Hot tip: sometimes, the best lenses aren’t very expensive. It has to do with your budget — and lots of good lens performance can be had super affordably. We’ve reviewed the most lenses in the real-world of any standing publication. And so we’re rounding up the best lenses under $500 that came out in 2023.
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How We Test and Choose the Best Lenses Under $500 of 2023
- The Phoblographer’s various product round-up features are done in-house. Our philosophy is simple: you wouldn’t get a Wagyu beef steak review from a lifelong vegetarian. And you wouldn’t get photography advice from someone who doesn’t touch the product. We only recommend gear we’ve fully reviewed in these roundups.
- If you’re wondering why your favorite product didn’t make the cut, there’s a chance it’s on another list. If we haven’t reviewed it, we won’t recommend it. This method keeps our lists packed with industry-leading knowledge. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission. You can read more about our ethics on this on our Disclaimer page.
- When we test products we’ve got various things in mind. First off, we consider who might want to buy the product and what they might do with it. With that in mind, we try to tackle at least three genres of photography with that product in a variety of situations. For example, if a lens has weather resistance, then we’ll test it accordingly with a weather-resistant camera. We also test the autofocus of the lens in continuous mode, single mode, with exposure preview effects, without those effects, and then with all the major image quality parameters. These days, no one really makes a bad lens — but some are far better than others. And that’s what we’re trying to find in our reviews.
- In all of our roundups, we’re basing our findings on the reviews that we’ve done. We’re choosing a favorite, but we’re also giving photographers a bunch of others that they might like, depending on how they shoot.
Our Choice Amongst the Best Lenses Under $500 of 2023: Funleader X Brightin Star 28mm f2.8
Well, Funleader did it! It’s a 28mm pancake lens with a faster aperture than other lenses put out previously. Sure, using it might be a bit difficult unless you’re used to vintage-operating optics. But this lens doesn’t fail to satisfy us at all times. It’s got character, beauty, build quality, and so much more.
Mount: Leica M-mount
Format: 35mm full frame
Focal Length: 28mm
Aperture Range: F2.8-16
Angle of View: 75.3°
Lens Groups / Elements: 5 / 6
Aperture Blades: 10
Minimum Focus Distance: 0.7 m (2.30 ft)
Filter Diameter: 25.5mm
Rangefinder Coupling: Yes
Body Material: Brass, black paint
What We Think
In our review, we state:
Well, I don’t know who wouldn’t want the Funleader X Brightin Star 28mm f2.8 lens. However, it’s not because of the image quality. Instead, I think you’d be more enamored with the small size. Some of us might never take it off the camera because of that. If you shoot film and get all the character from film instead, then you’ll like this.
If you own the Leica CL or its other analog variants, put this lens on it. No one is bound to take it seriously if you do, so you can get into anywhere you’d like.
For Some Photographers, these Might Be The Best Lenses Under $500 of 2023
With affordable lenses, you’re surely getting compromises. But for most photographers, those are just fine. Some don’t need the highest end features. And others really just want to meet a price point and do all the rest on their own. Here are some of the other best lenses under $500.
Canon RF 28mm f2.8
In our review, we state:
The small size and affordable price point are the most unique features of the Canon RF 28mm f2.8. The $300 pancake lens is both easy on the budget and on the back. As an entry-level lens, it’s not designed with Canon’s top-tier optical technology but still uses three aspheric elements and Super Spectra Coating to reduce ghosting and flare.
Viltrox 35mm f1.8
In our review we state:
Aside from the occasional softness at lower apertures, I don’t really have any complaints about this lens. Even then, it’s not a complete miss. It just doesn’t turn out as sharp as you hope it would. That could also have more to do with the optics than the focus itself. You don’t get Nikon’s S lens sharpness from this, but I dare say it does better than the F-mount AF-S 35mm f1.8. This lens emerges as a solid contender, bridging the gap between creative expression and affordability among 35mm wide aperture autofocus lenses.
Astrhori 50mm f1.4 Tilt
In our review, we said:
The Astrhori 50mm f1.4 Tilt is a lovely little metal tilt-shift lens that sells for under $300. The wide aperture and tilting design create some beautiful bokeh and a narrow slice of focus. Directed at the sun, the lens can generate some epic creative flare. With mounts available for Sony E, Leica L, Micro Four Thirds, Canon R, Nikon Z, and Fuji X, it’s also a lens that will fit a variety of different bodies — and budgets. The metal build will also win over many photographers.
Using This Guide to the Best Lenses Under $500 of 2023
If you’re considering purchasing anything from this list of the best lenses under $500 of 2023, consider the following:
- All the product images and sample photos in these roundups are shot by our staff. In fact, we don’t talk about products at length in roundups like this unless we’ve done full reviews of them. But you can surely know that we’ve done all the research ourselves.
- All the best lenses under $500 in this list are prime lenses. Affordable zoom lenses are surely made. But they’re not as affordable as prime lenses are. After all, prime lenses make you a better photographer and force you to think differently.
- Canon, Nikon, and Sony all make great 50mm lenses. But in 2023, only Canon came out with something worth discussing.
- There are lots more affordable lenses that we could’ve chosen. But we narrow the list down to these.
- Our tests of the best lenses under $500 of 2023 were all done in-house with our staff.
- The best lenses under $500 in this list are well-built. But none of them are weather-resistant. So be careful because many things can affect their long-term performance.
- A tilt-shift lens? Well, the Astrohori is actually just a tilt lens, and the focus doesn’t shift at all. The photo industry needs more of these kinds of lenses.
- We’d never recommend a product to you that we haven’t tested or that we really didn’t like. You can reference our linked reviews, for more information on this.
Picking the Right One For You
If you’re still a bit confused as to the right lens for you, here are some questions to ask yourself
- What’s your budget?
- How will you use the product?
- What lighting situations are you in, and how will that affect what you’re doing? Our reviews hyperlinked in this article can help with that.
- Are you traveling a lot with it?
- Will you be using it in a situation that’s a bit rougher?
- Who else uses this product? How are they using it?
- What’s so appealing about this product that I can’t get from what I have already or something else?
- When will I really have time to use this product?
- Where will I bring this product?
- How will this product help bring me joy and joy in my photography?
These are just a few of the questions that we ask ourselves, but we think that you should ask yourself these for sure.