10 Modern Mirrorless Systems and the Lenses That Help Them Shine

November 24, 2014

By Theano Nikitas

Bob Dylan famously observed that you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows. And there’s an unmistakable wind at the back of mirrorless camera systems. Models like Panasonic’s Lumix GH4 and Sony’s A7/A7R have piqued the interest of both professional still photographers and videographers (and those who do both).
Whether you’ve taken the plunge or still have your finger to the wind, we’ve collected some of the key glass across a spectrum of lens mounts to show you what mirrorless systems have to offer.
Leica recently announced two T-mount lenses along with its new Leica T mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera: the Summicron-T 23mm f/2 ASPH and the Vario-Elmar-T 18–56mm f/3.5–5.6 ASPH lens. Of the two, we think the 23mm model is better suited to pro photographers, thanks to its 35mm full-frame-equivalent focal length and f/2–16 aperture range.
Designed with nine elements in six groups, the 23mm lens features two aspherical surfaces that help it deliver lovely bokeh. Autofocus is available but the lens also offers manual override in AF mode for fine-tuning your focus. The Summicron-T 23mm accepts 52mm filters. At 5.4 ounces and 2.5×1.5 inches, this little lens won’t take up much space in your camera bag. Judging from the price point, it will free up some space in your bank account, too.
PRICE: $1,950 
It was difficult to choose a favorite among Fuji’s XF/XC series lenses, but we think the Fujinon XF 56mm f/1.2R is ideal, with its 85mm-equivalent focal length and an f/1.2 low-light-conquering aperture. The lens features a metal aperture ring that clicks into place for accuracy, along with a focusing ring for photographers who prefer to forego autofocus (AF).
Created for both esthetics and practicality, the lens’ seven- blade aperture delivers pleasingly round bokeh. Thanks to a new optical design, which features 11 elements in eight groups (including two extra-low dispersion elements, one double-sided aspherical element and four concave elements), this 56mm lens promises a reduction in chromatic aberration.
Faster AF is possible too, given an internal focusing system that moves only the smaller mid- and rear-elements. If you’re not shooting at a distance, set the lens to macro (with a focusing distance of 2.3–9.8 feet) for even speedier AF. The lens is compact at 2.88×2.74 inches, accepting 62mm filters. It weighs about 14.3 ounces.
PRICE: $999 
Announced at the same time as Samsung’s NX30 mirrorless camera, the 16–50mm f/2-2.8 S ED OIS is the first lens in the company’s new Premium S-series. With a full-frame- equivalent focal length of 24.6–77mm, it can capture an image from a wide angle, then quickly zoom into portrait mode. With a maximum aperture of f/2 at 16mm and f/2.8 at 50mm, this lens is fast, but can be stopped down to f/22 for shooting under bright sunlight.
The lens is splash- and dust-proof, too, so you can use it with confidence in rough weather. This optically stabilized lens features an updated Ultra-Precise Stepping Motor that Samsung claims focuses three times more precisely than the earlier model. Designed to minimize spherical and chromatic aberration, the lens is constructed of 18 elements in 12 groups with three aspherical lens, two extra low dispersion lenses and two extreme high refractive (XHR) elements. The lens accommodates 72mm filters.
PRICE: $1,099 
The 18–200mm f/3.5–6.3 Di III VC has a focal range equivalent of 27–300mm, versatility that earns Tamron’s “all-in-one” lens designation.
From group and environmental portraits to distant shots, this lens functions as an all-purpose accessory for Sony E-mount cameras. At f/3.5–6.3, the lens is slower than others mentioned here but is more than acceptable given a decent amount of natural or artificial light. Plus it’s stabilized, so the camera/lens combo can be easily handheld at slower shutter speeds.
A stepping motor promises improved AF  and, thanks to a moving magnet system and smaller coils, vibration compensation is more effective while keeping the lens’ size and weight to a minimum. The lens is relatively lightweight and compact, weighing in at 16.2 ounces and measuring 2.7×4 inches. Available in all black or black and silver, the 18–200mm lens has a 62mm filter thread.
PRICE: $739  
With the launch of Sony’s groundbreaking full-frame mirrorless cameras–the A7, A7R, and A7S–the company also introduced its new FE lens mount. New FE lenses will work on Sony’s APS-C E-mount mirrorless cameras, but older lenses built for APS-C cameras do not cover the full-frame image circle. You’ll need to set the camera to either crop the image (on or auto) or you’ll end up with a vignette on the full-frame A7/R/S. While the FE line is growing, one of the first FE models available is particularly notable: the Sonnar T* FE 35mm f/2.8 ZA. The 35mm focal length—when used on a full-frame camera—works well for any number of shooting situations, while its 50mm full- frame equivalent on E-mount cameras is also extremely useful.
