While digital cameras advance at a dizzying pace, and last year’s models are almost always supplanted in terms of technological sophistication, lenses tend to hold their value. That’s because they can migrate to the latest cameras and seldom become functionally obsolete. This value equation message is not lost on today’s savvy shooters, and many choose to upgrade their camera system by adding new lenses rather than acquiring the latest camera body.
That’s one reason why the world’s leading camera and lens makers have recently released a barrage of innovative, enticing lenses—all designed to expand shooters’ picture-taking horizons and increase or maintain market share. By getting customers pumped about picture taking and the possibilities of expanding their creative potential, the current optical buzz may enhance your bottom line as well, and that’s why it pays to know what’s hot in the glass class.
The hottest lens categories are those clearly aimed at an increasingly sophisticated user base that’s quite knowledgeable about the advantages of wide-aperture lenses in handheld available light shooting and for creating striking pictorial effects with shallow depth of field. Discerning travelers and vacationers have a greater appreciation of the advantages of long zoom ranges in enhancing optical flexibility and convenience. Nature and wildlife shooters understand that enhanced macro capability and image stabilization help them to achieve crisp images. And serious enthusiasts and pros all demand lenses that deliver critical sharpness over the entire image area at all apertures and focal lengths. Most important, these folks are willing to pay premium prices to obtain these advantages.
While we can’t possibly cram every exciting lens into this article, we hope this select group of innovative, cutting-edge optics gives you a good overview of this market sector and some of the lenses your customers are likely to be asking you about in the New Year.
A Dozen Outstanding Optics
Canon EF 100–400mm f/4.5–4.6L IS II USM. This pro-caliber long telephoto zoom for full-frame and APS-C-format Canon DSLRs is said to deliver outstanding resolution and contrast and neutral color balance. It incorporates three-mode Image Stabilization (IS) to minimize the effects of shake when shooting stationary subjects or while panning, as well as a fast, silent ultrasonic AF motor (USM). It employs an advanced 21-element, 16-group optical formula that includes five movable groups, fluorite and super HD glass to reduce chromatic aberrations and achieve a high zoom magnification. AF speed is further enhanced with a rear-focusing design that incorporates a floating element to ensure uniform image quality at all focusing distances. Other key features include: focus range limiter with settings from 5.9 feet to infinity or 21.3 feet to infinity to enable faster AF; a removable, rotating tripod collar; ASC coating to reduce flare and ghosting; and a 9-blade circular aperture for smooth bokeh. Dimensions: 3.7×7.6 inches; 3.5 pounds. $2,199. usa.canon.com
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 20mm f/1.8G ED. This compact, high-speed, ultra-wide-angle lens is compatible with full-frame (FX format) and APS-C (DX format, 30mm) Nikon cameras. It provides a shallow depth of field at its widest apertures despite its short focal length and 94º (FX format) and 70º coverage (DX format). It also offers an impressively short minimum focus distance of 7.8 inches, which facilitates shooting close-ups and isolating the background. Its advanced optical design features two aspheric and two extra-low dispersion (ED) elements plus Nano Crystal Coating to ensure excellent color correction, crisp imaging and freedom from flare across the image field. Its rear internal-focusing system eliminates changes in length at different focusing distances. The 13-element, 11-group lens also uses a silent wave motor (SWM) for quick, nearly silent AF. Dimensions: 3.2×3.1 inches; 12.6 ounces. $799.95. nikonusa.com
Sony 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6 G SSM II. This versatile new G-class telephoto for full-frame and APS-C format A-mount Sony cameras employs a SuperSonic motor (SSM) said to deliver 4x faster focusing, making it an ideal solution for sports, wildlife and high-speed action photography. Its 16-element, 11-group optical formula features an ED element to enhance color correction and contrast. It also incorporates a Nano AR coating to control flare and ghosting, and a rounded 9-blade circular aperture to enhance bokeh. The 70–300 stops down to f/22–29, focuses down to 4 feet and features moisture- and dust-resistant construction and an improved AF tracking algorithm. This lens provides an impressive 105–450mm equivalent range on APS-C-format Sony cameras. Dimensions: 3.25×5.33 inches; 1.65 pounds. $1,149.99. sony.com
Sigma 150–600mm f/5–6.3 DG OS HSM Sports. Sigma introduced two versions of this new long-range, telephoto, full-frame zoom lens, evidently in response to the popularity of the Tamron 150–600mm with similar specs. The heavier, slightly larger Sports version has a hypersonic motor (HSM), two FLD (equal to fluorite) and three SLD (special low dispersion) elements for enhanced correction, an optical stabilizer with accelerometer, and a splash- and dustproof mount. It features 24-element, 16-group construction. Dimensions: 4.8×11.4 inches; 6.3 pounds. $1,999. sigmaphoto.com
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40–150mm f/2.8 Pro. Designed as a high-end, wide-aperture, medium-to-long-telephoto zoom for Olympus OM-D cameras, this 80–300mm equivalent, constant maximum f/2.8 aperture zoom incorporates one aspherical ED (extra-low dispersion) lens, two aspherical lenses, one SED lens, three ED lenses and one HD lens in its 16-element, 10-group design to achieve superior optical correction. The weatherproof lens uses ZERO (Zuiko Extra-low Reflection Optical) coating to reduce reflections and increase contrast. It features a dual voice coil motor (VCM) with two lens groups each controlled by a linear motor for friction-free, fast, quiet, precise autofocus. Dimensions: 3.1×6.29 inches; 1.67 pounds. $1,499.99. olympusamerica.com
