10 Unique Lenses: The Year in Review, 2019

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Everyone loves a nice 24-70mm or a simple 50mm lens, but nothing generates instant intrigue and interest more than a unique focal length or lens design you’ve never seen before. Whether it’s an ultra-wide-angle lens, impressively fast design, or it just has some kind of distinct trait that separates it from the norm, unique lenses are a sure way to add some character to your imagery. Despite 2019 being a foundation-building year for many manufacturers, with many lens releases focusing on core sets of standard primes and zooms, here’s a look at the 10 most unique lenses of 2019.

1. Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS

A sure way to gain entrance to the “unique lenses of the year” list is to release a specialized, niche-oriented version of an existing lens with the express purpose of producing smoother, softer bokeh. As silly as it may sound, Canon’s RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS is no joke—it’s a serious lens, which features Canon’s Defocus Smoothing coating to yield a distinct look when working at the most desirable f/1.2 wide-open position. When stopped down, this DS version and the regular version are essentially indistinguishable, but at f/1.2, the DS renders out-of-focus areas and background highlights with a softer blurred quality that especially complements portraits.

Canon RF 85mm f/1.2L USM DS Lens

2. Voigtländer Nokton Classic 35mm f/1.4 II MC/SC

Speaking of coatings, Voigtländer is another manufacturer that has released two versions of essentially the same lens, which are differentiated solely by a coating. In their case, though, the Nokton Classic 35mm f/1.4 II MC and SC lenses’ coatings represent the “character” of the lens and how contrast will effectively be rendered. The multi-coated (MC) version of this fast Leica M-mount rangefinder lens is the more contemporary-looking version, with a modern multi-layered coating to deliver high contrast, punchy colors, and an overall image feel that you would expect from most currently made lenses. The single-coated (SC) version of this wide-angle lens, however, intentionally uses just a single coating that is less effective at reducing flare than the multi-coated one. The result is dreamier image quality with reduced contrast, muted colors, and a look that is especially effective for black-and-white shooting. Besides the coatings, the 35mm f/1.4 II, in general, is also unique in that the lens itself is purposefully designed to maintain some spherical aberrations for a very characteristic and classic look.

Voigtlander Nokton Classic 35mm f/1.4 II MC Lens

3. Sigma 45mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary

Not necessarily the most unique lens on this list, but unique in its approach to what a contemporary lens can be, the Sigma 45mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary, available for Leica L and Sony E, is an unabashedly slow lens compared to the expected f/1.4 designs of most prime lenses nowadays. In an era when f/1.8 lenses seem modestly slow for a normal-length prime, an f/2.8 is an effective sloth in the speed game. However, by using an f/2.8 design, this Sigma 45mm manages to be optically refined and highly compact—perfect for achieving a compact full-frame mirrorless system. And with so many cameras now featuring excellent high-ISO performance and sensor-shift image stabilization, slow lenses are now viable options in low-light conditions.

Sigma 45mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary Lens

4. Rokinon SP 10mm f/3.5

Expectedly slow but unexpectedly wide, Rokinon’s SP 10mm f/3.5, for Canon EF, is a supremely wide prime that has among the broadest fields of view possible without being a fisheye. This rectilinear lens uses an advanced 18-element, 11-group design with several aspherical and high refractive index elements to control distortion and spherical aberrations for high sharpness and accurate rendering. It’s a manual focus lens, too, but with a 10mm focal length, depth of field is sure to be plenty to ward off any focusing accuracy worries.

Rokinon SP 10mm f/3.5 Lens

5. ZEISS Otus 100mm f/1.4

Also a manual focus lens, albeit one from a completely different realm, the ZEISS Otus 100mm f/1.4, available as ZF.2 for Nikon F and ZE for Canon EF, is the newest lens in the ultra-premium Otus lineup. As lenses designed with no holds barred, the Otus 100mm f/1.4 is a big, uncompromising lens featuring an apochromatic optical design to eliminate aberrations and color fringing for the utmost in sharpness and clarity. It uses a Sonnar concept, too, for controlling flare and producing a high degree of contrast. Like other Otus primes, this new 100mm is also characterized by its elegant exterior, rubber focusing ring, and high-visibility yellow markings.

ZEISS Otus 100mm f/1.4 ZF.2 Lens

6. Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM

One of the most coveted releases of 2019, the Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM is another premium telephoto prime that gains its uniqueness with its exceptional performance and relatively uncommon focal length, compared to the typical 85mm portrait-length lenses. The longer reach of this 135mm offers even greater selective focus capabilities and shallower depth of field for isolating subjects from busy backgrounds. And, in Shawn Steiner’s review of this lens, he writes that the 135mm f/1.8 “is built for the single purpose of producing the smoothest and most beautiful bokeh possible.”

Sony FE 135mm f/1.8 GM Lens

7. Hasselblad XCD 35-75mm f/3.5-4.5

While not especially unique in that it’s a zoom covering wide-angle to long-ish normal focal lengths, the Hasselblad XCD 35-75mm f/3.5-4.5 is unique in that it’s the first zoom for Hasselblad’s mirrorless X System, and, according to Hasselblad, delivers “prime lens performance.” This is an impressive claim from a manufacturer who already produces very few zooms, but is a claim that makes this lens even more enticing within the travel ethos of the camera system. Additionally, currently unique to Hasselblad and unique for zooms in general, this zoom has a leaf shutter design to permit flash sync at any shutter speed.

Hasselblad XCD 35-75mm f/3.5-4.5 Lens

8. FUJIFILM GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR

Another medium format lens—but this one couldn’t be more different than the last—the GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR, from Fujifilm, is the sleekest, slimmest, and most portable contemporary medium format lens out there. Making it completely viable to now use these larger format cameras for walkaround shooting, this pancake lens provides a comfortable, slightly wide field of view, has a well-corrected optical design, and uses a linear AF motor for quick and quiet focusing performance.

FUJIFILM GF 50mm f/3.5 R LM WR Lens

9. Venus Optics Laowa 4mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Also a contender for one of the most compact lenses of the year, the Laowa 4mm f/2.8 Fisheye, from Venus Optics, also has the unique distinction of having a greater-than-180-degree angle of view. At 210°, this lens effectively sees behind itself, however, at the expense of producing circular, highly distorted imagery. Despite this, it’s a versatile tool for producing full 360° stitched panoramas from just two shots, and since it has such a compact design, it’s perfectly suited for drone use.

Venus Optics Laowa 4mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens

10. Nikon NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct

And finally, we arrive at possibly the most highly anticipated lens of 2019, Nikon’s NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct. Said to be the reason the Z mount was created, this ultra-fast normal-length prime succeeds the legendary f/1.2 versions from the film era with an even faster design and even more sophisticated optics to suit shooting at wide open. The uniqueness of the lens is carried over to the physical design of the lens, too, because it’s surprisingly a manual focus lens, but does have a built-in OLED display to help with focusing information. Also, since it’s such a large and heavy lens (measuring just about 6" long and weighing 4.4 lb), it has a built-in tripod collar to help steady your shots. If ever there was a niche lens, the new Noct is it—sure to be an exacting and near-perfect lens for very specific applications.

Nikon NIKKOR Z 58mm f/0.95 S Noct Lens

Are there any other “unique” lenses from 2019 you think are especially noteworthy? What niche lens are you hoping to see in the near future? Let us know in the Comments section, just below.

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