The State of Mirrorless Glass
With mirrorless digital cameras continuously growing in both popularity and imaging capabilities, their respective lines of lenses are also consistently being multiplied, refined, and expanded in order to better suit the developing range of cameras. At the beginning, albeit not too long ago, mirrorless cameras were structured as an intermediary step between full-fledged, often bulky DSLRs and compact, often under-specced point-and-shoots. However, at least in comparison to DSLRs, and their evolution from film SLRs, it has taken some time to round out lineups of lenses to fully complement the needs of most photographers, which has caused some apprehension in regard to committing to a mirrorless camera system.
Luckily, those days of uneasiness can be put to rest as mirrorless-camera manufacturers have recently reached full stride in producing a plethora of lens choices. Photographers from all imaging realms now have a veritable bounty of options to suit different working styles ranging from macro to telephoto and wide-angle to fast portrait length. Mirrorless-lens options now rival those of extensive DSLR systems.
With more than 200 individual lenses currently available for all kinds of mirrorless cameras, it is becoming more difficult to point out many obvious holes in lens lineups compared to a few years ago, and beside the simple filling in of desirable focal lengths, lens manufacturers have also begun to introduce especially notable optics that have previously been reserved for the professional DSLR market. A saying goes that your camera is only as good as the lens you put in front of it…and with a well-rounded source of options available, this saying is not so much a reasonable complaint anymore as it is a reason to seek out the lenses to complement your imaging needs.
Fujifilm has been on the leading edge of design trends in regard to mirrorless digital cameras, and equally as much with their line of X-mount lenses. Choosing a different path than many, Fujifilm has built up its lens family starting with the crucial wide-angle, normal, and tele-macro primes, and then adding to it with more nuanced prime wide-angles lenses, a few zooms, and some fast normal lenses.
Especially noteworthy and new is the XF 23mm f/1.4 R lens; a 35mm equivalent wide-angle lens that features a bright maximum aperture as well as demarcated focusing and depth-of-field scales and a manual aperture ring. This lens plays right into Fujifilm’s fondness for manual-control capabilities, but also features a high-torque DC Coreless AF motor and internal focusing mechanism for smooth and quiet focusing performance that pairs well with action photography and movie-making. One aspherical element and a multi-layer HT-EBC coating are also incorporated into the lens design for improved optical quality and clarity.
Also new from Fujifilm are their recently introduced XC-series lenses: the XC 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OIS and XC 50-230mm f/4.5-6.7 OIS, which feature 35mm equivalent focal-length ranges of 24-76mm and 76-350mm, respectively. These lenses complement the X-M1 and X-A1 mirrorless digital cameras and feature a lighter weight and more versatile design than many of their primes, for users looking to carry fewer lenses while still having an expansive range of focal lengths covered. Additionally, both of these lenses feature optical image stabilization that helps to minimize the appearance of camera shake to better support working in low-light conditions.
On Nikon’s end, several new and noteworthy CX-format lenses for their 1-series cameras have been released over the past year, but arguably, none as exciting as the 1 NIKKOR 32mm f/1.2 lens. This portrait-length prime lens features a 35mm equivalent focal length of 86.4mm and, with its exceptionally fast f/1.2 maximum aperture, stands to be Nikon’s CX-format “cream machine.” This lens is also the first CX-format lens to feature Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat, which helps to minimize internal and surface reflections to prevent lens flare and ghosting. A Silent Wave Motor (SWM) AF system delivers precise and smooth focusing performance or, contrastingly, the M/A manual focus override capability enables manual focusing control at any time.
Two other unique offerings from Nikon include the recently announced 1 NIKKOR AW 10mm f/2.8 and 1 NIKKOR AW 11-27.5 f/3.5-5.6 lenses, which are compatible with the Nikon 1 AW1 Mirrorless Digital Camera for use underwater and in adverse conditions. The 10mm lens provides a 35mm equivalent focal length of 27mm, while the zoom lens has a wide-angle to short telephoto equivalent focal length range of 30-74mm. The 10mm lens is waterproof to 66’, while the 11-27.5mm lens can support use up to 49’ beneath the surface. Both lenses are shockproof to falls from as high as 6.6’. While these lens’s focal lengths are covered in other 1-series lens offerings, the fact that Nikon is producing dedicated underwater options again is a definite signal and tribute to the famed Nikonos cameras of late.
As one of the two prominent members of the Micro Four Thirds system, Olympus is certainly responsible for a wide array of optics that can be used on both their mirrorless digital cameras as well as Panasonic’s. And coming in on the heels of the introduction of their new flagship OM-D E-M1, Olympus has also recently introduced the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 12-40mm f/2.8 PRO lens: a highly versatile 24-80mm equivalent zoom lens featuring a bright constant maximum aperture. With one aspherical ED element, two aspherical elements, one Dual Super Aspherical element, two extra-low dispersion elements, one HD element, and two high-refractive index elements, this lens features a wealth of corrective elements that stand to render imagery with a high degree of sharpness, clarity, and color neutrality. A high-speed imager AF linear motor drive system, with Movie and Still Compatible support, provides fast and smooth focusing performance, and a manual focus clutch enables seamless transitioning to MF control. Additionally, this lens has a dust-, drip-, and freeze-proof design that complements its use with Olympus OM-D-series weather-sealed cameras.
Rounding out Olympus’s lenses are a couple of fast primes: the M.ZUIKO Digital ED 75mm f/1.8 (150mm equivalent) and the M.ZUIKO Digital 17mm f/1.8 (34mm equivalent). As telephoto and wide-angle options, respectively, these lenses are well poised for use in low lighting and for selective focus and shallow-depth-of-field imagery, due to their f/1.8 maximum aperture. Both lenses are also Movie and Still Compatible, meaning that their internal focusing mechanism is quiet, smooth, and fast, to suit working with both fast-moving subjects and video applications.
