You can easily spend a fortune on lenses for your Sony E-mount camera but you don’t have to. These lenses all cost less than $499 and give you great image quality on your a7/a7II/a7III/a7rII-series camera.
For each lens we have summarized the defining strengths and weaknesses. We hope this will make it easier to decide for yourself, if the lens could fit your needs. Please make sure to check out our in-depth reviews for a much more detailed discussion of each lens.
There are certainly other lenses which would deserve a spot in this list but we only include lenses we have used ourselves, so please don’t take it personal if we haven’t included your favorite lens.
- Voigtlander 5.6/12 M39
- Samyang 2.8/14
- Tokina Firin 2/20
- Canon new FD 20mm 1:2.8
- Samyang AF 2.8/24
- Canon new FD 24mm 1:2.8
- 7Artisans 1.4/28 FE+
- Sony FE 2/28
- Voigtländer Ultron 2.0/28
- Pentax K 3.5/28
- Canon FD 35mm 1:2 (convex)
- Canon TS 2.8/35
- Minolta MD Rokkor 35mm 1:2.8
- 7Artisans 1.1/50
- Sony FE 1.8/50
- Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro
- Olympus OM 3.5/50 Macro
- Minolta MD Rokkor 35-70mm 1:3.5
- Zeiss C/Y 3.4/35-70
- Canon nFD 1.4/50
- Zeiss C/Y 1.4/50
- Minolta MD 2/50
- Minolta MC Rokkor 55mm 1:1.7
- Canon FD 1.2/55
- Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm 1.2/50
- Minolta MC 1.2/58
- Voigtländer Color-Heliar 2.5/75
- Sony FE 1.8/85
- Samyang 1.4/85
- Jupiter-9 2.0/85
- Tokina AT-X 2.5/90 Macro
- Canon nFD 2/100
- Minolta MD 2.5/100
- Zeiss Sonnar T* 3.5/100 (C/Y)
- Minolta MD 4/75-150
- Olympus OM 2.8/100
- Samyang 2/135
- Canon nFD 2/135
- Canon new FD 2.8/135
- Canon new FD 3.5/135
- Nikon Ai-s 180mm 2.8 ED
- Canon EF 4/70-200 L
- Minolta MC 4/200
- Canon FD 4/300 L
- Phillip’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
- Bastian’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
- Jannik’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
- David’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
- Juriaan’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
- Honorable Mentions
- Lenses which didn’t qualify
- Other Articles
Voigtlander 5.6/12 M39
Compared to the DSLR lenses (like the Samyang 14mm 2.8) this lens is ridiculously small. This is a lens that will always easily fit into your bag, which is great if you not intend to shoot this wide on a regular basis. With the filter adapter it is even possible to use standard 77mm filters.
You should be aware of: The corners never reach excellent levels, huge vignetting, slow, not a good match for A7r.
The Samyang 2.8/14 is a great choice for astro and landscape because good copies are sharp across the frame from f/2.8 with very little coma and no other lens in this price league comes close to it’s performance.
You should be aware of: Using it for architecture is annoying because it has very strong mustache distortion which is very hard to correct even with profiles and Bastian had to test 5 copies to find one which was well centered.
570g (E-mount version) | $300 | sample images
Tokina Firin 2/20
A modern, manual focus wideangle with excellent sharpness which is well suited for astro and landscape photography.
You should be aware of: Flare resistance is only average and and above average number of copies seem to be decentered.
Canon new FD 20mm 1:2.8
For landscape photography the Canon nFD 2.8/20 is the sharpest affordable 20mm lens you can buy and outperforms the many times as expensive FE 4/16-35 in this aspect.
You should be aware of: The Canon isn’t well suited for astro and reportage style photography because it is pretty soft at wider apertures with strong vignetting and nervous bokeh. Also flare resistance is a weakness.
Samyang AF 2.8/24
The Samyang is as tiny as it is affordable an delivers a solid performance comparable to that of the better legacy 2.8/24 lenses.
You should be aware of: Flare resistance isn‘t very good and it shows very strong vignetting. Also AF isn‘t always dependable and build quality not very high.
Canon new FD 24mm 1:2.8
The Canon nFD 2.8/24 is a solid choice for landscape photography while being very affordable and rather small.
