Best Prime Lenses of 2017
posted Friday, January 5, 2018 at 2:01 PM EST
It is a proven, scientific fact that the longer one shoots, the more one craves lenses. Camera bodies are important, no doubt about it, but lenses can last a lifetime and separate your imagery from the crowd. They are as important to a photographer as a high-end microphone is to a seasoned audio engineer, and at IR we spend a lot of time discussing and debating (and dreaming about) these little glass-filled jewels.
On this page, we'll cover the most awesome prime lenses that we discovered in 2017, and boy we did we come across some delightful models. From a terrific portrait lens if you're shooting on a budget (Fujinon XF 50mm f/2 WR) to one of the best portrait lenses we have ever seen (Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art), we have you covered if portraits are your thing. We'll also look at wide angle, medium format, telephoto range and more, so "prime" yourself for a brighter world to be found in our selections below.
Olympus earned top marks in 2016 for their wonderful 25mm f/1.2 Pro lens, so it's not surprising that the new additions to their f/1.2 Pro primes released this year are equally impressive. On the wide end of the spectrum, the Olympus 17mm f/1.2 Pro lens offers photographers a versatile, wide-angle 34mm-eq. focal length with that characteristically bright f/1.2 aperture. Like its longer siblings, the 17mm f/1.2 is amazingly sharp wide-open, in both the center and out in the corners of the frame. That's impressive, not only for a wide-angle lens but also a lens with such a wide, fast aperture. As with most lenses, sharpness increases if you stop down a bit, but fear not, the Olympus 17mm f/1.2 is super-sharp wide-open -- so don't fear that f/1.2 aperture!
As far as build quality is concerned, the Olympus 17mm f/1.2 Pro, like all other Zuiko Pro lenses, maintains the same rugged, metal construction and thorough weather-sealing to keep out dirt, dust and moisture. Even more, the engineers at Olympus managed to squeeze this all-new 17mm lens into the same size barrel as the 25mm f/1.2 Pro lens. That's right, these lenses -- the 25mm f/1.2, 17mm f/1.2 and 45mm f/1.2 -- are all the same size and shape and share the same filter size. Given the different optical formulas necessary for these different focal lengths, this is a pretty neat technological achievement.
All told, if you're looking for a top-notch wide-angle prime lens for your Micro Four Thirds mirrorless camera, look no further than the Olympus 17mm f/1.2 Pro lens. With amazing build quality and absolutely fantastic optical quality, especially sharpness (even at f/1.2), this lens is sure to impress even discerning photographers.
It's been a great year for lenses. For Nikon fans in particular, there have been many new optics to get excited about. In the wide angle prime realm, the new Nikon 28mm f/1.4E ED AF-S Nikkor lens is a particularly impressive one due to its fast aperture, impressive wide-open optical quality, and very good build quality. This high-end performance comes at a premium price, though -- the Nikon 28mm f/1.4 sells for around $2,000. While about $1,300 more than the Nikon 28mm f/1.8G, the 28mm f/1.4E is still $3,000 less than the competing Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4.
Pricing aside, the Nikon 28mm f/1.4 is excellent, though not without some faults. The lens doesn't deliver edge-to-edge sharpness until you stop it down to around f/5.6, and it displays significant vignetting on a full-frame camera when shooting at wide apertures -- but depending on the look you're going for, these factors may not be of any issue to you. Overall, the Nikon 28mm f/1.4E delivers a unique optical character. It's a high-end lens that is not for everyone, but for those who want to capture wide-angle images with a fast f/1.4 aperture, the Nikon 28mm f/1.4E delivers the goods.
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Fujifilm has been very busy this year! The Japanese company launched their brand-new medium-format GFX camera system with the GFX 50S. Alongside this new 50-megapixel medium format camera, Fujifilm initially released three lenses -- later joined by three more throughout 2017 -- including the GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR standard lens. This 50mm-equivalent lens is a critical optic for any camera system, delivering a good amount of versatility and is a lens well-suited to many types of photography, including portraiture. We have awarded this great lens our "Best Standard Prime lens for 2017."
The GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR is remarkably sharp across the frame, even when shooting wide open. It's unusual for a lens to deliver this much quality wide open. Not only is the sharpness there, but the lens has a durable and lightweight design featuring weather, dust and freeze resistance. The autofocus performance may not be the fastest -- none of the GF lenses are particularly quick focusers -- but if you are interested in the GFX 50S camera, it is ultimately all about the image quality and the GF 63mm f/2.8 delivers that in spades.
The GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR delivers images with a lot of character as well. It's not unusual for Fujifilm users to point out the company's Fujinon lenses as a major reason for going with Fujifilm, and fortunately, the GF lenses thus far have captured that same special Fujifilm quality. If you are building a new camera system, you need to deliver a great standard prime, and Fujifilm has absolutely done that with the new GF 63mm f/2.8 R WR for the GFX system.
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Fujifilm continues to impress us with their ever-growing and super-versatile XF lens arsenal, and the XF 50mm f/2 WR is yet another triumph for the Fujinon line. Pairing the portrait-friendly 76mm-equivalent focal length with a reasonably bright f/2 aperture, while still maintaining a diminutive size and weight and a budget-friendly price, wowed us enough to create a category solely for this lens! And it is a deserving victory indeed.
