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An impressive transformation has been taking place on the optical front over the past few years, and that trend is accelerating, going into 2015, with scores of new interchangeable lenses being introduced by major camera makers and lens companies alike. These innovative lenses run the gamut, from those designed for mirrorless interchangeable-lens cameras to APS-C and full-frame DSLRs, and this optical explosion greatly enhances the range of creative opportunities for picture takers at all levels, from casual shooters to pros. Lenses are “keepers” that tend to hold their value and migrate when shooters upgrade to the latest cameras, and that’s why they represent an excellent investment, a factor that’s appreciated and supported by savvy consumers.
Lens Trends for 2015
In assessing the latest optical entries, several clear trends emerge. As shooters become more sophisticated, creative expression and the aesthetic quality of the image have become increasingly important, and 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-f/2.8 range. Virtually every major lens manufacturer has jumped into the fray, and now offers an enticing assortment of high-speed primes ranging from wide-angles to telephotos. Zoom ranges are also steadily increasing, and there are several enticing new ultra-long telephoto zooms, as well as long-range wide-to-telephoto zooms that are wider at the wide end and provide unprecedented overall zoom ranges. Other notable lens trends: An increasing number of sophisticated premium wide-angle zooms and ultra-high-performance lenses aimed at serious shooters, lenses with built-in ultra-quiet stepping motors for shooting video without focusing noise, and cool creative lenses that let you place the zone of sharpness where you want it.
Four Awesome New Prime lenses
Sigma 24mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art: The latest addition to Sigma’s Art line designed especially for discriminating artist photographers, this high-speed full-frame wide-angle employs FLD and Special Low Dispersion elements, as well as two aspherical elements, to achieve outstanding image quality and even illumination across the field—even at maximum aperture. Crafted of exotic materials, including Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) to minimize performance variations due to temperature, it also employs a Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) for enhanced AF performance, and a bayonet mount constructed from brass for maximum accuracy and durability. The lens focuses down to 9.8 inches for a maximum magnification ratio of 1:5.3.
Panasonic Lumix G 42.5mm f/1.7 ASPH. POWER O.I.S: This high-speed medium-long lens for mirrorless Micro Four Thirds cameras provides an equivalent focal length of 85mm, ideal for portraiture. It incorporates one aspherical element to enhance its imaging performance and employs an internal focusing system using a stepping AF motor for fast, precise autofocus, and a POWER Optical Image Stabilizer to minimize the effects of camera shake. A rounded 7-bladed diaphragm provides the smooth transitions to out-of-focus areas that are a hallmark of classic portraiture. The lens focuses down to about a foot for a maximum magnification of 0.2x (1/5 life-size).
Lensbaby Velvet 56mm f/1.6: Lensbaby, a leading supplier of ingenious creative effects lenses, has just entered the trendy fast prime arena with the Velvet 56, a 56mm f/1.6 lens designed for full-frame and APS-C-format DSLRs and mirrorless cameras. 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 “unique singlet-doublet-singlet” optical design, focuses down to 5 inches from the front element (1:2 magnification ratio), and stops down to f/16. The new lens, which measures 86mm long and 92mm in diameter (DSLR version) and 94mm long (mirrorless version), and weighs 400 g, is now on sale in Canon, Nikon, Sony A, and Pentax mounts, and will soon be available in mirrorless mounts including Micro Four Thirds, Sony E, Samsung NX, and Fujifilm X, in black or silver finishes.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 300mm f/4E PF ED VR: This pro-caliber prime telephoto for full-frame (FX-format) Nikon cameras employs a Phase Fresnel element to achieve maximum resolution and sharpness with virtually no chromatic aberration, and also incorporates an ED element and Nano Crystal and Super Integrated coatings to enhance its imaging performance and clarity. Other features: a Silent Wave Motor AF system, internal focusing with manual focus override, and an electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism. The lens employs the latest version of Nikon’s VR image stabilization system said to provide a 4.5-stop advantage in handheld shooting, and it’s noticeably lighter and more compact than its predecessor. It also has a fluorine-coated front lens element to minimize contamination and facilitate cleaning, and it focuses down to 4.6 feet for a maximum magnification of 0.24x.
A Trio of Fast Wide-Angle Zooms
Tokina AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 PRO DX: This versatile zoom for APS-C-format DLRs covers an ultra-wide to wide 16.5-30mm equivalent range and provides a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture throughout. It incorporates one P-MO hybrid aspherical element and 2 glass-molded aspherical elements to minimize distortions, 3 SD ultra-low dispersion elements to reduce chromatic aberrations, and a multi-layer coating to enhance color accuracy and suppress flare. A one-touch focusing mechanism allows manual focus at any time without switching focus modes, an internal focusing mechanism maintains the same length during focusing to enhance balance, and a 9-bladed diaphragm contributes to smooth bokeh. This lens provides a minimum focus distance of about 11 inches and is available in Nikon F and Canon EF mounts.
