Have Your Say: Best Lens of 2013
Dec 18, 2013 at 21:52 GMT
Have Your Say: Best Lens of 2013
A lot of lenses were released in 2013, for a growing number of camera systems. As well as additions to established mounts this year also saw newer systems grow substantially as 'road map' lenses became a reality. We've shot with a lot of this year's most interesting lenses and reviewed some, but we want to know your opinion. What was this year's best lens? We've whittled the selection down to 10, but now it's over to you. Click through this slideshow for a look at the lenses (in alphabetical order), and scroll down to cast your vote.
A great many lenses were released this year so we've been quite selective here. Have we missed your favorite lens? Let us know in the comments.
Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x
The Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x is the world's first SLR zoom with a built-in switchable teleconverter. The 200-400mm is, frankly, a monster: it's over 36cm / 14" long and weighs 3.6 kg / 7.9 lb. It uses no fewer than 33 elements arranged in 24 groups, including Fluorite and Ultra-Low Dispersion glass. It has everything you'd expect of a professional sports optic - a weathersealed magnesium alloy barrel, ultrasonic focus motor, and image stabilisation that promises four stops benefit.
As far as performance is concerned, on full frame it's near-flawless, and there's practically no perceptible sharpness penalty for using the extender. On the more resolution-hungry APS-C format it also performs exceptionally well.
Fujifilm XF 23mm F1.4 R
The Fujinon XF23mm F1.4 R is a fast prime for Fujifilm's X system of mirrorless cameras. It offers a moderate wideangle field of view equivalent to a 35mm lens on full frame (the same as the company's fixed-lens X100S). It has traditional aperture and manual focus rings, and the latter has distance and depth of field scales too. Like the company's XF14mm F2.8R, the 23mm is fully optically-corrected for distortion.
Image quality from the 23mm is superb. It's impressively sharp wide open across most of the frame, and the corners sharpen up quickly when stopping down. Lateral chromatic aberration is essentially non-existent, and the lens is near-perfectly optically corrected for distortion. There's a little vignetting wide open, which is automatically corrected by the camera's JPEG processing. The only slight flaw is longitudinal chromatic aberration at large apertures (which can give green or magenta fringing in out-of-focus areas of the frame), but even this isn't generally very objectionable in normal use. Overall the lens produces near-flawless images from F4 through to F16.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G
The AF-S Nikkor 58mm f/1.4G is a premium standard lens for Nikon's full frame SLRs, which is designed to give the best possible imaging performance even when shot at maximum aperture. Nikon says it's highly corrected for coma, meaning that point highlights are rendered correctly right across the frame at large apertures. The lens is also specifically designed to give an attractive rendition of out-of-focus regions of the frame. It can also be used on Nikon's DX format SLRs, on which it will behave like a classic 85mm 'portrait' lens. This image quality all comes with a hefty price tag, though.
As far as performance is concerned, the 58mm isn't the sharpest 'normal' lens we've ever seen, but is it capable of rendering some of the most attractive images that we've captured on a lens of this type. Coma is exceptionally well-controlled, and the bokeh is gorgeous, although accurate focusing is essential.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 PRO
The M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-40mm F2.8 is the first lens in Olympus's 'PRO' lens line for Micro Four Thirds, and designed to match the top-end OM-D E-M1. It offers a 24-80mm equivalent range, and is dust-, splash- and freeze-proof. It uses a focus clutch design similar to the 12mm F2 and 17mm F2.8 primes, so pulling the focus ring back towards the camera engages manual focus mode and reveals a distance scale. The lens also has a L.Fn button, whose function can be assigned from the camera.
Optically, this the 24-80mm (equivalent) standard zoom is stunning, with very fast focusing to match. It's one of our favorite everyday zooms for the Micro Four Thirds system and it's been attached to our E-M1 since it was first loaned to us by Olympus.
