Before the Panansonic GH4, the Sony a7s and the little Sony a6000, I was a long-time Canon owner.
If you're in the market for Canon lenses, keep reading down the list, and you'll find my favorite Canon mount glass. (Spoiler alert: for full-frame I'd actually start off with Sigma Art Primes, then cut over to Canon L primes - unless you're really a zoom kind of person, in which case Canon has a couple of beauties. If you're starting with a Canon crop sensor body and on a budget, you'll be surprised how well the STM lenses do).
But as I shifted my attention to video as well as stills, I migrated to ILC (interchangeable lens camera) mirrorless. I tested out the GH4 and found I loved the lenses more than the camera itself - see the Voigtländers listed below.
It's Sony, however, that has the hot hand in my view, and I'm a convert. So let's start with them. Bottom line? Sony's got some GREAT primes on its own, and Zeiss' Loxia and Batis lenses are phenomenal. You just need an adapter or two to go super-wide with the Voigtländer Heliars or telephoto with a couple of Canon L's.
This is very probably the next lens I purchase – unless I get the Batis 85mm f/1.8. I love the slightly longer reach for portraiture (I don’t believe in soft focus lenses), and the Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 macro has…macro. Sharpness – my personal holy grail in lenses, along with micro-contrast – is top-notch. Only something this good could pry the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 macro from my hands.
This was the lens that put the first nail in the coffin of my Canon fan-boy status. It crushed my Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 USM II in sharpness, contrast, autofocus speed and silence. On my Sony a6000 it's a greatportrait lens (full frame equivalent of 80mm f/2.8 capable of pretty darned shallow depth of field. This is a Sony E lens, not FE lens - which means that while they share the same mount, this lens is designed specifically for Sony APS-C sensor cameras like the a6000. It will work in an a7 series, but only when set to crop mode.
I didn't think I'd like this lens, but I ended up loving it and bought one. B&H is currently selling them for $699 a pop, almost half its original price -- at the time of this writing, unmatched on Amazon. Call it an under-appreciated optic. Maybe it's because it's E-mount only (i.e., crop sensor), but in my view this makes it smaller and lighter than a full frame equivalent -- and more attractive. It is the widest rectilinear lens in my kit, and it's plenty sharp in spite of what I read on DxO!
If you need a really wide angle lens for your E-mount camera on a budget, this is the one to get. It’s just as sharp as the Zeiss Touit 12mm, but is a third less expensive and more versatile. Neither is as sharp as the best primes, but it is a match for the Canon EF-S 10-18mm IS STM -- which I own and find plenty sharp in the real world.
If you want a fast sharp 35mm autofocus prime for your Sony E-mount camera, this is the one. On a full frame Sony a7 series, it’s an outstanding street photography lens. On an APS-C E-mount Sony, it’s a fantastic “normal” lens. In either case, it dusts any of the zooms that include 35mm in their range. Yes, it’s big and pricey – and if you’re not wedded to the focal length -- Sony’s own FE 28mm f/2.0 is every bit as sharp (DxOMark rated the 28mm a hair sharper), almost as fast, much smaller and lighter, and just about ¼ the price. But ooh, does the Distagon feel good in your hand.
I went hands-on with the Batis 85mm f/1.8 at PhotoPlus Expo 2015. Oh, baby! The reviews are out and they're right: it's an incredibly sharp, fast, auto-focusing, and compact full-frame portrait lens for the Sony E-mount. If you don’t need macro focusing at this focal length, this is the ticket. It ain’t cheap, but it isn’t exorbitant either. The OLED display? To my surprise, I liked it. Still haven't figured out if I get this or the 90mm G Macro.
Back in the old days of Canon FD lenses (when they were new), I preferred the 24mm focal length to 28mm AND 35mm. The differences in field of view and perspective were plain to see. So I’m inclined to love the Batis 25mm f/2.0, even though I haven’t held it in my hands. All reports say it’s super-sharp – and it’s not outrageously expensive. If I had the cash, I’d look at it closely. On the other hand, I personally opted to plunk down just about 1/3 the dough on a Sony FE 28mm f/2.0 without waiting to test the Batis. I figure I can learn to live with the difference in perspective or change it in post if I really want to do so.
I love the IDEA of the Loxia line – manual focusing, fast, tack-sharp, weighty primes. And the way you want to go when using for video. Haven’t had one in hand, but believe me, I will. If I bought only one, it would be this 35mm as it gives me more flexibility: wide-angle on full frame, normal angle on the a6000.
I DID get my hands on this lens at PhotoPlus Expo, and I loved it. Zoolander levels of silky smooth, and I love the very wide view on a full frame. Maybe not quite wide enough on the APS-C a6000. It's a tough call for me between this and the Batis 25. Wouldn't it be amazing if everyone's decisions were this hard?
Check pricing and availability: B&H
Sony FE PZ 28-135mm f/4
This is the only lens I know of (and have had first-hand experience with) that has silky smooth manual focus, clickless aperture stops and cine gearing on the one hand -- and darned good autofocus and image stabilization on the other.
