The 8 Best Camera Lenses Ever

The 8 Best Camera Lenses Ever

Nikon 14-24mm f2.8 AFS G

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Photo by Dave Black. Courtesy of Nikon.

14mm on a full-frame camera is wide. Really wide. But you might be surprised at how good the optics are on this zoom lens – some even claim it’s sharper than primes that fall into this range. But “te cuidado,” my friend, because this bad boy doesn’t allow a front filter. So if you’re prone to banging your gear into a wall, you might want some equipment insurance.

$1569.95

Canon 24mm f/1.4

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Ruby. Photo by Jason Burfield.

If you’re used to wide-angle zooms that max out at f/2.8, you’ll be thrilled to have more than a stop of extra light and a super shallow depth-of-field. Getting this level of isolation out of a wide angle almost gives the pictures a view camera-esque perspective. This is a lens that makes you wish you shot Canon.

$1170

Leica 35mm f/2 Summicron-M

35mm.jpg

Some people think 50mm is the ideal focal length. I respectfully disagree. When it comes to shooting “wide”, this lens is pretty close to photographic nirvana. Whether you’re shooting a war or a wedding, this lens has the field of view and lack of distortion to put all the “mmm’s” in Summicron.

$2595

Zuiko 50mm f/1.4
Here’s the nostalgic pick. My first camera was my dad’s Olympus OM-10 with this lens. Then when I was in 7th grade, my parents picked up an OM-4 for me on a trip to Hong Kong and I shot the crap out of this lens. Considering the price, size and quality of this lens, this has to be one of the best “normal” lenses ever made. Maybe it’s no $6,000 Noctilux, but for $25 on eBay, you can’t go wrong.


Nikon 105mm f/2.5
No longer in production, this legendary portrait lens is renown for its sharpness, contrast and “compression” of scene elements. You can find this bad boy on eBay for a decent price, but lazy photographers beware: it has what we call “manual focus.”

~$150 used

Canon 200mm f/1.8
This lens is so fast, it’d give Marion Jones a run for her money even with steroids. Due to lead used in the construction of the lens, it has since been replaced by a pretty sweet f/2 version, but the diehards can’t let it go.

~$4400 used

Canon 400mm f/2.8

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Photo by Brad Mangin

Go ahead. Ask any sports photographer what their favorite lens is, and chances are they’ll tell you about this hunk of glass. Sharp, fast, good bokeh. The lens will focus even if the camera won’t (ZING!).

$6800

Canon 1200 f/5.6

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Justin and Jason with the 1200mm f/5.6 on a monster tripod

Ok, arguably, a 600mm with a doubler is better than this behemoth, but c’mon. This 36lbs monster is the kind of lens you use once, and then tell regale your buddies with stories of your virility and stamina. Outside of hooking up a telescope to your camera, how else are you going to get this much length? No, I’m not compensating, Dr. Freud.

~$99,000

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There are 29 comments for this article
  1. chimper at 11:18 am

    You hit 2 on my list, the Canon 200 1.8 and the Canon 1200. I’d love to have one of each. Finding the 8 best lenses of all times is subjective to say the least. Canon had a lot of great lenses in it’s FD line, really hated to see them go by the wayside so many years ago. Zeiss – well, the whole line just knocks you dead.

  2. Ziv at 1:10 pm

    I’m sorry but any “Best Lens” list should include the Nikon 70-200 f/2.8. Cut’yer finger sharpness with buttery bokeh. I’m convinced the glass is polished on the thighs of virgins.

  3. chimper at 3:52 pm

    I can’t comment about the IS version of Canon’s 2.8, but the non-is version while sharp and my main money maker is not the best lens by any means in Canon’s line-up. My 300 3.8 will outperform it several times over. That said, I couldn’t live with out a 70-200.

  4. Damaso at 3:29 pm

    The 24 f1.4 really is an awesome lens. But on the Leica side, why not include the Noctilux or the 75mm Summilux? They are both unique lenses that make great images. Tough to pick just ten huh?

  5. Allen Murabayashi at 4:04 pm

    @Damaso: I thought about the Noctilux and researched it, but I found a lot of people who I think objectively said it’s not *that* sharp, or is very centered in its sharpness. I do think that both the Canon and Leica 1.0s are very cool, but I felt like the 1200mm was my novelty pick….

  6. Josh Reviews Everything at 1:24 am

    I’ll take one of each!

    I’d never heard about the Canon 24mm f/1.4 before, but I suddenly want one. Photoshelter presents “The Eight Best Camera Lenses Ever”. The 1200mm f/5.6 No Officer It’s Not A Rocket Launcher has appeared previously on JRE….

