The Imaging Resource Lenses of the Year Award
The Imaging Resource COTYs are our chance to recognize the best new cameras, lenses and (new for this year) printer of the year. We’ll distill all this experience into a series of 5 articles, beginning today (December 9th) and concluding Monday, December 21st.
Best Zoom & Prime Lenses of 2015
Lenses just keep getting better, arguably outpacing the improvement in cameras’ image quality these days. For that reason, we’re kicking off our yearly awards with lenses.
Nowhere is the forward march of lens quality more evident than in our three prime award winners, which all fell within the portrait focal length, with 35mm effective focal lengths of 137mm (Fujinon 90mm f/2 WR), 90mm (Sony FE 90mm Macro) and 85mm (Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.7). We were seriously impressed by the quality of all these portrait and macro primes, but had to give the nod to Fujifilm’s incredible Fujinon 90mm f/2 WR.
In the zoom category, we had two excellent wide-angle zooms and another candidate from Fujifilm (the only manufacturer to take home two lens awards), however Canon’s 11-24mm wide zoom was the easy decision. Find out why below!
Lens of the Year, Best Prime Lens: Fujinon 90mm f/2 WR
There was no debate in our discussion for the Best Prime Lens of 2015 – it was a one-horse race and the Fujinon 90mm f/2 was that horse. From our real-world shooting experiences to our lab testing for this lens, it shined brightly in all aspects of what we want from a quality prime lens.
Our longtime lens tester Andrew Alexander proclaimed this lens the new king of sharpness, and called his experience “a rare case of one’s jaw dropping when looking at a blur chart!” Our senior lens technician Rob Murray said the Fuji 90mm f/2 is “unequivocally the best lens” he’s ever tested as well. There’s almost no CA, no vignetting and virtually no distortion – basically a series of boring flat lines on the test charts! (Lenses like this could put us out of the testing business!)
And lastly, the build quality is what we’ve come to expect from the Fujinon lens line – excellent in virtually all aspects of both build and handling. To once again quote reviewer Andrew Alexander: “This is definitely a lens worth gushing over – the Fujinon f/2 WR is an excellent lens for the money.”
Lens of Distinction, Prime Lens: Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro
Sony has been aggressively filling out its FE-mount lens family, and the Sony 90mm f/2.8 Macro fills a particularly obvious gap. Until now, if you wanted to do any kind of macro work on an E-mount body, you had to use an adapter for either the A-mount Sony 100mm macro or to some third-party lens.
Based on our testing, Sony’s done one heck of a job with this lens. Though a bit expensive at around $1,100, it nevertheless captures stunningly sharp images, both wide-open and stopped-down — even into the narrower apertures. Distortion is a non-issue, and the built-in Optical SteadyShot system does an amazing job — our keeper rate was 100% at 1/30s and even 90% at 1/15s! If you do macro work and are a Sony A7-series owner, here’s your new macro lens. Simple as that. Oh, and it works great for portraits, too.
Lens of Distinction, Prime Lens: Panasonic 42.5 f/1.7 Lumix G
For portrait photography on the Micro Four Thirds system, one of the best lenses is the Panasonic 42.5mm f/1.2 Nocticron. It is sharp, fast, but oh so pricey. At around $1,600, it was priced way beyond the average consumer budget. However, earlier this year Panasonic answered the call, debuting the lightweight, compact and very affordable 42.5mm f/1.7.
Image quality is fantastic with tack-sharp IQ across the entire frame. Combined with practically zero distortion, low CA, minimal vignetting wide-open, this lens is an amazing value. At just $400 and at a size that pairs nicely even on the smallest of Panasonic ILCs, the 42.5mm f/1.7 is a pocketable, powerhouse, portrait lens.
Lens of the Year, Best Zoom Lens: Canon 11-24mm f/4 L
The Canon 11-24mm f/4L is simply an impressive feat of optical engineering. An apt pairing to simultaneously-announced Canon 5DS and 5DS R 50-megapixel cameras, the EF 11-24mm f/4L is now the world’s widest rectilinear lens ever made for a full-frame camera — any wider and you’d hit fisheye territory. ‘Specialization’ is the name of the game for the Canon 5DS-series cameras, and now there’s an equally specialized lens to pair with it.
Undoubtedly aimed for professional users, the Canon 11-24mm certainly has the price point to match, but as they say, you get what you pay for, and the 11-24mm delivers. Image quality is stunning. The Canon 11-24mm displays excellent center sharpness at all focal lengths, even wide open. And while the corners aren’t super tack-sharp wide-open, we were certainly impressed by just how good corners looked for such an ultra-wide lens, especially at 11mm.
So, are you a professional photographer or an advanced amateur needing the utmost in image quality for super-ultra-wide landscape vistas and architectural masterpieces? The Canon 11-24mm f/4L is the lens for you, and with its rock-solid L-series build quality, it should serve you well for years to come.
Lens of Distinction, Zoom Lens: Fujinon 50-140mm f/2.8 WR
The choice of best overall zoom lens this year was not easy, as we had three distinct lenses across different formats any of which could have taken the top crown. So while the Fujinon 50-140mm f/2.8 WR only took home a Lens of Distinction honor this year, understand that this lens blew us away in its abilities both in the lab and out in the field. And it’s a terrific compliment to the venerable Fuji X-T1.
From the excellent weather sealing to the optical image stabilization, we were wowed not only by the professional-grade build quality and handling but also by the images we were able to get with this lens. It’s sharp even when wide open at f/2.8, and performs admirably across the available focal length range. And like it’s prime-time brother the Fuji 90mm f/2.8, there’s virtually no CA, vignetting or distortion to speak of with this lens! The Fujinon 50-140mm f/2.8 WR is a surefire performer that very much deserves this award.
Lens of Distinction, Zoom Lens: Olympus 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro
Olympus’ ‘Pro’ series of lenses, including the 12-40mm f/2.8 and 40-150mm f/2.8, is an impressive lineup of high-quality, weather-sealed optics. But wide-angle shooters were left out in the cold, particularly as the Micro Four Thirds lineup didn’t have a diversity of options on the ultra-wide range.
It looks like Olympus heard the cry of Micro Four Thirds shooters, releasing the terrific 7-14mm f/2.8 Pro (review). The lens is impressively compact, yet covers a 35mm equivalent focal length range of 14mm-28mm with its constant f/2.8 aperture. And despite the small size, Olympus managed to give it weather-sealing and admirably good build quality. Image quality is also remarkably good for the size of the lens and super wide focal length.
We gave this lens the nod for its masterful balancing of ultra-wide zoom range, relatively small size, robust build, bright constant aperture and great image quality.