Holiday 2012: The Year's Intriguing Lenses
2012 has played host to numerous camera and lens announcements, many of which are improvements over past products, while others are entirely new designs full of intrigue. The main innovative duty of lenses is to keep up with the cameras themselves and to capture greater detail and information. Lenses are also being designed for more specialized applications, most notably the burgeoning HDSLR-video field. No matter the specific application of a certain lens or camera, manufacturers are continuously rounding out their lens lines, to appeal to all types of photographers working in a multitude of settings.
Canon released a slew of new EF and EF-S lenses during 2012, adding to the already expansive lineup of almost any focal length you could desire. One of their core developments has been the integration of a new autofocusing technology called STM. STM, or stepping motor, is a refined design of the focusing motor that is built to provide ultra smooth and quiet movements that are ideal for video-based work, where internal camera noise and movement can easily be picked up. Another technology introduced alongside the STM mechanism was the Movie Servo AF mode, which benefits from the smooth and quiet performance of STM lenses and also offers continuous autofocusing while in live view.
These advancements were co-released with the introduction of the Canon EOS Rebel T4i and the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM lens. This lens, which is especially designed for use with APS-C-sized sensors, gives a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 28.8-216mm for a standard wide-angle to telephoto zoom range. Built-in image stabilization helps shooting by providing a four-stop equivalent reduction of the effects of camera shake, which greatly aids photographing at longer focal lengths and in lower light. The other current STM lens for SLR cameras is the EF 40mm f/2.8 STM pancake lens. If used on a full-frame camera, this lens has a slightly wider-than-normal angle of view and a wide maximum aperture that is highly useful as an everyday, walk-around prime lens. One of its most notable attributes is its slender form factor, measuring less than an inch thick, which makes it a highly inconspicuous lens when paired with a smaller DSLR. It also features an aspherical lens element and optimized coatings that help reduce distortion, lens flare and ghosting.
Among other lenses introduced by Canon, this is a pair of wide-angle primes: the EF 24mm f/2.8 IS USM and the EF 28mm f/2.8 IS USM. Both of these lenses are standard wide-angle lengths and improve upon past iterations through their inclusion of optical image stabilization and a ring-type ultrasonic focusing motor. These enhancements, coupled with aspherical lens elements and optimized lens coatings, help to provide even illumination while minimizing ghosting and flare.
Also released this year was a variation on the popular 24-70mm zoom lens, the EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM. This wide-to-portrait-length lens incorporates two aspheric and two ultra low dispersion (UD) elements to provide high image quality and consistency throughout the entire zoom range. The Hybrid IS image stabilization system compensates, up to four stops, for the effects of camera shake, both angular and shift type, across the focal length range and including macro magnifications. This lens also carries Canon’s L-series designation, meaning its glass construction is of the highest quality in addition to notable dust and weather sealing for use in rigorous conditions. Where this lens differs most from its f/2.8 counterpart is through the lessened weight and size that the f/4 maximum aperture affords, making it highly suitable for travel and faster-paced photography in outdoor settings.
Fujifilm developed an entirely new system of lenses to suit their also-new X series cameras. These lenses are designed around a new proprietary lens mount, the XF mount, which has consistently increased in number throughout 2012. The first three lenses that were introduced were the XF 18mm f/2 R, the XF 35mm f/1.4 R and the XF 60mm f/2.4 R Macro. The 18mm f/2 is equivalent to a 27mm lens in 35mm format and features the slimmest design of the current lenses. The 35mm f/1.4 is equivalent to a 53mm normal-length lens in 35mm format, making it an ideal first lens to pair with an X series camera. The longest of this initial release was the 60mm f/2.4 Macro, equivalent to a 90mm in 35mm format, which has a maximum magnification ratio of 1:2 and a minimum focus distance of 10.5”.