Fujifilm Fujinon XF56mm f/1.2R APD. This ultra-high-speed medium telephoto (85mm equivalent) lens complements Fujifilm’s APS-C-format X-series cameras and is designed to capture classic bokeh effects in portraiture and landscapes. It uses a proprietary apodization (APD) filter for enhanced low-light performance and smoother, more natural bokeh. Its 11-element, 8-group design uses one aspheric and two ED elements with HT-EBC (High Transmittance Electron Beam Coating) multilayer coating on all surfaces. Its high-speed AF system uses an internal focusing mechanism and a 7-blade rounded diaphragm. It also supports the lens modulation optimizer (LMO) function built into premium X-series cameras that’s designed to deliver even illumination and sharpness across the field. Dimensions: 2.88×2.74 inches; 14.3 ounces. $1,499. fujifilmusa.com
Leica APO-Vario-Elmar-T 55–135mm f/3.5–4.5 Asph. Providing an 80–200mm equivalent focal-length range on Leica-T APS-C-format compact system cameras, this elegant, high-performance telephoto zoom provides electronically controlled aperture and focusing, one aspheric element in its 12-element, 10-group design, a metal barrel with a nonrotating 60mm filter mount, AF plus manual override, and a stylish black anodized finish to complement the camera. It’s available January 2015. Dimensions: 2.7×4.3 inches. $1,950. us.leica-camera.com
Panasonic Lumix G Vario 35–100mm f/4.0–5.6 Asph. This recently announced medium telephoto (70–200mm equivalent) Micro Four Thirds-format lens features built-in MEGA OIS image stabilization with gyro stabilizers, a stepping motor for smooth, silent autofocus when shooting stills and video, high-speed contrast AF and a compact, retractable design. One aspheric and two ED elements help minimize aberrations and enable the lens to deliver crisp, high-contrast images over its entire zoom range. It’s styled to match Lumix GM cameras. Dimensions: 2.7×3.9 inches; 12.7 ounces. $399.99. panasonic.com
Sony Vario-Tessar T* FE 16–35mm f/4 ZA OSS. This high-end, wide-angle f/4 constant, maximum-aperture zoom bears the Zeiss logo and is made for full-frame E-mount Sony cameras, including the Alpha a7, a7R and a7S. The 12-element, 10-group design incorporates three ED and aspheric elements to reduce chromatic aberration, and Zeiss T* coatings to enhance contrast and resolution. It employs a silent AF and aperture system and is dust and moisture resistant. The lens uses built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization and seven circular aperture blades for smooth bokeh. Internal focusing means length and balance remain the same at all distances and the front filter ring doesn’t rotate. Dimensions: 3.13×4 inches; 18.2 ounces. $1,349.99. sony.com
Samsung NX 50–150mm f/2.8 S ED OIS. This innovative, fast, maximum-aperture telephoto zoom for Samsung NX (APS-C-format) cameras provides an impressive equivalent focal-length range of 77–231mm. Its 20-element, 13-group design incorporates four ED and one XHR (extremely high refractive) element for enhanced correction and sharpness. The splash- and dustproof lens uses a precision stepping AF motor said to deliver 3x the precision of conventional designs, and it has a built-in range limiter to enable faster AF. Plus, it provides four-axis control with a six-axis sensor for detecting camera shake to enable the OIS system. Samsung hyper shield coating (SHS) offers protection against dust, water, fingerprints and smears. $1,599. Dimensions: 3.19×6.06 inches; 2.02 pounds. samsung.com
Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD. The first 15–30mm ultra-wide to wide-angle f/2.8 zoom for full-frame and APS-C-format Nikon and Canon DSLRs, this groundbreaking lens employs an XGM (eXpanded glass molded aspheric) element and LD glass elements to reduce aberrations. It features Tamron’s proprietary tri-axial VC (vibration compensation) image stabilization and an easy-to-clean fluorine coating on the front element. Its eBAND coating and improved BBAR coating reduce ghosting and flare. An ultrasonic silent drive (USD) is said to deliver precise AF, high torque and fast response times. The lens incorporates a rounded 9-blade diaphragm for enhanced bokeh and has a built-in hood. It comes with a copy of SilkyPix Developer Studio software. Dimensions vary by mount; 38.8 ounces. Price: TBA. tamron-usa.com
Canon EF 24–105mm f/3.5–5.6 IS STM. A more affordable alternative to Canon’s f/4 L-series lens with the same focal range, it covers the full-frame format. It incorporates two aspheric and one UD element to provide excellent overall image quality and its STM stepping AF motor supports the use of movie servo AF mode. Other features include: built-in Canon IS image stabilization; internal focusing with manual focus override; and an ingenious 17-element, 13-group optical design with seven groups dedicated to the zooming function. A rounded 7-blade diaphragm enhances bokeh. Dimensions: 3.3×4.1 inches; 18.52 ounces. $599.99. usa.canon.com
Pentax HD DA 16–85mm f/3.5–5.6 ED DC WR. Designed for K-mount APS-C-format DSLRs, this recently announced lens delivers an impressive 24.5–130mm equivalent range and provides weather-resistant (WR) construction. Quick-shift focusing enables switching between autofocus and manual focus at any time, and the lens can focus down to 1.15 feet (0.26x) for extreme close-ups. HD and SP multilayer lens coatings enhance light transmission and clarity, a DC motor assures quick, precise AF action, and a rounded 7-bladed diaphragm produces smooth, natural bokeh. Dimensions: 3.1×3.7 inches; 17.2 ounces. $749.95. ricohimaging.com