About lens ratings

2017 update: I did not follow the ratings approach after some experimentation, this is an old article.

About lens ratings in general

Lens ratings have several advantages:

  • Ratings are very easy to compare.
  • They are very concise.
  • Because it is much less work per lens I can cover many more lenses.

But ratings have many shortcomings as well:

  • Reducing a lens to one single number will never do the lens justice.
  • Ratings appear to be objective, but they are in fact mostly subjective. My needs can be completely different from yours so a lens which I  rated 2/5 might actually better suit your needs than the one I rated 4/5.
  • There can be a lot of sample variation between two lenses so if my copy is worse than most other copies my rating will be too low.

Despite their shortcomings I think this collection of ratings can be useful if you are looking for some orientation but they can’t replace much more extensive reviews.

About my ratings

Every rating is based on controlled tests and some to a lot of time spent using a lens (a good indicator of how much I have used a lens are my flickr albums, if there are more than 30 images in an album for a lens I have used it a lot).

None the less there are many reasons why it can happen that a  rating is too good or bad, so if your experience noticeably differs from mine please inform me about that in the comments!

My ratings are based on my own needs and experience. My focus is on how the lens performs

  • in a typical landscape scenario were it is stopped down to f/8 or f/11 and focused at infinity. Here I look for very good sharpness across the frame, distortion usually doesn’t bother me an CA to a certain degree is not an issue because it is easily correctable.
  • as a portrait and closeup lens. Here I look how the performs when it is near it’s widest aperture at short to mid focusing distances. I look for good sharpness in the central 50% of the image as well as nice bokeh and the level of bokeh fringing. Coma at wider apertures doesn’t bother me.
  • Other aspects which matter are flare resistance, lens focus throw length and feel of the focusing ring.
  • Price isn’t taken into consideration.

How my ratings work

  • 1/5: This lens good for very few applications and comes with serious defects.
  • 2/5: This lens comes comes with noticeable limitations like very soft corners, very high CA and I would only recommend it for very special purposes.
  • 3/5: This is a good lens which is capable of producing very good results but you should expect some compromise like low contrast and bad corners at the widest aperture and noticeably less sharp corners.
  • 4/5: This is an excellent lens with very few faults, it ill be very sharp from corner to corner, have good (but not perfect) CA correction and nice or even excellent bokeh. Check out my Tokina 2.5/90 Macro review for a detailed review of such a lens.
  • 5/5: A truly remarkable lens: it must show excellent sharpness even wide open, chromatic aberrations of every kind must reduced to a very low level, bokeh must be very good and mechanically it must be without fault as well. There are very few lenses which could earn this rating, think of a Zeiss Otus or CaNikons Super teles.



18 thoughts on “About lens ratings”

  1. Hey Phillip! You are such an inspiration to my work! I never thought of using old lenses with my Nikon d5300. If you had to choose 3 lenses to shoot with (not newer) which would they be? I’m definitely looking at picking up the “bokina” on eBay.

      1. I think from my recent comparisons, that the Nikon Ai/AiS 20/3.5 would play very well on the D5300. (It would become 30mm of course with the 1.5x crop factor)

      2. Eventually in the next couple months or so I will be upgrading to sony’s a7r ii (I’m very excited!!), with the right adapter my d5300 can adapt to some old primes (I also have an old canon Ae-1). I figure I might as well start investing buying the right lenses (wether they work or not on my Nikon) now than later. I guess my question to you would be: out of all the lenses you have tested, what 3 would you choose to keep and use on a regular basis? (Specifically older lens)
        Perhaps you can create a top 5 favorites section on your site??
        Huge thanks to you/community for the help!


    >> all I see in the comments is a kind of private joke ( I don’t get it ) about the Nikon D5300 ( ? ) — what’s the connection with the title ?

    >> I’ve been searching everywhere on your website and… I didn’t found any ” lens ratings “… What this page is it all about ? It looks like a nice and useful website but at the end… 30mn wasted to find those ” lens ratings “.

  3. Hi Phil,
    I was going to ask you to delete my previous comment – too late.
    I guess I was very bitter yesterday for some reason and…
    After making some searches for some lenses, the only place where I could get proper informations was… your website (again) ! And I also found out where are the ratings 😉
    I apologize for my previous comment and I appreciate your kind reply.
    Your websites is now in my favorites list : great webdesign, lots of informations and great photographies.
    Thanks again !

  4. Hi!

    I love your blog, it is very interesting. I might buy an A7 very soon 😉
    Did you try some of the M42 – Takumar lenses? They are quite a bunch of them – 50 1.4, 55 1.8 etc… And I have read a lot about them

      1. Thanks! I’ve just bought one of them (The SMC-rubber version), and I will be very interested to see what you think about it! (Specially vs the Canon FDn 50mm)

  5. I just discovered your blog, I simply love it.
    I have quite a good number of old canon FD lenses and a Leica one, I used before digital era, and now I have just bought an alpha 7 to use them again, so your blog is just gold for me. I love your photographic work too.
    Please let me know how to gain access to your “guide to canon FD lenses in the digital era”, I think it should be very useful to me.
    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. Phillip,

    Your page is quite informative. I came into some Minolta lenses and was hoping to use them on a DSLR camera. Thank you for confirming this for me.

    Are there other compatible digital cameras for these lenses?

  7. I hope you can assist me in trying to buy the following lens for my Nikon D810 F mount.
    Carl Zeiss Jena Biotar 58mm f/2 T standard lens in Ihagee Exakta mount. Lens I am not sure if this lens will hit the mirror on mu Nikon F mount. I read that it could and if it does can you recommend a different classical CZ mid prime.50, 58, 75, F2 and up is ok. I don’t need F 1,4 or even F1.8 Thank you for your time Dennis

  8. Hi Philip,
    I have a Minolta A7 camera to which I would like to use my MD/MC lens. Can you advise the correct adapter?
    Thank you in advance!

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