Top Camera Lenses

Korgan Lee By Korgan Lee - updated June 27th, 2023
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In the exciting world of photography, picking the perfect lens can make a huge difference in capturing amazing, memorable images that convey both emotion and artistry. With the vast range of camera lenses available on the market today, photographers from novices to professionals constantly seek the best lens to elevate their photos. This article explores the top camera lenses, breaking down their unique features, focal lengths, and specific applications to help you decide if they’re right for you. Whether you're striving for stunning portraits, breathtaking landscapes, or crystal clear macro shots, the perfect lens is waiting to enhance your photography experience. 

What to Look For In a Camera Lens

Before buying the first lens you see in-store, there are a lot of things to take into consideration. We've listed some of these key factors below! Keep in mind while any lens can take a photo it doesn’t mean it could be the best option for the given shot.

Focal length: Determine the main purpose of the lens you want to buy. Wide-angle lenses (below 35mm) work well for landscapes and architectural photography. Standard lenses (35-70mm) are versatile for various shooting needs. Telephoto lenses (70mm and above) excel in portraits, wildlife, and sports photography. 

Maximum aperture: Lenses with larger maximum apertures (lower f-number) provide better low light performance and enable more control over depth of field. However, they can be more expensive and heavier. 

Image stabilization: If you shoot handheld or in low light conditions, consider a lens with built-in image stabilization. This feature reduces the risk of blurry photos due to camera shake. 

Autofocus system: Fast and accurate autofocus is important for capturing moving subjects, especially in sports, wildlife, and action photography. Check user reviews to assess the autofocus performance of a lens. 

Build quality and weather sealing: If you shoot in harsh environments, consider lenses that offer weather sealing and robust build quality to protect against dust and water. 

Compatibility: Make sure the lens is compatible with your camera body and mount. Some lenses are specifically designed for crop sensor or full-frame cameras, and some are designed specifically for mirrorless or DSLR, so keep that in mind. If necessary, you can purchase adapters (e.g. to use Canon DSLR lenses on Canon Mirrorless cameras).

Price and brand: Set a budget and keep that in mind while researching lenses. Major brands like Canon, Nikon, and Sony offer reliable and high-quality options. However, third-party manufacturers like Sigma, Tamron and Samyang also make quality lenses often at a more affordable price.

What To Look For In A Portrait Lens

When taking portraits of individuals or small groups, focal length plays an important role. Generally, for headshots and half-body images, we prefer 85mm-105mm lenses, as distortion may occur when using focal lengths above or below this range. For instance, using a 135mm lens could make faces appear narrower, while shooting with a wide angle lens - say 24mm - might make them look wider. By staying within the 85mm-105mm range, your portraits will maintain accurate proportions and capture the subject's true essence.

Portrait lenses often feature faster apertures compared to other lenses, making them perfect for low-light photography and providing a shallower depth of field. The most common examples of these apertures are f1.2, f1.4, and f1.8, typically found in prime lenses rather than zoom lenses. Shooting with one of these apertures allows you to achieve a photo with a shallow depth of field and a sharp focus on the subject, creating a beautiful bokeh effect in the background. This helps your subject stand out and adds a professional touch to your portraits.

Best Portrait Lens – Canon RF 85mm f1.2L USM

The Canon RF 85mm f1.2L USM is a premium portrait lens designed for Canon's full-frame mirrorless cameras. It boasts an ultra-fast f1.2 aperture, which means remarkable low-light performance and beautifully shallow depth of field. With its superb image sharpness and creamy bokeh, the 85mm focal length is perfect for capturing stunning portraits. As an L-series lens, it delivers top-notch build quality, with dust and water resistance for reliable use in various conditions. The USM (Ultrasonic Motor) ensures fast, precise, and quiet autofocus, seamlessly capturing fleeting moments

A picture of the Canon RF 85mm f1.2L USM.

