The Fall Lens Scene: Optical Explosion

The Fall Lens Scene: Optical Explosion


To paraphrase a quip I overheard (in German) while cruising the cavernous halls of photokina 2014, “Yeah, all these new high-tech cameras at the show are very exciting, but lenses are really where it’s at!”

Not surprisingly, both camera and lens manufacturers seem to have gotten the same message. That’s why they’ve recently released an unprecedented number of innovative, enticing lenses, all designed to expand shooters’ picture-taking horizons, enhance the prestige and performance of their camera systems, increase or maintain market share, and bolster the bottom line. The current big buzz in the lens sector could have a positive impact on your bottom line, too, by getting customers pumped about the possibilities of expanding their creative photography.

The hottest, new lens categories are those aimed at a sophisticated user base of interchangeable-lens camera buyers. In general, they’re quite knowledgeable about the advantages of wide-aperture lenses in handheld available-light shooting and for creating pictorial effects with shallow depth of field. Discerning travelers and vacationers have a greater appreciation of the advantages of long zoom ranges; nature and wildlife shooters understand that enhanced macro capability and image stabilization help in achieving crisp images; and serious enthusiasts and pros 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 get these things.

While we couldn’t possibly include every new lens in this space, we do hope this select group of innovative, cutting-edge optics gives you a good overview of this expanding market sector.

A Baker’s Dozen of Optical Delight
Sigma 150–600mm f/5–6.3 DG OS HSM Sports. Sigma introduced two versions of this new long-range, telephoto, full-frame 150–600mm f/5–6.3 DG OS HSM 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 measures 4.8×11.4 inches, weighs 6.3 pounds and features 24-element, 16-group construction. $1,999.

The other version of this lens in Sigma’s Contemporary line features 20-element, 14-group construction and one FLD and three SLD elements. It measures 4.1×10.2 inches, is somewhat lighter than the Sports version and is presumably less expensive to be more competitive. Price: TBA.

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. $1,499.99.

Nikon AF-S Nikkor 50mm f/1.8G Special Edition.
This stylishly updated reissue of a classic Nikon normal lens fits FX (full-frame) and DX (APS-C format) Nikon cameras, providing a 75mm equivalent focal length on the latter. It’s optical design features one aspheric element, a seven-blade rounded diaphragm for enhanced bokeh, and Nikon’s SIC (super-integrated coatings). Its enhanced knurling on the focusing collar makes gripping it easy. Measuring a compact 2.8×2.0 inches, its silent wave AF motor (SWM) is said to be smooth, silent and precise to augment both still and video shooting performance. $279.95.

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 seven-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. $1,499.

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. Available January 2015, it measures 2.7×4.3 inches. $1,950.

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. $399.99.

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. $1,349.99.

Samsung NX 50–150mm f/2.8 S 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.

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 nine-blade diaphragm for enhanced bokeh and has a built-in hood. It comes with a copy of SilkyPix Developer Studio software. Price: TBA.

Zeiss Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* ZF.2. Leave it to Zeiss to come up with a remarkable ultra-high-speed, ultra-high-performance medium telephoto for full-frame Nikon and Canon DSLRs. It incorporates one aspheric and six anomalous partial dispersion elements to attain true apochromatic correction, and it employs a floating element (internal) focusing system. It also features Zeiss T* antireflection coating and an all-metal barrel. Exquisite image quality and bokeh are hallmarks of this lens, enhanced by using a rounded nine-blade diaphragm. $4,490.

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 seven-blade diaphragm enhances bokeh. $599.99.

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 seven-bladed diaphragm produces smooth, natural bokeh. $749.95.