You should be aware of: It feels a bit flimsy and for good across the frame performance you should stop it down to f/8. Flare resistance isn’t the best.
7Artisans 1.4/28 FE+
Very versatile fast wide angle lens well suited to a wide range of applications like environmental portraiture, landscape, architecture and even astrophotography. Affordable and very small.
You should be aware of: Despite being optimized for Sony cameras you still need an adapter and I would recommend to get a helicoid adapter as the minimum focus distance is 70 cm without one.
Sony FE 2/28
I like the FE 2/28 so much because it is such a versatile lens. The focal length is very universal, the bokeh is great, it is sharp where it matters and still it is small and affordable.
You should be aware of: The FE 2/28 has very strong distortion and for many images you need to activate the lens correction in you raw converter which costs some sharpness. It also has quit a bit of axial CA and manual focus sucks (as with all the other Sony FE lenses).
Voigtländer Ultron 2.0/28
Very small, nice Bokeh, great sunstars, wonderful build quality, stopped down sufficiently sharp even in the corners.
You should be aware of: The FE 2/28 is a strong competitor and it has huge field curvature and even some color cast in the corners on some cameras (see review), minimum focus distance without helicoid adapter is rather high for a 28mm lens.
Pentax K 3.5/28
This Pentax comes quite close to being the perfect landscape lens because it is sharp, flare resistant, smallish, well built and affordable. If you find one buy it.
You should be aware of: It will be hard finding one. Oh and it only has 5 aperture blades and isn’t very fast.
Canon FD 35mm 1:2 (convex)
A lens with a wide range of applications and good performance in most aspects, a little on the heavy side. Decent close up performance due to floating elements. Not radioactive 😉
You should be aware of: It is quite large and heavy for a 35mm lens and the flare resistance could be better. Bokeh can be funky.
Canon TS 2.8/35
The most affordable Tilt/Shift lens you can buy with a solid performance.
You should be aware of: It is quite big and the tilt’s correction isn’t very precise and sharpness suffers if you shift it more than 6mm.
Minolta MD Rokkor 35mm 1:2.8
The Minolta MD 2.8/35 is small, affordable and it performs on a very high level.
You should be aware of: Flare resistance isn’t the best.
An affordable super fast fifty with very nice bokeh stopped down a little and very distinctive bokeh wide open.
You should be aware of: Wide open and at longer distances bokeh can be very busy. Of center sharpness is pretty bad at longer distances and flare resistance wide open is bad.
Sony FE 1.8/50
Sony‘s most affordable prime is light with good bokeh and good optical performance.
You should be aware of: On older Sonys like the a7 or a7II AF is really slow. It performs much better on the a7III or a7rIII.
Sigma 2.8/50 Macro
An affordable 1:1 macro with a solid performance.
You should be aware of: Build quality is inferior to that of other manufacturers and it has only 6 aperture blades.
310g + adapter | $ 70 | sample images
Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro
The Sony FE 2.8/50 Macro is the perfect match for your Alpha: It is very light, performs well and is still somewhat affordable.
You should be aware of: AF is quite slow, has only 7 straight aperture blades and the working distance at 1:1 is a whopping 4.5 centimeters.
Olympus OM 3.5/50 Macro
A tiny but well built macro lens with good performance.
You should be aware of: Performance is best at a reproduction ratio of 1:10, weaker at the maximal reproduction ratio of 1:2. Only 6 aperture blades.
200g + adapter | $ 60 | sample images
Minolta MD Rokkor 35-70mm 1:3.5
A handy lens which can compete with good primes from 40mm onward and it has a 1:4 macro mode.
You should be aware of: At 35mm it has stronger distortion and soft corners and at f/3.5 it isn’t too sharp with nervous bokeh which is a bit limiting. Flare resistance could be better.
Zeiss C/Y 3.4/35-70
The ultimate zoom for landscape photography: It is basically a stack of good primes and it outperforms many prime lenses. Additionally, it has got a handy macro feature.
You should be aware of: It is a push-pull zoom and operation isn’t too pleasant.
475g + adapter | $ 300 | Review coming up in 2017 | comparison with FE 1.4/35 and 1.8/55
Canon nFD 1.4/50
As far as classic normal lenses are concerned the Canon nFD 1.4/50 is the best performer at f/1.4 and also the most affordable one. My recommendation for first manual lens.
