Fast Glass

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The number of fast, wide-aperture prime optics we carry at B&H has grown over the past year, and in a world that has become increasingly populated by slower, variable aperture zooms, this is encouraging news. What’s equally interesting is that in an industry increasingly defined by cutting-edge electronic technologies, many of the newest additions to our year-end listing of “Fast Glass” are manual focus lenses, which itself is a noteworthy anomaly.

With the exception of a pair of f/2.0 Four Third format zooms from Olympus and a Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom designed for use with DSLRs from Nikon, Sony and Canon, all of the lenses in this roundup are fixed focal length optics. Almost all of these select speed demons also boast a maximum aperture range of f/2.0 to f/1.4, depending on the focal length of the lens. Also included in our roundup are a couple of lenses with maximum apertures of f/1.2 and f/1.1, not to mention a super-fast f/0.95. We’ve also included a few lenses with slower maximum apertures of f/2.8, which for normal and wide-angle lenses can be considered slow, but in the case of 200mm and 300mm telephoto optics, can certainly qualify as impressively fast glass.

In addition to clearer, easier viewing and focusing through brighter viewfinders, wider-aperture optics enable you to use faster shutter speeds, which in turn greatly reduces the possibility of motion or camera-related image blur in your stills as well as the degree of sharpness of your video clips.

Wider-aperture optics also allow for greater control of selective focus, in which the depth of focus of your photos can be restricted to a narrow band of sharpness, complemented by out-of-focus foreground and background detail. A technique commonly practiced by fashion, beauty and portrait photographers, selective focus is a subtle and seductively effective creative tool that can add a great measure of impact to one’s photographic efforts, regardless of the subject matter. When used wide open at their closest focusing distances, fast telephotos can produce particularly powerful stills and video.

The advent of HDSLRs has most certainly added to the interest in fast glass. Effective as selective focus can be in creating eye-catching stills it can be utilized even more effectively when used in motion-picture applications. As an example, a line of static objects can come alive when locking down the camera angle, opening the lens wide and racking the focus from the closest point to the furthest point of focus (or vice versa). The resulting imagery appears to be animated, even though the entire scene is essentially static from start to finish.

Lastly, using fast wider-aperture optics enables you to capture sharper images under the lowest lighting conditions. When combined with three-to-four stop advantage image stabilization and the nosebleed ISO sensitivity levels common to many cameras over the past two to three years, fast, wider-aperture optics enable you to shoot successful images under previously unimaginable lighting conditions.

