15 Potent Prime Lenses

June 22, 2016

By Greg Scoblete


Chinese lens maker Venus Optics has a very straightforward strategy: It makes lenses that are anything but straightforward. The company’s latest unconventional optic is the Laowa 105mm f/2. It employs an apodization (APD) element which acts a bit like an ND filter. It’s positioned next to the aperture and becomes thicker toward its perimeter, gradually reducing the amount of light that’s transmitted at the periphery to produce a softly blurred background. The design ensures that the light fall off is more gradual than competing lenses. The Laowa 105mm has two separate diaphragms. There’s a declicked 14-bladed circular aperture, which works with the APD element to produce smooth bokeh. There’s also an 8-bladed aperture to determine the f-number and depth-of-field. The lens is sold in Canon EF, Nikon F and Sony FE and A mounts, plus Pentax K mounts.

PRICE: $699
INFO: www.venuslens.net


The fight against chromatic aberration dates back at least to Isaac Newton. While many contemporary lens makers have taken up the mantle since then, Canon has laid claim to the latest breakthrough. Canon’s weapon is Blue Spectrum Refractive Optics (BR Optics for short), which uses a lens coating made of organic material that refracts blue light. The first lens to incorporate BR Optics is the EF 35mm f/1.4L II. It also uses Canon’s proprietary Sub-Wavelength Structure Coating (SWC) to help combat flare and ghosting. You’ll enjoy a minimum focusing distance of 11 inches and a magnification of 0.21x for tight close ups. You can manually focus the lens even when it’s set to autofocus. It’s dust and water resistant, with fluorine coating on the front and rear elements to make them easier to clean.

PRICE: $1,799
INFO: www.usa.canon.com


The first Micro Four Thirds (MFT) fisheye lens with an f/1.8 aperture, this 8mm lens offers a 16mm equivalent focal length. The M.ZUIKO Digital ED 8mm features a minimum working distance of just 2.5cm and a 180 degree field of view. Like most new Olympus lenses, this fisheye is weather-sealed. It’s also compatible with the custom dome port for Olympus’ underwater housings, when you need the fisheye to literally swim with the fishes. The company’s ZERO Coating minimizes lens flare and ghosting. The lens also comes with a fixed lens hood and a pinch-style lens cap. Pop an image snapped with this lens into Olympus’ Viewer 3 software, and you can correct the wide-angle distortion to get a 9mm (35mm equivalent) image.

PRICE: $1,000
INFO: www.getolympus.com




A nice telephoto lens for Fuji shooters, the FUJINONXF90mm offers a maximum aperture of f/2 for bokeh-rich backgrounds. It’s weather-sealed and offers a 35mm equivalent focal length of 137mm. Despite its long reach, the XF90mm weighs in at a relatively svelte 20 ounces. You’ll enjoy a minimum focusing distance of 24 inches and a magnet-driven Quad Linear Motor to drive AF speeds up to 0.14 seconds.


PRICE: $950
INFO: www.fujifilm.com

SIGMA 30MM F/1.4

While Sigma’s Art line has been a hit with full-frame DSLR photographers, this 30mm f/1.4 prime looks to bring similar image quality to MFT and Sony E-mount cameras—at an eye-popping price. It features an AF stepping motor for improved autofocusing during video. It’s built using one aspherical element and one double-sided aspherical element. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 11.8 inches and accepts 52mm filters.


PRICE: $300
INFO: www.sigma.com



When Sony announced the new G Master series of lenses, we learned that the company’s engineers had embarked on an extensive exploration of bokeh—what people loved about it, what characteristics proved most pleasing, etc. The results of this exploration helped guide the design of the company’s new G Master series of lenses, a new line forged for the demands of high resolution bodies like the a7R II. The G Master 85mm has an 11-blade diaphragm and an aperture range of f/1.4-16.  The aperture can be declicked through a dedicated button on the lens’ exterior. The lens has a minimum focusing distance of 2.6 feet in manual focus and a magnification ratio of 0.12x. It’s dust and splash proof.


PRICE: $1,800
INFO: www.sony.com



This full-frame prime uses Nikon’s Nano Crystal Coat alongside ED and aspherical lens elements to keep photos sharp edge to edge. It features a rear focusing system which ensures the length of the lens stays constant while you focus. There’s also a silent wave motor for quiet, speedy AF performance. The NIKKOR 24mm stops down to f/16 and focuses on objects as close as 9 inches from the lens.

PRICE: $697
INFO: www.nikonusa.com



The growth of Sony’s a7 series has made lens makers sit up and take notice. The latest to jump on the E-mount bandwagon is Schneider Optics, which rolled out its high-end Xenon cinema lenses for Sony’s system late last year. Like all models in the family, the 100mm features distance markings on both sides of the barrel and industry-standard gearings around the focus ring. You’ll enjoy a 300-degree rotation of the manual focus ring for smooth and precise focusing. Anti-reflection coatings keep lens flare at bay.