You should be aware of: Even though it outperforms other normal lenses it isn’t that sharp at f/1.4 and the bokeh is on the nervous side. Build quality could be better.
Zeiss C/Y 1.4/50
The Zeiss C/Y 1.4/50 has by some margin the best flare resistance of the classic normal lenses Phillip has used and build quality is very nice. It’s performance ist excellent from f/5.6.
You should be aware of: It has only six straight aperture blades which is detrimental to the bokeh and it is quite a bit more expensive than other 50mm lenses which are as sharp. It still can show some flare.
Minolta MD 2/50
A great lens for landscape and architecture photography: It costs almost nothing, is free from distortion and loCA, has the most even sharpness of any classic 50mm lens Phillip has used and weights very little.
You should be aware of: It doesn’t feel very solid, other normal lenses have smoother bokeh and flare resistance isn’t too god.
Minolta MC Rokkor 55mm 1:1.7
The Minolta MC 1.7/55 has very good bokeh for a normal lens, costs very little and yet it is small and well built.
You should be aware of: Other classic normal lenses are sharper, have more contrast, focus closer and are less susceptible to flare.
Canon FD 1.2/55
I was surprised by how sharp this lens is, it outperforms almost any other classic normal lens in this aspect and is still cheaper than about any other f/1.2 lens.
You should be aware of: It is very large even for a f/1.2 normal lens and bokeh is quite nervous.
Olympus OM Zuiko 50mm 1.2/50
This is a little more expensive than the Canon 1.2/50, but has some advantages. It’s compact, much lighter, has lovely bokeh in many situations even wide open (though like any classic 1.2 it can get funky at just the wrong distance) and is very sharp stopped down. It can even do nice clean sunstars. Perhaps its most appealing feature is surprisingly good performance at close distances, very useful for portraits.
You should be aware of: It’s getting to the top of our price range. It’s also not to be confused with the earlier, but similar looking, OM 1.2/55 which is less sharp, less contrasty, and has – er – distinctive bokeh .
285 g | $400 | David’s review
buy from ebay.com | (affiliate links)
Minolta MC 1.2/58
Still Phillips favorite normal lens because it is the best mix of sharpness and bokeh Phillips has come across so far.
You should be aware of: Wide open it is soft and bokeh isn’t too smooth either so this aperture is of limited use, yet you pay many times as much for it than for other normal lenses and it is also significantly heavier and flares easily.
Voigtländer Color-Heliar 2.5/75
This lens is absolutely tiny and lightweight and has stellar sharpness across the field stopped down. Capable of absolutely first rate results. It even has nice bokeh.
You should be aware of: A little SA wide open and the contrast is therefore notably lower at this aperture. Contrast is never super high, but sharpness is. Less good on APS. Is a Leica Screw Mount lens, so you will need a screw mount to M mount adapter before attaching it to an M to E helicoid, which we recommend for this lens if you want to be unconstrained by MFD taking portraits. Also available in SLR mounts as SL model, but these are heavier so less recommended, though cheaper.
230g | ~$300
buy from eBay (affiliate link)
Sony FE 1.8/85
The used prices of this lens have come down to a point where it fits into that list. The lens is well built and balances very nicely on every E-mount camera. Optically, this is the sharpest 85mm lens under 499$ that performs also very well in almost every other category. Furthermore, it has silent and fast autofocus which is handy in many situations, especially at 85mm. The price/performance ratio is very good.
You should be aware of: Although the bokeh is good in most situations, it is not as spectacularly smooth as the bokeh of the Tokina 2.5/90 or the Samyang 1.4/85.
It shows a little less optical errors than many fast legacy lenses, has very smooth bokeh and it is even cheaper brand new. Wide open great for shooting portraits under available light.
You should be aware of: Never gets as sharp as other 85’s, build quality isn’t very good.
amazon.com | ebay.com (affiliate links)
My favorite among the Jupiter lenses: because of the Sonnar design very soft bokeh, 15 rounded aperture blades for round circles of light even on stopping down, very cheap/light/small.
You should be aware of: flare resistance, no click stops, gets never as sharp as more modern lenses in the corners
Tokina AT-X 2.5/90 Macro
One of the sharpest lenses Phillip has ever tested. It also has very smooth bokeh (often referred to as “Bokina”), is pleasant to handle and can be used for a wide range of applications. One of Phillip’s favorites.
