Between them, third-party lens manufacturers offer a sizable array of optics, some of which compete squarely with models from major manufacturers while others fill a void of some kind within their ranges. By undercutting their bigger rivals in price while ensuring their products are competitively specified, these manufacturers’ lenses are an attractive option not only for budget-conscious novices, but enthusiasts and professionals, too. And, by occasionally trading away certain functionality for a significant proportion of the asking price, they’ve played a vital part in democratizing access to more exotic optics.

Here, we've examined ten of the most interesting third-party lenses on the market, arranged broadly by type, from wide-angle and standard zooms, through macro and prime lenses and ending with telephoto zooms. This article is not intended to be comprehensive, (we don't cover telephoto primes for example, or extreme telephoto zooms) and nor is it a review, per se. Where a lens has been tested by dpreview, we've included relevant observations and a link to the full review.

All pricing information is 'street' rather than MSRP, and where minor price variations exist between versions of the same lens, a representative average is given. Please note that if you click the 'check price / buy now' links you may still be a couple of clicks away from seeing purchase details for the lens mount that you're looking for.

The lenses: (click to jump straight to each lens)

Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm F2.8 DX

A short focal range maybe, but Tokina's AT-X Pro 11-16mm F2.8 DX offers a large constant F2.8 aperture

Tokina caters particularly well for wide-angle aficionados, and while this optic offers a narrower focal length range than its immediate competitors it has the advantage of a constant F2.8 maximum aperture. Indeed, Tokina’s reasoning for the lens’s short zoom range is that this upholds optical performance when used at its widest apertures.

The lens is only compatible with the cropped-sensor DSLR offerings from Canon, Nikon and Sony, where its equivalent focal length is closer to 18-26mm for owners of the former and 17-25mm for those using the latter two systems. Its reach ends, therefore, quite neatly at the point where most standard kit lenses begin theirs.

In addition to the multi-layer coatings on the lens’s internal elements, a water-repellant optical coating applied to the front element is designed to help keep water droplets from forming on the glass. Other features of note include an internal focusing system, as well as a One Touch Focus Clutch mechanism which allows the focusing ring to be easily snapped back and forth to alternate between auto and manual focusing operation.

An alternative wide zoom option from Tokina is the AT-X Pro SD 12-24mm F4 (IF) DX, a superb performer with excellent sharpness and low distortion characteristics. Since its release it has been updated with a Mark II version, which makes use of new optical coatings and is primarily aimed at Nikon users whose DX-format bodies lack their own focusing motor - elsewhere the two lenses are virtually identical. Another option, this time courtesy of Sigma, is the Sigma 10-20mm F3.5 EX DC HSM, which by comparison to the Tokina AT-X Pro 11-16mm F2.8 DX trades a little of its maximum aperture for a slightly broader focal range.

Key Features/Specifications

• Constant F2.8 aperture
• One-touch Focus Clutch Mechanism
• Available in Canon EF, Nikon F (DX), Sony Alpha mounts
• Maximum format size: APS-C / DX
• Dimensions: 84 x 89 mm (3.31 x 3.51 in)
• Weight: 560 g (1.23 lb.)

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Pros - Constant F2.8 aperture, internal focusing, useful range for those with standard ‘kit’ lenses
Cons - Narrow focal length range next to those of its competitors, available in only three fittings

Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM

An ultra-wide lens for cropped sensor cameras, the Sigma 8-16mm F4.5-5.6 DC HSM is ideal for general-purpose landscape and architectural photography.

Despite its small form-factor and unassuming design, this lens has the honour of being the widest rectilinear zoom lens designed for cropped-sensor DSLR cameras. Its approximately 12-24mm equivalent focal length range provides users with an impressively wide maximum angle of view of 121 degrees, something usually only obtainable with full-frame DSLRs.

Four 'F' Low Dispersion (FLD) elements are positioned toward the rear of the optic, and according to Sigma, these elements are comparable in effectiveness to fluorite with regards to minimizing chromatic aberrations. Three aspherical elements are also included for managing distortion, spherical aberration and astigmatism, while Super Multi Layer coatings play the vital role of improving light transmission and minimizing reflections. The lens’s focusing system hasn’t been overlooked either, with a Hyper Sonic Motor providing full-time manual override over its autofocus functionality.

A relatively recent addition to Sigma’s stable, the lens joins the previous 10-20mm F4-5.6 EX DC HSM model, which itself is a favourite among cropped-sensor DSLR users. Tamron’s SP AF 10-24mm F3.5-4.5 Di II LD Aspherical (IF) is another sub-$500 alternative.

Key Features/Specifications

• Widest rectilinear zoom lens designed for APS-C/DX users
• Hyper Sonic Motor with full-time manual focus override
• Available in Canon EF, Pentax KAF3, Sony Alpha, Sigma SA, Nikon F (DX) mounts
• Maximum format size: APS-C / DX
• Dimensions: 75 x 106mm (2.95 x 4.16 in)
• Weight: 555 g (1.22 lb.)

Pros - Internal focusing system, useful focal length range for cropped-sensor DSLRs
Cons - Closest competitors around $200 less, slightly smaller overall maximum apertures than competition

Click here to read page 2 of our roundup of third-party lenses