All of these lenses are designed to suit the appealing mid-century retro aesthetic of the X series cameras and feature manual focus and aperture rings to provide tactile control over these features. These lenses all feature Fujifilm’s Super EBC lens coating to help reduce lens flare and ghosting and also integrate aspheric and ED lens elements into their constructions to help reduce distortion and aberration.
Since the release of the first three prime lenses, the wide-angle XF 14mm f/2.8 R has also been announced. This lens simulates a 21mm 35mm-equivalent angle of view and fits nicely within the same design feature set as predefined by the first three lenses. Currently, the most unique XF lens available from Fujifilm is the XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS, which is equivalent to a 27-84mm lens in 35mm format. This lens differs from the others mainly due to the fact it is a zoom lens, but also in regard to its inclusion of a four-stop equivalent optical image stabilization mechanism. This OIS technology perfectly suits shooting in low-lit conditions and at the long end of the zoom range. Altogether, the current lineup of XF lenses is a strong beginning for such a recently introduced camera system, and even better so is the fact that the lineup is poised to continue steady growth throughout 2013.
Contributing to Leica’s long legacy of producing some of the finest lenses, this year they released the APO-Summicron-M 50mm f/2 ASPH. This lens is a technological feat because of the imaging performance it offers—with almost no perceptible edge falloff, extreme sharpness throughout the aperture range and richer contrast and detail rendition than previously possible. Its apochromatic correction abilities help to minimize chromatic aberration and provide even sharpness across the entire image, while the aspherical surface of the rear lens element helps to reduce spherical aberrations and flatten the overall image field. This lens also integrates a floating-element design to maintain an even focusing plane and sharpness when focusing as closely as 27.6”. The overall quality of this lens perfectly suits its use with high resolution image sensors as well as traditional film cameras.
Lensbaby has made its name in the realm of selective-focus lenses, and continues to thrive through the production of additional optics and accessories to further expand the abilities of the system. Their release of the Edge 80 Optic enables you to gain a controllable slice of sharp focus surrounded by soft blur when used in conjunction with a Lensbaby body. The area of sharpness can be controlled by modifying the aperture, from f/2.8-22, and the location of this area can be modified by tilting the lens body. This 80mm lens is capable of focusing down to 17” when fully extended and is constructed from five multi-coated glass elements.
Also greatly expanding their lens lineup this year, Nikon released a number of noteworthy lenses compatible with their FX full-frame bodies as well as their DX APS-C-sized cameras. On the wide end, the AF-S NIKKOR 28mm f/1.8G is a standard wide angle prime lens featuring a large maximum aperture for low-light shooting and greater control over the focus plane. This lens features two aspherical lens elements to help reduce distortions and a Nano Crystal Coat to minimize lens flare and ghosting.
The other newly released fixed focal length lens is the AF-S NIKKOR 85mm f/1.8G; an ideal portrait-length lens with a large f/1.8 maximum aperture that helps to isolate subject matter and blur distracting backgrounds. Both of these lenses incorporate Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM) for smooth and quiet autofocusing and additionally feature a manual focus override mode for more refined, critical focusing and selective focus applications.
Aside from the primes, two zoom lenses were also released: the AF-S NIKKOR 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5G ED VR and the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/4G ED VR. The 24-85mm f/3.5-4.5 lens gives an adequate range of focal lengths for most shooting situations and incorporates Nikon’s SWM focusing motor for fluid focus performance throughout the entire zoom range. This lens also incorporates VR (Vibration Reduction) technology to reduce the effects of camera shake, up to the equivalent of four stops, giving it notable low-light shooting capabilities as well as enhanced performance when working with longer focal lengths. Additionally, a Super Integrated Coating, extra-low dispersion element, and three aspherical lenses also help to maintain overall image quality. The 70-200mm f/4 is a telephoto zoom that features a constant f/4 maximum aperture throughout the zoom range and also features Vibration Reduction technology; however, this lens has an even greater five-stop equivalency for countering the effects of camera shake. A magnification ratio of 1:1.36 allows near life-size macro photography from a minimum subject distance of one meter. Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat is also incorporated to help reduce lens flare and reflections and provide a cleaner image with greater contrast.