Oh, and great imagery.
I love this lens as the one lens to have when you're out in the field for documentary or run 'n gun work. It's big and heavy, and it isn't as wide as I'd like at the bottom end (I prefer 24mm),but for what you get at the price this is a quibble.
Micro Four Thirds Mount
I fell in love with the Noktons, and the lenses alone were almost enough to make jump into micro four thirds. If you're an MFT fan, these lenses have to be at the top of your list to explore! Manual focus, old school, sharp and FAST! This is their widest.
If you’re a micro four thirds kind of guy or gal, you owe it to yourself to try any of the Voigtländer Noktons. They are sharp, contrasty, lovely to use and hold primes that take me back to the days of my youth before autofocus and autoexposure. On an MFT camera, that f/0.95 maximum aperture translates into an effective full frame equivalent of f/1.9, which while not as impressive still gives you wonderfully shallow depth of field. Thus think of the Nokton 17.5mm as a manual focus, 35mm f/1.9 full frame equivalent, very much like the Zeiss Loxia 35mm f/2. I tested the 17.5mm, 25mm and 42.5 lenses with the GH4, and if the GH4 had had a Sony sensor, I would have gone micro four thirds right then and there.
I’ll write it again: if you’re a micro four thirds kind of guy or gal, you owe it to yourself to try the Voigtländer Noktons. I can tell you from personal experience (with the exception of the 10.5mm, which wasn’t available at the time) that they are sharp, contrasty, lovely to use and hold primes that take me back to the days of my youth before autofocus and autoexposure. On an MFT camera, that f/0.95 maximum aperture translates into an effective full frame equivalent of f/1.9, which while not as impressive still gives you wonderfully shallow depth of field. Think of this Nokton 25mm as the closest thing in the micro four thirds world to the Zeiss Loxia 50mm f/2. If the GH4 had had a Sony sensor, I would have gone micro four thirds back in 2014. Sigh. Everything is a trade-off.
Once more, with feeling: if you’re a micro four thirds kind of guy or gal, you owe it to yourself to try the Voigtländer Noktons. I can tell you from personal experience (with the exception of the 10.5mm, which wasn’t available at the time) that they are sharp, contrasty, lovely to use and hold primes that take me back to the days of my youth before autofocus and autoexposure. On an MFT camera, that f/0.95 maximum aperture translates into an effective full frame equivalent of f/1.9, which while not as impressive still gives you wonderfully shallow depth of field. Think of this Nokton 42.5mm Nkton as the closest thing in the micro four thirds world to the Zeiss Loxia 50mm they haven’t made yet: a manual focus, 85mm f/1.9 portrait lens with great image quality. If the GH4 had had a Sony sensor, I would have gone micro four thirds back in 2014. Sigh. Everything is a trade-off.
You can't use Leica glass on a Canon body, but you can put a Leica lens -- and Leica M mount glass, Leica or not, in fact - on a Sony e-Mount or Micro Four Thirds mount -- with an adapter. They are gorgeous, crisp, contrasty, tin.
I loved this lens when I used it with my Leica M8. Incredibly small, silky smooth, robust, fast, and sharp, sharp, sharp. Expensive? Wildly so. Worth it? Only if you can afford it, like the field of view, and want to shoot manually. Then? Oh, baby. I sold off the M8 because I realized I’m not a rangefinder guy (in spite of the fact that my very first experience with a 35mm camera was a Leica III), but there are days I regret selling the 35mm Summicron, too. Now, I could put it on my a6000 with an adapter. Sigh.
If you’re a Leica person, this is the portrait lens for you (they no longer make the 90mm I had, the Elmar 2.8 . Like the 35mm Summicron I owned when I had my Leica M8, it’s incredibly small, silky smooth, robust, fast, and sharp, sharp, sharp. Expensive? Just like the 35mm, wildly so. Worth it? Just like the 35mm, only if you can afford it, like the field of view, and want to shoot manually. Then? Oh, baby.
I've only dreamt about this lens on my Sony a6000 with a Metabones Leica M>NEX adapter. It's an old-school manual focus lens that is the full frame equivalent of 24mm - my favorite wide angle field of view. Earlier versions didn't play well at the edges, but this version is supposed to clean that up. Trying to get one in hand to know for sure.
Canon EF Mount
The little STMs do surprisingly well (they're actually better than their bigger and much more expensive cousins when it comes to autofocus for video), but they are no optical match for the best EF lenses. Remember: EF-S lenses ONLY work with Canon's smaller sensor interchangeable camera bodies -- the Rebels, the XXD's, and the 7D series.
Canon’s EF 50mm f/1.8 II has been called the “nifty 50” and “plastic fantastic” because of its price/performance ratio, but the brand new STM version is as good or better – much better – in every way. It’s the perfect first additional lens to buy beyond a kit lens, as that shallow depth of field is amazing – as is the low price.
