DSLR Lenses: the Year in Review


Even while the development and production of DSLRs themselves has slowed down considerably in 2018, DSLR lens development continues to be strong. This year saw a great number of exciting and unique releases alongside a host of positive upgrades to existing focal lengths.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR

If not the most impressive lens of the year, at least it has the longest name. Nikon started 2018 in a very exciting way with this high-end 180-400mm f/4E lens, which has a built-in 1.4x teleconverter, and features practically all of Nikon’s optical technology, ranging from a fluorite element, to four stop-effective VR. It’s safe to say this optically refined telephoto zoom is on the wish list for all birders and wildlife shooters out there.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 180-400mm f/4E TC1.4 FL ED VR Lens

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM

Overshadowed by the release of the EOS R system, and announced in conjunction with the new 600mm f/4L III lens, the updated EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM is perhaps Canon’s most impressive lens of the year, even compared to the updates to the popular 70-200mm f/2.8L IS and f/4L IS lenses. The new 400mm is a whole 2.2 lb, or roughly 25%, lighter than its predecessor, features a more advanced optical design with fluorite and Super UD glass, as well as Canon’s Air Sphere Coating, and has an improved Image Stabilizer to compensate for five stops of camera shake.

Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM Lens

Lensbaby Burnside 35

Daring to be different, and contrary to the hyper-sharp and optically refined designs of most, Lensbaby strives to excel in the realm of blur. An intriguing lens, the Burnside 35 is a unique 35mm f/2.8 prime featuring two separate diaphragms for increased control over vignetting and bokeh quality to support making selective-focus, shallow-depth-of field imagery.

Lensbaby Burnside 35mm f/2.8 Lens for Sony A

Premium, Fast 50mm Lenses

It’s been a trend over the past few years for manufacturers to up the game from their older, basic 50mm lenses, and 2018 saw a few more additions to the high-end 50 club. Tokina announced its first SLR lens in a while, the opera 50mm f/1.4 FF, which uses low dispersion and aspherical elements to produce impressively sharp, well-controlled imagery. Similarly, Pentax debuted its HD FA 50mm f/1.4 SDM AW lens, which is the first newly designed prime since the launch of the full-frame K-1 DSLR. Finally, Rokinon is also entering the fast 50 ring, and raising the bar with the even faster SP 50mm f/1.2. This joins its premium SP line with the 14mm f/2.4 and 85mm f/1.2 of optically refined manual focus primes.

Tokina opera 50mm f/1.4 FF Lens for Nikon F
Pentax HD FA 50mm f/1.4 SDM AW Lens
Rokinon SP 50mm f/1.2 Lens for Canon EF

Sigma Art and Sports-Series Lenses

It was a big year for Sigma lens development, and it’s just too difficult to narrow down the company’s releases to a single standout for 2018. The year started with the impressive 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art; a massive short tele with a bright f/1.4 design, which was announced alongside the versatile, perfect-for-landscapes 14-24mm f/2.8 DG HSM Art and the sleek, 1:1-mag. 70mm f/2.8 DG Macro Art. Later in the year, during Photokina, Sigma unloaded again with another pair of Art-series lenses—the 28mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art and the 40mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art—as well as a pair of Sports-series lenses—the 60-600mm f/4.5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports and the 70-200mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sports.

Sigma 105mm f/1.4 DG HSM Art Lens for Canon E

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR

While Nikon only had two DSLR lens announcements in 2018, both lenses are total stunners. Also overshadowed by its mirrorless release, for the Z7 and Z6 system, Nikon’s second SLR lens announcement concerned the svelte AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR. Yes, a svelte 500mm lens. Aided by the unique Phase Fresnel design, first seen in the 300mm f/4E PF from a few years ago, this lens is roughly the size of a 70-200mm, weighs less than half of its 500mm f/4 sister, and has four stop-effective VR for legitimate handheld use.

Nikon AF-S NIKKOR 500mm f/5.6E PF ED VR Lens

Tamron’s Trio of Zooms

Early in 2018, Tamron released its take on a lightweight telephoto zoom with the 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD; a sleeker counterpoint to its f/2.8 version, but still fitted with VC image stabilization and a respectable constant f/4 maximum aperture. Later in the year, Tamron focused on the wide zooms with the versatile 17-35mm f/2.8-4 Di OSD, along with the second-generation SP 15-30mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2.

Tamron 70-210mm f/4 Di VC USD Lens for Canon EF

Venus Optics Probe and Ultra Macro Lenses

Consistently unique, Venus Optics produced a pair of notably distinct lenses this year, with both specializing in new and exciting ways to work with close-up subjects. Undeniably one of the weirdest-looking lenses out there, the Laowa 24mm f/14 Probe is an ingenious tool for getting close to subjects and sneaking into tight spaces. For getting even closer, there’s the Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro, which, as its name suggests, is optimized for closer-than-life-size shooting within a 2.5:1 to 5:1 range.

Venus Optics Laowa 24mm f/14 Probe Lens for Canon EF

What are your thoughts on 2018’s portfolio of lenses for DSLRs? Do these new and enticing options inspire you to continue investing in your DSLR system? Let us know!