12 Terrific Lenses to Enhance Creativity and Profit Potential
The world’s major camera makers and optical specialty companies have unleashed an amazing array of lenses over the last six months or so. Most of them are targeted at serious enthusiasts and professionals aiming to extend their artistic options for creating distinctive images that express their personal style.
This accelerating trend is part of a larger and equally impressive transformation that has been quietly taking place on the optical front over the past few years. These optical innovations span every ILC category, from mirrorless, interchangeable-lens cameras to APS-C and full-frame DSLRs. They not only enhance the range of creative opportunities for picture takers of all levels but also significantly expand the profit potential for dealers.
Leading Lens Trends Going into 2016
Several clear trends emerge in assessing what amounts to an optical revolution. As shooters become more sophisticated, creative expression and the esthetic quality of the image have become increasingly important. This has resulted in a renewed interest in wide-aperture prime (single focal length) lenses that can create beautiful bokeh effects using limited depth of field at wide apertures in the f/1.2–2.8 range. Virtually every major lens manufacturer has jumped into the fray and now offers an enticing assortment of high-speed primes ranging from wide angles to long telephotos. It’s a sign of the times that Sigma has added zoom lenses to its Art line and Tamron has announced a newly designed 35mm f/1.8 and a unique 45mm f/1.8 to serve the hot art market.
Zoom ranges are also steadily increasing. There are several enticing new ultra-long telephoto zooms and long-range wide-to-telephoto zooms that are wider at the wide end and provide unprecedented overall zoom ranges. Other notable lens trends include a growing number of sophisticated wide-angle zooms and ultra-high-performance lenses, often at premium prices, aimed at serious shooters. And there are more lenses with built-in ultraquiet stepping motors for shooting video without focusing noise. There are also exciting technical advances like ED (extra-low dispersion) and UD (ultralow dispersion) glass, aspheric elements and Canon’s unique Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics, which are said to virtually eliminate chromatic aberration.
Lenses represent an investment and a high-value proposition for consumers. That’s because lenses are “keepers” that retain their value and usefulness as shooters upgrade and migrate to the next, more advanced camera body to take advantage of the latest technology. As a result, lenses have a higher resale value than cameras or practically any other item in the imaging field, and a higher perceived value. Indeed, the fact that lenses are considered long-term investments that will pay dividends going forward is one of the main reasons the optical sector remains among the healthiest, most dependable and most exciting niches in today’s fiercely competitive digital marketplace.
A Quintet of Quintessential f/1.4 Primes
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. Redesigned with three SLD (special low dispersion) glass elements, with the widest elements in the front optical groups for enhanced performance at large apertures, this 13-element, 6-group lens delivers exceptional image quality. It creates beautiful bokeh thanks to its rounded 9-blade diaphragm. For full-frame DSLRs, it’s optimized for portraiture, still life, reportage, street photography and low-light shooting. Other features include: a floating element to reduce movement when focusing; one molded glass aspheric for enhanced color and sharpness; an optimized autofocus algorithm for smoother focusing down to 15.7 inches (max. mag. 1:5.6); and super multilayer coating to reduce flare and ghosting. Befitting its high-end specs, it sports a solid brass bayonet mount for accuracy and durability, and a hypersonic motor (HSM) for ultrafast, precise AF and full-time manual focus. $949. sigmaphoto.com
Leica Summilux-M 28mm f/1.4 Asph. This superlative, brand-new, superspeed wide-angle lens for M-series Leica cameras promises to provide the same world-class performance as the acclaimed 35mm f/1.4 Summilux Asph—but at a wider 75º coverage angle favored by many reportage photographers and street shooters. Based on an advanced 10-element, 7-group design, it incorporates one aspheric and one floating element; it uses anomalous partial dispersion glass and three cemented groups to achieve an unprecedented level of correction. Designed to deliver extreme sharpness, high contrast and natural color, its ultrawide aperture provides enhanced selective focus control for isolating specific subjects, plus beautiful bokeh. Its minimum focus distance is 2.3 feet. $5,950. us.leica-camera.com
Fujifilm Fujinon XF16mm f/1.4R WR. For landscape, portrait, street or macro photography, this X-mount lens provides 24mm-equivalent wide-angle coverage with Fujifilm’s mirrorless cameras. Its dramatic wide field of view and f/1.4 max aperture deliver high image quality in low-light conditions and macro photography with a 6-inch minimum working distance. A rounded, 9-blade diaphragm creates pleasing bokeh in out-of-focus areas of the image. Its optical design includes two aspherical elements and two ED elements to reduce spherical and chromatic aberrations. It also uses high-transmittance electron beam coatings on lens surfaces to ensure light transmission and minimize flare and ghosting, as well as Nano GI coating on the rear surface. Other features include: a 0.11-sec AF speed; a focus ring with depth-of-field scales; and weather-resistant construction. $999. fujifilmusa.com
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L II USM. The signature feature of this newly announced full-frame prime is Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics, a system that sandwiches a layer of proprietary organic material between two glass elements to virtually eliminate chromatic aberration and enhance image quality. Other high-tech features include: an advanced optical design incorporating two aspheric and one UD element; subwavelength and fluorine coatings; an ultrasonic motor (USM) that provides full-time manual focus; a rounded 9-blade diaphragm for enhanced bokeh; and weather-seals. The lens focuses down to 11 inches for compelling close-ups and provides an effective focal length of 56mm on APS-C-format cameras. $1,799. usa.canon.com