On the other side of the Micro Four Thirds coin is Panasonic, whose lenses often feature image stabilization systems, versus Olympus in-body IS, some of which feature collaborative designs with Leica for truly exceptional imaging quality. Among these include the Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S., which is a 90mm equivalent portrait-length lens with a 1:1 maximum reproduction ratio. Coupled with a minimum focusing distance of 6”, this lens stands out as one of the high-grade options for true macro photography with a mirrorless camera.
Similarly, the Leica DG Summilux 25mm f/1.4 ASPH. (50mm equivalent) lens is a normal prime with a fast f/1.4 maximum aperture for enhanced focus control and low-light shooting acumen. One Ultra High Refractive Index element and glass-molded aspherical elements contribute to high overall clarity, contrast, and sharpness and a Nano Surface Coating helps to minimize surface reflections, lens flare, and ghosting for improved color fidelity and contrast-rich imagery.
One of the more unique lenses amongst any manufacturer is Samsung’s 45mm f/1.8 2D/3D lens (69.3mm equivalent), which is a single portrait-length taking lens capable of producing three-dimensional imagery with a compatible Samsung NX-mount mirrorless digital camera. When engaged, the 3D system will employ a scissoring dual-LCD shutter in front of the optical path to effectively produce a stereo pair of images, which is then processed into a single file that can be viewed on 3D-compatible televisions. Aside from this unique functionality, the lens also supports Samsung’s iScene and iFunction controls for intuitive lens-based selection of exposure modes for a more efficient shooting workflow.
Also available for Samsung NX cameras is the 60mm f/2.8 Macro ED OIS SSA lens, which provides a 35mm equivalent focal length of about 90mm when used on an APS-C camera. This true macro lens has a maximum 1:1 reproduction ratio, along with a minimum focusing distance of 7.2” and optical image stabilization for truly enabling macro shooting performance. This lens, too, supports iFunction and iScene control and one extra-low dispersion element contributes to high overall image sharpness.
Recently branching out from their close-knit association with the Sony E-mount, corresponding solely to their NEX mirrorless digital cameras, Sony has now opened the door to mirrorless lens design, due in part to their introduction of the full-frame a7 and a7R mirrorless digital cameras. Along with the release of these camera bodies, they have also introduced three full-frame-compatible E-mount lenses made in collaboration with Zeiss: the Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA, the Sonnar T* FE 55mm f/1.8 ZA, and the Vario-Tessar T* FE 24-70mm f/4 ZA OSS lenses. Each of these lenses features a Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating for enhanced light transmission and high contrast and clarity, and a dust- and moisture-resistant design that matches the a7 and a7R cameras. Additionally of note is the inclusion of Optical SteadyShot image stabilization within the Vario-Tessar, which will help to counter the appearance of camera shake to better support its use in dimly lit conditions.
If you're working with the APS-C-sized Alpha NEX mirrorless digital cameras, Sony has an existing wide range of lens choices to suit most applications, including the wide-reaching E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS, which provides a 35mm equivalent focal-length range of 27-158mm and has Optical SteadyShot image stabilization and a constant f/4 maximum aperture for consistent low-light performance. Power Zoom control, with a dedicated zoom lever, enables easier handling over the speed of zooming performance, and a separate focusing ring also permits more accurate handling over manual focus placement—both of which are especially useful for video applications. Another Power Zoom lens with a significantly more compact form factor is the 16-50mm f/3.5-5.6 OSS Retractable Zoom Lens, which provides a 24-75mm equivalent focal-length range. When retracted, the lens has a minimum thickness of just 1.2” and the inclusion of one extra-low dispersion element and four aspherical elements also help to limit the overall size while additionally contributing to high image quality.
Perhaps best known for their traditional rangefinder film cameras and rangefinder lenses, Voigtlander has recently released a trio of Micro Four Thirds lenses that all feature extremely bright and fast maximum f/0.95 maximum apertures. The Nokton 17.5mm f/0.95, Nokton 25mm f/0.95, and Nokton 42.5mm f/0.95 lenses provide 35mm equivalent focal lengths of 35, 50, and 85mm, respectively, and are all manual focus lenses with the option to de-click the aperture rings for silent control, which is especially beneficial to video recording. Each of these lenses also features a 10-blade aperture, printed depth-of-field scale, and minimum focusing distances of 9.1” or shorter.
Similar to Voigtlander, but with an even stronger reputation for optical design is Zeiss, who entered the mirrorless lens genre this year with two promising prime lenses, the Touit 32mm f/1.8 and the Touit 12mm f/2.8. Both of these lenses are available for Sony E and Fujifilm X-mount APS-C cameras and, respectively, provide 35mm equivalent focal lengths of 48mm and 18mm. Both feature a Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating, nine-blade diaphragms, and are housed in sleek metal lens barrels with rubberized control rings for enhanced tactility and control. The 32mm f/1.8 lens employs a traditional Planar optical design that inherently works to eliminate a variety of distortions and aberrations for high overall image sharpness and clarity. The 12mm f/2.8 employs a Distagon optical design with a floating element construction that includes two aspherical elements and three partial dispersion elements to reduce chromatic aberrations and minimize distortion that is commonly associated with lenses this wide.
We've given you some notable highlights from the expansive range of mirrorless lenses available. However, to view each manufacturer's complete lens catalog, please click on any of the links below: