By Jason Schneider:
With increasing numbers of point-and-shooters moving up the ranks to acquire DSLRs and mirrorless compact system cameras (CSCs), and hordes of committed enthusiasts expanding and upgrading the capabilities of their new and existing interchangeable-lens systems, it’s not surprising that the interchangeable-lens market is red hot as we move into 2013.
Consumers feel that lenses are keepers that migrate with you as you upgrade to the latest cameras—they never go out of style and a lens that took great pictures five years ago may do even better when it’s mounted on the latest high-performance camera body. Not surprisingly, lenses also retain their actual monetary value a lot better than most cameras—a fact that’s pretty easy to verify by checking the eBay listings.
Interchangeable lenses also provide immediate real-world benefits by expanding your picture-taking possibilities, and as consumers become increasingly sophisticated, so do their lens choices. That’s one factor that accounts for the rapidly increasing popularity of wide-aperture prime (fixed-focal-length) lenses for DSLRs and CSCs, which provide shallow depth of field for portraits and gorgeous pictorial effects, along with extended low-light capability.
Other lens categories that have seen rapid growth over the past few years are ultra-wide-angle zooms, pro-caliber full-frame-coverage 24–70mm f/2.8 and 70–200mm f/2.8 zooms, macro telephoto lenses, and ultra-high-performance lenses for full-frame and medium-format cameras. Another trend: Quiet AF, a feature that will be much appreciated by the legions of photographers moving into HD video capture.
Here’s an enticing selection of the latest optical opportunities.
Samsung 12–24mm f/4–5.6 ED. Developed for Samsung NX-series cameras, this ultra-wide-angle zoom provides an equivalent focal length range of 18.5–37mm and incorporates one extra-low dispersion (ED) element and two aspheric lens elements aimed at delivering enhanced sharpness, color correction and freedom from distortion. Other features include Samsung’s i-Function ring for controlling camera settings from the lens and a minimum focus distance of 9.5 inches. $599. samsung.com
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 70–200mm f/4G ED VR. Specifically aimed at providing full-frame Nikon FX-format shooters with a lighter, more compact, less expensive alternative to the formidable Nikkor 70–200mm f/2.8, this lens is said to deliver equivalent performance on cameras like the Nikon D600, while providing a 105–300mm equivalent on DX-format Nikons. It is the latest in Nikon’s f/4 fixed aperture zoom lenses and features the third generation of VR (vibration reduction) technology with up to five stops of image stabilization. Add to that three ED elements, a Silent Wave Motor (SWM), Nano Crystal Coat and Super Integrated Coating for claimed greater clarity and nine circular aperture blades for enhanced bokeh. $1,399.95. nikonusa.com
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8. This high-speed 9-element, 6-group Micro Four Thirds-format prime lens for Olympus PEN, OM-D and compatible-mount cameras provides an equivalent focal length of 34mm that’s ideal for street shooting. And it’s said to deliver high imaging performance thanks to a Dual Super Aspheric element and high-refractive index elements to minimize chromatic aberrations, plus a Zuiko Extra-Low Reflection Optical coating. Its MSC (movie-and-still compatible) autofocus mechanism features an internal focus system for fast, silent AF. And it’s ultracompact at only 1.4 inches in length. $499.99. olympusamerica.com
Leica APO Summicron-M 50mm f/2. Designed to push the limits of what is technically possible, this lens is claimed to deliver the highest MTF, the lowest levels of chromatic aberration and distortion, and the best all-around imaging performance of any 50mm f/2 lens ever made. Designed for use in combination with high-resolution rangefinder cameras like the Leica M Monochrom, it’s also compatible with the Leica M, M-E, M9, M9P, other M-mount cameras, as well as the M-mount adapters commonly used on DSLRs and mirrorless compact system cameras. The 8-element, 5-group lens uses exotic glass and focuses from 28 inches to infinity using a floating-element design. $7,195. us.leica-camera.com
Samsung NX 45mm f/1.8. This wide-aperture medium telephoto prime lens for APS-C-format Samsung NX-series cameras provides an equivalent focal length of 69mm in a compact, lightweight (4.1-ounce) package. It’s ideal for shooting portraits with beautiful bokeh and low-light scenes, having been designed to offer a pro-standard shallow depth of field. It has a built-in stepping motor for fast, quiet autofocus when shooting video and features an i-Function control button, which allows users to control select camera settings from the lens. Price: TBA. samsung.com
