Don’t let the term “budget lens” fool you. Affordability and quality aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive. In fact, there are plenty of lenses around or below a $1,000 price tag, yet they deliver when it comes to performance, features and image quality.
While major manufacturers’ legacy lenses have been well established for decades, available options for photographers keep expanding thanks to third-party companies such as Tamron and Sigma. At the same time, lens development for the growing number of mirrorless camera models is responsible for most of the new lenses on the market this year. This trend will likely continue as manufacturers work to create a full line of mirrorless optics equal to or exceeding that of their legacy DSLR lenses.
It’s no surprise that we’re seeing lenses shrink in size and weight to match the more compact mirrorless camera bodies. In addition to smaller, lighter and faster lenses, there are a few unique models that were announced this year.
Canon’s F/11 Super Teles
Super telephoto lenses don’t get much more affordable than Canon’s new RF600mm F11 STM lens, designed for its full-frame, mirrorless EOS R-system cameras. At a mere $699, this prime lens with a fixed ƒ/11 aperture is less than 1/10th the price of its EF ƒ/4L counterpart for Canon DSLRs. But it’s not just the price that’s impressive. The lens weighs only 2.05 pounds and measures 7.85 inches in length when retracted (you need to unlock and extend the lens barrel to shoot).
At that weight, the lens can be handheld with a fast-enough shutter speed. But given the magnification of this super-telephoto lens, you’ll need to engage the lens’ image stabilization, which promises up to five stops of compensation. IS should be even better when paired with the Canon EOS R5 or R6, which both have in-body image stabilization. Featuring a stepping motor (STM) for smooth AF, the lens’ customizable control ring can be programmed to adjust exposure compensation, shutter speed, aperture or ISO for quicker access to those settings.
If you need more than a 600mm reach, the lens is compatible with Canon’s new 1.4x and 2x RF lens extenders. Keep in mind, however, that without the extenders, the closest focusing distance at 600mm is about 14.7 feet, but if you’re photographing wildlife, it’s unlikely you’ll need—or want—to get closer than that to your subject.
For even greater telephoto reach, there’s the Canon RF800mm F11 IS STM. Ideal for wildlife photographers on a budget, this lens is affordable, compact and lightweight for a super-telephoto lens. And, like its 600mm sibling, it’s a fraction of the cost of its faster EF equivalent.
The RF800mm lens has the same features as the RF600mm, including a customizable control ring, STM AF and compatibility with the new 1.4x and 2x RF extenders. Its image stabilization effectiveness drops to four stops, and its closest focusing distance is about 19.6 feet, but the lens weighs only 2.78 pounds and measures about 11.09 inches long when retracted. That’s a lot of reach for such a relatively small lens.
The Canon RF800mm F/11 IS STM has a list price of $899. The Canon Extender RF 1.4x and Extender RF 2x are priced at $499 and $599, respectively. Contact: usa.canon.com.
Fast, Wide Prime For Nikon Z
At the opposite end of the spectrum from Canon’s super telephoto ƒ/11 lenses, the NIKKOR Z 20 f/1.8 S lens is super wide and offers a fast maximum aperture—a perfect combination for an extensive range of subjects and shooting conditions. Designed for Nikon’s full-frame mirrorless Z cameras, the lens weighs about 17.9 ounces with a diameter of 3.4 inches and measures 4.3 inches in length.
There’s no image stabilization built into the lens, but you do get up to five stops of stabilization when you pair the lens with a Z camera that offers in-body vibration reduction. Videographers will appreciate the silent AF, minimal focus breathing and the ability to change the aperture quietly via the customizable control ring. Alternatively, the control ring can be programmed for exposure compensation or ISO.
A new multi-focusing system promises fast, accurate AF. Sealed against the elements, the lens is dust and drip resistant for extra durability when shooting on location. List price: $1,049. Contact: nikonusa.com.
Ultra-Compact Standard Zoom For Olympus
The Olympus M.ZUIKO ED 12-45mm f/4.0 PRO is a petite lens that’s a perfect complement to Olympus OM-D system cameras, measuring just 2.49 inches (diameter) by 2.75 inches (length) and weighing just over half a pound. Given the 2x magnification factor of Micro Four Thirds cameras, you get a highly useful zoom range of 24-90mm in a very compact lens, perfect for street and travel photography, environmental portraits and more.
Although the lens lacks image stabilization, all Olympus OM-D cameras offer excellent in-body stabilization. At the wide end of the zoom range, the lens has a minimum focusing distance of just 4.7 inches, so its close-up capabilities are an additional plus. List price: $649. Contact: getolympus.com.
