Photography / Buying Guide

Notable SLR Lenses of 2014

Throughout the course of 2014, a number of notable SLR lenses were released, running the gamut from optically refined, fast primes to versatile and long-reaching zooms, with all other realms covered in between. While the lens releases varied from manufacturer to manufacturer and system to system, a number of distinct themes became recognizable, which act as foundation points from which to compare and contrast different lenses, as well as gauge expectations regarding the future of contemporary SLR lens design.

High-Quality, Fast Primes

One of the most compelling new themes of lens design that is beginning to make headway is the development of standard-length prime lenses with truly excellent optical performance. In contrast to designing for faster maximum apertures, exotic focal lengths, or constant zooms, this trend is focusing on some of the most common prime focal lengths. Compared to other lenses of such focal lengths (50mm and 85mm), these lenses are being completely redeveloped from the tried-and-true constructions and updated to garner the most from the newest high-resolution sensor designs. Two of the main players in this arena are Zeiss and Sigma, who pushed this category in 2014 with the Otus 85mm f/1.4 Apo Planar T* lens and 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art lens, respectively.

In regard to Zeiss, the renowned German optics powerhouse, the 85mm is the second lens in their manual focus Otus lineup, and follows last year’s famed 50mm f/1.4, widely dubbed as one of the greatest 50mm lenses ever designed for DSLRs. The 85mm continues with the same agenda and, again, sees no optical compromises. It is a portrait-length apochromat that includes one aspherical element and a floating-elements design; or in other words, is designed to eliminate nearly all chromatic and spherical aberrations for maintained color accuracy around subject edges at all aperture settings. Other noted features of this lens include its all-metal lens barrel, high-visibility yellow scale markings, grippy focus ring with a long focus throw, and the trademark T* anti-reflective coating.

Countering the Zeiss lens’s prowess is Sigma’s formidable 50mm f/1.4, which holds the clear distinction over the Otus lenses as being a high-quality prime with autofocus. This HSM (Hyper Sonic Motor) delivers quiet, quick focusing performance to pair well with modern DSLRs for faster-paced shooting applications than the Zeiss, yet also features sophisticated optical construction that includes one aspherical element and three Special Low Dispersion elements. This structure pairs with a large-diameter design to maintain even sharpness and brightness throughout the aperture range while also controlling aberrations and color fringing. Like the Zeiss, a floating system is used for high rendering capabilities at all focus and aperture positions, and a Super Multi-Layered Coating works to reduce flare and ghosting for increased contrast.

While each of these primes is certainly suited for different image makers due to the key difference in focusing methods and, of course, their difference in focal length, the central theme is how lens designers are working to re-develop classic focal lengths for the contemporary imaging needs of the ever-improving image sensors.

Dueling 400mm Super Telephotos

At the other end of prime lens design, two other heavyweights of the camera world, namely Canon and Nikon, both released 400mm telephoto lenses for their respective DSLR systems. Both succeeding previous iterations of these lenses, the updated versions are designed for improved optical quality, weather sealing, and image-stabilization performance.

Along with being the newest super telephoto lens in the EF lens lineup, the Canon EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM is also the newest diffractive optics lens, which strives to lessen the overall weight and size while maintaining enhanced correction for chromatic and spherical aberrations. Gapless dual-layer diffractive optics is the defining feature of this lens, helping to prevent a decline in diffraction efficiency that can result from a layer of air between optics. A large diameter aspherical element and UD (Ultra-Low Dispersion) element are also incorporated into the design. Protective fluorine coatings on both the front and rear elements, along with weather-resistant construction, benefit this lens’s use in trying conditions while an inner focusing Ultra Sonic Motor and Power Focus mode complement fast and intuitive handling. Additionally, an Optical Image Stabilizer is also incorporated, which compensates for up to four stops of camera shake and features three dedicated modes for specific types of shooting, including standard, panning, and during exposure only.