Canon EF 24–70mm f/4L IS USM. Built for full-frame Canon DSLRs such as the new Canon 6D, this relatively compact, lightweight wide-to-moderate-telephoto zoom is claimed to deliver L-series pro-level image quality over its entire range thanks to aspheric and two UD (ultra-low dispersion) elements. It also gets very close, with full macro mode up to 0.7x magnification. Other key features include: hybrid IS image stabilization said to deliver a four-stop advantage in handheld shooting; dust- and water-resistant construction; and a nine-bladed circular diaphragm for beautiful, soft backgrounds and pictorial effects. $1,499. usa.canon.com
Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12–35mm f/2.8 Asph. This professional-grade X-series lens features ultra ED chromatic aberration reduction glass and four aspherical lens elements. It’s equipped with Panasonic’s Power OIS image stabilization system with near silent drive optimized for video and still capture. It also uses extra-low refractive index Nano Surface coating and has a moisture and dust-sealed metal body. $1,299.99. panasonic.com
Sony 16–50mm f/3.5–5.6 OSS. This ingenious wide-to-medium-tele zoom for Sony NEX E-mount cameras retracts to keep the camera pocket-sized, extending only 1.2 inches from the body, and it provides a very useful equivalent focal-length range of 24–75mm. A plus for video shooters is its power zoom capability in AF mode using an internal stepping motor! Other features include: built-in Optical SteadyShot (OSS) image stabilization; four aspheric surfaces and one ED (extra-low dispersion) element for enhanced, sharpness and aberration correction; a 9.8-inch minimum focus distance; and a circular seven-bladed diaphragm. $350. sony.com
Leica Vario-Elmar-S 30–90mm f/3.5–5.6 Asph. This compact standard zoom lens designed for Leica S-series cameras using the Leica Pro format (30x45mm) is currently the only 3x zoom available in the digital medium-format sector. It provides an equivalent 35mm focal-length range from 24–72mm, is said to deliver excellent image quality over its entire range, and is sealed against dust and water splashes. Other features include: a 14-element, 11-group formula that incorporates low dispersion and aspheric elements; a minimum focus of 2.1 feet; and a weight of 2.8 pounds: $9,950. us.lecia-camera.com
HD Pentax D FA 645 Macro 90mm f/2.8 ED AW SR. Exclusively for Pentax medium-format 645D SLR camera bodies, this medium-telephoto lens offers a 35mm equivalent focal length of 71mm (or 56mm on a Pentax 645 film-format body). By incorporating two ED elements and one glass-molded aspherical element in its optics, the lens assures high-resolution image reproduction over the entire image field, while effectively minimizing chromatic aberration. Other features include: shake reduction; macro focusing at 0.5x; HD coating, a new high-grade multilayer lens coating said to offer higher light transmittance with reduced reflection to eliminate flare and ghosting; Pentax’s Aero Bright coating to optimize light transmittance while minimizing refraction; and dustproof, weatherproof construction. $4,499.95. pentaximaging.com
Sony 35mm f/1.8. This Alpha E-mount lens is a compact high-speed normal prime lens for APS-C-format Sony NEX cameras. It provides an equivalent focal length of 52.5mm that’s ideal for creating pictorial effects with limited depth of field, or capturing high-speed or low-light images. A linear motor controls focus and a stepping motor controls aperture, delivering smooth, silent autofocus optimized for HD video. Other features include: built-in OSS image stabilization; direct manual focus; and a seven-bladed circular diaphragm for enhanced bokeh. $449. sony.com
Canon EF 35mm f/2 IS USM. This high-speed standard prime lens is a considerably upgraded version of a Canon classic designed for full-frame or APS-C-format Canon cameras. It combines hybrid image stabilization, a rear focusing system, an ultra sonic motor (USM) and a micro-stepping drive aperture to deliver quick, quiet AF and AE, and steadier shots in low light. It enables creative pictorial effects with limited depth of field at its widest apertures. Other features include: one glass-molded aspheric element for enhanced image quality; a ring-type USM low-speed drive for video; full-time MF in AF mode; and an eight-bladed circular diaphragm. $849.99. usa.canon.com