The Nikon NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S ultra-wide zoom lens (for its full-frame mirrorless camera system) provided very good edge-to-edge sharpness throughout the zoom range, from 14mm to 30mm. In this image, shot at the 30mm end of the zoom at ƒ/4.0, the lens provided a wonderful bokeh and blur behind the yellow rose in the foreground.
In our last issue, in my article on three telephoto lenses, I wrote that “as sensor resolution increases, the lenses you use will be required to do more work to capture and resolve all those tiny, subtle details.” Since that issue published, Sony announced another pro-level full-frame mirrorless camera, the Sony a7R IV, which packs in 61 megapixels on its CMOS image sensor. That’s more resolution than you’ll find on medium-format cameras.
But new pro cameras aren’t just increasing megapixel counts. For example, other features on the a7R IV include Real-time Eye AF, which “employs artificial intelligence to detect and process eye location data in real-time, locking and maintaining focus on the subject’s eye with extreme precision. This is available for both animal and human subjects.” It even works when obstacles temporarily block the subject from your camera. As long as your finger is pressed halfway down on the shutter button, the camera will resume tracking once the subject appears in the frame again.
But again, as a photographer, you need to know that your lenses are working overtime to not only resolve details for static subjects but also for those that are moving quickly, erratically, coming toward you or moving in and out the frame. Lenses must instantaneously, reliably communicate and respond with the camera bodies. And vice versa.
The good news is that in my tests, I’ve found that many of these new technological advancements have been making these lenses perform remarkably well, including the five in this review roundup. You’ll also find a variety of lens types—lenses for full-frame systems, a couple for models with APS-C sensors and a lens for full-frame DSLRs.
Nikon NIKKOR Z 14-30mm f/4 S
Until earlier this year, the Nikon mirrorless Z system had offered several options for shooting with a wide-angle lens on the Z 6 or the Z 7, including the NIKKOR Z 24mm F1.8 prime and two 24-70mm zooms but no ultra-wide-angle zooms. Nikon corrected this by introducing this impressive 14-30mm lens, so that Nikon Z mirrorless camera owners could have a native lens—instead of needing to use Nikon’s lens adapter for one of the Nikon F-mount cameras.
I really enjoyed shooting with this lens, which has a body construction of 14 elements in 12 groups and four ED glass and four aspherical lens elements, plus it has a minimum focusing distance of just under 1 foot. It’s much lighter and more compact than Nikon’s DSLR ultra-wides: Nikon said it’s 51.5% lighter and 35% shorter than the AF-S NIKKOR 14-24mm f/2.8G ED for the F mount.
In terms of image quality, I found it to be a remarkable lens, with excellent edge-to-edge performance—and great power and flexibility. It can also accept screw-in filters, which is a plus. (I paired this lens and used it primarily with the Nikon Z 6 full-frame mirrorless camera.)
One downside to this lens is that it’s pretty pricey at $1,299. For that price, you might imagine it being an ƒ/2.8. Also, you have to turn the lens just a touch to open it up to use the lens, but that’s more of a quibble. There is no optical image stabilization built into the lens since the lens is designed to be used with either the Nikon Z 6 or Z 7, which come with in-body image stabilization, or IBIS.
For video, it worked very well. I didn’t find the lens produced any jitter while capturing video. I also found the video footage produced with this lens to be quite responsive to changes in lighting.
By and large, I found it to be a very good NIKKOR Z ultra-wide lens, great for shooting events, landscapes and other genres.
Estimated Street Price: $1,299. Website: nikonusa.com
Tamron 17-35mm F/2.8-4 Di OSD
For those on a budget, the Tamron 17-35mm F/2.8-4 Di OSD ultra-wide-angle lens for Canon and Nikon full-frame DSLR cameras does a marvelous job in many shooting environments—including street shooting in city, suburban and rural settings. It’s great for travel, too, because it includes a rugged exterior, moisture-resistant construction and fluorine coating on the lens.
I found this wide-angle lens was quite versatile, whether I was shooting landscapes, environmental portraits or action. It has an optical construction of 15 elements in 10 groups, using four LD (Low Dispersion) lens elements to minimize axial chromatic aberrations. It’s constructed to let you focus at a fairly close minimum distance of 11 inches. Also, the bokeh on this lens is quite good as well. (For my test, I paired this lens with the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV full-frame DSLR.)
I was pleased at the image quality on this lens, finding it worked well in low light and provided decent edge-to-edge performance, although it’s a bit soft in the corners. Since most DSLRs don’t have IBIS, there are some situations, such as action in very low light, where you might not get the sharpest results. Some may also find some video experiences unwanted jitter since you’ll be shooting without optical IS or IBIS. However, my test video looked quite good.