On the Nikon front, 2014 saw the release of the AF-S NIKKOR 400mm f/2.8E FL ED VR lens, which succeeds their previous 400mm f/2.8 lens and incorporates two fluorite elements and two extra-low dispersion elements into its design. Coupled with a Nano Crystal Coating, this fast telephoto strives to nearly eliminate chromatic and spherical aberrations, as well as thoroughly control lens flare and ghosting for consistently high-contrast, color-neutral imagery. Similar to the Canon lens, this Nikon optic incorporates a front fluorine-coated meniscus element that pairs with weather-resistant barrel construction to suit working in inclement conditions. Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor offers fast and quiet AF performance and the Vibration Reduction image stabilization compensates for up to four stops of camera shake. Among other notable features of this lens is an electromagnetic aperture mechanism that aids exposure consistency when shooting high-speed bursts, and an inner focusing design with full-time manual focus override.

Both fast and flexible in control and performance, the 400mm focal length is one of the most versatile super-telephoto designs used for a wide array of shooting styles, ranging from sports to wildlife to reportage.

The New Telephoto Zoom Standard

Deviating from the standout prime lenses of the year, much of the attention in regard to zoom lenses during 2014 surrounded a common focal-length range, namely 150-600mm. Two manufacturers in particular embraced this long reaching range: Sigma and Tamron. Beginning at a standard telephoto and expanding to a very long super telephoto length, these lenses have been designed for ultimate versatility when working with distant subjects.

Beginning with Tamron, their SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD lens was announced at the end of 2013; however, it became available for the first time in 2014. This 4x zoom is complemented by Vibration Compensation (VC) image stabilization, for the Canon EF and Nikon F mounts, which compensates for camera shake, while an Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) AF motor provides fast, near-silent focusing performance that can be manually overridden at any point. Three low-dispersion elements control distortions and aberrations throughout the zoom range while eBAND and BBAR coatings suppress flare and ghosting.

Following up Tamron’s release at the beginning of the year, Sigma recently matched that offering with the 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports lens, which is the second lens in its performance-oriented Sports line of telephoto zoom lenses. Differing in optical design, the Sigma version features two “F” Low Dispersion elements and three Special Low Dispersion elements within its 24 elements in 16 groups design (versus Tamron’s 20 elements in 13 groups). Common to other Sigma lenses, this 150-600mm utilizes a Hyper Sonic Motor for quiet focusing and an Optical Stabilizer to reduce the appearance of camera shake. Also unique to Sigma, this lens is compatible with Sigma’s USB Dock for customizing focusing and stabilization settings based on specific shooting needs.

Poised to be a standard telephoto zoom for many photographers, the new 150-600mm focal length range is quite suitable for an array of shooting applications, ranging from portraiture at the wide end to wildlife and sports at the 600mm end.

The White Unicorn Has Arrived

The end of 2014 saw the release of one of the most anticipated lenses in recent memory—a lens that many have been waiting for, for more than a decade. The Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM is a newly designed upgrade to the company’s popular EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS USM, and with it comes a slew of improvements in both the optical and functional realms. Physically, the lens gains a more intuitive rotation-type zoom control, compared to the previous lens's push-pull mechanism, and also has an updated tripod mount that can be removed while the lens is attached to the camera. The image stabilization system compensates for up to four stops of camera shake and a ring-type Ultrasonic Motor offers quick and quiet AF performance.

On the optical front, fluorite and Super Ultra Low Dispersion glass is employed to control chromatic aberrations and distortions throughout the zoom range, and a newly developed Air Sphere Coating has also been applied to maintain light transmission and minimize backlit flaring and ghosting.

Another unique touch this version adds is the new dedicated ET-83D lens hood, which features a small side window for easier control over polarizers or other rotating filters while the hood is in place.

Notable Wide-Angle Zooms

At the other end of the zoom lens spectrum, wide-angle zooms occupy an area that consistently sees growth and progression due to the popularity of working with a wide range of differing focal lengths. Compared to telephoto zoom lenses, wide-angle zooms tend to span a shorter range of focal lengths, yet each position can offer drastic results. Wide-angle zooms are prized for their versatility in altering the perspective of an image and can be well matched to a broad range of working conditions.

The middle of 2014 saw the release of Canon’s EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens, which serves as an alternative for the successful 16-35mm f/2.8. Separating itself from its f/2.8 relative, though, the f/4 version is unique in that it features an Optical Image Stabilizer to minimize the appearance of camera shake. While forfeiting a stop in light, the added benefit of image stabilization can compensate for up to four shutter-speed steps to benefit its use in difficult lighting conditions. Its optical design includes three aspherical elements and two UD elements to control aberrations and distortions, while a constant f/4 maximum aperture offers consistent illumination throughout the zoom range as well. A ring-type Ultrasonic Motor offers fast, precise, and quiet focusing while an internal focusing design and full-time manual focus override promote intuitive and fast handling. Additionally, as an L lens, this lens is fully weather sealed when paired with an optional Protect filter for use in inclement shooting conditions.

