Best of 2016: SLR Lenses


2016 was a unique year for SLR shooters, with manufacturers covering a broad variety of different lens types for different systems. Some manufacturers sought to update their classic optics with more up-to-date designs and contemporary materials, while other brands chose to delve into some less-tested territories in the well-worn landscape of SLR lenses. Here’s a look at some of our favorite releases from the past year.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED

Easily one of the most exciting lenses of the year—for SLRs or not—Nikon’s AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED is raising the bar in terms of what an exotic short telephoto can be. Ideal for portraiture, the 105mm is a nice, flattering focal length that pairs well with the bright f/1.4 maximum aperture for extensive control over depth of field, as well as extended shooting capabilities in low lighting. Three extra-low dispersion elements are used in the optical design, along with a Nano Crystal Coating to suppress flare and ghosting. All additional specs are pretty standard among premium Nikon lenses, including Silent Wave Motor AF, full-time MF override, fluorine-coated front and rear elements, and an electromagnetic diaphragm, making this is a for-sure prized prime among Nikon fans.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 105mm f/1.4E ED Lens

Nikon PC NIKKOR 19mm f/4E ED

Long desired by architecture and interior photographers in the Nikon ecosystem, shooters can finally rejoice with the ultra-wide-angle PC NIKKOR 19mm f/4E ED tilt-shift lens. Besides eking out that extra field of view compared to the previously widest 24mm PC lens, this new 19mm is also the first tilt-shift lens from Nikon that lets you adjust tilt and shift independently. The shift movement of this new lens also does not require locking or unlocking for use, and the PC rotation capability lets you rotate movements up to 90°. Beyond the movements, this lens features the most current optical design of any Nikon tilt-shift lens, with a slew of extra-low dispersion glass and aspherical elements to reduce aberrations and distortions for truly clean image quality.

Nikon PC NIKKOR 19mm f/4E ED Tilt-Shift Lens

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art

Another highly anticipated lens, Sigma finally added a classic portrait-length optic to its popular Art series, with the 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM. After dialing-in the wide-angle portion of its lineup over the past few years, the addition of a fast short tele provides a solid option for portrait and lifestyle photographers to achieve those tighter compositions and shallower-depth-of-field images. Like other Art series lenses, low dispersion glass is used in the optical design to suppress color fringing and aberrations, a Super Multi-Layer coating helps to reduce flare, and a rounded nine-blade diaphragm contributes to smooth bokeh. Additionally, like all Global Vision series lenses, the 85mm f/1.4 is fully compatible with the Sigma USB Dock to fine-tune lens characteristics and update firmware.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens

Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2 and 15mm f/2.8

As Zeiss continues to reformulate its ZF.2 and ZE lenses, two former marquee classic series lenses finally got updated status to Milvus this year: the 135mm f/2 and 15mm f/2 lenses. Both of these lenses were two of the most prized focal lengths in the classic series, and are sure to be two of the coveted Milvus optics for years to come. The 135mm f/2 uses the same apochromatic Sonnar optical design as the former 135mm, which was sometimes considered the Otus, before the Otus, due to its impressive rendering abilities, lack of color fringing, and overall sharpness. On the other end of focal length spectrum, the 15mm f/2.8 is currently the widest Milvus lens in the group, and features the same Distagon concept as the former 15mm f/2.8 to realize a broad, dynamic, and rectilinear perspective with minimal distortion. Both of these lenses are manual focus and feature the curved, frosted-anodized metal lens barrel, along with weather-sealed construction.

Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2 ZF.2 Lens

Zeiss Milvus 15mm f/2.8 ZF.2 Lens

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM

Canon’s lens releases throughout the year focused on revisions to previous, legacy lenses, with an emphasis on updating a number of models to match the progress in the company’s camera developments. One of the most exciting, and long-awaited, updates that occurred in 2016 was the release of the EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM, which steps into being the new top dog of wide-angle zooms in the L-series lineup. Featuring a revamped optical design and updated Subwavelength and Air Sphere coatings, this lens promises to deliver improved corner and edge sharpness and brightness throughout the zoom range, along with controlled distortion and reduced flare. Keeping in line with its predecessor, though, this version-III lens retains its ring-type Ultrasonic Motor for quick, fast autofocus performance and it is weather-sealed along with a fluorine-coated front element to benefit working in trying conditions.

Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM Lens

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports

The sole super-tele release for SLRs this year, Sigma introduced the new flagship optic of its Sports line of lenses, with the 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM. A big, heavy lens, indeed, this lens mixes its impressive focal length with a relatively quick f/4 maximum aperture to suit wildlife and birding photography, as well as sports and other fast-paced action subjects. Helping to steady working with such a large lens, an Optical Stabilizer system compensates for approximately four stops of camera shake and has a dedicated panning mode to benefit working with laterally moving subjects. The optical design, of course, uses low dispersion glass to reduce color fringing, and a Super Multi-Layer Coating suppresses flare and ghosting. Additionally, the lens is also compatible with optional Global Vision Teleconverters, both 1.4x and 2x, to render 700mm f/5.6 and 1000mm f/8 focal lengths, respectively.

Sigma 500mm f/4 DG OS HSM Sports Lens

Sigma TC-1401 1.4x Teleconverter

Sigma TC-2001 2x Teleconverter

The Runners Up

Missing the spotlight by just a hair, 2016 saw a handful of other notable releases catering to the SLR shooter looking to fill in some gaps in his or her lens lineup. In addition to Nikon’s portrait and tilt-shift standouts, the company also refreshed one of its most popular lenses of all time—the AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR, which adds the now-common electromagnetic diaphragm and fluorite elements to the versatile lens and, controversially, switches the zoom and focus rings for an updated handling layout.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 70-200mm f/2.8E FL ED VR Lens

Besides the excellent primes released by Sigma this year, the manufacturer also released a pair of smart zooms—the 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art and the 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art. The 50-100mm f/1.8 is a unique APS-C-dedicated tele-zoom characterized by its fast constant maximum aperture, and the 12-24mm f/4 fills a coveted spot in many nature and landscape photographers’ bags.

Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 DC HSM Art Lens

Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens

Venus Optics also introduced a couple of unique lenses this year, starting with the Laowa 105mm f/2 Smooth Trans Focus lens, which mixes the short tele focal length with an APD element to generate noticeably smooth bokeh to benefit portraiture applications. On the wide end, the Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D lens is also worth noting, due to is impressively wide focal length and rectilinear design for reduced distortion to suit architectural and interior shooters.

Venus Optics Laowa 105mm f/2 Smooth Trans Focus Lens

Venus Optics Laowa 12mm f/2.8 Zero-D Lens

Finally, Tamron also released a solid trio of lenses in 2016, and began the year with the SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD, which followed in the footsteps of last year’s 35mm and 45mm releases, and a refresh of the classic short tele macro, with the SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD. Toward the end of the year, Tamron also released a version 2 of one of its more popular lenses of late, the SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2, which sees an improved optical design, closer minimum focusing distance, and a FLEX ZOOM LOCK mechanism.

Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD Lens

Tamron SP 90mm f/2.8 Di Macro 1:1 VC USD Lens

Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD G2


I have a Canon AE-1. Are there digital bodies that can use all the lenses I have ?

Can i add a Protection Filter on Sigma 12-24mm f/4 DG HSM Art Lens?

Hi Justin-

No, the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 doesn not accept screw-in filters, so there's no way to protect the front element with a filter due to its bulbous shape.

Yes the lens hood takes screen on filters.

Have a Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon  ZOOM EF 17-40mm 1:4 L USM and Canon ZOOM EF 100-400mm 1:4 4.5-5.6 L IS II USM. Going on a trip to the Galapagos next year, any additional lens recomendations.

Hi Mike-

It really depends on what you're interested in shooting most, but based on the two lenses you currently have, it sounds like you could use something in between that 40mm to 100mm gap. A 24-70mm or 24-105mm lens would likely be most idea, and would overlap slightly with your 17-40mm, but bring you right up to where your 100-400mm begins.