Sony Zeiss Distagon T* FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA. Designed and built to Zeiss standards, this 12-element, 8-group superspeed wide angle for full-frame E-mount shooters delivers outstanding imaging performance, effective low-light capability and shallow depth of field at wide apertures for creative effects. Its cutting-edge optical design includes three aspheric elements and one advanced aspheric (AA) element to deliver high resolution and superb color correction, and its T* antireflection coating enhances contrast and clarity. Its aperture ring can be clicked or de-clicked for video applications, and it has a circular 9-blade diaphragm for smooth transitions and beautiful bokeh. Other features include a direct-drive SS (supersonic) AF motor for fast, quiet, precise AF, as well as moisture resistance. $1,599.99. sony.com
The Fab Four Fast Prime Lens Collection
Tamron SP 35mm f/1.8 Di VC USD. A state-of-the-art version of a classic, this full-frame, wide-aperture, wide-angle lens benefits from a sophisticated design that includes one LD element, one eXtra-low dispersion element and two molded glass aspheric elements to control aberrations, distortion and color fringing, plus enhance evenness of illumination. It delivers superb image quality, shallow depth of field and extended low-light capability. A ring-type USD motor provides quick, silent, precise AF, and an internal focusing system delivers enhanced
performance at close distances, down to an impressive 7.9 inches for true macro capability (1:2.5). It also features: VC (vibration compensation) image stabilization for handheld shooting; moisture-resistant construction; a 9-blade diaphragm for smooth transitions and beautiful bokeh; eBAND (extended bandwidth and angular-dependency) and BBAR (broad-band antireflection) coatings to reduce reflections, flare and ghosting; and a fluorine coating on the front element to repel water. $599. tamron-usa.com
Tokina 100mm f/2.8 AT-X M100 AF Pro D Macro. This nicely finished, close-focusing, medium telephoto lens has a fast f/2.8 maximum aperture. This makes it ideal for shooting classic portraits that separate the subject from the background, but it also focuses down to 1:1 for breathtaking close-ups of flowers, butterflies, coins, etc. Designed for optimum performance with digital sensors, this 9-element, 8-group lens provides a focus-limiter switch for faster autofocus, and a one-touch focus clutch mechanism for easy switching from autofocus to manual focus. The 55mm front filter thread is nonrotating, facilitating the use of polarizers and ring flashes. $379. kenkotokinausa.com
Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7 Asph. This sophisticated, fast wide-angle lens provides 35mm-equivalent coverage on Micro Four Thirds system cameras and incorporates one UHR (ultrahigh refractive) index element and two aspheric elements in its 8-element, 7-group design to control chromatic aberration and distortion. It yields commendable sharpness and edge-to-edge illumination while achieving a very compact form factor—it’s only 2 inches long and weighs 4.4 ounces. Its stepping motor provides fast, smooth, nearly silent AF for both photo capture and video recording. A rounded 7-blade diaphragm produces smooth out-of-focus image quality, while the wide aperture enhances depth-of-field control and low-light shooting. $249. panasonic.com
Zeiss Loxia 21mm f/2.8. Designed for full-frame Sony E-mount cameras and made by Zeiss, this fast, 11-element, 9-group ultra-wide-angle lens is based on the famed Distagon design. The lens delivers superlative image quality thanks to four anomalous partial dispersion elements, one aspheric element and Zeiss T* coating for enhanced light transmission. It features an all-metal barrel with engraved scales, a manual aperture ring that can be de-clicked for video applications, and a weather-resistant lens mount gasket. It focuses down to 9.8 inches and can also be used on APS-C-format cameras. $1,499. zeiss.com
A Trio of Advanced New Zooms
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 200–500mm f/5.6E ED VR. This impressive 19-element, 12-group long telephoto zoom for FX-format Nikon DSLRs has a constant maximum aperture of f/5.6 for consistent performance over the entire range. It incorporates three ED elements to reduce chromatic aberrations and distortion and enhance sharpness and color accuracy. Its silent wave motor delivers fast, precise, nearly silent AF and can be manually overridden at any time. VR image stabilization
provides a 4.5-stop advantage in maintaining sharpness in handheld shooting. And it includes sport mode for capturing distant subjects at high frame rates or when panning with fast-moving action. Other features include: electromagnetic aperture control; super-integrated coating; a rounded 9-blade diaphragm for enhanced bokeh; a 750mm reach on DX cameras; and a detachable, rotatable tripod collar. $1,399.95. nikonusa.com
Sigma 24–35mm f/2 DG HSM Art. This unique, exceptionally versatile full-frame, high-speed, wide-angle zoom combines a groundbreaking f/2 aperture and the focal-length range favored by countless pros and serious shooters. It offers amazing depth-of-field control, making it ideal for environmental portraiture, landscapes and low-light photography. Constructed with 18 elements in 13 groups, it uses large-diameter, aspherical lens elements, including one “F” LD glass and seven special low dispersion glass elements, to deliver outstanding image quality over its entire range. It also features a hypersonic motor (HSM) for swift, silent AF with anytime manual-focus override, a thermally stable composite barrel to maintain high performance at all temperatures and a 9-rounded-blade diaphragm that yields exquisite bokeh. $999. sigmaphoto.com
HD Pentax-D FA 24–70mm f/2.8ED SDM WR. This high-performance 17-element, 12-group, wide-angle zoom for full-frame Pentax K-mount DSLRs incorporates four aspheric elements, three ED, one anomalous dispersion element and multilayer HD coating to deliver exceptionally sharp, clear images over its entire range. Its large f/2.8 constant maximum aperture reduces the need for a tripod in low-light conditions, and a supersonic direct-drive (SDM) motor provides swift, accurate, quiet AF. A rounded 9-blade diaphragm contributes to the pleasing quality of out-of-focus image areas known as bokeh. In addition, a quick-shift focusing system allows manual focus at any time, and a zoom lock lever prevents creep when carrying the lens. Weather-resistant construction allows the lens to be used in rain or snow. $1,299.99. ricohimaging.com