You should be aware of: The coatings aren’t very effective, especially with larger bright areas there is significant veiling flare.
Canon nFD 2/100
This lens combines nice bokeh and brilliant sharpness across the frame stopped down. The most amazing fact about this lens is it’s tiny form factor in regard of it’s bright aperture.
You should be aware of: Chromatic aberration control wide open could be a little better.
Minolta MD 2.5/100
Phillip’s favorite allround short tele because it is very sharp from wide open with excellent bokeh but also a very capable landscape lens
You should be aware of: Contrast at f/2.5 is lower, CA is moderate and it flares very easily.
310g + adapter | $ 150 | Phillip’s review
Zeiss Sonnar T* 3.5/100 (C/Y)
This lens combines great sharpness across the frame even wide open with a very flat focal plane and lovely bokeh. Furthermore, it has the great Contax build quality and is very light. It’s one of the all time keepers in Jannik’s bag.
You should be aware of: It has “only” f/3.5 and unspectacular sun stars.
285g + adapter | $ 250 | sample images | aperture series | full review
Minolta MD 4/75-150
A very small and affordable zoom which is sharper than the many times as expensive Sony FE 4/70-200 G.
You should be aware of: At 150mm the corners suffer and it has quite a bit of axial CA. The zoom range is of course quite limited and veiling flare can be an issue.
445+ adapter | $ 40 | sample images
Olympus OM 2.8/100
Absolutely tiny lens, with a solid performance for a fair price.
You should be aware of: It has a rather long short focusing distance of 1 m. Avoid the older version without multi coating.
230g + adapter | $ 80 | sample images
Outstanding performance in every regard. One of the few true APO-lenses, sharp like a razor blade. Even the quality control seems to be more consistent compared to the 2.8/14 or the 1.4/85.
You should be aware of: It’s a brick of a lens.
Canon nFD 2/135
A very sharp lens with very nice bokeh. It’s a cheaper (but slightly inferior) alternative to the Samyang 2/135 with better build quality and nicer focusing.
You should be aware of: More chromatic aberrations wide open than the Samyang 2/135, not the best minimum focusing distance
660g + adapter | $250 | aperture series
Canon new FD 2.8/135
A small, sharp and very affordable lens with smooth bokeh.
You should be aware of: Build quality isn’t the best and it has rather strong axial CA.
395g | $50 | Phillip’s review
Canon new FD 3.5/135
Small, cheap and very sharp from wide open, also bokeh is very smooth.
You should be aware of: With only f/3.5 the quantity of bokeh isn’t very high and LaCA is certainly present (but still easily correctable).
325g | $40-50 | 135mm shootout
Nikon Ai-s 180mm 2.8 ED
Very nice and soft bokeh, great build quality. Sharpness except for the extreme corners (ok at f/11 on A7rII) very good as well.
You should be aware of: very front heavy and therefore not the greatest handling.
Canon EF 4/70-200 L
I would prefer it over the FE 70-200mm 4.0 any day. Even taking an adapter into account it costs significantly less and Bastian couldn’t really find any fault with this lens that would spoil the game for him.
You should be aware of: for decent AF you need a decent adapter which will set you back ~200-300$. There is quite a bit of sample variation, so best try before buy. Flare resistance is not great.
Minolta MC 4/200
A very sharp lens which can be had for very little money.
You should be aware of: It displays quite a lot of axial CA and is rather slow to focus. The short focusing distance of 2.5m can also be limiting.
520g + adapter | $ 35 | sample images
Canon FD 4/300 L
The Canon is one of Phillip’s favorites: It is very sharp, has nice bokeh and it is easy to focus.
You should be aware of: It can show some axial CA wide open and flares easily. While it is small for a 300mm lens it is still a substantial lens.
Phillip’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
I have a wide selection of lenses in my cabinet so that I can match my lens selection to what I plan to shoot but if I was allowed to keep only 4 of my < $499 lenses it would be these.
Each of these lenses performs great as a landscape lens stopped down to f/8 but they also have a very pleasant character wide open and allow me to play with shallow depth of field.