Specifications

  • Mount: RF-mount
  • Focal length: 85mm
  • Aperture range: f1.2-16
  • Filter thread: 82mm
  • Minimum focusing distance focus: 0.85m
  • Maximum magnification: 0.12x
  • Aperture blades: 9 (rounded)
  • Optical construction: 13 elements in 9 groups
  • Length / Diameter: approx. 103.2 x 117.3mm
  • Weight: approx. 1,195g
Pros Cons
- Nearly perfect optically - Large and heavy
- Extreme sharpness at f1.2 - No image stabilisation
- Beautiful creamy bokeh - Visible focus breathing
- Essentially no colour fringing or chromatic aberrations  
- Almost no distortion  
- Excellent build quality  
- Customisable control ring  
- Weather sealed  
- Beautiful background blur  
Example of shallow depth of field.
Example of shallow depth of field.
Example of fast aperture with low light.
Example of fast aperture with low light.

This lens is only available on the Canon mirrorless camera bodies and fits all the ideal specs for a great portrait lens including a focal length of 85mm and a fast aperture of f1.2.

What To Look For In A Landscape Lens

When capturing stunning scenes like city skylines, mountain ranges, beaches, or even starry night skies, a wide-angle or ultra-wide-angle lens is essential. For breathtaking landscape shots, the go-to focal length range is between 10mm and 35mm, offering a 65-degree angle of view. Using these focal lengths will let you encompass vast vistas and dramatic perspectives, fully capturing the breathtaking beauty our world has to offer.

While a faster aperture might not be as crucial for landscape photography as it is for portrait lenses, it can still benefit astrophotography and nighttime cityscapes. Commonly, wide-aperture lenses vary between f1.4 and f4.0, with f2.8 being the most popular for 16-35mm lenses. Having a wider aperture in these situations allows for better low-light performance, helping you capture stunning images even when the lighting is less than ideal.

Best Landscape Lens – Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM

The Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM is a versatile wide-angle zoom lens designed for Sony's full-frame mirrorless cameras. With its constant f2.8 aperture, it delivers excellent low-light performance, ideal for astrophotography and night cityscapes. Its 16-35mm focal length range offers flexibility in capturing everything from sweeping landscapes to urban architecture. As part of Sony's G Master series, it features exceptional image quality, sharpness across the frame, and impressive edge-to-edge clarity. Its autofocus system is quick and quiet, thanks to the Direct Drive SSM (Super Sonic wave Motor). Built for professional use, the lens also boasts a durable, weather-sealed design.

This lens has a 82mm filter thread making it easy to find compatible Polarisers, ND and UV filters - definitely worth keeping in mind if you'll be shooting landscapes and the outdoors.

A picture of the Sony FE 16-35mm f2.8 GM.

Specifications

  • Mount: E-mount
  • Focal length: 16-35mm
  • Aperture range: f2.8-22
  • Filter thread: 82mm
  • Minimum focusing distance focus: 0.28m
  • Maximum magnification: 0.19x
  • Diaphragm blades: 11 (rounded)
  • Optical construction: 16 elements in 13 groups
  • Length / Diameter: approx. 88.5 x 121.6mm
  • Weight: approx. 680g
Pros Cons
- Versatile wide-angle coverage - Edge softness at 35mm
- Good black levels in contra-light situations - Some distortion
- Weather sealing - No image stabilisation
- Quick autofocus  
An example of the kind of landscape shot you can achieve with a wide-angle lens.
An example of the kind of landscape shot you can achieve with a wide-angle lens.

The FE 16-35mm GM is an ideal lens for landscapes, cityscapes, astrophotography and much more with a wide focal length and a fast aperture of f2.8.

What To Look For In A Telephoto Lens

A 70-200mm telephoto lens is perfect for capturing weddings, concerts, wildlife, and sports with ease. By allowing more distance between you and the subject, these lenses are ideal when personal space is required or when subjects are hard to reach. For photographers needing even more distance, super-telephoto lenses, which range from 300-800mm and beyond, are highly suitable, particularly for wildlife photography enthusiasts. When choosing the right telephoto lens for your needs, keep in mind that the longer the lens, the higher the price due to the number of glass elements inside. Additionally, it's wise to select a lens with built-in stabilisation, as camera shake becomes increasingly noticeable during long telephoto shots.

