Over the last few years we’ve witnessed nothing less than an optical revolution. Exciting faster, wider, longer lenses are appearing at an astonishing rate, especially premium glass aimed at pros and serious shooters.
The underlying reason behind this accelerating trend is simple but profound: Optical manufacturers ranging from camera companies to independent lens makers are responding to the demand by savvy enthusiasts and pros for lenses that can differentiate their work by capturing a distinctive look and feel.
This explains the explosion in wide-aperture prime lenses in the f/1.4 to f/2 aperture range and the profusion of constant-aperture f/2 and f/2.8 zooms for full-frame and APS-C-format DSLR and mirrorless cameras. All of these lenses can capture compelling images that showcase the subject with soft, natural-looking backgrounds and shallow depth of field. It also explains the emphasis on optical designs that achieve smooth, natural transitions from sharp to soft areas of the image and provide nearly circular apertures with a greater number of rounded blades—all to enhance bokeh, the visual quality of the out-of-focus image.
Virtually every major lens manufacturer now offers an enticing assortment of wide-aperture, wide-angle, normal and telephoto prime (single focal length) lenses; fast, mid-range zooms in the 24–70mm and 28–105mm classes; intriguing wide-aperture, long telephoto zooms; and innovative, all-in-one, wide-to-telephoto zooms. Many feature advanced, second-generation image stabilization (IS) systems, built-in ultraquiet stepping motors for shooting video with virtually no focusing noise, and enhanced macro capability.
From a dealer perspective, perhaps the most significant aspect of the overall lens category is that lenses are seen as an investment that represents a high-value proposition for serious enthusiasts and pros. In short, they’re “keepers” that retain their value and usefulness as shooters migrate to the next, more advanced camera body to take advantage of the latest technology. Thus, it’s hardly surprising that most lenses have a higher resale value than cameras or practically any other item in the imaging field—and a higher perceived value among consumers.
Indeed, the fact that lenses are considered long-term investments that pay dividends going forward is one reason the optical sector remains one of the healthiest, most dependable, and most exciting niches in the imaging marketplace.
Here’s our baker’s dozen of fascinating new lenses that piqued our interest. All are great choices, but you may rest assured there are many other cool, new lens we couldn’t get into this article!
Five Fast Prime Lenses
Sony FE 85mm f/1.4 GM. Sony announced its G Master (GM) series of fast, medium telephoto lenses for full-frame, E-mount mirrorless cameras. This lens delivers shallow depth of field for portraiture, enhanced low-light performance and high image quality. This is all thanks to three ED (extra-low dispersion) elements to control chromatic aberration and one XA (eXtreme aspherical) element designed to minimize spherical aberrations and increase sharpness. The lens features an 11-blade, circular diaphragm to enhance bokeh; a linear SSM (supersonic wave motor) for swift, quiet, responsive autofocus (AF); a dedicated focus hold button; a manual aperture ring; Nano AR coating to reduce flare and ghosting; and moisture-sealed construction. $1,800. sony.com
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM. This high-performance, ultrawide aperture, moderate telephoto lens is optimized for portraiture or wherever a combination of speed and extra reach is needed. It incorporates one SLD (special low dispersion) element and one molded glass element to achieve outstanding image quality and high contrast, and provides full-frame coverage. Its features include: a rear focusing system to deliver consistently high aberration correction and crisp imaging over its entire focusing range; a hypersonic motor (HSM) for fast, precise, quiet AF; a 9-blade, rounded diaphragm for heightened bokeh; and super multilayer coating (SML) to minimize flare and ghosting. $869. sigmaphoto.com
Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD. Designed for full-frame and APS-C-format cameras, this fast medium telephoto incorporates one LD and one XLD (eXtra-low dispersion) element to reduce chromatic aberration and deliver high image quality. Its BBAR (Broad-Band Anti-Reflection) and eBAND (Extended Bandwidth & Angular-Dependency) coatings minimize flare and ghosting. Built-in VC (vibration compensation) IS controls the effects of camera shake, providing up to a 3.5-stop advantage in handheld shooting. And a ring-type USD AF motor delivers fast, precise, quiet autofocus. Other features include: a 9-rounded-blade diaphragm for artistic bokeh; moisture-resistant construction; and an easy-to-clean fluorine coating. It’s also compatible with the optional TAP-in Console for firmware upgrades and adjusting focus settings. $749. tamron-usa.com
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200mm f/2G ED VR II. This super-speed telephoto for full-frame and DX-format Nikon DSLRs is aimed at pros covering weddings, events and sports. It incorporates three ED elements and one super ED element to achieve aberration correction and impressive image quality at all settings. It also boasts Nikon’s VR II (vibration reduction) IS system with a 3-stop anti-shake advantage in handheld shooting. Other features include: a silent wave motor (SWM) for quick, accurate autofocusing via its internal focus system; recallable electronic focus memory and focus limitation settings; a rounded, 9-blade diaphragm for enhanced bokeh; Super Integrated Coating technology for heightened light transmission and reduced flare; and Nano Crystal coat to minimize ghosting. A tripod detection mode lets users leave VR on when shooting with a tripod! $5,699.95. nikonusa.com
Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di VC USD Macro 1:1. The latest version of Tamron’s classic 90mm f/2.8 macro, it has the proprietary VC image stabilization system that uses an accelerometer and gyro sensor to provide a 3.5-stop anti-shake advantage in handheld shooting. It gets down to 1:1 life-size at its 11.8-inch minimum focusing distance. And one LD element and two XLD elements help to achieve excellent chromatic aberration correction and impressive sharpness. Plus, a ring-type USD (ultrasonic silent drive) provides fast, precise AF. Other features include: a three-position focus limiter; a rounded, 9-blade diaphragm for superior bokeh; and eBAND and BBAR coatings plus a water-repellent fluorine coating. It’s also compatible with the optional TAP-in Console. $649. tamron-usa.com
A Trio of Fast Wide Zooms
Sigma 24–35mm f/2 DG HSM Art. This high-performance, ultrawide aperture, wide-angle zoom for full-frame cameras is claimed to be the first constant f/2 aperture zoom in its class. This Art-series lens provides enhanced depth-of-field control and delivers exceptional image quality over its entire range. It incorporates one FLD (fluorite equivalent) element, no less than seven SLD elements, plus two aspheric elements to minimize spherical and axial chromatic aberration and field curvature. Super multilayer coating reduces flare and ghosting, and Thermally Stable Composite components ensure exceptional stability at all temperatures. Other features include: a rounded, 9-blade diaphragm; a minimum focus distance of 11 inches; an HSM for fast, quiet AF; and an included lens hood. $999. sigmaphoto.com
Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II. This is the latest version of Canon’s iconic wide constant aperture, ultrawide-angle L-series zoom. The advanced-performance lens offers improved image quality thanks to an upgraded design that incorporates UD (ultralow dispersion) glass and three high-precision aspheric elements, each of a different type. And a revised algorithm for its ring-type ultrasonic motor (USM) helps deliver faster, quieter AF. The compact zoom covers the full-frame format and features: full-time manual focus override; a 7-bladed, circular diaphragm for artistic bokeh; water- and dust-resistant construction; and an included petal-shaped protective lens hood. $1,499. usa.canon.com
Tokina AT-X 16–28mm f/2.8 Pro FX. Targeted at pros that shoot with full-frame DSLRs, this wide constant aperture, ultrawide-angle zoom employs three aspheric and three SD (super-low dispersion) elements to reduce chromatic aberration and deliver maximum resolution and impressive image quality throughout. Its virtually silent DC motor provides fast, precise autofocus and works with a GMR magnetic sensor to further increase focusing speed. A one-touch focus clutch allows quick switching between auto and manual focus on the fly, and a 9-blade diaphragm helps achieve beautiful bokeh. $589. kenkotokinausa.com
