With all of the technological advancements in the world of autofocus—both in relation to the lenses themselves as well as camera’s AF features—manual focus lenses have also gained popularity recently for a number of reasons. Manual focus lenses appeal to photographers who yearn for a slower-paced workflow as well as those who are working in video, who depend on manual focusing as an integral part of shooting. Manual focusing can be preferable for overall greater control of focus, giving much more leeway to selective-focus applications or times when the most obvious area of scene is not exactly what you want to be sharp. Macro and still-life shooting can also greatly benefit from the control that manual operation affords you, since changes to an exposure and focus setting can often be so minute that autofocus would have difficulty determining the difference in focus desired. On top of it all, manual focus lenses tend also to be a more budget-conscious option for photographers wishing to get the sharpest, highest image quality without spending a significant portion on the autofocusing mechanism alone.
Bower, Rokinon and Samyang all offer a number of manual focus lenses that encompass a variety of focal lengths, but are mainly rooted in the wide-angle end of the spectrum. These three brands all provide affordable options for well-performing lenses that are available in Canon EF, Four Thirds, Nikon F, Pentax K and Sony Alpha mount types. The widest available lens is the 8mm f/3.5 fisheye lens, which is compatible with APS-C-sized sensors. This lens provides a 180-degree angle of view and has aspherical, multi-coated elements to help reduce flare and distortions. Additionally, Rokinon and Samyang feature an 8mm f/3.5 HD lens. This lens has the same 180-degree angle of view, but features a removable lens hood, multicoated glass to help further reduce reflections and HD aspherical lens elements to help minimize distortions and aberrations.
Next in line is the ultra-wide 14mm f/2.8 lens, which has a built-in tulip style lens hood and a very broad range of focus for extended depth of field. This lens is also multicoated and features aspherical elements to reduce flare, distortions and aberrations. It is compatible for use on full-frame or APS-C-sized sensors. For low light, wide-angle shooting, both the 24mm f/1.4 and 35mm f/1.4 are suitable options due to their wide maximum apertures. These lenses allow greater control over selective focus and help to give a more expansive look to the scenes you photograph.
The longest lens available from all of these manufacturers is a portrait-length 85mm f/1.4. This lens’s wide maximum aperture and longer-than-normal focal length make it ideal for isolating subject matter from distracting backgrounds, and for other selective-focus applications.
Nikon’s NIKKOR manual focus lens offerings are all designed to work with their proprietary Nikon F mount and all lenses cover full-frame sensors or 35mm film format. Each of these lenses features all-metal lens barrel construction and smooth focus action to give you improved tactility during use. The widest lens available is the 20mm f/2.8, which features a broad angle of view and Nikon’s Close-Range Correction (CRC) system, which enables an increased focusing range and better image quality at closer distances. This lens also features a Super Integrated Coating (SIC) that employs multilayer coatings to the lens elements in order to reduce ghosting, reflections and flare while also improving color accuracy and contrast.
The next two lenses, the 24mm f/2.8 and the 28mm f/2.8 follow suit and provide standard wide angle focal lengths as well as CRC and SIC technologies. A bit narrower in view, but a full two stops faster is the 35mm f/1.4, which is ideal for working with selective-focus applications and low-light conditions. There is a pair of normal length, 50mm lenses, the 50mm f/1.2 and 50mm f/1.4, which both offer wide maximum apertures and the same image quality benefitting features of the other lenses. Maintaining a normal angle of view is the Micro-NIKKOR 55mm f/2.8, which adds macro capabilities and enables the lens to focus as closely as 10.8” with a 1:2 reproduction ratio. All of these Nikon NIKKOR lenses are designated as AI-S, meaning that they allow the camera to control the aperture, giving you more precise f/-values compared to placing the aperture ring manually in-between stops.