  7. Jim Newberry at 1:27 am

    “If you’re used to wide-angle zooms that max out at f/2.8, you’ll be thrilled to have more than a stop of extra light…” Nitpick: 2 stops to be exact (1.4 vs. 2.8).

  8. René at 7:45 am

    Sponsored by Canon? Canon camera’s and most of it’s lenses suck. Have they ever heard of quality control? 4j4I have a € 50 canon printer though that works well, hurray !

  9. sykosnail at 8:51 am

    Ok well first off i must say that nikon isnt bad but from my experience (which isnt as much as some of yours) i didnt like it… im inlove with canon and i dont think i can change myself! any way, i am looking for a simple lens that lets say for instant there is a focal point in between 2 trees … one tree is close to me and the other one is behind my object of interest… i want both trees blurred.. and my object in focus, sharp, and from afar.. what would be the best lens for this? i want one i can use alot and not one for distance only .. one that i can use for macro as well… its been only 2 and a half years i started using a exchangeable lens camera .. i have the canon rebel T3 … and ive been working with the kit lens (55mm)and well i want something with adds a little more personality to a picture…. please help!!!!!

  10. Carmine at 10:40 pm

    Contax Carl Zeiss lenses are unbeatable: 21/2.8 Distagon, 50/1.4 Planar, 100/2.0 Planar. Best combination of manual focus lenses that money can buy!

  11. Pete Grady at 12:40 am

    There have been some very fine lenses by several manufacturers. I’ve used Nikon, Leica, Hasselblad, Olympus, Pentax and Contax. The set of Zeiss lenses for the Contax G2 were the best overall group of lenses I’ve ever used. The 90mm was especially good. I’ve used the Nikon 14-24 you talk about. It’s fine. Olympus has produced some very good glass over the years. But the older OM stuff was inconsistent in color rendition from one design to the next. I hear that’s better now. I had a couple of Leitz lenses that were superb (including the 35 Summy you mention), but too many lenses were cloudy or malfunctioning after they were 15 to 20 years old. In the end, though, too much is made of lens quality. Today, it’s hard to find a truly “bad” lens. Photographers should spend more time making pictures and looking at other artist’s work (photographers, painters, printmakers, cinematographers, videographers) to see how they solve pictorial problems. I took a workshop with Gene Smith long ago. A girl come in the second day with a Nikon F2 she’d just bought. She showed it to Gene and his response was, “Huh, you got a new camera. Got any new ideas?”

  12. norm at 8:38 pm

    You missed the Pentax 31 limited, which is on some people’s top 3. I saw a similar list maybe 20 years ago in popular photography. They had the advantage of actually having run tests on everything they rated. Nikon and Canon were there, but so Tamron, Sigma, Vivatar, (yes Viva tar) and a number of other companies. Looking at your list, I’m tempted to ask. How many lenses have you actually used? Looks like you’re used a lot of Canon stuff since they dominate your list. Either that or the lack of dominance by any single player has disappeared in the digital world. Thing is, you didn’t provide a list of what you’re choosing from. Without that the list is pretty meaningless.

  13. SteveP at 2:44 pm

    What about the Olympus Zuiko Digital 12-60mm f/2.8-4 ED SWD?
    The Olympus 50mm f/2.0 Telephoto Macro ED?
    The Olympus Digital Zuiko 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED SWD?

  14. Craig Wactor at 10:25 pm

    LOL, the “best” lens is almost completely subjective. The best lens for your landscape photo will not be the best lens for my portrait. On top of that, you are talking about lens models – every copy of a particular lens model is going to be slightly different (or greatly different, if you are talking pre-computer era lenses). I’ve shot the same image with two “identical” lenses and gotten very different results. I often buy 3 copies of a lens I want, test all three, keep the one I like the most and sell the other two.

    I think that this list was written in order to create controversy between us nit-picky photographers who all have our favorite lenses – so that we will leave lots of comments arguing :oP

  15. Steven Norquist at 1:39 am

    The Canon 24mm lens looks great but sadly it is only an automatic lens and can only be used on a Canon body. I would have loved to use it on the Sony A7.

    Another best lens in 35mm is the Zeiss Biogon ZM F2.
    Incredible sharpness but with an old school rounding that gives it “that look”.
    Also intense warmth and color saturation with great contrast.
    Most importantly in this wide lens is that of all the lenses Zeiss has ever made, this is the only lens that has zero distortion.
    It really is amazing.

    Here are some good reviews of it:

    http://www.kenrockwell.com/zeiss/zm/35mm-f2.htm

    http://diglloyd.com/articles/LeicaM/LeicaM-ZeissZM35f2.html

    http://www.thewsreviews.com/2011/10/zeiss-235-biogon.html

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