For my trip to Tanzania, weight was a concern so I bought a Tamron 28-300 Zoom for my full frame Canon 5D Mark 3 and I have been very pleased.  It's around $850 from B&H.  My advice is to check out the specs.  Just sayin'

I was in the Galapagos this spring with a Canon 5D Mark III, along with the 24-70 and the 100-400mm telephoto,  This worked out real well.  You will also want the extender for the 100-400 because you will not be able to get as close to many animals as you might like, for good reasons.  Also, just for kicks I bought a GoPro Hero 4 for use in the water and that was an awesome choice,  On land you are frequently restricted, in terms of where you can walk, but in the ocean snorkelling you have considerably more freedom, or so it seems.  My video of four foot sharks feeding on plants (and not me) and getting photo-bombed by a Sea Lion are a treasure! 

Mike, I was in Galapagos in 2006; used an 18-200 exclusively. Often you will be very close -- like stepping over and around Sea Lions on a beach or literally on top of a Sally Lightfoot Crab. Nesting Frigate Birds and Albatross in flight require a tele. If I were adding to you lens line-up, I would buy a Tokina 24-70 f/2.8 -- I bought one from B&H last year and used it almost exclusively on a Peru adventure. 

Canon 24-105 f4, is my go to lens for most shots. A great lens.

Now if only that dedicated APS-C Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 would come in Sony e-mount. I feel camera wise I made the right decision but the lens eco-system is slow to materialize... :(

Hi Albert-

While maybe not as ideal as having the lens in a Sony E mount, you could definitely consider adapting a version of the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 to your Sony E camera. especially with many adapters now able to retain the autofocus of the lens for pretty seamless use. Sigma's own MC-11 Mount Converter is an especially good option for adapting Sigma's Canon EF-mount lenses to a Sony E camera.

Hi Albert - 

I understand how you feel.  SIgma, Tokina, Rokinon, etc. tend to develop lenses for Canon and Nikon as a priority.  SONY has become a major player in photo over the past years and there may something similar coming soon.  You may want to contact Sigma directly and let them know how you feel:



I am shooting with a Canon 6D, nature photographyl, landscapes, and some streetscapes.  What should be my "must have" lenses?

In addition to the 70-200mm, I would suggest a 24-70mm

16-35 f4 is a stellar lens - I loved it on my 6D for landscape and architecture shooting. The 100-400 ii is spectacular, as well!

Tokina 24-70 mm f/2.8.  It is my newfound favorite; bought from B&H about 15 months ago.

Am I correct that the Nikon 24mm f/1.8 was only released this year?  I bought it and find it razor-sharp, fast to focus, and handles well. Far superior to the earlier 24 f/2.8 and much lighter than the 1.4.


Hi Tom-

The Nikon 24mm f/1.8 was released in the fall of 2015, so it didn't make the cut for this year's article. But you're right, Nikon's recent series of f/1.8 primes are definitely very enticing considering the balance of weight and performance.

Any of the Canon lenses listed here compatible with a 10D?

Hi Eric-

All of the Canon lenses in this article will be compatible with a 10D- they are all EF-mount lenses.

I need a nice basic 35mm FX prime lens for Nikon 810. I have fast zoom and 70mm lenses for kids sports photos, but need a basic lens. Thanks

I'm enjoying the 35mm f/1.8G ED on my D750.  Very much.  And I pair it with with the 85mm f/1.8G.  I like the Nikon 1.8G primes a lot, they are at a nice price/performance ratio, and also a nice size/weight if that matters to you.  

I have heard good things about the Tamron 35 1.8. Its sharp and has image stabilization but a little on the expensive side.

If you're OK with the price and weight, I highly recommend the Sigma Art 35mm f/1.4. It's my favorite lens for my D810.

I need a new lens for Sports Photography..I currently have a Canon 7d Mark II. I will take Good, Better and Best recommendations. I already have a 85mm and a 50mm.

Thank you all in advance!

A 70-200mm lens is always a great option for sports.  For Canon, you might checkout their 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II.  Otherwise, if you are looking for a more economical option, the Tamron 70-200mm f/2.8 VC is a solid option.  You could also look at one of the f/4 options, such as the Canon 70-200mm f/4 IS.  It wouldn’t be as fast, but would still be a decent option. 

