An impressive transformation quietly has taken place on the optical front, and that trend is accelerating going into 2015 with scores of lenses being introduced by major camera makers and optical specialty companies alike. They span every camera category from mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras to APS-C and full-frame DSLRs. This optical explosion not only enhances the creative opportunities for picture takers at all levels, from casual shooters to pros, but also expands dealers’ profit potential.
Lens Trends for 2015
In assessing the latest optical entries, several trends emerge. 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 offers an enticing assortment of high-speed primes ranging from wide angles to long telephotos.
Zoom ranges are also steadily increasing. There are several 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: an growing number of sophisticated, wide-angle zooms and ultra-high-performance lenses, often at premium prices, that are aimed at serious shooters; and lenses with built-in, ultraquiet stepping motors for shooting video without focusing noise.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of today’s lens category is that lenses represent an investment and a high-value proposition for consumers. They’re “keepers” that retain their value and usefulness as shooters upgrade and migrate to the next, more advanced camera body. As a result, lenses have a higher resale value than cameras or practically any other item in the imaging field. Indeed, the fact that lenses are considered long-term investments that will pay dividends going forward is one reason the optical sector remains one of the healthiest and most exciting niches in the digital marketplace.
A Trio of Fast, Wide-Angle Zooms
Tokina AT-X 11–20mm f/2.8 Pro DX. This wide-angle zoom for APS-C-format DSLRs covers an ultrawide to wide, 16.5–30mm equivalent range and provides a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. It incorporates one P-MO hybrid aspheric element and two glass-molded aspheric elements to minimize distortion, three SD (super-low dispersion) elements to reduce chromatic aberration, and multilayer coats to enhance color accuracy and suppress flare. A one-touch focusing mechanism allows manual focus anytime without switching, while an internal focusing mechanism maintains the same length during focusing to enhance balance. Other features include a 9-blade diaphragm for beautiful bokeh, as well as a minimum focus distance of a tad over 11 inches. In Nikon F and Canon EF mounts, $599. kenkotokinausa.com
Tamron SP 15–30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD. The first 15–30mm ultrawide to wide-angle f/2.8 zoom for full-frame and APS-C-format Nikon, Canon and Sony DSLRs, this groundbreaking lens employs XGM (eXpanded glass molded aspheric) and LD glass elements to reduce chromatic aberrations. It features: Tamron’s tri-axial VC (vibration compensation) image stabilization system (except for the Sony version, which relies on the cameras’ built-in IS systems); an easy-to-clean fluorine coating on the front element; a rounded 9-blade diaphragm for enhanced bokeh; and a built-in lens hood. Its ultrasonic silent drive (USD) is said to deliver precise AF, high torque and fast response times. The lens comes with SilkyPix Developer Studio software. $1,199. tamron-usa.com
Leica Super Vario-Elmar-T 11–23mm f/3.5–4.5 Asph. This elegant, new made-in-Germany, high-performance, ultrawide to wide zoom (17–35mm equivalent) is a T-mount lens for the compact mirrorless, APS-C-format Leica T cameras. It features a metal lens barrel with a black anodized finish and employs four aspheric surfaces to control distortion and aberrations. Other features include: autofocus with manual focus override; apertures to f/16; and a minimum focus distance of 7.9 inches. $1,950. us.leica-camera.com
A Pair of Mid-Range Zooms
Fujifilm XF16–55mm f/2.8 R LM WR. A high-speed, constant f/2.8 aperture X-mount zoom designed for Fujifilm’s premium X series of mirrorless, APS-C-format CSCs, it provides an equivalent focal-length range of 24–82.5mm. The lens employs three ED (extra-low dispersion) and three aspheric elements plus Nano GI (gradient index) and HT-EBC (High Transmittance Electron Beam Coating) coatings to deliver outstanding image quality and clarity. It also features a very fast internal focusing mechanism using two linear autofocus motors and a rounded 9-blade diaphragm to enhance its smooth, out-of-focus rendition. It is moisture resistant thanks to 14 weather seals. $1,199.95. fujifilmusa.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-blade diaphragm produces smooth, natural bokeh. It measures 3.1×3.7 inches. $749.95. ricohimaging.com
A Quartet of Long-Range Zooms
Olympus M.Zuiko ED 14–150mm f/4–5.6 II. This 11x, wide-to-telephoto zoom for Micro Four Thirds cameras, including the Olympus OM-D range, delivers the 35mm equivalent of 28–300mm. Dust- and splashproof, thanks to well-sealed construction, its advanced design incorporates a DSA element, an aspheric ED element, an ED element and three HR elements for enhanced optical correction. ZERO (Zuiko Extra-Low Reflective Optical) coatings optimize light transmission and image clarity. It focuses down to 1.6 feet for a maximum magnification of 1:4 and has a 7-blade rounded diaphragm for smooth bokeh. It also uses an MSC mechanism to make high-speed, silent autofocus possible for movie capture. $599.99. olympusamerica.com
