Even the best digital camera or digital back is basically worthless without a quality lens. The good news is: A virtually limitless supply of lenses is currently available for digital cameras as well as film cameras that accept digital backs. In this article, photographer, fine-art printer, and lens connoisseur David Saffir highlights many of today’s newest and most popular lenses, with a smattering of his personal insight along the way.
The current pace of new lens development, combined with the quality that manufacturers are building into new lenses, is nothing short of amazing. New digital cameras have undoubtedly brought about much of this innovation. Though many lenses can be used interchangeably with film or digital cameras from the same company, in some cases, digital SLR lenses are being built for use only with cameras containing sensors that are smaller than the traditional 35mm film format. The manufacturers often state that these lenses offer improved imaged quality over their predecessors and digital-only lenses are usually smaller and lighter than their film counterparts. One thing that I have noticed in the past year is that improved digital sensors will more readily show the strengths or weaknesses of a lens. My recommendation is to try before you buy!
Also, most camera companies market lenses exclusively for their own camera systems. Sigma Corporation is one exception, because they produce lenses for their own cameras as well as a variety of other DSLR brands. Tamron and Tokina also make compatible lenses for a variety of different camera brands. For much more information about all the companies discussed in this roundup, as well as a few additional links, visit the companies in our lens directory. – David Saffir
Canon U.S.A.’s pace of development and release of new technology is impressive. The recent release of their EOS 5D camera is just the latest example. I’m particularly impressed with Canon’s success in controlling noise in its digital sensors.
Canon has announced its new EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM lens. This is an image-stabilization lens that replaces the EF 75-300. The lens offers two stabilization modes and Canon states up to three-stops of “shake” correction. “Mode 2” stabilizes images while panning with moving subjects. It incorporates Canon’s USM focusing motor and high-speed CPU for quick response in action photography.
This lens is compatible with all Canon EOS SLR cameras, film or digital. The company indicates that the lens was designed “with digital in mind.” Canon has a long-standing reputation for superb quality in its lenses with this zoom range, so this lens is likely to be very fast and very sharp.
Canon also offers the EF-S 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5 USM. Intended for use with APS-C sized sensors, this EF-S mount lens is designed to be used with the Canon Digital Rebel series cameras or the EOS 20D. Canon states that this lens, with its EMD (electro-magnetic diaphragm) feature, offers nearly perfect background-out-of-focus elements. This lens appears to be a real contender in landscape and indoor architectural photography.
Hasselblad’s lenses are legendary; the look and feel of an image captured with a Hasselblad is distinctive, sharp, and high-contrast. Hasselblad introduced the H1 6x4.5 camera, which accepts both digital and film backs, over a year ago. Since then, the company has released the H2 camera and numerous digital-camera/camera-back combos, along with several compatible lenses.
One lens that became available recently is the Hasselblad HC 4/120 Macro. The 120mm lens provides a maximum aperture of f/4 and is capable of very close-up macro work—providing a 1:1 image ratio. It can also be used as a slightly long lens across a range of situations and autofocus is quick and accurate. The lens weighs in at just over three pounds, but all that glass translates into superb image quality.
Another lens to join the line-up is the HC2.2/100, which has a 100mm focal length, and a maximum aperture of f/2.2. Lighter weight than the HC4/120, the Hasselblad literature reports that the lens is fast enough to use in low-light situations. I personally like the lens for the shallow depth-of-field it provides in portrait work; bokeh (selectively out-of-focus area) is wonderful, and the part of the image that is in the plane of focus is very sharp. One additional note: the H1 lenses are all capable of flash sync speeds up to 1/800 of a second, which is excellent for sport photographers and others who shoot outdoors.
Hasselblad now offers the Hasselblad CF Lens Adapter for H-Series Cameras, an adaptor which allows the photographer to mate a CF lens (made for the V-system of Hasselbad cameras) to the new H1 camera. It is lightweight, and simple to use. So far, I've had the opportunity to test several CF lenses with my H1, and the images are sharp, contrasty, and recognizably Hasselblad.
The adaptor reminds me of older, manual cameras in some ways. You have to cock the shutter before each shot, and once the shot is taken, the image disappears from the viewfinder. You have to re-cock the shutter to continue working.
Amazingly, the H1 focusing indicator does work with the older lenses. It is very accurate, and easy to see in the viewfinder. When you focus manually, and both green arrows are lit, you are there! The in-camera meter also works, and will indicate to you the level of exposure needed. Exposure must be set manually, but this is a minor inconvenience. The H1 meter is the most accurate in-camera meter I have ever seen ? It's flat out amazing.
If you are a studio photographer, and you already own CF lenses, give serious thought to upgrading to an H1. You'll get the best of several worlds: interchangeable film and digital backs with full electronic support, superb Zeiss lenses, and all the goodies that go with it. If you own an H1, and you have access to older lenses, this adaptor is a no-brainer.