Samyang* 8mm F3.5 Aspherical IF MC Fish-eye

Samyang's 8mm F3.5 Aspherical IF MC makes fisheye photography accessible to budget-
conscious photographers.

Samyang is one of the lesser known (and certainly less prolific) lens manufacturers, but its modest selection of manual focus lenses is worth a look since they all tend to reside in a lower price bracket than those of more mainstream, better-known competitors. The 8mm F3.5 Aspherical IF MC Fisheye lens is perhaps one of its most attractive models, as it provides DSLR and compact system cameras users with the cheapest entrance into fisheye photography, outside of supplementary adapters of dubious quality.

Available in Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Four Thirds, Sony Alpha and Samsung NX mounts, the optic boasts a 180-degree angle of view when used with APS-C format cameras, and as with most other fisheye lenses a petal-shaped hood is integrated into lens itself. Anti-reflection coatings are used to both improve light transmission and reduce flare, while a hybrid aspherical lens also features within the optical construction to optimize peripheral sharpness.

If you're interested in this lens but you shoot with an Olympus or Panasonic mirrorless interchangeable lens camera, Samyang has also developed a tiny 7.5mm 1:3.5 UMC Fisheye lens specifically for the Micro Four Thirds platform, with an estimated retail price of €299.

The remaining lenses within Samyang’s current line up collectively span an impressive range of focal lengths, and even include a few mirror lenses, although the majority fall under one distinct category: affordable, manual-focus prime lenses, with relatively large maximum apertures. These include the 24mm F1.4 ED AS UMC and Samyang 35mm F1.4 AS UMC, both of which are compatible with many full-frame and cropped sensor DSLR systems, as well as an 85mm F1.4 Aspherical IF lens which is significantly lower in price than both Nikon's AF-S Nikkor 85mm F1.4G and Sigma's 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM objectives.

* Note: Although manufactured by Samyang this lens is also available under at least three different brand names in certain territories - Pro Optic, Rokinon and Bower.

Key Features/Specifications

• 180 degree field of view for APS-C cameras
• Multilayer antireflection coating
• Available in Canon EF, Nikon F (FX), Four Thirds, Pentax KAF, Sony Alpha, Samsung NX mounts
• Maximum format size: APS-C / DX
• Dimensions: 75 x 77 mm (3.04 x 2.95") Length
• Weight: 443 g (0.98 lb.)

Pros – Low cost, compatibility with six different systems including MFT and Samsung NX
Cons – No autofocus

Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM

A standard focal length paired with a usefully wide aperture, the Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM compares more than favorably with its peers

This fast standard prime optic is, unusually, priced a shade higher than Canon and Nikon’s alternatives, although its high performance goes some way to justifying its premium. Compatible with both full-frame and cropped-sensor DSLR bodies, the lens employs a single aspherical element for the correction of spherical aberration and distortion, as well as nine rounded aperture blades for pleasing bokeh.

It exhibits low distortion and vignetting - even when paired with a full-frame sensor - and maintains excellent central sharpness throughout its aperture range. While not quite as compact or lightweight as its contemporaries, the inclusion of Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor ensures that autofocus is largely fast and positive, with full-time manual override available through the focusing ring.

Sigma also carries a number of additional large-aperture prime lenses such as the 30mm F1.4 EX DC HSM (which is only compatible with cropped-sensor DSLR bodies) and the full-frame 85mm F1.4 EX DG HSM, both of which are worth considering depending on the camera you’re using and your desired focal length.

Key Features/Specifications

• Hypersonic Motor with full-time manual focus override
• 9 rounded aperture blades
• Available in Canon, Four Thirds, Nikon, Pentax, Sigma, Sony/Minolta mounts
• Maximum format size: Full Frame
• Dimensions: 84.5 x 68.2mm
• Weight: 505g (1.1 lb.)

Pros - Excellent image quality, silent AF system
Cons - More expensive than closest rivals, quite heavy and bulky

Tamron SP AF 60mm F2 Di II LD IF Macro

Tamron's SP AF 60mm F2 Di II LD IF Macro boasts internal focusing and a wide f/2 maximum aperture

The shortest of three Tamron macro options, the SP AF 60mm F2 Di II LD IF Macro is the only lens in the company’s macro range designed specifically for cropped-sensor DSLR bodies. Its internal focusing system and 1:1 reproduction ratio makes it a capable alternative to similar 60mm macro options from Canon and Nikon, while its short telephoto effective focal length on cropped-sensor DSLRs means that it can also helpfully double up as a suitable portrait lens.

This lens also has the advantage of a larger maximum aperture than those of its rivals, while its 100mm working distance at its maximum magnification ratio is useful when you need to keep a little bit of distance between the lens and delicate, perhaps live subjects. Furthermore, the lens's built-in AF motor means that automatic focus is possible when it is paired with low-end Nikon DSLRs like the D3100 and D5100 (and their earlier equivalents).

Those with full-frame cameras - or more exacting standards and a budget to match - may wish to consider the Carl Zeiss Makro-Planar T* 2/50, the fastest 50mm macro lens compatible with full-frame cameras. Available in Canon, Nikon and Pentax fittings, this manual-focus only optic makes use of a floating focus system to correct aberrations, and boasts both a sturdy construction and beautifully minimalist design.

Key Features/Specifications

• 1:1 reproduction ratio
• Internal focusing system
• Available in Canon EF, Sony Alpha, Nikon F (DX)
• Maximum format size: APS-C / DX
• Dimensions: 73 x 80mm (3.15 x 2.87 in)
• Weight: 400g (0.88 lb.)

Pros - F2 aperture, internal focusing system
Cons - No focus limit switch, not compatible with full-frame bodies

Sigma 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM

Sigma's 105mm F2.8 EX DG OS HSM may not be the smallest macro lens, but it's certainly well specified

Compatible with cropped-sensor and full-frame bodies, Sigma’s update to its seven-year-old 105mm F2.8 EX DG Macro brings with it a number of key benefits, notably an Optical Stabilizer system for Canon, Nikon and Sigma users. Another change comes in the form of Sigma’s Hyper Sonic Motor technology, while a revised optical design now incorporates two different types of Special Low Dispersion glass said to better correct chromatic aberration.

While physically much larger than its predecessor, its internal focusing system means that its length stays constant while focusing, while a Hyper Sonic Motor proves near-silent autofocus. Thanks to its splash proof casing the lens is also well insulated against adverse shooting conditions, while a redesigned focus limit function now offers three separate positions to immediately instruct the focusing system where it should concentrate.

Two natural alternatives to this lens are the Tamron SP AF 90mm F2.8 Di Macro and Tokina AT-X Pro 100mm F2.8 Macro. Unlike the Sigma lens neither has an image stabilization system built in, although the three lenses share many key specifications including a 1:1 reproduction ratio, a focus limit switch and compatibility with both full-frame and cropped sensor DSLR bodies. As a further incentive, each also has an asking price around half of that of the Sigma lens, which currently retails at just under $1000.

Key Features/Specifications

• Optical Stabilizer system
• Rounded nine-blade diaphragm
• Available in Canon EF, (full frame and APS-C) Sigma SA, Nikon F (FX)
• Dimensions: 78 x 127mm (3.08 x 4.99 in)
• Maximum format size: 35mm (full frame)
• Weight: 725g (1.6 lb.)

Pros - Four-stop Optical Stabilization system, internal focusing, weather sealing
Cons - Larger and heavier than similar macro lenses, double the price of Tamron and Tokina’s alternatives

Click here to read page 4 of our roundup of third-party lenses