Best Telephoto Lens – Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 GM OSS II

The Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 GM OSS II is a versatile telephoto zoom lens designed for Sony's full-frame mirrorless cameras. Incredibly, this lens weighs in at barely oover 1kg, and given it's size, that’s pretty light! It has a f2.8 aperture which delivers excellent low-light performance and background separation, making it perfect for events, wildlife, and sports photography. As part of Sony's G Master series, this lens offers exceptional image quality, sharpness, and beautiful bokeh. Its built-in Optical SteadyShot (OSS) stabilization minimises camera shake for sharp, blur-free images, even at longer focal lengths. Built with durable construction and weather-sealing, the lens can handle professional use in various conditions.

The Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 GM OSS II is a top choice for photographers seeking a high-performance telephoto lens. Perhaps the main thing to take note of is slight colour fringing when the aperture is set to f2.8 at 70mm when shooting at 40cm which is the minimum focusing distance. Otherwise, there is no fringing or chromatic aberration visible when shooting on other settings.

A picture of the Sony FE 70-200mm f2.8 GM OSS II.

Specifications

  • Mount: E-mount
  • Focal length: 70-200mm
  • Aperture range: f2.8-22
  • Filter thread: 77mm
  • Minimum focusing distance focus: 0.4m
  • Maximum magnification: 0.3x
  • Diaphragm blades: 11 (rounded)
  • Optical construction: 17 elements in 14 groups
  • Length / Diameter: approx. 88 x 200mm
  • Weight: approx. 1,045g
Pros Cons
- Extremely light build - Tripod foot doesn’t fit Arca mounts
- Excellent sharpness - Vignetting at f2.8
- Fast linear focus motors - Colour fringing at minimum focusing distance at f2.8
- Works with teleconverters  
An image taken with a telephoto lens.
An image taken with a telephoto lens.

The FE 70-200mm GM OSS II is an extremely popular lightweight medium telephoto lens. It's ideal for any situation where you need that extra space between yourself and the subject.

What To Look For In A Street Photography Lens

When choosing a lens for street photography, look for a lightweight and compact option that offers a wide enough angle to capture sufficient detail in your frame. Typically, a focal range of 24-35mm is ideal, though some photographers might prefer up to 50mm, depending on personal preferences. The reason behind using a 24mm lens is that it results in an effective 35mm focal length on APS-C cameras, providing wide framing without distortion. If you're using a full-frame camera however, go straight for the 35mm focal length which is fairly versatile. Additionally, consider a fast-aperture lens if you plan to shoot in low-light conditions or capture scenes in darker areas, as this will help you achieve better results under challenging lighting situations.

Best Street Photography Lens – Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM

The Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM is a versatile prime lens designed for Canon's full-frame mirrorless cameras. Its 35mm focal length and compact form make it an excellent choice for street, travel, and everyday photography. The fast f/1.8 aperture enables exceptional low-light performance and background separation, perfect for creating stunning images with natural bokeh. One of its standout features is the 1:2 Macro capability, allowing you to capture small subjects and intricate details with ease. The built-in Image Stabilisation (IS) minimizes camera shake for sharp, blur-free shots, while the STM (Stepping Motor) ensures fast, smooth autofocus performance. 

If you're looking for a Sony mirrorless compatible lens, check out the Samyang AF 35mm f/1.4 FE Lens instead.

A picture of the Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 IS Macro STM

Specifications

  • Mount: Canon RF
  • Focal length: 35mm
  • Aperture range: f1.8-22
  • Filter thread: 52mm
  • Minimum focusing distance focus: 17cm
  • Maximum magnification: 0.5x
  • Diaphragm blades: 9 (rounded)
  • Optical construction: 11 elements in 9 groups
  • Length / Diameter: approx. 74.4 x 62.8mm
  • Weight: approx. 305g
Pros Cons
- 1:2 macro reproduction - No weather sealing
- Small and light - STM motor is noisy
- Very sharp - Vignetting at wide apertures
- Good autofocus - No lens hood
- Comparatively affordable  
An example of street photography.
An example of street photography.