Lens Format Min Focus Max Magnif. Ratio   Filter Size Weight
Canon EF 24mm f/1.4L II Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  9.8" (0.25 m)  1:6.25  77mm  1.4 lb (650 g)
Canon EF 28mm f/1.8 Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  9.6" (0.24 m)  1:5.5  58mm  0.68 lb (308 g)
Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  1' (0.3 m)  1:5.5  72mm  1.28 lb (500 g)
Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  1.5' (0.46 m)  1:6.6  58mm  0.64 lb (290 g)
Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Full frame, APS-H, APS-C 1.5' (0.46 m)  0.15x 52mm 0.29 lb (131.5g)
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  1.5' (0.46 m)  1:9  72mm  1.2 lb (545 g)
Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  3.2' (0.95 m)  1:7  72mm  2.25 lb (1020.5 g)
Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  2.8' (0.85 m)  1:7  58mm  14.9oz (422 g)
Canon EF 100mm f/2.0 USM Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  3' (0.91 m)  1:7.3  58mm  1.01lb (458 g)
Canon EF 135mm f/2.0L Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  3' (0.91 m)  1:5.3  72mm  1.64 lb (744 g)
Canon EF 200mm f/2.0L IS Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  6.23' (1.9 m)  0.12x  52mm  5.6 lb (2.54 kg)
Carl Zeiss 25mm f/2.0 Distagon (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-H, APS-C 0.82’ (0.25 m) 1:59 67mm 1.3lb 570g
Carl Zeiss 28mm f/2.0 Distagon T* (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  9.5" (0.24 m)  1:5  58mm  1.16 lb (530 g)
Carl Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon T* (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-H, APS-C  11.8" (0.3 m)  NA  72mm  1.87 lb (850 g)
Carl Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T* (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-H, APS-C 1.48' (45 cm) 0.15x 58 mm 12.35 oz (350 g)
Carl Zeiss 85mm f/1.4 Planar T* (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-C  3.28' (1 m)  NA  72mm 21.16 oz (600g) 
Carl Zeiss 100mm f/2 Makro Planar T* (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-C  1.4' (0.44 m)  1:2  67mm  24 oz (680 g)
Leica 50mm f/0.95 Noctilux-M (For Leica M cameras only) Full frame, APS-H  3.3' (1.0 m)  1:17  60mm  1.54 lb (700 g)
Nikon AF-S 24mm f/1.4G ED Full frame, APS-C  0.82' (0.25 m)  0.179x  77mm  21.9 oz (620 g)
Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.4G Full frame, APS-C  0.98' (0.29 m)  0.2x  67mm  21.2 oz (600 g)
Nikon AF-S DX Nikkor 35mm f/1.8G APS-C  1' (0.3 m)  0.16x  52mm  7oz (200 g)
Nikon 35mm f/1.4 AI-S  (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-C  1' (0.3 m)  N/A  52mm  14.6 oz (399 g)
Nikon 50mm f/1.2 AI-S  (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-C  1.7' (0.5 m)  N/A  52mm  13.8 oz 390 g)
Nikon AF 50mm f/1.4D Full frame, APS-C  1.5' (0.45 m)  0.15x  52mm  8.1 oz (230 g)
Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.4G Full frame, APS-C  1.5' (0.45 m)   1:6.8  58mm  9.9 oz (280 g)
Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.4G Full frame, APS-C  3' (0.91 m) 1:8:3  77mm  1.23 lb (558 g)
Nikon AF 85mm f/1.8 Full frame, APS-C  3' (0.91 m) 1:9.9  62mm  13.4 oz (380 g)
Nikon AF-DC 105mm f/2.0D Full frame, APS-C  3' (0.91 m)  1:7.7  72mm  1.4 lb (635 g)
Nikon AF-DC 135mm f/2.0D Full frame, APS-C  4' (1.21 m)  1:7.1  72mm  1.78 lb (807 g)
Nikon AF Nikkor 180mm f/2.8D IF-ED Full frame, APS-C  5' (1.52 m)  1:6.6  72mm  1.7 lb (771 g)
Nikon AF-S 200mm f/2.0 G ED VR II Full frame, APS-C  6.2' (1.9 m)  0.12x 52mm - Drop-in  6.45 lb (2930g)
Olympus 14-35mm f/2.0 ED SWD Four Thirds   1.1' (0.35 m)  1:8  77mm  2 lb (915 g)
Olympus 35-100mm f/2.0 ED Four Thirds  4.6' (1.4 m)  0.09x  77mm  58.2 oz (1650g)
Olympus 50mm f/2.0 Macro ED Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds  9.45" (0.24 m)  1:2  52mm  10.6 oz (300 g)
Olympus 300mm f/2.8 ED Four Thirds 7.9' (2 m) 1:6.6 43mm Rear 7.24 lb (3.28 kg)
Panasonic Lumix 20mm f/1.7 Aspheric G Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds  0.66' (0.2 m)  0.13x  46mm  3.5 oz (100 g)
Panasonic Lumix G 14mm f/2.5 ASPH Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds  7.09" (0.179 m)  0.10x  46mm  1.94 oz (55 g)
Panasonic Leica DG Summilux 25 mm f/1.4 Lens Four Thirds 1.25' (0.38 m) 0.09x 62mm 18 oz (510 g)
Pentax smc FA 31mm f/1.8 Limited APS-C  1' (0.3 m)  1:6.25  58mm  12.2 oz (345 g)
Pentax smc FA 43mm f/1.9 Limited APS-C   1.5' (0.45 m)  1:8.4  49mm  5.5 oz (156 g)

Pentax 50mm f/1.4 K AF

Full frame, APS-C 18" (0.45m) 0.15x 49mm 7.8 oz (221 g)
Pentax smc FA 77mm f/1.8 Limited APS-C  2.3' (0.7 m)  1:7  49mm  0.6 lb (272 g)
Sigma 20mm f/1.8 EX ASPH DG DF RF Full frame, APS-C  7.9" (0.2 m)  1:4  82mm  1.15 lb (522 g)
Sigma 24mm f/1.8 EX ASPH DG DF Macro Full frame, APS-C  7.1" (0.18 m)  1:2.7  77mm  1.07 lb (17 oz)
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 EX DC HSM APS-C, Four Thirds, Micro Four Thirds  15.7" (0.4 m)  1:10  62mm  15.1 oz (430 g)
Sigma 28mm f/1.8 EX Aspherical DG DF Macro Full frame, APS-C  7.9" (0.2 m) 1:2.9   77mm  1.06 lb (481 g)
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Full frame, APS-C  1.48" (0.45 m)  1:7.4  77mm  1 lb (505 g)
Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM Full frame, APS-C  33.5" (0.85 m)  1:8.6  77mm  25.6 oz (725 g)
Sigma 120-300mm f/2.8 EX DG OS APO HSM Full frame, APS-C 4.9' (1.49 m) 1:8.1 105mm 6.50 lb (2.95 kg)
Sigma 300mm f/2.8 EX DG HSM Full frame, APS-C 8.20' (2.50 m) 1:7.5 46mm Rear 5.28 lb (2.39 kg)
Sony 24mm f/2 Distagon T* (Carl Zeiss) Full frame, APS-C  7.5" (0.19 m)  0.29x  72mm 19.58 oz  (555g)
Sony 35mm f/1.4 G Full frame, APS-C  1' (0.3 m)  1:5  55mm  1.1 lb (510 g)
Sony DT 35mm f/1.8 SAM APS-C  9.05" (0.23 m)  0.25x  55mm  6 oz (170 g)
Sony SAL 50mm f/1.4 Full frame, APS-C  1.5' (0.45 m)  1:6.7  55mm  8 oz (220 g)
Sony Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 ZA Full frame, APS-C  2.8' (0.85 m)  1:7.6  72mm  1.2 lb (560 g)
Sony Sonnar T* 135mm f/1.8 ZA Full frame, APS-C  2.5' (0.72 m)  1:4  77mm  2lb 3oz (985 g)
Sony SAL-300mm f/2.8 APOG SSM Full frame, APS-C 6.56' (2.0 m) 1:5.5 42mm Rear 5.07 lb (2.3 kg)
Vivitar 85mm f/1.4 Series 1 (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-C 1.0' (30.48 cm) NA 72mm 2.00 lb (907 g)
Rokinon 35mm f/1.4 US UMC ASPH (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-C 1.0' (30.48 cm) 0.18x 77mm 14.7 oz (416.75 g)
Rokinon  85mm f/1.4 ASPH (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-C, Four Thirds 3.3' (1.01 m) NA 72mm 1.4 lb (635 g)
Bower 35mm f/1.4 (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-C, Four Thirds 1.0' (30.48 cm) 0.18x 77mm 14.7 oz (416.75 g)
Bower 85mm f/1.4 (Manual Focus) Full frame, APS-C 3.28' (1 m) NA 72mm 1.15 lb (0.52 kg)