Another standout wide-angle zoom from this year, albeit for a much larger format, is the HD Pentax-DA645 28-45mm f/4.5 ED AW SR lens. As one of the more noteworthy medium format lenses of late, this 22-35.5mm equivalent zoom is unique among other medium format lenses through its inclusion of Shake Reduction image stabilization to minimize the appearance of camera shake by up to 3.5 stops. This proves especially useful when working handheld with the Pentax 645Z or 645D cameras, which feature sensor sizes around 44 x 33mm that tend to magnify any camera shake during shooting. Beyond the Shake Reduction of the lens, it also features an internal focusing DC autofocus motor, quick-shift focusing for moving between AF and MF, and weather-resistant construction to pair well with the 645Z/D cameras. Extra-low dispersion glass elements reduce chromatic aberrations and both HD and Aero Bright coatings maintain consistent light transmission with minimized flare and reflections.

As 2014 comes to a close, some of these lens themes can certainly be seen as pointers to where the world of lens design will continue to evolve over the coming years. The focus on developing lenses for updated sensor designs, along with offering new and unique focal lengths are certain themes on which most manufacturers seem to be keen. On the other hand, surprising introductions, such as the return to the standard focal length primes or reworking of previously released focal lengths, gives added assurance of maintaining a strong foundation from which to expand complete lens systems for future camera and image-sensor development.

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Camera equipment prices are just ridiculous.  Prices are in the stratosphere.  It's not a hobby for many.

If you want to know why a (fill in the blank) costs so much, make one ;-)

While I might sympathize with you, Jarob D, these lenses (though I saw NO reference to pricing in this article) are NOT geared towards hobbiests, and the prices of "professional" photo equipment today is much in keeping with the prices of any time in MY lifetime of buying "pro gear" seemingly, to me,the prices coupled with inflation, are much MORE attainable. If you want "hobby", look at the "hobby" section/equipment..... it's there for the asking and, truthfully, it is pretty astounding in quality and options!

As a retired photojournalist w/Black-Star, I can honestly say that only a few lenses here would find a place in a pro bag, thus qualifing them as pro-lenes. (Slow-bulky-zooms would not be considered for instance, even in today's non-film digital universe.) Primes and fast L-glass teles & short zooms are preferred of course. That said, the Pro indusrty depends & needs the hobbiest market to buy cameras and lenses in great numbers, for without them, there would be NO PRO LENSES at these prices at all. They would be twice as much. So while I agree with the original poster that prices are starting to inflate beyond their reach, camera and lens manufacturers must consider their MOST important buying audience, the hobbiest at all times because if they succeed in pushing out the hobbiest because of pricing, you can kiss every lens on this page, and at these prices goodbye! (Even worse, they would go out of business.)   

Cameras come and go. A good Lens is forever.

This is the truth. Very good, expensive, lenses are forever and their resale value is generally high. Try to find a used Nikon 300mm f/2.8 ED-IF II AF-S Nikkor and you will see what I mean.

A good lens may last forever, but if it is coupled with a camera which is no longer made, it may not be worth much at all.  Take, for example, various lenses made for the Minolta line of cameras.  Resale value of those dropped precipitously.

Minolta Lens made for Maxxum cameras work just fine with A-Mount Sony cameras and are one of the best bargains for those with limited funds. The quality will match equivalent Nikon & Canon lenses. As long a stores like B&H and others exist, the lens will be available. The system can be built on a budget that will allow others in the family to still eat, and last long enough to be handed down to heirs. Mr. Bridges rightly points out the system won't get much on the market, but will be priceless to give to someone who wants to be involved in photography but lacks funds to expanded as knowledge increases. 

 That is why I have always owned Nikon gear. I can still use all my lenses back from 1977 to present with my Nikon DSLR bodies.  But of course the quality of todays lenses is far better than those 20-30 yrs ago, they can still be used.  My Hasselblad 500cm is still a great working camera.  But now that I do not earn a living from my photography I cannot justify $30K on a Hasselblad body.