Best Value Camera Lens – Canon 50mm f1.8 STM

This one is a must-have in every camera kit - beginners and professionals alike (unless you've splashed out on the f1.4 version instead). The Canon 50mm f1.8 STM is an affordable and compact prime lens, compatible with Canon's full-frame and APS-C DSLR cameras. Often called the "Nifty Fifty," this lens is ideal for portrait, street, and low-light photography, thanks to its bright f1.8 aperture that enables impressive background separation and bokeh. The 50mm focal length (80mm equivalent on APS-C cameras) provides a natural perspective for various shooting situations. With its outstanding image quality, lightweight design, and budget-friendly price, the Canon 50mm f1.8 STM lens is a great addition to any photographer's kit.

A picture of the Canon 50mm f1.8 STM.

Specifications

  • Mount: EF-mount
  • Focal length: 50mm
  • Aperture range: f1.8-22
  • Filter thread: 49mm
  • Minimum focusing distance focus: 0.35m
  • Maximum magnification: 0.21x
  • Diaphragm blades: 7 (rounded)
  • Optical construction: 6 elements in 5 groups
  • Length / Diameter: approx. 69.2 x 39.2mm
  • Weight: approx. 159g
Pros Cons
- Sharp at f1.8 - Slight barrel distortion
- Lightweight - Can flare
- Affordable - No image stabilisation
  - Noisy STM motor not ideal for video
  - Lens hood not included
A picture taken with a budget camera lens.
Another picture taken with a budget camera lens.

Don’t be put off by the cons in the nifty fifty. When you consider the full package, it’s a great compact lens that shines in portraits with its shallow depth of field and crisp sharp lines.

Best All-Rounder Camera Lens – Canon 28-70mm f2.0L USM

The Canon 28-70mm f2.0L USM is a fantastic all-around lens, offering a versatile focal length range and a fast f2.0 aperture. This combination makes it perfect for various photography styles, including portraiture, architecture, landscapes, night cityscapes, and astrophotography. Once you experience the capabilities of this lens, it becomes a game-changer. Instead of carrying the three common lenses (24-70, 70-200, 85mm), you can simply pack the 28-70mm lens. This approach helps streamline your photography gear without sacrificing functionality or performance.

A picture of the Canon 28-70mm f2.0L USM.

Specifications

  • Mount: RF-mount
  • Focal length: 28-70mm
  • Aperture range: f2.0-22
  • Filter thread: 95mm
  • Minimum focusing distance focus: 0.39m
  • Maximum magnification: 0.18x
  • Diaphragm blades: 9 (rounded)
  • Optical construction: 19 elements in 13 groups
  • Length / Diameter: approx. 103.8 x 139.8mm
  • Weight: approx. 1,430g
Pros Cons
- Superb image quality - Big and heavy
- Fast maximum aperture - No image stabilisation
- Robust build and weather sealing - No tripod collar
An example of the type of image you can take with an all-rounder camera lens.
Another example of the type of image you can take with an all-rounder camera lens.

The Canon RF 28-70mm is an absolute beast of a lens. It rivals multiple separate prime lenses, making you reconsider what you truly need to carry around. I found my bags became a lot lighter while using this lens, despite it being on the heavier side. I'd highly recommend trying this lens out with a battery grip if you’d like the extra weight to help with counterbalance.

These lenses were our top picks for this year. Head to PB Tech and check out the full range of cameras, lenses and accessories. If you want to find a group of passionate photographers to share your progress with, make sure to join Photo Booth – Powered By PB Tech Group on Facebook!


Written By

Korgan Lee

Tech is great, but so is salt

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1 comment

NeptunerenR

This article is very useful , it lists all kinds of lenses!

Read more
1 year ago Reply Report