Items discussed in article

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Nice wrap up on the fast glass market. One glowing ommission though. The Olympus 150 f/2 ED. I got mine from B&H last summer and it is amazing. Arguably one of the most affordable peices of exotic (as in unusual -high performance) glass on the market!

Voightlander's Nokton 25mm f/0.95? My favorite lens and dusts everyone on this page!

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/754598-REG/Voigtlander_BA305A_Nokt...

Why no Pentax telephoto zoom fast glass?

Hello,

With the exception of the Olympus f2.0 zooms which are quite unique, no f2.8 zoom lens were included. The article was geared towards lens that are faster than the norm ( f2.8 ).

Here is a selection or Pentax and Pentax mount f2.8 lens.

Funny that the the Pentax 50mm f/1.4 wasn't mentioned, then.

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/40755-USA/Pentax_20817_Normal_SMCP_FA_50mm_f_1_4.html

Hello,

Sorry I missed it. Thanks for posting.

Not surprising. Pentax is often forgotten. Also missing is the Pentax DA*55mm f/1.4

http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/product/594340-USA/Pentax_21790_Telephoto_55mm_f_1_4_DA.html

Pentax has a very interesting DA 70 f/2.4 prime as well as a really accessible DA 35mm f/2.4

One very nice lens is missing - Leica D Summilux 25mm f/1.4 Four-Thirds manufactured by Panasonic meeting the quality of Leica and to German specs and therefore branded as Leica. 

Good catch and a great lens. Thanks to your sharp eyes we have added the lens to our Fast glass roster.

Canon if you are listening please develop a 50-150mm F2L IS with semi-Macro capabilities. 

Years ago, 35m cameras all came with split screen focusing or granulated collar focusing or both as focusing aids for manual focus lens – those were the only kinds of lens there were.  The same benefits can be achieved today by replacing the focusing screens in Canon and Nikon cameras with screens having focusing aids.  B&H would help its customers and increase the sales volume of manual focus lenses if it offered that service at a reasonable price to purchasers of manual focus lenses. Failure to do so inhibits the sale and use of those superb lenses. Please pass this on to your marketing and customer service departments. 

Where is the pentax FA 50 mm. 1.4?

Toño ,

Thank you for bringing this to our attention. Here they are:

 http://www.bhphotovideo.com/c/search?Ntt=fa50mm&N=0&InitialSearch=yes

Sorry we missed it.

Does anyone know what is the fastest lens ever made?

Hello,

Production wise, there are f 0.95 lens available.  One of the most famous is the Zeiss Planar 50/0.7, originally developed for NASA and later used by Stanley Kubrick for filming candle-lit scenes for the motion picture “Barry Lyndon”.

How can a lens be less than f1?

Thanks for the article.

I have a range of Voigtlander lenses from the 25mm f0.95, the 58m f1.4, and the 40mm f2 and love them all. High speed lenses are really only valuable if you can use them open with confidence. All of these lenses are quality products and perform well in this regard. I feel worried when an article such as this does not include such quality lenses, and a range of others as mentioned by other readers.

Allay your fears, your lenses are indeed fine examples of quality glass. Alas, they slipped by our filtering process when we grazed our SKU list for fast optics. For the record, we do stock the 58mm/f1.4, though at the moment it is a backordered item, the 40mm/f2, though a smart, compact travel lens, doesn't qualify as "fast" for this article, and the 25mm f/0.95 isn't due on our shelves until sometime in February (we compiled this list in October/November).

And thanks for the feedback.