If you’re shopping for a new lens of some sort, you’ve come to just the right place. As per the results of my recent reader polls, here is a list of the best lenses you can get your hands on without breaking the bank too much.
Edit: Due to popularity of this posting, Amazon links have also been inserted. Please support The Phoblographer.
Edit 1/2/2010: I have updated this list to include Pentax and Sony lenses due to popular demand.
Editor 4/14/2013: And we’ve edited the list again
Canon 50mm F1.8/F1.4- When I first moved to Canon, I started out with the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II
. Though it has some slight quirks to it (autofocus is a bit hard to do at time and can be slow) it is still a wonderful general purpose lens and an excellent lens for when videos need to be shot at something like a concert. Stopped down to F4, it is wonderfully sharp.
If you can afford it, the Canon EF 50mm f1.4 USM is much better and is one of Canon’s best buys.
Canon 100mm Macro 2.8- Known as one of Canon’s sharpest lenses, users will appreciate the versatility available with using a lens like this. One can go from shooting portraits, to macro products, to the fine details at a wedding, and to even sports shooting when put in a cropped sensor body like a 7D or a 50D (available at a rebate at the time of writing this article.) One really can’t go wrong with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro USM.
Canon 85mm F1.8- This is my second favorite lens in my camera bag. The Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM allows for super sharp portraits, headshots, and even candid moments when shooting events or a wedding. What’s great is that you have a telephoto reach without having a really large lens that tends to attract attention: therefore making the photographer more discrete and also allowing them not to disturb their subjects.
Canon 35mm F2.0- The Canon EF 35mm f2.0 is a great lens for events or photojournalism type shooting. This lens is great for capturing environmental portraits, and also for giving a real feel for what the vibe is like at an event. Combined with a flash, it can be great on the dance floor of a party and delivers sharp results with wonderful color.
Canon 40mm f2.8- For years, Canon users have been asking for a pancake lens. Though it took them a while, the Canon 40mm f2.8 is the company’s answer to that challenge and from our review, it seems like it was well worth the wait. The 40mm f2.8 is sharp edge to edge, focuses quickly and is extremely affordable. It’s more than earned its right on this list.
Nikon 50mm F1.8/F1.4- The Nikon 50mm f/1.8D AF is sharper than Canon’s but doesn’t deliver as pleasing out-of-focus areas. In fact, it’s quite a bit sharper and comes with a slightly higher price as well. The Nikon 50mm f/1.4D AF is used widely at concerts and weddings in addition to photographers who capture portraits with cameras like a D300s. Many wedding photographers actually do this and deliver some fantastic and lovely results. I’ve seen some prints from photographers in Brooklyn shooting by the Brooklyn Bridge, and combined with their SB-900 flashes, it does some great work on quite the budget.
Also be sure to consider the newer 50mm F/1.8 G.
Nikon AF-S 35mm F1.8- I’ve tried this lens on the Nikon D3x before. For the price, Nikon photographers get a lens that will stick with them in their bags forever. A lens like this is sharp, focuses surprisingly fast, and can be used for photo shoots, shooting couples, portraits, weddings, etc. Many portrait photographers I know actually use the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G AF-S DX.
Nikkor 28mm F2.8D- Nikon’s wide angle primes are becoming legendary, and the Nikon 28mm f2.8D AF is quite worth its weight in dollars. A lens like this is great for getting up close and personal with your subjects, like children, dogs, etc. Otherwise, it is great for shooting landscapes and some street photography.
Nikkor 85mm F1.8D- Although it’s not the absolutely gorgeous F1.4, the Nikon 85mm f1.8D AF is a lens that is seen on many Nikon photographers’ cameras. This lens is the essential lens for portrait photographers and those looking to do in studio work. Stopped down to around F2.8 it becomes super sharp. The feel and construction of this lens will also not disappoint.
Nikon 40mm f2.8- If you’re a Nikon user looking for a nice macro lens, the 40mm f2.8 is your answer. Becoming essentially a 60mm f2.8 lens, it is an interesting perspective leaning towards the longer side of the normal field of view range. Combined with a fast f2.8 aperture, it’s the lens you’ll want to tote around when you want to do a couple of projects at home.
Micro Four Thirds
Panasonic 20mm F1.7- As perhaps the most favorite lens amongst Micro Four Thirds photographers, the Panasonic LUMIX G 20mm f1.7 delivers wonderful results in all types of lighting and also does this in a small pancake type body.