Olympus’s introductions to their line of Micro Four Thirds lenses continued a steady growth during 2012, helping to broaden this system’s variety of focal lengths to better suit the popularity of their camera lineup. One of the most interesting releases is the first macro lens from Olympus, the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 60mm f/2.9 Macro. This telephoto lens is equivalent to a 120mm lens in 35mm format, and is capable of focusing as close as 7.4” away. The macro capabilities permit a fully life-size 1:1 magnification ratio, which is further benefited by the fast f/2.8 maximum aperture for control over the focus plane of your imagery. The lens’s construction is made up of extra low dispersion, high refractive index and extra high refractive index elements to help lessen distortions and aberrations, resulting in even sharpness across the entire image plane.
Even longer than the 60mm, the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 lens was also introduced and offers a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 150mm. The fast maximum aperture makes this lens ideal for low-light shooting and selective-focus applications, while three extra low dispersion elements and Olympus ZERO (ZUIKO extra-low reflection optical coating) help to reduce reflections and aberrations.
Rounding these two lenses out is the M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 EZ, available in black or silver, which has a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 24-100mm. This lens features Olympus’s MSC (Movie & Still Compatible) mechanism, which enables quiet and smooth motor-driven autofocusing and zooming. This enables better performance that is especially useful when recording video or photographing moving subject matter. The lens also has a dust and splash-proof construction for use in adverse conditions.
One of the most unique lenses overall is the 15mm f/8 Body Cap Lens. This ultra thin, fixed-aperture lens is only 9mm thin and serves as both a protective body cap and as a 30mm (35mm equivalent) wide-angle lens. There is a manual focus lever on the front of this lens, providing you with the ability to quickly focus as close as 11.8”. Its compact design and appearance make this body cap lens a tool to leave on your camera at all times for spontaneous shooting as well as simply serving to protect your image sensor during transit.
Panasonic has also added to their line of Micro Four Thirds lenses throughout 2012, including two zoom lenses that feature constant wide maximum apertures. The Lumix G X Vario 12-35mm f/2.8 ASPH is a wide to portrait-length zoom with a 35mm-equivalent range of 24-70mm. It features four aspherical lens elements, UED (Ultra Extra-Low Dispersion) glass, and UHR (Ultra High Refractive) glass to produce images with minimal chromatic aberration and edge-to-edge sharpness. The POWER O.I.S. image stabilization system helps to reduce the effects of camera shake and has a near-silent drive mechanism for enhanced use in video applications. The Nano Surface Coating improves contrast and reduces lens flare, while the splash and dust-proof construction deems the lens usable in lesser weather conditions.
Picking up at the long end of the 12-35mm lens, the Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 ASPH provides a portrait-length to telephoto zoom equivalent to a 70-200mm lens in 35mm format. This lens features the same POWER O.I.S. and Nano Surface Coating as the aforementioned lens, which greatly contribute to its usability for both still and video work. Additionally, two ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) and one UED lens element are integrated into the lens construction to reduce chromatic aberration and distortion while providing even sharpness across the image plane.
Introducing a number of lenses this year, Pentax had two especially notable lenses: one very tiny, the other very large. On the miniscule end, their Marc Newson-designed smc Pentax-DA 40mm f/2.8 XS lens measures only 0.36” thick, weighs just 1.8 oz and is equivalent to about a 61mm lens in the 35mm format. Its wide f/2.8 maximum aperture is ideal for low-light photography and shallow depth of field control, while the 16” minimum focus distance enables close-up shooting to further extend creative options. A Pentax SP (Super Protect) coating on the lens surface provides additional protection to the front element and facilitates easier cleaning.