Samsung NX 50–150mm f/2.8 S ED OIS. This fast zoom debuted with the Samsung NX1 APS-C-format, mirrorless DSLR-style camera and provides a 77–231mm focal-length range along with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. This impressive lens employs four ED and one HXR element in its 20-element, 13-group formula to deliver outstanding correction. It has built-in optical image stabilization, a super-precise stepping motor and splashproof, dustproof construction. It uses SHS (Samsung Hyper Shield) coatings to protect the front element against dust, water and fingerprints, and it incorporates a custom range focus limiter for faster AF performance. $1,599.99. samsung.com
Sony FE 24–240mm f/3.5–6.3 OSS. Quite compact for a full-frame, 10x wide-to telephoto zoom, this newly released E-mount long-range lens incorporates one ED and five aspheric elements for high-performance correction. Other features include: a linear motor AF system for fast, precise AF; built in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization; an internal focus mechanism; traditional manual focus and zoom rings; dust and moisture resistance; and a circular 7-blade aperture for enhanced bokeh. This exciting lens focuses down to 19.7 inches to provide an impressively close maximum magnification of 0.27x. $1,000. sony.com
Canon EF 100–400mm f/4.5–5.6L IS II USM. This pro caliber L-series lens for full-frame Canon SLRs employs one fluorite and one super ED element to achieve outstanding correction over its focal-length range. Air Sphere and fluorine lens coatings maximize light transmission, minimize contamination and facilitate cleaning. The lens uses an advanced mechanical design that includes a ring-type USM AF motor for the internal focus mechanism, a rotating zoom ring, torque adjustment to enhance seamless handling, and an optical image stabilizer that provides four steps of correction. It has a 9-blade rounded diaphragm for smooth transitions to out-of-focus areas as well as weather-sealed construction. A detachable tripod collar is included. $2,199. usa.canon.com
A Foursome of Prime Lenses
Lensbaby 56mm f/1.6 Velvet 56. Lensbaby, supplier of creative effects lenses, entered the trendy fast prime lens fray with the Velvet 56—a 56mm f/1.6 moderate telephoto lens designed for full-frame and APS-C-format DSLRs, and mirrorless cameras. It’s described as a “new classic portrait lens that delivers a velvety, glowing, ethereal look” at its widest apertures and “sharp but subtly distinctive” images when stopped down.” It employs a singlet-doublet-singlet optical design, focuses down to five inches from the front element (1:2 macro) and stops down to f/16. It’s slated to go on sale April 13, 2015 in Canon, Nikon, Sony A and Pentax mounts, and by early May in mirrorless mounts, including Micro Four Thirds, Sony E, Samsung NX and Fujifilm X. Velvet 56, $499.95; Velvet SE silver limited edition, $599.95. lensbaby.com
Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art. The latest in Sigma’s Art line designed for discriminating artist photographers, this high-speed, wide-angle lens for full-frame DSLRs utilizes FLD (said to be equal to fluorite) and special low-dispersion elements as well as two aspheric elements to achieve remarkable image quality and even illumination, even at maximum aperture. Crafted of exotic materials, including thermally stable composite (TSC) to minimize performance variations due to temperature, it also employs a hypersonic motor (HSM) for enhanced AF performance and a bayonet mount constructed from brass for maximum accuracy and durability. It focuses down to 9.8 inches for a maximum magnification ratio of 1:5.3. In Nikon, Canon and Sigma mounts, $849. sigmaphoto.com
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR. Noticeably lighter and more compact than its predecessor, this pro caliber prime telephoto for full-frame (FX-format) Nikon cameras employs a Phase Fresnel (PF) lens for maximum resolution and sharpness with virtually no chromatic aberration or ghosting. It uses an ED element and Nano Crystal and Super Integrated coatings to enhance performance and clarity. Other features include: a silent wave motor AF system; internal focusing with manual focus override; an electromagnetic diaphragm; and a fluorine coated front element to minimize contamination. It employs Nikon’s VR (vibration reduction) IS system, said to provide a 4.5-stop advantage in handheld shooting. It focuses down to 4.6 feet for a maximum 0.24x magnification. $1,999.95. nikonusa.com
Panasonic Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 Asph Power OIS. This high-speed, medium telephoto for mirrorless Micro Four Thirds cameras provides an 85mm equivalent focal length, ideal for portraiture. It incorporates on aspheric element to enhance imaging performance and employs an internal focusing system using a stepping AF motor for fast, precise autofocus. A “Power” optical image stabilizer minimizes the effects of camera shake, and a rounded 7-blade diaphragm provides the smooth transitions to out-of-focus areas that are a hallmark of classic portraiture. The lens focuses down to 1.02 feet for a maximum magnification of 0.2x. $399. panasonic.com