HD Pentax-DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 ED Limited DC WR
The HD PENTAX-DA 20-40mm F2.8-4 ED Limited DC WR is the first zoom lens in the premium Limited series. It boasts a weather-resistant build (another Limited first) and provides an equivalent focal length of 30.5-61.5mm in 35mm terms when mounted to a Pentax K-mount DSLR body. The lens barrel, hood and cap are all made of aluminium alloy, and the fit and finish of this compact zoom are all in keeping with the jewel-like construction of previous lenses in the same series.
Although this lens has only been on the market for a few weeks (and we've yet to get our hands on one) it certainly looks very promising, and if image quality lives up to the standard set by previous 'Limited' lenses it should be a highly attractive option for Pentax users.
Sigma 30mm F1.4 DC HSM
The Sigma 30mm F1.4 EX DC HSM lens is a redesigned version of Sigma's popular 30mm F1.4 prime. On APS-C cameras this lens covers an effective focal length of approximately 45mm, making it a very useful standard focal length.
The new lens has an optical configuration of nine elements in eight groups, including a double-aspheric element, with rounded aperture blades for attractive blur in out of focus areas. The new 30mm F1.4 is also compatible with Sigma’s new USB Dock, which will enable firmware updates and focusing adjustments.
Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM | Art
The Sigma 18-35mm F1.8 DC HSM Art lens is the world's first constant F1.8 zoom. Designed specifically for SLRs with APS-C sized sensors, it covers a 28-50mm equivalent range, and is initially available in Canon, Nikon and Sigma mounts with Sony and Pentax versions to follow. The 18-35mm offers the depth-of-field equivalent of a constant F2.7 on full-frame, and allows the use of lower ISO settings in low light for higher image quality.
The 18-35mm uses Sigma's Hypersonic Motor for fast, silent focusing, and is compatible with the Sigma USB dock for fine-tuning autofocus calibration. Optically it's one of the finest zooms we've seen, significantly narrowing the gap between the capabilities of APS-C and full-frame systems when it comes to controlling depth of field.
Sony Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F1.4 ZA SSM
The Sony Carl Zeiss Planar T* 50mm F1.4 ZA SSM prime lens joins the existing Distagon 24mm, Planar 85mm and Sonnar 135mm in Sony’s A-mount range of prime optics by Carl Zeiss. With a fixed 50mm focal length (~75mm equivalent on APS-C) and bright F1.4 aperture, Sony is pitching this lens as an ideal companion for portraiture and low-light shooting.
Featuring eight lens elements in five groups with two aspherical elements, Sony claims that the brand new optical design of this dust and water-resistant lens is optimized for use with Sony’s full-frame α99 camera.
Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS
The Sony Vario-Tessar T* E 16-70mm F4 ZA OSS is a 24-105mm equivalent zoom lens for Sony's E-Mount. It includes Sony's OSS Optical SteadyShot image stabilization to reduce blurring from camera shake at slow shutter speeds. We haven't had a chance to use it yet, but judging by previous Zeiss-branded lenses for Sony's E and A-Mount we'd expect it to offer impressive performance on Sony's latest high-resolution NEX bodies.
Zeiss Otus 1.4/55
The Zeiss Otus 1.4/55 is a premium manual focus 'normal' lens for full frame SLRs. It's the first in a new line of lenses aimed at 'uncompromising professional' photographers, with a price tag to match. According to Zeiss it's named Otus after 'a type of owl known for its excellent vision in darkness'. On the technical side, it employs a Distagon design that's unusually complex for this class of lens, with 12 elements in 10 groups to minimise aberrations even when shooting at maximum aperture.
We've looked at the performance of the Otus on the 36MP Nikon D800, and it gives simply breathtaking results. It's super-sharp even wide open, and impressively even across the frame too. It's so good that stopping it down doesn't make a huge difference to measured sharpness - the centre peaks at F4, but it's not obvious that you'd see the difference in real-world shots. The Otus is an unusually pricey lens at €2,940 (US$3,999), but as the saying goes, you get what you pay for.