Tamron SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD: The first 15-30mm ultra-wide to wide-angle f/2.8 zoom for full-frame and APS-C-format Nikon, Canon, and Sony DSLRs, this groundbreaking lens employs XGM (molded glass aspherical) and LD (low dispersion) glass elements to reduce chromatic aberrations and features Tamron’s proprietary VC image stabilization system (except for the Sony-mount version, which relies on the cameras’ built-in image stabilization systems), and an easy-to-clean fluorine coating on the front element. Ultrasonic Silent Drive (USD) is said to deliver precise AF, high torque, and fast response times. The lens also incorporates a rounded 9-blade diaphragm for enhanced bokeh, and has a built-in lens hood. It comes with a copy of SILKYPIX Developer Studio software and is available in Canon EF, Nikon F, and Sony A mounts.
Leica Super Vario-Elmar-T 11-23mm f/3.5-4.5 ASPH: This elegant new wide-angle zoom (17-35mm equivalent) T-mount lens for the compact mirrorless APS-C-format Leica T features an all-metal lens barrel with a black anodized finish, and employs four aspherical surfaces to control distortion and aberrations. Other features include: autofocus with manual focus override, a minimum focus distance of 7.9 inches, and a maximum reproduction ratio of 1:5.4 at 23mm.
A Brace of Cool New Mid-Range Zooms
Fujifilm XF 16-55mm f/2.8 R LM WR: A premium high-speed constant f/2.8-aperture X-mount zoom lens designed for Fuji’s iconic X-series mirrorless APS-C-format cameras, it provides an equivalent focal-length range of 24-82.5mm, and employs 3 ED and 3 aspherical elements plus Nano GI and HT-EBC lens coatings to deliver outstanding image quality and clarity. It also features a very fast internal focusing mechanism using two linear autofocus motors, and it is moisture resistant, thanks to 14 weather seals used in its construction. This high-performance lens uses a rounded 9-bladed diaphragm to enhance its smooth out-of-focus rendition for very pleasing bokeh.
Pentax HD PENTAX 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 construction. Quick-Shift focusing enables switching between AF and manual focus at any time, and the lens can focus down to 1.15 feet, at 0.26x, for extreme close-ups. One ED and three aspherical elements control aberrations and distortions, HD and SP lens coatings enhance light transmission and clarity, a DC motor assures quick precise AF action, and a rounded 7-bladed diaphragm enhances bokeh.
A Quartet of Innovative Long-Range Zooms
Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 14-150mm f/4-5.6 II: This long-range (11 X) wide-to-telephoto zoom for Micro Four Thirds cameras, including the Olympus OM-D range, delivers the equivalent of a 28-300mm focal-length range in the 35mm format, and it’s dust- and splash proof, thanks to its well-sealed construction. Its advanced design also incorporates a DSA element, an aspherical ED element, an ED element, and 3 HR elements for enhanced optical correction, as well as ZERO (Zuiko Extra-Low Reflective Optical) lens coating for optimized light transmission and image clarity. This lens focuses down to 1.6 feet for a maximum magnification of 1:4 and has a 7-bladed, rounded diaphragm for smooth out-of-focus image quality.
Samsung 50-150mm f/2.8 S ED OIS: This fast long-range zoom debuted with the top-of-the-line Samsung NX1 APS-C format mirrorless DSLR-style camera and it provides a 77-231mm focal-length range, along with a constant f/2.8 maximum aperture. This impressive zoom employs 4 ED and one HXR element in its 20-element, 13-group formula to deliver outstanding aberration correction, has built-in optical image stabilization, a super-precise stepping motor, and splash-proof, dust-proof construction. It focuses down to 2.3 feet at all focal lengths and uses SHS (Samsung Hyper Shield) coating to protect the front element against dust, water, and fingerprints, and incorporates a Custom Range Focus Limiter for faster AF performance.
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-ranger incorporates one ED and 5 aspherical elements for high-performance correction, and a linear motor AF system for fast, precise AF. Other features include: built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization, internal focus mechanism, traditional manual focus and zoom rings, dust- and moisture-resistant construction, and a circular 7-bladed aperture for enhanced bokeh. This exciting new lens focuses down to 1.6 feet to provide an impressively close maximum magnification of 0.27x.
Canon EF 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS II USM: This pro-caliber L-series lens for full-frame Canon DSLRs employs one fluorite and one super UD element to achieve outstanding aberration correction over its entire focal-length range, and Air Sphere and Fluorine Lens Coatings to maximize light transmission, minimize contamination, and facilitate lens cleaning. It uses an advanced mechanical design that includes a ring-type USM AF motor for the internal focus mechanism, a rotating zoom ring and torque adjustment to enhance smooth seamless handling, a 9-bladed rounded diaphragm for smooth transitions to out-of-focus areas of the image, and rugged, weather-sealed construction. A detachable, rotatable tripod collar is also included.