I love this little lens. It's much sharper to my eye than it has any right to be at the price, and it'll get you all the way down to a full-frame equivalent (remember, EF-S lenses can only be used on crop-sensor bodies!) of 16mm. Outstanding for use on a gimbal!
If you’re a Canon APS-C shooter (the Rebel series, the 60D or 70D and earlier XXD series, the 7D or 7D Mk II, or the newest T6i/750D and T6s/760D) and want a reasonably priced, lightweight telephoto zoom with fast and silent autofocus, this is the lens for you. It’s perfect for travel photography and capturing images of your children outdoors, but with this written it is not nearly as sharp or fast (aperture-wise) as Canon’s legendary EF 70-200mm f/2.8L (not nearly as heavy, expensive or conspicuous, either).
If I were a Canon camera owner, I would look long and hard at the Sigma Art prime lenses in EF mount. .Let’s talk about this 24 from Sigma. I love the field of view and perspective of a 24mm lens on a full frame camera, much preferring it even to 28mm. I know that sounds picky, but it’s true – and this is going back 40 years to my own Canon FD 24mm f/2.8. I recently tested the Canon CN-E24mm T1.5L Cine Prime and loved these same things about it, along with its the incredibly shallow depth of field and sharpness. But for 1/6th the price of the cine lens and just about half the price for Canon’s own EF 24mm f/1.4L II USM, you can get Sigma’s new 24mm f/1.4 Art Lens which by all accounts (I have not had one in my hands) is as good or better. That leaves a lot of money on the table for other things…like more lenses, or the price of a trip on which to use them. Sounds like a plan to me.
Did I just write that “If I were a Canon camera owner, I would look long and hard at all three of the Sigma Art lenses?” Yes I did. Let’s talk about the 35 from Sigma. On a full frame camera, 35: 35mm is perhaps THE focal length for street photography, and with a maximum aperture of f/1.4, there’s basically no time of day or night you can’t capture your image. Carl Zeiss makes the renowned Distagon T 35mm f/1.4 ($1,543), and Canon has a new version of their 35mm f/1.4L USM – the 1.4L II USM – at $1,799. But for about half the price of any of the three, you can get Sigma’s 35mm f/1.4 Art Lens which DxOMark measures assharper. Again: that leaves a lot of money on the table for other things…like more lenses, or the price of a trip on which to use them. Sounds like a plan to me. Again.
Yeah, yeah: I’m writing for the third time that “If I were a Canon camera owner, I would look long and hard at all three of the Sigma Art lenses.” A 50mm lens on a full frame sensor is the classic “normal” or standard field of view lens, while on an APS-C sensor, it’s a nice portrait lens. The thing is, Sigma’s $949 50mm Art lens is sharper than every other EF mount 50mm out there with the exception of Zeiss’ $3,999 55mm Otus f/1.4 – but the Otus scores higher by only 1 point. Yes, Canon’s own EF 50mm f/1.4 is only a couple of points behind the Sigma on sharpness, does a little better on chromatic aberration and costs less than half of the Sigma, but having owned the Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 and loved its creamy quality wide open, I’d pay the extra bucks for the Sigma and call it a day.
I owned Canon’s legendary 200mm f/1.8L telephoto for years, when I used it not for professional purposes but to photograph my girls on stage dancing, acting and singing. It was a mind-blowing lens, crushing another legendary Canon lens I owned back then, the EF 70-200mm f/2.8L. Crushed it. Mauled it. Humiliated it. It’s no longer available, but an update – this 200mm f/2.0 -- is. It is freaking expensive, but if you’ve got the money and need what it can do, I can’t imagine this update is any less breathtaking.
Also very expensive, but worth it: not as fast as the 200/2.0, but 50% longer. Great outdoors for sports and landscape, and adapted to an Sony a7s II or even an a7r II, supposedly even faster autofocus than Canon bodies and astounding for indoors as well. UPDATE: as of March 21, 2016 I have to write that it is definitely NOT as fast on Sony bodies as Canon! See my massive YouTube review here.
Why wait until the end of the list to recommend the obvious 24-70? Well, its predecessor - the 28-70 - was magnificent, and it was the last L lens I held onto...until I sold it on eBay. Sorry. These are fast, sharp, tasty lenses but they are big, expensive, and I now prefer primes. But if you want a zoom (and a zoom often makes sense!), then this is one of the best out there, bar none.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM
Another magnificent zoom, unmatched among zoom lenses of this focal length. But I waited until the end for the same reason as the 24-70: it's big, expensive and I now prefer primes. But if you could only have two lenses for your Canon full-frame body, this would be one of them.
I never loved my 17-35L glass, and I never liked its successors, either. Not sharp enough for my taste, and heavy. But by all account this 11-24 is tack-sharp, and when you're shooting this wide, f/4 is usually just fine. At 11mm you're getting a very wide field of view (126 degrees) and the far end of 24mm is one of my favorite focal lengths.I'd take a close look at this one.