 Micro Nikkor macro lens. And the clever Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 Fisheye USM that zooms from classic 180º circular coverage to full-frame 180º diagonal coverage to provide an engaging (and useful) variety of wild effects. And when it comes to wild effects at affordable prices, you can’t beat Lensbaby, whose new Edge 80 optic adds a new slant on tilt-and-shift by delivering “razor sharp slices of selective focus” through images. To give you a sharp, high-contrast view of what’s out there in Lens Land, here’s a rundown on some cool new glass.
 

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