On the other end of the focal length spectrum, the HD Pentax DA 560mm f/5.6ED AW is a super telephoto lens offering a 35mm equivalent focal length of approximately 859mm. This lens features two ED lens elements and telescope-like lens construction to improve overall image sharpness while reducing chromatic aberration. The multi-layer HD coating helps to reduce reflection and ghosting on the lens surface, while improving light transmission, in order to create more contrast-rich imagery. The lens construction itself also serves to improve the overall image quality; the white-painted lens barrel reduces the amount of heat buildup in the lens, 29 seals across the lens help to protect the interior from dust or weather and a built-in removable filter holder enables the use of 40.5mm filters with the lens. A circular polarizer filter is included with the lens, too, and can be rotated via the dedicated control ring. For focusing, an AF driving DC motor is built into the lens barrel to provide smooth autofocus, while Pentax’s Quick-Shift focus system allows you to instantly switch between AF and MF modes, depending on the shooting situation.
Just as DSLRs continue to advance in the world of still imagery, they are arguably progressing even more quickly in the realm of movie recording. With this increased attention surrounding the ability to create HD movies from the same camera you would use to take still images, new lenses have also been developed to further benefit these increased HD video technologies. Rokinon has introduced a full line of cine-specific lenses to suit just this purpose, and like conventional cine lenses, they have the same features that filmmakers require for their work.
First, these lenses are all manual focus by design, which enables a more personalized system of attaining focus and compatibility with follow focuses for pulling focus while recording. The focus throw is also longer than a still photography lens, giving more room in between focus distances for greater focusing precision. Second, these lenses feature de-clicked aperture stops to enable quiet, vibration-free changing of apertures while shooting. The aperture settings are also measured using T-stops, versus the photographic standard of an f/-stop. This difference takes into account the amount of light the physical construction of the lens requires during transmission, affording greater consistency between lenses that is necessary for moving images. One of the other main differences is that cine lenses tend to be more clearly marked with focus distances and T-stop values to allow for easier viewing of the indicators when pulling focus from the side of the lens.
Rokinon’s offerings in the vein of cine lenses include an 8mm T/3.8, a 14mm T/3.1, a 24mm T/1.5, a 35mm T/1.5 and an 85mm T/1.5. Each of these lenses is available in Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A or Sony E mount types to suit a wide variety of interchangeable lens digital cameras. They also all feature multi-layer lens coatings to help reduce lens flare and ghosting.
In addition to the cine lenses, Rokinon also introduced an 8mm f/2.5 HD Fisheye Lens that is more geared for use with still imagery. This lens offers full rectangular coverage when used with an APS-C-sized sensor and provides a 167° angle of view. Hybrid aspherical elements and a multi-layer lens coating help to enhance the image quality by reducing lens flare, ghosting and chromatic aberrations. Additionally, this lens has a removable petal-style lens hood to further reduce lens flare when shooting in well-lit conditions.
Designed especially for Micro Four Thirds cameras, Samyang introduced a 7.5mm f/3.5 UMC Fisheye lens, which is available in black or silver. This compact lens is equivalent to a 15mm lens in 35mm format, and produces a full 180-degree angle of view that covers the rectangular image sensor. Its manual focus design allows for fine-tuning of close-up subject focus; however, a lens of this focal length inherently has tremendous depth of field to produce expansive imagery from creative viewpoints. Additionally, a built-in, petal-shaped lens hood offers protection from lens flare and reflections while shooting.
Sigma continued to release a wide variety of lenses to suit a breadth of photographers and cameras this year. Beginning with their mirrorless lenses, they introduced the 19mm f/2.8 EX DN and the 30mm f/2.8 EX DN in both Sony E and Micro Four Thirds mount types. These simple prime lenses provide useful focal lengths for both formats and have a wide maximum aperture for low-light shooting and selective focus control. Multi-coated lens elements and aspherical lenses help to improve overall image quality by limiting distortions and chromatic aberration while also reducing the appearance of lens flare and ghosting. Both of these lenses feature a newly developed linear autofocus motor that provides quiet, smooth, fast and accurate focusing that is especially helpful for video work.