In addition to being fast at the wide end (f/2.8), the aperture range extends to f/22. A seven-bladed circular aperture brings the bokeh while a dust- and moisture-resistant housing protects the lens’ seven elements (including three aspheric) from nature’s wrath. At just more than two inches long and less than 1.5 inches wide, this tiny prime lens is convenient enough to carry on location. It weighs 10.8 ounces with a filter diameter of 49mm.
PRICE: $798 
Mirrorless systems not only feature smaller cameras but smaller lenses as well, and that’s a huge benefit when shooting telephoto. Panasonic’s Lumix G X Vario 35–100mm f/2.8 ASPH lens (with an equivalent 70–200mm focal length) packs a popular zoom range into a fast but compact package. Measuring 2.7×3.9 inches and weighing a mere 12.7 ounces, it’s downright diminutive next to the equivalent lenses on DLSRs.
Though small, this lens doesn’t lack for the features that pros want, such as powerful optical image stabilization. It’s constructed with 18 elements in 13 groups with two ED lenses and one UED lens, has Nano surface coating, and a seven-bladed circular aperture.
The f/2.8–22 aperture range is excellent for varying your depth-of-field, and you can focus on objects as close as 2.8 feet. It also features an almost silent power zoom and accepts optional 58mm filters.
PRICE: $1,498 
Sigma now offers a trio of f/2.8 prime lenses for both MFT and Sony E-mount cameras: 19mm, 30mm and 60mm. Available in either silver or black, this lens is part of Sigma’s Art lens lineup. Mounted on an MFT camera, the lens delivers a 120mm focal length; with Sony E-mount models, the focal length shortens to 90mm. Both versions have a minimum focusing distance of just under 20 inches. Built with eight elements in six groups, this lens features a new linear AF motor—eliminating the need for gears or other mechanical parts when focusing—which means you’ll enjoy quiet AF operation. Chromatic aberration is minimized thanks to the lens’ low dispersion glass. The lens measures a compact 2.4×2.2 inches and weighs about 6 ounces.
PRICE: $350 
With its Loxia 35mm f/2 (2/35) and 50mm f/2 (2/50), Zeiss is christening a new lineup of manual-focus lenses for full-frame E-mount cameras (FE). The two lenses offer mechanical aperture settings with a maximum aperture of f/2 and the ability to deactivate the click-stop so you’ll be able to change the aperture silently during video recording. Both lenses offer a 180-degree angle of rotation on the focus ring, allowing for ultra- precise focusing. The 2/50 has a minimum focusing distance of 1.2 feet while the 2/35 can focus on objects as close as 11.8 inches away. The all-metal lens barrels have weather sealing at the mounts to protect camera and lens from inclement weather. While both lenses debuted at Photokina, only the 2/50 is shipping now. Zeiss promises the 35mm will be on store shelves by the end of the year.
PRICE: 2/50, $949; 2/35 $1,299 
The first in Olympus’ new Pro line of lenses, this 12–40mm zoom (24–80mm full-frame equivalent) offers the same splash-proof, dust-proof and freeze-proof construction as its E-M1, E-M5 and E-M10 cameras. Given its wide-to-mid telephoto focal range, along with its manual-focus clutch (to switch easily between AF and MF), this lens offers the flexibility that pros will appreciate.
While it may not be the fastest Micro Four Thirds (MFT) lens in terms of maximum aperture, the Pro 12–40mm offers a constant f/2.8 throughout the zoom range. Other benefits include its video- and still-compatible drive system for fast and quiet AF, along with its seven-blade circular aperture. 
It features 14 elements in nine groups, a minimum f-stop of f/22 and accepts 62mm filters. It measures 2.75×3.30 inches and weighs 13.47 ounces.
There will also be a new member to the Pro lens family in stores this month. Announced at Photokina, the M.Zuiko 40–150mm f/2.8 Pro lens is positioned as a handheld telephoto lens, weighing just 30.6 ounces with the removable tripod plate attached. The lens offers 11 weather seals to protect against the elements and optical image stabilization that’s CIPA rated at 3.5 stops.
PRICE: 12–40mm, $999; 40–150mm, $1,499 
A rather exotic lens to be sure, the Voigtländer Nokton 42.5mm (85mm equivalent) f/0.95 is compatible with MFT-mount cameras. It combines an ideal portrait focal length with a super bright and exceedingly fast maximum aperture that you’re not going to find in standard lenses. Beyond the low-light capability, the Voigtländer 42.5mm’s Selective Aperture Control System offers a stepless (de-clicked) aperture ring for pinpoint aperture control as well as silent operation during video capture.
There will be no AF-searching sound on your videos, since this is a manual focus lens; just be sure to hone your manual focusing skills. In addition to a ten-blade diaphragm, the lens features 11 elements in eight groups, including one super high refractive element and one aspherical element. It focuses as close as 9.06 inches and has a minimum aperture setting of f/16. Although the Voigtländer Nokton weighs a relatively hefty 1.26 pounds thanks to an all-metal barrel construction, it’s nicely compact at 2.53×2.94 inches.
PRICE: $999  

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated in the description of the Sony FE/E-Mount lenses that older lenses built for APS-C cameras will not work on the full-frame A7/R/S. Older lenses do fit, but do not cover the full-frame image circle.

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