The camera manufacturers keep coming up with exciting new lenses, and get lots of press coverage for it. But the independent lens makers also offer some innovative optics, while providing lower-cost alternatives to camera-makers’ lenses, as well as lenses that aren’t available from the camera makers.
Older SLR lenses, while excellent, were designed for film, and some show their technological age when used on high-pixel-count DSLRs. Newer lenses were designed with digital use in mind, with new coatings, baffling and optical designs, and deliver better results on DSLRs—good reason to consider that new lens if you’re still using film-camera lenses on your new DSLR.
A couple of features that have been around a while are worth considering, as they’re highly useful, and appearing in more and more lenses. Canon introduced its quick, quiet USM AF motors back in the 1980s, and today, quick and quiet AF motors are found in lenses from camera manufacturers and independent lens makers alike: Nikon’s AF-S, Olympus’ SWD, Pentax’s SDM, Sigma’s HSM, Sony’s SSM, Tamron’s USD and Tokina’s silent DC motor with GMR magnetic AF sensor in their new AT-X 16-28mm AF Pro wide zoom. Another Canon innovation that has spread widely is in-lens image stabilization. Canon’s original IS system has been joined by Nikon’s VR, Sigma’s OS and Tamron’s VC. (Olympus, Pentax and Sony DSLRs have in-camera sensor-shift stabilization, which works with any lens you attach to the body, but stabilizes only the recorded image, not the viewfinder image.) If you shoot handheld, stabilization—in-lens or in-camera—is a tremendously valuable feature.
Tamron SP 70-300mm F/4-5.6 Di VC USD Format: Full-frame (and APS-C) Elements/Groups: 17/12 Min. Focusing Distance: 59.1 in. Max. Magnification: 1:4 Filter Size: 62mm Diameter: 3.2 in. Length: 5.6 in. Weight: 27 oz. Mounts: Canon, Nikon, Sony
Tokina AT-X 16-28 AF PRO Format: Full-frame (and APS-C) Elements/Groups: 15/13 Min. Focusing Distance: 10.9 in. Max. Magnification: 1:5.3 Filter Size: n/a Diameter: 3.5 in. Length: 5.3 in. Weight: 33.5 oz. Mounts: Canon, Nikon
Sigma 17-50mm F/2.8 EX DC OS HSM Format: APS-C only Elements/Groups: 17/13 Min. Focusing Distance: 11 in. Max. Magnification: 1:5 Filter Size: 77mm Diameter: 3.3 in. Length: 3.6 in. Weight: 19.9 oz. Mounts: Sigma, Canon, Nikon, Pentax, Sony