70-200L 2.8 is a great lens for sure. I have used a Canon 70-300mm IS for over 5 years now. With this lens on your 7D you will have effective reach of 480mm. It's a great budget lens for "primarily' daylight sports. Your 85mm will work for indoor sports like basketball. If you have the money then a 100-400L is even better.

I have a Canon 7D II and use a Canon 70-200 f2.8L IS for sports, primarily rodeo and sports car racing. For added reach, I add the 1.4 X Canon teleconverter and get very acceptably sharp photos with good contrast and still get fast autofocus at f 4.0. The latter is my favorite for roughstock events at rodeos because of the zoom range with very good image quality and acurate auto focus. This setup also keeps me from having a lot of weight in my bag.

The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II for day, night and inside sports. The Canon 50mm Prime is another good lens to carry around in sport shooting and also the Canon 24-79mm f/2.8L II USM. Tht should keep you covered and in good shape for sports photography.

Anonymous wrote:

The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II for day, night and inside sports. The Canon 50mm Prime is another good lens to carry around in sport shooting and also the Canon 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM. That should keep you covered and in good shape for sports photography.

I Am Pleased That This Article Has Mention To Some New Lenses From Pentax. Thank You B&H For Showcasing These Future Tools In A Comprehensive Way. B&H... "Nobody Beats 'Em"

Very interesting illustration of the new lenses featured in this article. A couple of questions: I am into Architectural/Engineering, and landscpe photo. My DSLR's are more of the entry level, such as the Canon T5, Sl1 and the late model T1i. Which of these lenses (wide angle) will be appropriate for my interest? Secondly, is it usual to include costs ( range and/or comparative) in such featured article as this? Thanks.

Of the lenses discussed in the article which are suitable for the type of wide angle applications such as you mentioned, the Venus Optics Laowa 15mm f/4 Macro Lens for Canon EF is a good choice, and also the Canon 11-24mm EF f/4L USM Lens.  (See the links below for details).  For those cameras I'd also recommend the Canon 10-18mm as it would be more affordable than the 11-24mm would.

As far as posting the cost of products in our articles go, we generally do not post the prices as prices and availability tend to change over time, and we prefer for our content here to remain relevant at any time.  We do post links to each item discussed throughout the article, and also at the end of the article if you click on the product images there you can then view the product on our website which always features our current price and availability.

See the links below for the lenses mentioned above:


What would be a good lens for a canon rebel t5i for milkyway photography?

Just got the Tamron 16-300mm lens.  Haven't really tried it out to much but for what I have I am pleased with the quality of the pics.  The build quality is also very good. Manual override while in AF is a plus.  Got to go shooting.  Dabs...

Nice roundup. I'm one of those who went mirrorless and won't be looking back. How about a similar piece on the latest and greatest lenses for Fuji X mount and other mirrorless cameras? Other than Zeiss and Rokinon + its clones, it's hard to believe that Tokina, Sigma and Tamron haven't released anything in Fuji X mount. Not that I have a problem with the Fujinons, but it would be nice to have a few more options

Me too! I'm very happy with my mirrorless Olympus.

Me three...please include the Sony a6000 and related cameras.   Really want a good Macro lens, think the 30mm Sony is probably too short a length, but not sure about the Rokinon and the Sony lens is crazy expensive (about a thousand dollars). 

I own Canon equipment including several "L" lenses. I have been a Canon person since about 1967. These new lenses look beautiful and are technical masterpieces but reading these articles is now like like reading a Motor Trend review of a new Ferrari. The Version II lenses are many hundreds of dollars more than the first version instead of giving you more bang for the same bucks. This lens technology is not following the price/performance trends of computers. More like automobiles.

What lens would be the best for my cannon D40 EOS for close ups and wide angle photos ? 

Hey Jeffrey, are you wanting recommendations from the lenses covered in this article, or generally speaking any lens recommendations?  Let us know and we'll reply back with recommendations. 

Yossi; I asking which Lens in this article would be the best for my cannon D40 for Wide Angle and Close Up Photos? 

Good article re what's new.  Also Sigma's 10-20mm f3.5 EX DC HSM and Tokina's AT-X 11-20mm f/2.8 Pro DX Could also stand a shoutout.


 I love the  Sigma 10-20mm f3.5 EX DC HSM