Standard Zoom For L-Mount
Designed for full-frame L-Mount cameras like the LUMIX S series, the Panasonic LUMIX S 20-60mm F3.5-5.6 offers a standard zoom range for everyday shooting. Thanks to its minimum focusing distance of 5.9 inches, the lens functions well for close-up photography and wide-angle portrait compositions with the subject in the foreground. Measuring 3.03 inches (diameter) by 3.43 inches (length) and weighing 12.3 ounces, the lens is very portable.
The optical design includes a UHR element that minimizes aberrations, and the lens also promises minimal focus breathing and quiet performance for video capture. It’s also dust and splash resistant. List price: $599. Contact: panasonic.com.
New Tele Zoom For Pentax K
Pentax K-mount DSLR users will appreciate the Ricoh HD Pentax-D FA 70-210mm F4 ED SDM WR telephoto zoom’s focal range whether the lens is paired with a full-frame model for a 70-210mm reach or taking advantage of an APS-C sensor crop, extending the 35mm equivalent focal range to 107-322mm. It’s equipped with a two-step focus limiter that, when set, speeds up autofocus by restricting the distance at which the lens will focus.
At 3.1 inches in diameter and 6.9 inches in length and weighing 28.9 ounces, the lens is relatively compact and lightweight for this focal range. Pentax has always done a good job with weather-resistant (WR) cameras and lenses, and the 70-210mm is no exception. You won’t have to limit your outdoor activities when the weather turns a little nasty, or you want to head to dusty environments like the beach or desert. List price: $1,099. Contact: us.ricoh-imaging.com.
Affordable Tele Zoom For L-Mount & Sony E-Mount
The Sigma 100-400mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS C, available for L-Mount and Sony E-Mount full-frame mirrorless cameras, offers several features designed for a better shooting experience. In addition to up to four stops of optical image stabilization, the lens complements your camera’s in-body stabilization with pitch and yaw correction. The AFL (AF lock) button can be programmed from the camera for various functions, providing quick access to settings right on the lens barrel. A focus limiter allows users to constrict the AF range for optimal AF performance, and you can lock the lens barrel to prevent the lens from extending while wearing or holding the camera in a downward position.
For this tele zoom range, the lens is relatively lightweight and compact. It weighs 40.9 ounces and measures 3.4 inches in diameter and 7.8 inches in length. A tripod socket collar is available separately to help balance the lens on a tripod or monopod. List price: $949. Contact: sigmaphoto.com.
Wide Prime For Sony
The Sony FE 20mm F1.8 G is a great wide prime option for compact Sony E-Mount bodies. Landscapes, interiors, street scenes and night skies are only a few of the subjects this versatile lens can capture. Add great bokeh and low light compatibility with the ƒ/1.8 aperture for a winning combination.
At 3×3.4 inches (diameter/length), the lens won’t take up much room in your camera bag, and it weighs only 0.8 pounds. It’s dust and moisture resistant, too. And with a minimum focusing distance of 0.63 feet using AF or 0.59 feet focusing manually, you can get up close and personal with your subjects. List price: $899. Contact: sony.com.
Sony’s Diminutive New Standard Zoom
The Sony FE 28-60mm F4-5.6 zoom lens introduced as the kit lens with the new Sony a7C full-frame camera this fall won’t be available on its own until early 2021, but if you want to travel light, it’s a great option. A real featherweight at 5.9 ounces, the dust and moisture-resistant lens measures just 2.6 inches in diameter and 1.8 inches in length when retracted.
In addition to being a great all-around, go-anywhere zoom, with its minimum focusing distance of about a foot at the wide end of the range and 1.48 feet at the telephoto end, it can double as a close-up lens. List price: $499. Contact: sony.com.
“All-In-One” Zoom For Sony
The Tamron 28-200mm f/2.8-5.6 Di III RXD is a new lens in the company’s Di III series for Sony E-Mount, combining the flexibility of a 7.14x wide-to-telephoto zoom range and a fast maximum aperture of ƒ/2.8 when shooting wide. From scenics to portraiture and more, this one lens can capture a variety of scenarios.
Lightweight for this focal range and speed, the 28-200mm weighs 20.3 ounces and measures 4.6 inches long. A zoom lock switch prevents the barrel from extending when transporting the lens, and it’s sealed against moisture and dust for worry-free outdoor shooting. Quiet AF and a minimum focusing distance of 7.5 inches (at 28mm) add to this lens’s versatility. List price: $729. Contact: tamron-usa.com.