For those on a budget who use a full-frame DSLR, this lens makes a great lightweight, compact travel zoom.
Estimated Street Price: $599.99. Website: tamron-usa.com
Canon RF 24-240mm F4-6.3 IS USM
The Canon RF 24-240mm F4-6.3 IS USM is a lens that has the longest zoom range for a lens in Canon’s R-system of full-frame mirrorless cameras.
With such a long zoom range, it’s nice that it comes with optical IS. It’s also constructed with 21 elements in 15 groups and has a minimum close-focusing distance of 1.64 feet at the wide end of the zoom range and about 2.5 feet at the telephoto. It’s also relatively affordable, at $899.99.
Overall, I produced some very good photos and video in varying lighting conditions on the camera. But one spec that reveals that this camera is more targeted toward advanced amateur and enthusiasts is the variable aperture range: It starts at f/4 and then gets slower, ending up at the rather slow maximum aperture of f/6.3.
Still, the price and zoom range do make it a rather compelling lens for travel, although it’s a tad bit bulky.
Estimated Street Price: $899.99. Website: usa.canon.com
Fujifilm XF16mm F2.8 R WR
While the major camera companies have all developed full-frame camera systems, Fujifilm has chosen to continue developing a niche in its well-crafted, full-featured APS-C mirrorless cameras, like the X-T30 and X-T3. (Of course, it also makes powerful medium-format mirrorless cameras, like the GFX100.)
One of the lenses Fujifilm introduced earlier this year—part of its WR compact line of lenses—is a wonderful little wide-angle prime: the XF16mm F2.8 R WR, which has a lens construction of 10 elements in eight groups, with two aspherical elements. Since it’s an APS-C lens, it has a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 24mm.
Overall, it’s a well-constructed prime that offers photographers a nice, wide ƒ/2.8 maximum aperture. It’s also lightweight, just about a third of a pound. Plus, it’s weather and dust resistant.
There may be some who may not like that it’s not a zoom lens, which makes it a little less versatile. But I found a lot to like, particularly in its compact size. It also does a nice job capturing good-quality video. And then there’s the price: It’s just $399. So you might consider this lens if you’re a Fujifilm fanatic and like street or travel photography.
Estimated Street Price: $399. Website: fujifilm.com
Sony E 16-55mm F2.8 G
At the beginning of this article, I mentioned that Sony had recently introduced a new full-frame mirrorless camera, the a7R IV, which complements Sony FE lenses that are constructed primarily for full-frame models (although they’ll also work on cameras with APS-C sensors, like the recently announced a6600 mirrorless camera body.
However, although the mount is the same, Sony also produces a variety of native E-mount lenses that are designed specifically for its mirrorless cameras with APS-C image sensors.
After spending a couple of days shooting in all kinds of lighting and scenarios, I have to say I was quite impressed with the performance and image quality on the Sony E 16-55mm F2.8 G lens. The lens, which is part of Sony’s G Master series of lenses and which is constructed with 17 elements in 12 groups, has a 35mm-equivalent zoom of 24-82.5mm. It’s a bright lens that provides you with a constant ƒ/2.8 aperture across the zoom range.
It doesn’t offer image stabilization (although some Sony camera bodies, like the a6600, include IBIS). It’s also quite pricey. Nevertheless, I found this standard zoom lens provided consistent image quality in a compact, lightweight zoom.
Estimated Street Price: $1,399. Website: sony.com
Other Notable 2019 Wide-Angle And Wide-Angle Zoom Lenses
Here’s a short list of some powerful lenses from other brands that have introduced lenses with great wide-angle capabilities:
- Canon RF 15-35mm F2.8L IS USM / Estimated Street Price: $2,299 Website: usa.canon.com
- Nikon NIKKOR Z 24mm f/1.8 S / Estimated Street Price: $999.95 Website: nikonusa.com
- Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 24-70mm F2.8 / Estimated Street Price: $2199.99 Website: panasonic.com
- Sigma 14-24mm F2.8 DG DN Art / Estimated Street Price: $1,400 Website: sigma-photo.com
- HD Pentax-DA Fish-Eye 10-17mm F3.5-4.5ED / Estimated Street Price: $499.95 Website: us.ricoh-imaging.com
- Rokinon SP 10mm f/3.5 / Estimated Street Price: $1199 Website: rokinon.com
- Tokina Opera 16-28mm F2.8 FF / Estimated Street Price: $699 Website: tokinausa.com