 Rick said: "Camera's come and go, lenses are forever." 

  True. GOOD lenses don't face nearly the same level of inevitable obsolecence that is inherently in cameras. I still use ALL 10 Nikon lenses collected over 44 years while 60% of the cameras are on a shelf.  I could have saved thousands of dollars but life would have been different.  Over time your lens system will feel more like a "family gathering."  Be choosey who you let in your family of lenses.  A funky lens in your camera system is like a crazy cousin parked on your lawn.  

I can't say enough about the new Canon 200-4oo!  Awesome lens! 

Guess you are talking about the new 100-400? :-)

The links for the two 150-600mm zooms both fail.

Why are we still being sold RUBBISH.

I am sick of looking at lenses F./4, especially the telephoto.

Lets start to see some F./1.4 lenses that can really take a photo, after all the cameras have the means to be able to record supurb images.

   I don't believe that we are being sold "RUBBISH"!

   If you look at telephoto lenses that are f/4.0, 500mm/600mm that cost about $10,000.00 no one could afford either if the aperature was    f/1.4 and they would be so heavy that you wouldn't even want to think about lifting one.. Now there are lenses, the 400mm and 300mm f/2.8 that are closer to your desired goal but they range from $6,700.00 to about $12,000.00. There are also two other company's that make a 150/600mm zoom and they cost about $1,200.00 and fine pictures are being done every day with these and they are f/5.0-6.3. The photographer takes the picture or better yet makes the picture. I'm very happy with all that's out there for us to choose from. Maybe you need to take a closer look at what's available because supurb images are being produced and aperatures are just part of the process.

There are physical limits (particularly diffraction limiting) which prevent a feasible 400mm f/1.4 without making the lens huge. It's not a matter of quality, but of optics. There are some ways to overcome diffraction limiting, but they involve metamaterials and will need more research before they can become commercially viable (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Superlens).

Though thinking a bit more about it, it's aberration rather than diffraction which would be tricky at wider apertures. Still, the point stands that it's still in the domain of research.

Who wouldn't want to see a supertelephoto f1.4 lens, but they just aren't practical.  Take a look at the 400mm f2.8 if you're trying to get the best of both worlds.  Even those lenses are are a trade off in terms of cost and weight.  Anything wider/longer than that, and you're not going to want to carry it around, and most people couldn't afford to.  Personally, I'm not going to drop $12,000+ on a lens that I might need for one or two cool shots.  You can still get plenty of good shots at the f4-f5 range.  If you're really looking to bring in that much light at those focal lengths, you might want to look at getting a telescope with a camera mount.

Is it possible for me to trade in my Canon 17-85 lens for a Canon 18-200 or 2??.

Hi Joe -

You may inquire about trading in your gear with our B&H USED Department.

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com

I have no hope to get even a mid range wide angle lens

Mr. Akhtar, please check out the used department at B&H, they have good reasonable prices and stand behind everything they sell. I'm sure you can afford a used lens. Good Luck.

What are the specfication on the TV HD camera lens? How come camera telephoto lens do not come close to the TV lens sharpness? What are the specifications of the human eye. How come camera lens can't match them?

I’m not sure what “TV HD” lenses you are referring to in order to give you a specific comparison, however many of the lenses discussed above are used in current TV and Movie production which both commonly utilize both HD and 4K resolutions, and do so quite sharply.  The human eye has a field of view roughly equivalent to 50mm on a 35mm/full-frame format.

would you want to carry around a box lense? because for most sport broadcasts thats what is being used. Let me tell you they are heavy!

That Canon 100-400mm looks sweet, too bad the Nikon equal is priced just under a small car LOL.  I wonder if there is a lens converter from Canon to Nikon???

High end lenses are priced pointed for the elitest or the pro who can take a tax write-off. Do you REALLY believe there is $12,000 in manufacturing and re-sale? Diamonds or lenses...both have marketing price points that have little to do with actual value and more to do with supply and demand.

I laughed-out-loud when I saw a local camera store announce a "Leica Room!"