A Quintet of Longer Zooms
Pentax HD D FA 28–105mm f/3.5–5.6 ED DC WR. Introduced with the new Pentax K-1, the company’s first full-frame DSLR, this high-performance, wide-to-medium-telephoto zoom has a variable aperture to keep its size down. It employs two high-precision aspherical elements and an ED glass element to reduce aberrations and enhance image quality. Other features include: SP (super protect) coating to repel water and grease; HD coatings to reduce flare and ghosting and increase light transmittance; a supersonic direct drive motor (SDM) for fast, smooth AF action; a rounded, 9-blade diaphragm to enhance bokeh; focusing down to 1.64 feet for convenient close-up work; quick-shift focusing; and weather-resistant (WR) construction with eight seals. $499.95. ricohimaging.com
Fujifilm Fujinon XF100–400mm f/4.5–5.6 R LM OIS WR. Weather-sealed at 12 points, this telephoto lens gives Fujifilm X-series photographers sharp images with a 152–609mm equivalent range. The compact lens has an optical design that includes five ED lenses and one super ED lens to help reduce chromatic aberration. Designed for handheld shooting, the lens boasts a 5-stop IS system and twin linear motors that provide speedy autofocus, making it perfect for capturing fast-moving subjects. The lens is also water and dust resistant and can operate in temperatures as low as 14° F. And a fluorine coating helps repel water and dirt. Other features include a rounded, 9-blade aperture and an included lens hood with a sliding window for accessing a polarizing filter and locking mechanism. $1,899.95. fujifilmusa.com
Canon EF-S 18–135mm
f/3.5–5.6 IS USM. Just announced with Canon’s APS-C-format 80D DSLR, it employs Nano USM technology. This advanced, dual-purpose AF motor integrates a ring-type USM motor and a stepping STM mechanism. Both are optimized for stills and silent video AF performance to meet the needs of multimedia shooters. Its upgraded IS system provides a 4-stop anti-shake advantage when shooting handheld stills or video. Dynamic IS additionally is optimized for video. The lens’s optical design includes one UD element and one PMo (precision-molded aspheric) element to minimize chromatic and spherical aberrations. The design also delivers increased clarity and sharpness over the entire zoom range down to a minimum focusing distance of 1.28 feet. An optional PZ-E1 power zoom adapter aids in smoother, more natural silent zooming when shooting video. $599.99. usa.canon.com
Sony FE 24–70mm f/2.8 GM. This G Master zoom is a constant f/2.8 aperture, wide-angle-to-short-telephoto lens that’s aimed at pros and serious enthusiasts using full-frame Sony E-mount cameras. It’s a great all-around performer that provides enhanced depth-of-field control and low-light capability. It incorporates three aspheric elements, including an XA element, an ED and a super ED element to minimize chromatic aberrations, enhance color fidelity and achieve high image quality over its entire range. Its direct drive SSM AF system provides fast, precise, quiet AF for stills and video. It also features: a focus hold button; Nano AR coating to minimize flare and ghosting; a 9-blade diaphragm to enrich bokeh; and weatherproof construction. $2,200. sony.com
Sigma 18–300mm f/3.5–6.3 DC Macro OS HSM Contemporary. This all-in-one, wide-angle-to-ultra-telephoto zoom for APS-C-format cameras delivers high image quality over its 27–450mm equivalent range. Its closest macro focusing distance is an impressive 1:3 magnification (15.3 inches) at the 300mm setting. An advanced optical design incorporates one SLD and four FLD elements to minimize chromatic aberration and yield outstanding sharpness and color fidelity. Other features include: an ultracompact, lightweight form factor; an exclusive optical stabilizer (OS) with a 4-stop, anti-shake advantage in handheld shooting; an HSM for swift, quiet, super-precise AF; and a rounded, 7-blade diaphragm for enhanced bokeh. Firmware updates and calibrations can be input via the optional Sigma USB Dock. $499. sigmaphoto.com