Voigtlander, typically known for producing classic rangefinders and compatible lenses, produces a series of lenses that are designed for use with the Nikon F and Canon EF mounts. These lenses feature compact, all-metal designs and an optical quality similar to that of the Zeiss lenses mentioned here. The widest available lens from Voigtlander is the 28mm f/2.8 Color Skopar SL II. This lens measures just about an inch thick and supports both auto exposure and metering functions when used with Canon or Nikon DSLR/SLRs. Moving up slightly to a just wider-than-normal lens is the 40mm f/2.0 Ultron SL II. The 40mm is similar to the 28mm in that it has a pancake-like design and measures approximately an inch thick, but it gains a stop with the fast f/2.0 maximum aperture. Additionally, this lens comes bundled with a close-up lens for increasing the macro range from 1:7 to 1:4, which pairs well with the minimum focusing distance of 15”. The last lens offered by Voigtlander is the 58mm f/1.4 Nokton SL II and is available for the Nikon F mount only. This is their fastest full-frame lens available, and also supports in-camera exposure controls and metering.
Zeiss lenses are renowned for their quality, sharpness and clarity and feature rugged all-metal barrel and filter-ring construction for additional durability. All focal lengths feature the Carl Zeiss T* anti-reflective coating, which helps to significantly reduce the appearance of stray light, flare and other light reflections that affect image quality. There is also consistency between different focal lengths in regard to color and contrast characteristics, and each lens has a nearly circular diaphragm opening due to a nine-blade design, for aesthetic out-of-focus quality.
The Zeiss SLR lenses are primarily available for both the Canon EF and Nikon F lens mounts, although select lengths are also available with the Pentax K mount and universal M42 screw mount. Nikon F-mount lenses (called the ZF.2 series) feature manual aperture rings with 1/2-stop intervals while the Canon EF mount lenses (called the ZE series) do not have a manual aperture ring since the aperture values are controlled in-camera.
The widest lens available from Zeiss is the Distagon T* 15mm f/2.8. This lens features an ultra-wide angle of view of 110°, making it ideal for architectural applications. Its construction enables virtually distortion-free imagery and chromatic aberration correction, as well as two aspheric elements and a floating element design for high image quality throughout the focus range. Also lending itself particularly well to architectural and landscape imagery are the Distagon T* 18mm f/3.5 and Distagon T* 21mm f/2.8 lenses. These lenses enable a very wide range of focus, helping to give greater visual depth and expansive backgrounds to your imagery.
A bit faster and narrower in angle are the Distagon T* 25mm f/2.0 and Distagon T* 28mm f/2.0, which approach standard wide-angle lengths and give a fast, wide maximum aperture for low-light performance and selective focus applications. For the medium wide-angle length, Zeiss offers two 35mm options: either the Distagon T* 35mm f/1.4 or the Distagon T* 35mm f/2.0. Both of these lenses exhibit a slightly wider-than-normal angle of view and low-light capabilities, with the f/1.4 affording you a bit more control over focus.
There are also two options available for the standard normal 50mm lens size: either the Planar T* 50mm f/1.4 or the Makro-Planar T* 50mm f/2.0. The 50mm f/1.4 lens is a general-use lens with a fast, bright maximum aperture for extended low-light shooting and shallow depth of field. The 50mm f/2.0 is a macro lens and offers a maximum magnification ratio of 1:2 and a minimum focus distance of only 9.45”. The Planar T* 85mm f/1.4 lens is an ideal portrait-length lens and with the large maximum aperture, affords you tremendous control over the focus point for blurring backgrounds behind your subjects. The longest manual focus lens offered by Zeiss is the Makro-Planar T* 100mm f/2.0. This lens is ideal for close-up shooting and provides a reproduction ratio of 1:2 and minimum focus distance of only 1.4’.
In addition to buying the lenses individually, Zeiss also offers a five-lens kit that bundles the 21mm f/2.8, 28mm f/2.0, 35mm f/2.0, 50mm f/1.4, and 85mm f/1.4 lenses together in a rugged, waterproof hard case with custom foam inlays for each lens.