Moving up in format size, Sigma also released the 18-250mm f/3.5-6.3 DC Macro OS HSM lens that is specifically designed for use with APS-C-sized image sensors and available in Canon EF, Nikon F, Sigma SA, Sony A and Pentax K mount types. This wide-angle-to-telephoto zoom lens gives a 35mm-equivalent focal length of approximately 27-375mm (depending on the specific camera in use) and has a maximum magnification ratio of 1:2.9 for macro use. The lens is constructed from Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) materials to exhibit greater resistance toward extreme temperature conditions as well as having a smaller size and lighter weight. The optical construction includes one Special Low Dispersion (SLD) and three aspherical glass elements to provide overall image sharpness and a reduction in color and chromatic aberrations. A Super Multi-Layer Coating also helps to enhance image quality by reducing the appearance of lens flare and ghosting. Benefitting this lens’s telephoto length and macro capabilities, built-in OS optical stabilization compensates for the effects of camera shake to produce sharper imagery. The Sony and Pentax versions of this lens do not include the optical stabilization system because their camera systems incorporate in-body image stabilization.
Last, as part of Sigma’s Global Vision categorization of lenses that are being divided into three classifications—Art, Sport and Contemporary—they have introduced the 35mm f/1.4 DG HSM lens, available in Canon EF, Nikon F, Sony A, Pentax K and Sigma SA mounts. This wide-angle lens features a fast maximum aperture, making it excel in regard to low-light shooting and for more creative control over focus. A Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM) is integrated into the design of the lens to provide fast, quiet and accurate autofocusing, which is further benefited by a floating focus system to enable greater precision and closer shooting distances. Its optical construction includes both SLD and FLD glass elements as well as aspherical elements, to provide correction for both chromatic and axial aberrations, as well as offer overall even image sharpness from edge to edge.
Where this lens truly separates itself from others is through its compatibility with Sigma’s USB dock station for lenses. This dock allows you to essentially plug your lens into your computer in order to refine certain settings to best benefit the manner in which you shoot. You can pre-program autofocus distance ranges; more precisely fine-tune focusing positions than you can in-camera; set the lens’s autofocus prioritization on either speed or accuracy depending on the subject matter you are photographing; and the USB dock will serve as a more convenient means from which you can update your lens’s firmware edition.
Sony’s lens introductions for 2012 were largely focused on their E-mount and especially designed for use with their NEX system of mirrorless cameras. The sole prime lens here is the normal-length 35mm f/1.8 Prime lens, which is equivalent to a 52.5mm lens in 35mm format. This compact lens, with a bright maximum aperture, makes an ideal everyday lens that is highly capable for most shooting situations. A high-speed linear motor provides quiet, smooth focusing and aperture control that benefits video recording, due to the reduction of in-camera noise. This lens also supports Direct Manual Focus (DMF), which enables you to fine-tune your focus position once a general autofocus position has been quickly determined.
At a similar focal length, the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 Retractable Zoom lens provides a 35mm-equivalent focal length range of 24-75mm. This lens’s unique design allows it to retract to just 1.2” thick for spontaneous and inconspicuous shooting. It features one extra low dispersion (ED) element and four aspherical elements to provide overall image sharpness and a reduction in spherical and chromatic aberrations. Built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization provides a four-stop equivalent in reduction of the appearance of camera shake, making it highly suitable for dimly-lit shooting.
The 10-18mm f/4 Wide-Angle Zoom lens gives a 35mm-equivalent range of 15-27mm and has a constant f/4 maximum aperture throughout this zoom range. The constant maximum aperture is ideal for video use and low-light shooting since you will not have to compensate for a reduction in exposure as you extend the lens’s focal length. Three aspherical elements and a super extra-low dispersion glass element correct aberrations and distortions across the zoom range, as well as bring consistent image sharpness. This lens also features Sony’s built-in Optical SteadyShot image stabilization technology and an internal focusing system to improve sharpness and focusing speed.
The longest-reaching lens here is the 18-200mm f/3.5-6.3 Zoom lens, giving a very broad 35mm equivalent focal length range of 27-300mm. This all-encompassing zoom features a relatively compact and lightweight stature for use in all situations. Optical SteadyShot greatly benefits image sharpness when working at the long end of the zoom range, and the inclusion of two ED glass elements and four aspherical lenses further improves image quality by reducing aberration and distortion.
One of Tamron’s most interesting lens releases this year was the SP 24-70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD, which is available for both Canon EF and Nikon F mounts and in the Sony A mount (although the Sony version does not include Vibration Compensation, since Sony DSLRs feature in-camera image stabilization). This wide-to-portrait-length zoom features a wide maximum f/2.8 aperture that is constant throughout the zoom range, for greater low-light abilities when working with longer focal lengths. Further aiding the f/2.8 maximum aperture of this lens, the VC technology adds an extra measure of insurance against the effects of camera shake to benefit working at the long end of the zoom range in addition to photographing dimly-lit scenes. A USD (Ultrasonic Silent Drive) focus motor is integrated into the design and provides quiet, fast AF performance that is ideal for video work. Its optical construction incorporates three low-dispersion elements and two extra refractive index elements for a reduction in a variety of distortion types common to zoom lenses. Furthermore, this lens is also Tamron’s first to feature moisture-resistant construction, offering greater assurance when working in adverse shooting conditions.
Tokina’s notable contribution to this year’s mirrorless lenses is the unique Reflex 300mm f/6.3 MF Macro. Designed for mirrorless cameras using the Micro Four Thirds lens mount, this long-reaching telephoto lens is equivalent to a 600mm lens in the 35mm format. It features a fixed f/6.3 aperture and requires that it be focused manually. Differing from traditional telephoto lenses, this lens has a mirror design that enables it to remain compact and lightweight while still affording tremendous visual reach.
Known predominantly for their larger-format lenses, Voigtlander introduced two lenses in 2012 for the Micro Four Thirds format: the Nokton17.5mm f/0.95 and the Nokton 25mm f/0.95. These lenses are equivalent to 35mm and 50mm lenses, respectively, in 35mm format. The most notable attribute of both of these lenses is their ultra-fast, wide maximum aperture of f/0.95. This greatly enhances the low light shooting potential of these lenses, while also contributing to their ability to selectively control focus. Benefitting this ability to utilize shallow depth of field, a 10-blade diaphragm provides an aesthetic out-of-focus quality that can be finely manipulated through the use of its manual focus design. Beside the manual-focus capabilities of these lenses, they also feature de-clicked aperture rings for silent switching between f/-stops, making them function especially well for video work. While the all manual focus and manual exposure controls can be trying at first, the Voigtlander’s all-metal construction with no electrical contacts enables a certain simplicity that forces you to concentrate more on the making of imagery rather than on being too reliant on the automatic features of your camera.
One of the more unique lenses introduced during 2012 was the Nanoha Macro Lens 5:1 from Yasuhara, which is available in Micro Four Thirds and Sony E mount types. This close-focusing lens enables impressive macro capabilities ranging from 4:1 to 5:1 for greater than life-size imagery. This lens’s focusing range is between 11-19mm in front of the lens, and subjects can be held in such close proximity via the included holders. Three LED sources are also built into the front side of the lens. They provide even subject illumination and eliminate the shadows caused by your own camera and lens while photographing.
Adding to the already impressive line of manual focus SLR lenses, Zeiss introduced the widest lens currently available for their ZE (Canon EF) and ZF.2 (Nikon F) series of lenses: the Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8. This lens has an ultra-wide angle of view of 110°, which makes it perfectly suitable for architectural and interior shooting. Its optical design, including two aspherical elements and a floating-element design, enable nearly distortion-free imagery as well as a reduction in chromatic aberration. A built-in lens hood offers protection against harsh light, while the Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating also helps to reduce the appearance of reflections, flare and ghosting that can affect image quality.
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