PRICE: $3,995
INFO: www.schneideroptics.com



A prime portrait lens for Micro Four Thirds camera owners that won’t break the bank, Panasonic’s new Lumix G 42.5mm (85mm full-frame equivalent) delivers an aperture range from a fast f/1.7 down to f/22. There are seven aperture blades for creating bokeh when shooting at a shallow depth of field. The lens is stabilized using the company’s Power Optical Image Stabilization system, which compensates for both small and fast vibrations as well as slower camera shakes. You can focus on subjects as close as 12.2 inches from the lens and Panasonic’s 240-fps Drive AF system is on hand to keep subjects sharp during continuous autofocus. At barely a third of a pound and just under two inches long, it’s highly portable to boot. It’s sold in a choice of black or silver with a durable metal mount.


PRICE: $400
INFO: www.panasonic.com


IRIX 15MM F/2.4

It’s not every day a new company tries to muscle its way into the the lens market, but Sweden’s Irix is making a go of it with a new 15mm manual focus prime lens it promises will please the pixel peepers. It has a minimum focusing distance of just under 11 inches and uses Neutrino Coating to reduce flare and ghosting. The lens has a focus lock so you can lock the focus ring into a desired position. The focus ring will also click when you hit infinity, giving you a tactile indication of your focus reach. The lens accepts 95mm filters and is weather-sealed. It will be sold in two editions. A Blackstone model will offer engraved fluorescent markings on the lens body. The Firefly edition will be lighter—the lightest lens in its class, according to Irix.

PRICE: $780 (Blackstone): $540 (Firefly)
INFO: www.irixlens.com




Rokinon’s new Xeen line of filmmaking lenses share a number of characteristics, including dual-sided focus and iris scales so that operators on either side of the lens can view them. The focus and iris gears are industry standard and can be found in the same position on all of the Xeen lenses, making them easy to swap out during filming. The 14mm is the newest member of the family. It’s fully manual (both focus and aperture) and uses a multi-coating to reduce flare and ghosting. It has a minimum focusing distance of 11 inches. The lens will be sold in Canon, Nikon, Sony E, PL and Micro Four Thirds mounts.


PRICE: $2,495
INFO: www.xeenusa.com


This new ultra-wide-angle manual focus lens offers a 121-degree angle of view for Sony a7 series cameras. Aperture is adjustable in 1/3 stops and closes down to f/22 with an option to declick the lens for smooth exposure control. You’ll get a minimum focusing distance of 1 foot. All lens EXIF data is transferrable to the camera and is viewable in the display. The lens hood is built in and isn’t removable.

PRICE: $700
INFO: www.voigtlaender.com



Zeiss’ new Milvus line of lenses falls between the higher-end Otis and the Classic line. The 35mm lens has an aperture range of f/2-22 with a close focusing distance just shy of a foot. This manual focusing lens features a long focus pull for precise focusing and T* anti-reflective coatings to minimize optical aberrations. Though the lens focuses manually, it does communicate critical EXIF data, such as aperture, to the camera body. It also supports shutter and aperture priority modes. The all-metal Milvus is splash and dust proof. It’s available in both Canon EF and Nikon F mounts. The Nikon version of the lens has an option to declick the aperture for seamless exposure adjustments (ideal during filmmaking).

PRICE: $1,177
INFO: www.zeiss.com



The oldest lens in our roundup is also, ironically, one of the better suited to Pentax’s first full-frame digital SLR—the K-1. The 77mm f/1.8 Limited lens is also compatible with the company’s APS-C DSLRs. It stops down to f/22 and has a minimum focusing distance of 2.3 feet from the front of the lens. It delivers a 31.5 degree angle of view with a maximum magnification of 0.14x. It accepts 49mm filters and weighs in at 9.5 oz.

PRICE: $800
INFO: www.us.ricoh-imaging.com



The SP 85mm F/1.8 Di VC USD (Model F016) is the first 85mm DSLR lens to incorporate image stabilization, according to Tamron. You’ll enjoy 3.5 stops of correction per CIPA standards. It has a weather-proof build and Flourine coating on the front element. Tamron’s eBAND and BBAR coatings are used on the interior elements to reduce flare and ghosting. The lens’ Ultrasonic Silent Drive motor software has been tweaked to improve AF speed and responsiveness. You’ll also enjoy full-time manual focus override. It has a nine blade aperture diaphragm and stops down to f/16. It will be sold first in Canon and Nikon mounts with a Sony E-mount promised for later this year. The Nikon mount will use an electromagnetic diaphragm and the Sony version won’t incorporate image stabilization, since Sony camera bodies handle that duty.

PRICE: $750
INFO: www.tamron-usa.com

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