Lens design, like clothing, is subject to the whims of fashion. These fashions dictate what tradeoffs the designers make. Every lens is a trade-off between many characteristics. The more important ones are in our eyes: speed, sharpness, price, size, weight, bokeh, chromatic aberration, distortion and vignetting.
The currently fashionable tradeoff that Sony and most others adopt emphasises performance and bokeh at the expense of the size of lenses. The Sony FE 1.4/50 ZA or 2.8/24-70 are good examples of that. These lenses are certainly good tools for some applications where only their excellent image quality matters and their significant size and weight does not. Our point is that a great lens does little good if it is so heavy that you leave it at home because of its weight. So we would argue that probably most photographers would get better results with lenses which are a little slower or a little less perfect but in their bag and not left at home.
Manufacturers focus their resources on faster, bigger and better lenses, which of course makes perfect commercial sense. The pity of it is that this comes at the cost of less fashionable lenses which many of us would probably enjoy more. This article is about kinds of (older) lenses that we see as inspiration for lenses we would love to see made in E-mount but with the best technology available today. By accepting a few minor tradeoffs, rather than just trying to give the photographer performance and speed bragging rights, lenses can be significantly smaller. Sometimes that tradeoff might be speed only, sometimes a little peripheral performance at wide apertures might be traded off for handling.
Before we go any further: we are not talking about simply copying old ‘classic’ lenses (maybe with minor improvements) and launching them on kickstarter. We want as good performance as possible within the constraints of a reasonable budget and size. We are talking about types of lenses which aren’t now being made in E-mount, and which—with the benefit of modern design, materials and electronic contacts —could be a huge asset to our photography. Comfort certainly plays a role as well: Not having to think about an adapter and having exif simply makes life easier.
We’ll start by giving some examples where we think makers have found a good balance between handling and performance. Then we’ll get down to business: we’ll discuss the older lenses that have no modern equivalent, and should have.
User Characterization: You are a Sony a7 series user enthusiastic about landscape photography but you work on a very limited budget. You look for lenses with a great bang for the buck ratio and good characteristics for landscape photography.
In this post I give you my top picks and a few alternatives for affordable landscape lenses. These where my criteria for this list:
Very good across the frame sharpness at smaller apertures like f/8 or f/11.
High contrast and good flare resistance.
Lenses should be less than $200.
I see manual focus lenses as preferable for landscape photography.
I would like to have nice sunstars but at this budget this is quite difficult if not impossible.
Small size is a bonus.
This is the fourth part of a series on the best landscape lenses for the Sony a7/a9 series in which we explore sets of landscape lenses for different user types.
The very affordable Pentax is as sharp as good modern lenses at f/8 or f/11 and it maintains high contrast with good flare resistance which is rare for a legacy wide angle lens. Stopped down to f/14 it even draws a pleasant sunstar. But of course there is a catch: the Pentax is pretty rare and not easy to find. The best alternative I see is the more expensive Zeiss Distagon 2.8/28 which isn’t better but more easily available.
There’s a gap in the Sony FE lens lineup that I find particularly irksome. There’s no AF 200mm f2.8. I don’t know when one will come either, because this is not a popular set of specifications. The lens makers think that you will buy a 2.8/70-200 zoom. But not only are they very expensive, they are very large and heavy. I would personally never carry one for the work I do, though of course many do, and many pros need to.
So what to do if that fast zoom is too heavy or expensive? I decided to have a look at a venerable and highly regarded Canon L series prime lens, the EF 2.8/200 L II. Adapted lenses work better than ever on the A7rIII, so it seemed like a good time to try it. Will it fill the gap, or should I be hoping for a Batis or Sony G?
User Characterization: You like landscape photography but you need a kit that can do more than just that. You look for the best jack of all trades with an eye on the budget and you appreciate autofocus.
The typical casual landscape phographers are people who shoot landscapes as well as portraits, parents on vacation (me for example 😉 ) or people who just don’t like to different lens kits for different use cases.