As requested from the camera body shopping guide post (thanks Tim and Chris), here are my opinions on the best lenses for the various mirrorless systems. Keep in mind that I have not shot extensively with all of these lenses, or at least, many of the lenses for systems that aren’t the micro 4/3 system aside from the tire kicking in stores or when getting the chance to shoot friend’s gear, so my opinion is based on minimal use combined with personal intrigue and web based research. Because I don’t own an X series or Alpha E (NEX, etc) camera body, I have not been able to access many of the lenses on offer for any period of time, but there are a few I have, as well as those that I would certainly look long and hard at if I was invested in these systems. As for the micro 4/3 lenses, I have those down pretty well. C’mon in and I’ll lay out my faves…
Firstly, I’ll have a look at the Micro 4/3 lenses, then the Fuji X series lenses and finally the E and FE mount Sony lenses. I’m not particularly familiar with the Pentax, Samsung, Nikon, Leica, Canon or other mirrorless lines, nor have I had time or interest to really research them, so I’ll stick to these three. (Okay, I am familiar with the Canon EOS-M, but there has been nothing new in over a year)
Where applicable, I’ll separate them into primes and zooms as well as further dividing them by wide, standard – short portrait, and tele options. The prices listed are from today, and may change. I’ve put them in just for reference, but click the links to see them at B&H Photo through my affiliate account.
Without further ado…
MICRO 4/3 PRIME LENSES
My choice for the best values, most intriguing and highest quality m4/3 lenses. (*The micro 4/3 system has a 2x crop factor for those new to these systems, meaning to equal the field of view in 35mm/Full Frame terms, merely double the focal length to gain the E-FOV).
Rokinon 7.5mm f/3.5 Fisheye ($269 and if you buy the Bower Version, it’s only $199 right now!) – (*the only difference between the Rokinon and the Bower is the branding, both are built and come from the same factory…) A fisheye is a very specialized lens, there’s no doubt about that. With severe distortion, you have to embrace the chaos. Getting past that, this lens is an absolute steal. Yes it is manual focus only, but I’ll give you a hint… Stop down to f/5.6, slightly bump the focus ring about a millimeter or so shy of infinity and leave it there. Everything between about a foot from the camera through infinity will be in focus. Having to pay a ridiculous premium for AF on the Lumix 8mm f/3.5 fisheye, to me, is just silly. Optically, this lens is fully capable, and for the price, is just a gem. Fun for video, especially for those who follow shoot sports like skating, snow sports et al and the aperture is manually controlled which is great for video. (you can read my take on the Rokinon fisheye here)
Olympus 12mm f/2 ($799) – My choice for the original wide angle leg of the micro 4/3 holy trinity, and nothing has changed. It’s a great, well built lens with a very cool push/pull AF/MF operation where, when using manual focusing, you get a distance scale!
Panasonic 14mm f/2.5 ($323) – Aside from the cheapie 15mm f/8 lens cap thing from Olympus, I believe this to be the smallest lens available for the system. It weighs next to nothing, focuses remarkably fast, is optically lovely and can allow you to fit a camera and lens combo into a pocket. I chose this lens over the 12mm Oly based on cost, weight and size personally and haven’t been disappointed.
*keep an eye on the soon to be released Pana-Leica 15mm f/1.7 lens. Kinda weird focal length, but could be a winner…
Olympus 17mm f/1.8 ($399) – The price for this lens has come down to earth, and I’m glad it has because at this price point, it is a very compelling option for those who like the slightly wider than traditional “standard” field of view. A ~35mm E-FOV lens provides a great all around focal length for me, and if forced into only one lens, it would be a 35-40mm E-FOV lens for whichever system I happened to be using. Versatile, fast and it also incorporates the nice push/pull focusing ring with a solid metal construction. It’s not tested to be the sharpest lens wide open, but for a reportage type lens, pure sharpness wide open isn’t always the most important factor.
Panasonic 20mm f/1.7 II ($398 after $30 rebate!) – When I first got into this system, the original 20mm pancake had a large role in me choosing this system. I’ve now got both the original and version II, and both are comparable and nearly imperceptible. To me, a tad pricy as it should have stayed a sub $400 lens (price has gone down thanks to a $30 rebate), just as the first one was, but this lens shows exactly what the system is capable of. High quality, sharp wide open, very compact and light weight all while having a very fast max aperture for the overall package. Not much bigger than the 14mm pancake, but in my opinion, a more artistic lens capable of better low light and shallow DOF shooting. I’m working on a v.I vs v.II comparison and it should be up very soon.
Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 ($529) – Normally, I’m not a huge fan of the 50mm “standard” field of view, usually opting for a slightly wider angle to work with. This lens has crushed that preference for me. OKAY after being priced at $628 up until today (12/12), the lens is back to normal price! Who knows how long it will stay down, but this is much closer to the normal price for this lens which has wonderful contrast and saturation, dreamy bokeh and is sharp, albeit tricky to work with the shallow DOF wide open. Still, the fastest proprietary lens for the m4/3 mount and boasts an optical design by Leica, it’s one of, if not the best overall lens for the system in my opinion. (read about my own personal experiences with the PL25 here)
Olympus 45mm f/1.8 ($349) – This lens might be the best value, dollar to quality that the system has. A traditional portrait focal length that is sharp, fast and renders out of focus areas beautifully. It should be considered by most anyone shooting the system unless you opt for the other 45mm…. (or are tempted by the recently announced, soon to be released, and guaranteed to be spendy Pana-Leica 42.5mm f/1.2 lens)
Pana-Leica 45mm f/2.8 OIS Macro ($719) – While this lens’ price has seemed to yoyo a bit of late, it’s now near it’s “normal” price. The same benefits to being designed by Leica come into play here as well. Some may point to the Oly 60mm macro, but I found that lens to be entirely unusable in anything other than bright light, and even then it was horribly inconsistent AF wise, and the manual focus by wire was nothing short of frustrating. I settled on buying a macro lens for my full frame system instead and I’m pretty happy with that decision. If I were going to buy a macro lens for the micro 4/3 system, it would be this one though.
Olympus 75mm f/1.8 ($899) – Without question, the sharpest lens available for the system, and it is awesome. The price is what it is, and I’m tired of having the ongoing debate about comparably constructed full frame offerings being less than half the price. Yes, I absolutely feel its price should be lower, but if you want the best image quality that the system is currently capable of, you’d be hard pressed to do it with a different lens. It’s wonderful, and just about equals the illustrious full frame EF 135mm f/2 L lens (I did an extensive test between the two HERE, and have a review on the 75 on its own here), so looking at quality for price, I guess you can justify it that way.
MICRO 4/3 ZOOMS
Panasonic 7-14mm f/4 ($968)- The widest rectilinear optic for the system. It has been noted to exhibit some fringing (ca) on Olympus bodies in harsh contrast situations, but otherwise performs really well, and when on a Panasonic body, allows for in body optical correction regarding chromatic aberrations, etc.
Panasonic 12-35mm f/2.8 OIS ($1119) – An optically stabilized, internally zooming standard pro zoom. A go to tool for many pro and enthusiast shooters. Aside from ultra wide or tele needs, or shooting in low light, this lens could be seen as a one lens solution for most everything.
Olympus 12-40mm f/2.8 ($999) – It isn’t stabilized and it extends as it zooms, but otherwise, it’s less expensive, has a little bit more on the long end and this lens should certainly give the Panasonic a run for its money.
Olympus 12-50mm f/3.5-6.3 ($499) – While not nearly as fast as the pro-spec’d zooms, this lens can hold its own, and it’s weather sealed. It also has a very handy macro setting getting you to 1:2 magnification. A good, low budget all ’rounder.
Panasonic 35-100mm f/2.8 OIS ($1338) – Not cheap, but also a really good lens. The “pro” compliment to the 12-35mm, it is also compact, utilizes optical image stabilization built for the lens and internally zooms. Currently, this is the most expensive lens with a micro 4/3 mount, or at least the most expensive proprietary lens that I’m aware of. A sport, studio or wedding shooter’s tool, this lens was made to help a photographer make money while also relieving them of some of it in the mean time.