Olympus M. Zukio 17mm F2.8- An alternative to the 20mm for those that want a wider field of view, the Olympus 17mm f2.8 Lens is still a great lens for the Micro Four Thirds system due to sharp image quality and wide aperture.
Olympus 45mm f1.8- Despite the fact that everyone drools over the Olympus 75mm f1.8, this is the lens we recommend more than any others due to the wider field of view and the fast f1.8 aperture. This is the lens you’ll want to shoot wide open or just barely stopped down all day and all night. And if you’re a Micro Four Thirds users going for a budget friendly option, this is the best you can get.
Olympus 60mm f2.8- The Olympus 60mm f2.8 is another macro lens option–but the killer feature of this lens is the weather sealing. We’ve tested it out and we approve; it’s sharp, contrasty, and really overall quite good. As always though, we recommend using flashes to take advantage of specular highlights.
Sony Alpha and NEX
Sony 50mm F/1.8 DT- Designed specifically for Sony APS-C sensor sized cameras, the venerable Sony 50mm F/1.8will allow your Sony DSLR to photograph subjects with razor thin depth of field while rendering a gorgeous out of focus area. Of all the 50mm F/1.8 lenses I’ve tried, this one perhaps has the best build quality to it. Like all 50mm lenses, if you’re able to throw down a bit more money then you can get the Sony 50mm f/1.4 Lensdesigned for full frame DSLRs.
Sony 35mm F/1.8- On an APS-C sensor DSLR it will be around 50mm. Students, hobbyists, street photographers trying to remain incognito, and portrait shooters will come to appreciate the Sony 35mm F/1.8.
Those of you that want to stick with Sony for the long run should strongly consider this lens because the Sony 35mm F/1.4may be out of your price range for a while.
Sony 28mm F/2.8- This is the lens designed for people that want to shoot wider. For the price point, there is little to complain about.
Sony 85mm F/2.8- It’s a pity that Sony doesn’t have an F/1.8 lens in this focal length. However, for the price point (as this is a budget lens compilation) you’ll find that this can be a more affordable option than what the competition has to offer.
Rokinon 8mm f2.8- This is a fast aperture fisheye lens, but the images that we captured with it were some of the best we’ve seen with an NEX camera. Rokinon lenses render color differently than everyone else and because they are manual focus optics, they can focus much more on putting in some top notch glass.
Sony 50mm f1.8 NEX- This is a big one; of any lens made by Sony, the 50mm f1.8 has to be hands down the sharpest optic that we’ve tested for the system thus far. It’s contrasty, sharp, and takes advantage of any Sony NEX sensor to create some beautiful bokeh and images that will leave you bedazzled.
Sony 35mm f1.8 NEX- This a also one of Sony’s sharp optics, but it isn’t as sharp as we originally expected it to be. After some thought though, it made sense as to why it isn’t–and the trade off is that there is image stabilization built into the lens. Generally, when there is stabilization, the image quality can suffer because the elements need to be made smaller for the function to work. But trust us, it’s still very much worth it.
Pentax 50mm F/1.4- Most Pentax users will know from reading and research around the interwebs that Pentax’s strength lies with their prime lenses. For portrait shooters using their APS-C sized DSLRs (not that Pentax makes a full frame at the time of writing this posting) this will be your ideal focal length because of how flat the lens will render the image when combined with the sensor. The faster aperture of the Pentax 50mm F/1.4will mean that if you have an older DSLR that you won’t always have to raise the ISOs to nuclear meltdown levels.
If I were to recommend one lens to get, this would be it.
Pentax 35mm F/2.4- The Pentax 35mm F/2.4is a lens that will give users an approximate 50mm field of view. As the ultimate street photography lens for APS-C DSLRs at this price point, you’ll perhaps want to set your camera to aperture priority and leave it wide open at F/2.4 in order to capture all you’ll need for your street scenes. Perhaps this is what gives it loads of value at this price.
Pentax 40mm F/2.8 Limited- Pentax’s line of Limited lenses are coveted by all Pentaxians. Having an affordable option in this small package will make you the cool kid on the block amongst your Pentaxian kin. The Pentax DA 40mm f/2.8pancake will be a must-have option for photographers that like to remain discrete or those that always want to keep their cameras on them. Without a larger prime or a bulky zoom lens, you won’t have any excuse to have your camera on you at all.
What other lenses do you recommend?
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