Bastian’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
I started using an E-mount camera because of size and weight in the first place, so I concentrate more on small and lightweight M-mount lenses here.
This is a great setup for travel and street photography. The 7Artisans 1.4/28 is a versatile allround lens, wide open nice bokeh for environmental portraits and stopped down good sharpness for cityscapes. You can even use it for some astrophotography!
The Jupiter-9 is your lens for more intimate portraits and shots of details with very soft bokeh. The Voigtlander 5.6/12 will round things up with some crazy perspectives.
My setup consists of just three lenses so you might have some cash left for the great Voigtlander VM-E close focus adapter* (affiliate link) or the Hawk’s factory helicoid adapter which can be used with all of these lenses.
Jannik’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
In these costy days, we sometimes forget that good lenses don’t have to be very expensive. One great thing about the E-mount is the possibility to mix lenses with different mounts to do some “cherry picking” between the camera systems.
This is a budget but great performing landscape kit. These lenses are not that big and the cover the most important focal lengths in decent quality. With the Contax 3.4/35-70 and the 3.5/100, two of my absolute favorite lenses are in that kit.
David’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
Hard choices! The thing to remember is that for this price point we can get enough good glass that our ability to get good images is not much less than if we spent ten times more money. So how to choose?
I think we need at least one reasonably fast lens to capitalise on the bokeh possibilities of our full frame camera. I would normally choose a fifty for this, but I’m going another way with fifties so I’ll take the Canon nFD 2/100. Fast, sharp, a bit of CA to clean up but f2 gives great bokeh on a full frame sensor. For a fifty I’m going to take a modern lens: the Sony 2.8/50 macro. This lens is remarkably sharp at landscape distances for a macro, it’s extremely light which makes it a hikers friend, and has superb macro IQ. The fly by wire focus in macro is slow but accurate. The eye AF works well for portraits, even if the general AF is not great. For a wide it’s hard to go past the FE 2/28, despite the MF experience. But we could save money by getting one of the classic 28s, and be very little worse off, except perhaps for environmental portraits.
I should say that it’d be very hard to go past the Zeiss Contax 35-70 f3.4! Originally it was on my list, then I changed it, and back again!
And finally this list is what I would take if I could have only three: that’s very different from ‘favourites’ in some other sense, perhaps less useful but more exciting lenses. This is my Sensible List!
Juriaan’s favorite kit of <$499 lenses
Until recent I was a student without any budget for expensive lenses. Therefore I looked for cheap lenses at thrift shops which resulted in quite some nice lenses for almost nothing. These lenses, that often costed me less than €10,- gave me a lot more freedom and fun than any modern budget lens would have.
This is the kit I still bring very often for a walk in the forests near my home. The Nikkor 2.8/35 is very sharp stopped down for landscapes. The Minolta is nice for portraits and details and has very nice bokeh, stopped down it is sharp across the frame as well. The Canon new FD 3.5/135 is very sharp with good bokeh and not too big. The Tamron 46A isn’t very sharp but this lens has a special rendering I really like every now and than.
We have no personal experience with these lenses but because of reports from reliable sources we are pretty sure that they would deserve a place on this list. When we manage to find the time to test them ourselves we will most likely add them.
- Sigma Art 2.8/70 Macro – From reports it is an excellent optical performer.
- Samyang 1.4/35 – performance seems to be close enough to that of the Sony 1.4/35 but we haven’t used it yet.
- Samyang 2.8/35: Tiny but with solid optical performance and very affordable.
- Voigtlander 3.5/20 – Very small and by f/8 it seems to be a good performer with modern coatings.
- Olympus OM 3.5/21 – A well performing and very small 21mm lens. Avoid the older non MC versions.
- Canon EF 2.8/40 Pancake – Affordable, small and optically very capable.
- Canon EF 2/100 – A very attractive portrait lens with AF (via suitable adapter)
- Nikon Ai-S 2.5/105 – Often considered to be one of the best ~100mm lenses
Lenses which didn’t qualify
- Sony FE 3.5-5.6/28-70 – The performance is decent for a kit lens and it is very versatile but the performance isn’t quite good enough to make it to the list.
- Jupiter-12 2.8/35 – better suited for film cameras.
- Jupiter-3 1.5/50 – Small, fast and affordable but wide open too busy bokeh for my taste.
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