Panasonic 100-300mm f/4-5.6 OIS ($485!) – Where else, in any other system, can you find a 600mm equivalent f/5.6 lens for anywhere near this price that isn’t a cheap mirror lens? (Price just dropped by over a hundred dollars too!) Nowhere that I know of, that’s where. A very good lens regardless of price, a great value when looking at what you get for the price. You know how I talked about the benefit of the system being able to offer small, fast, sharp lenses (see the 14mm and 20mm pancakes above)? The crop factor allowing for super tele lenses at reasonable prices is another major one of the benefits. (my review on the 100-300 lives here)
FUJI X LENSES
The Fuji X series cameras are intriguing to me. Unfortunately, my experience with them is very limited. More than any other system though, my curiosity has been peaked in regards to their approach as more a poor man’s Leica as opposed to a zoom laden consumer only system trying to build a one size fits all type setup. While I don’t think it’s right for everyone, I do like it in theory. Sporting a 1.5x crop factor APS-C X-trans sensor (with the exception of the lowest end camera) the Fuji’s are very compelling cameras, with a variety of FAST lenses. I tend to find myself shooting in low light often for my own personal shooting because my spare time seems to stack up at the end of the day, and a fast lens is necessary for me, what and how I like to shoot. If I were to get into this system, this is what I’d be looking to buy.
Fuji XF 14mm f/2.8 ($899) – A wide, reasonably fast, sharp prime lens. If initial reports are accurate, this lens is going to be a beauty.
Fuji XF 23mm f/1.4 ($899) – This would be the first lens I saved up for. Roughly a 35mm equivalent lens with a large max aperture would be a great everyday, almost everything lens for me.
Fuji XF 35mm f/1.4 ($599) – Okay, scratch that, I’d probably buy this lens first, and then possibly sell it off when I decided to buy the 23mm if I found the standard angle of view to be surplus.
Fuji XF 60mm f/2.4 Macro ($649) – A decently fast macro and portrait lens to round out my primes.
Fuji XF 18-55mm f/2.8-4 OIS ($645) – Not your average kit zoom. While I’m not normally a fan of zooms, especially for a rangefinder style body as they can quickly become too bulky and unruly, this one might just provide the all around handiness needed for a high quality, compact travel system.
SONY ALPHA-E MOUNT LENSES
Now, in the Sony E-mount, we have the standard Alpha-E mount for the current crop of NEX cameras (APS-C 1.5x crop), and the Alpha-FE mount for the new mirrorless Full Frame cameras. As is, if I were to buy into the Alpha NEX or the Alpha FE systems, the couple lenses that have caught my attention are these…
Sony E 10-18mm f/4 OSS ($748) – A wide angle zoom for travel or walk around purposes.
Zeiss E 24mm f/1.8 ($899) – The price on this bad boy has come down by about two hundred bucks which is surprising to me. If I were shooting an APS-C NEX camera, I’d have this lens.
Sony 35mm f/1.8 ($398) – Roughly a standard equivalent prime lens, and while I admittedly don’t have any personal experience with this particular lens, it is one of the few fast primes for NEX cams, seems very well thought of and reviewed and it is reasonably priced.
In the full frame realm, Sony and Zeiss have developed a couple of undoubtedly high quality zooms, but they’re slow (f/4). To me, with a full frame (or any system) the overall system is so greatly benefited by faster lenses. Sure, having slower more budget friendly options are great, but the f/4 Sony/Zeiss lenses aren’t really cheap, nor are they remotely fast. I know that f/4 seems to be the new f/2.8 because camera companies can fall back on better high ISO performance, but if that is the case, please adjust the pricing accordingly. I like how Sigma has been blowing up of late going the other way with an f/1.8 zoom and reasonably priced, high quality f/4 zooms… That said, these two would probably be my first acquisitions if I were to drop the coin for an A7 or A7r:
Zeiss FE 35mm f/2.8 ($798) – I wish this lens were either cheaper, or faster. I’d say for 800 bucks, it should be an f/2 optic myself, but from what I’ve seen, it’s a good performer, although, I might just buy an adapter for my awesome Voigtlander 40mm f/2 Ultron pancake lens.
Zeiss FE 55mm f/1.8 ($998) – A full frame tight standard and short portrait Sony/Zeiss lens. Not much more to say than that🙂
So, that’s that folks! Thanks for reading through my lens wish list, and here’s to hoping that everyone has a safe and healthy end to the year. Happy holidays and I look forward to all our future interactions.
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