The new Nikon 80-400mm lens is only about $500 over the price of the version II of the Canon 100-400mm lens (see links below for current pricing).    There are adapters which will allow the use of select Nikon F mount lenses on Canon EOS bodies, there are not any adapters which would facilitate the use of a Canon EOS lens on a Nikon DSLR body unfortunately.

http://bhpho.to/1j9ayG7

http://bhpho.to/1qCKllh

There is a conversion, get rid of your Nikon system and convert to Canon. 

Interesting that Nikon had a 300mm F/2 back in the manual focus, emulsion film days, but when AF/digital equipmenet appeared, that item didn't reappear as an AF, Nano, SW, VR.  I noticed a used one for sale in HK for $30K+.  Pretty stratospheric for a hobbyist or pro. So the technology is there to build one, if the big guys decide we need an ultra-fast super tele.  Is the price point the only consideration?

Yo varias veces he estado en su oficina y en alguna ocacion compre una camara NIKON D90 la cual se destruyo o daño, pero como dure varios años sin regresar no puede hacer efectivo la garantia. Ahora compre aca una Nikon 3100.

Dame precios e instrucciones

Estuve en una seccion de cmaras y lentes de segunda a **** precio.  Quiero un **** segundaso de 400mm NIKKOR f / 2.8E FL ED VR AF-S

Por favor, comuniquese con nosotros por e-mail a spanish@bhphotovideo.com y le ayudaremos con el lente que requiere.

As a true hobbiest, I feel like I am going to the camera gods for advice but seriously, anything you could tell me would be appreciated.... My very generous sister (pro photographer) has given me her Canon EOS 5D body with a Tamron AF 28-300mm F/3.5-6.3 (IF) Macro A20 lens. I should note that I am stepping up from a Canon 60D and use a EFS 18-200mm lens. 

I will be returning her Tamron lens after a bit of experimenting with this new camera so I will need to purchase a similar lens to hers.  I do like having a decent zoom as well as macro shots which I am unable to do with my lens on my 60D.

Any recommendations / advise?

 

Depends on both your budget and your focal-length needs.

The wide focal-length zooms (like your sister's Tamron 28-300 and your EF-S 18-200) offer great versatility, but usually at the cost of image quality.

A "lot" of photographers buy a Canon FF body (6D or 5DIII) in a kit with either a 24-70 f/4L IS or 24-105 f/4L IS lens, and then sell the lens separately for a reaonable price. It saves them money vs. a body-only purchase, and creates a supply of new "white box" lenses.

The 24-70 has a "macro" function that, while not as good as a dedicated macro lens, offers close focus and higher magnification than other zooms in the same focal length range. The 24-105 lacks the macro function, but has a longer zoom range.

Either lens would be a great match for your "new" 5D, and good start for your EF kit.

I can see that this article is listing lenses for full frame cameras only (and one for medium format). Currently many pro photographers are using cameras like the Panasonic GH4 which is amazingly good for video.
A notable lens in the MFT format arrived recently (I can see some reviews at this website already), the Olympus 40-150mm f/2.8 (a very remarkable lens), and I'm pretty sure that at the very end of 2013 it was announced the Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 lens that should came into the market at the beginning of 2014.
None of this lenses are mentioned in this article, but to me they are both very notable.

Canons New EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x is outstanding compaired to Canons EF 400mm f/4

Only professional photographers can afford the pricing of some of these lenses, if that.  Need to keep the cost undet $1,000 if you want to reach the enthusiast, which I imagine is your largest buyer's market based on reviews.  I can afford them but I refuse to pay these prices.  I will put my money into quality editing photo software first.

What about full frame E-mount lenses for the new Sony a7 and a7R cameras.  Since my portfolio of Olympus lenses for my OM-2 35mm camera aren't fully compatible, I need to add a good lense in the 100-400mm range for my new a7R.  The selection seems to be slim to none since I bought my camera last summer.  Any updates on best current lense options and what is due to be available in the near future?

In the past Sony has indicated that they will continue to make lenses for both their A mount cameras as well as the E mount used by the A7 series cameras.  For now the solution they offer is to use the LAEA4 A mount lens to E mount body adapter.  This would then allow you to avail yourself to any of the A mount lenses.  Following are two links, the first is to the Sony LAEA4 adapter, and the second is to a link of selected telephoto lenses for the A mount for you to consider coupling with the adapter on your A7/A7r cameras. 

http://bhpho.to/1bKe4G1

http://bhpho.to/1wxmgPC