When you’re looking to up your photography ante, you’ll want to sup up your lens options. A great lens on even a low-budget camera body can produce amazing images, but lenses perform differently depending on their specific function. Zoom lenses are for capturing images at a distance, while macro lenses are for very close-up photography. Mainstream camera brands all make their own lenses, but sometimes so-called third-party lenses can deliver the same high quality imaging capability at a fraction of the cost. Here are our top choices for third-party camera lenses.
Sigma 18–35mm f/1.8
With one of the widest aperture settings available, this Sigma is currently available for both Nikon and Canon mounts. It can capture twice as much light as an f/2.8 zoom, making it an ideal lens for indoor or low light photography.
• Beautiful, true color and sharp images
• Very fast autofocus in well-lit situations
• Internal zoom function
• Customizable autofocus parameters
• Heavier than other comparable lenses
• No optical stabilization
Tamron 24–70mm f/2.8 Di VC USD
When it came out, this Tamron was the only image-stabilized lens of its length on the market for DSLR cameras. With a 2.8 aperture setting, this lens has professional imaging capabilities.
• Vibration Compensation (image stabilization) feature
• Very sharp imaging capability even at low aperture
• Six-year manufacturer warranty
• Minimal lens flare
• Slight vignetting (when images lose saturation toward the edges of the image)
• Focusing speed a bit slower than Canon or Nikon lenses
• A bit heavier than competitors
Zeiss 50mm f/1.4 Planar T
Carl Zeiss is one of the most recognized names in lens glass, and it’s for good reason. This lens has stood the test of time—it wasn’t developed for use with digital cameras, but if you’re looking for super smooth performance with tack sharp imaging power, this is a good choice.
• Very smooth focus ring for easy focusing
• Super sharp imaging
• Minimal distortion
• Focus field very long
• Manual focus only (no autofocus option can be different for beginner DSLR photographers)
• Focusing not easy—not recommended for “on the fly” photography
Tokina 11–16mm f/2.8 AT–X Pro DX II
The fastest wide angle zoom lens for crop-sensor cameras, this is a versatile and relatively inexpensive lens that vastly increases your imaging capability. Use with full-frame bodies will result in black corners around the edge of the image.
• Multilayered glass elements for sharp imaging capability
• Can switch between manual and auto focus by pushing or pulling the focus ring
• Internal focusing function (good for nature photography)
• Auto focus is loud and rather slow
• Not as durable as Canon or Nikon lens construction
• Doesn’t always perform well in low light situations
Rokinon / Samyang 24mm f/3.5 Tilt Shift
This Rokinon / Samyang is among the least expensive tilt shift lenses you can buy. Tilt-and-shift photography makes landscapes or cityscapes look as if they were shot in miniature, making this lens an interesting one if you’re ready to explore your creativity. It’s not, however, a practical all-purpose lens.
• Great for architecture or landscape shots
• Multilayered glass for low dispersion
• Buttons turn smoothly, easy to use
• Sturdy, durable construction
• No autofocus function
• No electronic aperture control
• No focus confirmation feature