While the XF 50mm f/2 weighs in at a mere 7.1oz (200g) and costs just US $450, it still sports weather and dust resistance, and we've learned from our own reviewing experiences over the years that Fujifilm really stands behind this claim. And if you want that shallow depth of field look on a budget, you can create excellent subject isolation when shooting wide open. Shooting from a distance of five feet, you'll experience just three inches of crisp focus, while the rest of the image melts away into creamy bokeh-land. This is a rather uncommon feat for a lens at this price!
At $450 the XF 50mm f/2 WR is an absolute steal and one we're proud to honor in this year's awards.
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The Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art lens is capable of images that are both stunning and sublime. It is, in fact, difficult to describe just how insanely useful and capable this lens is for not only general portraiture but also for making the common look strikingly uncommon. We found the real world results to be absolutely beautiful, and for a long portrait prime, it is also generously bright at f/1.8, making it an incredible tool for your bag.
Our technical reviewer called it one of the sharpest lenses we have ever tested, including wide open. Our field tester found the bokeh quality virtually unrivaled, across a wide variety of subject matter. And both raved about how capable the autofocus performance is, and also how good and robust the lens feels in the hands. From the overall build quality to the results from our test lab and the quality and versatility of the output in the field, we simply couldn't find anything but great things to say about the Sigma 135mm f/1.8 Art lens.
Super sharp, yet capable of insanely good bokeh? Indeed, this new Art lens from Sigma is a work of art in itself. Bravo to the designers and engineers on this one, and congratulations to anyone acquiring this lens for your shooting arsenal.
It's been a long time coming, but an update (of sorts) to the venerable 85mm f/1.2L II is here. Although the classic f/1.2 version is still made and for sale -- the f/1.4 version doesn't replace it -- the new 85mm f/1.4L IS offers both photographers and video creators a range of important improvements to this classic portrait prime.
For starters, it's nearly as bright, giving you that smooth bokeh and subject isolation that's characteristic of a classic portrait photograph. What's more though, is that the new f/1.4 version offers significantly faster autofocus performance than the f/1.2L II, letting you capture both still and moving subjects. Plus, the addition of image stabilization now makes this much more friendly for video shooters as well as when shooting in low light.
Perhaps most importantly, though, is the optical quality, which is fantastic. Super-sharp wide-open, the 85mm f/1.4L IS is, overall, sharper than its f/1.2 counterpart -- and it's slightly less expensive, as well! What's not to love? So, unless you really need that f/1.2 aperture, the 85mm f/1.4L IS is the king of portrait primes from 2017 for Canon shooters.
The Fujinon GF 110mm f/2 R LM WR is fantastic choice for portraiture. The 87mm equivalent prime has a fast f/2 aperture, which delivers a very shallow depth of field on the medium format sensor of the GFX camera. The fastest lens in Fujifilm's GF lens lineup renders gorgeous bokeh wide open and yet sacrifices very little sharpness by shooting at f/2, even in the corners.
Although it doesn't feature an apodization filter, the bokeh from the Fujinon GF 110mm f/2 is spectacular. There is a depth in images which feels tangible, and the lens doesn't have much of a cat's eye effect to its specular highlights as you move toward the corners. It's a rare combination to be able to shoot images wide open for gorgeous bokeh while ensuring that the in-focus area is tack sharp.
If you are a GFX owner and you shoot portraits, the GF 110mm f/2 is a must-own lens. It is one of the best portrait primes we've tested in recent years and is a true showcase lens for the GFX's excellent image sensor. It's a stunning piece of glass and is very worthy of its award of "Distinction" for Portrait Prime Lens of the Year in 2017.
Like its wide-angle and standard-range brothers, the new Olympus 45mm f/1.2 Pro is killer optic. Offering a 90mm-eq. focal length for Micro Four Thirds photographers, this lens is a premium portrait-centric lens.
Similar to the other f/1.2 Zuiko Pro primes, the 45mm version is razor-sharp at f/1.2, even in the corners, and remains tack-sharp if you ever need to stop the lens down. As for other optical qualities, CA is impressively low, distortion is practically nonexistent and vignetting is amazingly minimal, even at f/1.2.
As expected, the build quality is fantastic, with rugged weather sealing and nearly all-metal construction. At around $1200, it's certainly a bit pricey for the Micro Four Thirds world, but it's a professional-level, top-quality, fast prime lens that captures stunning portraits. If you're a Micro Four Thirds photographer in need of one of the best portrait lenses for this system and need fast AF and tough weather-sealing, look no further than the Olympus 45mm f/1.2 Pro.
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If you're a sports or wildlife shooter in need of a bright, far-reaching super telephoto lens, Panasonic's Leica DG Elmarit 200mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S. lens might just be your dream optic. With a powerful 400mm-equivalent focal length on the Micro Four Thirds bodies for which it's designed, the Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 has what it takes to bring distant subjects right up close.
But whereas similarly bright, powerful telephoto lenses for APS-C and full-frame DSLR cameras are unwieldy giants which pretty much require that you shoot on a tripod or monopod, the Panasonic 200mm f/2.8 is small and light enough to shoot handheld. How small? It's about a third shorter and slimmer than its nearest DSLR rivals! Yet despite its trim proportions, the DG Elmarit 200mm f/2.8 Power O.I.S. packs in the great image quality you'd expect of a Leica-branded optic, and the autofocus is swift as well.
It also supports Panasonic's powerful Dual I.S. and Dual I.S. 2.0 image stabilization systems, the latter of which pairs lens-based optical stabilization with a body-based I.S. system for an impressive 6.5-stop corrective strength. And as if that wasn't already enough, it even comes bundled with a 1.4x teleconverter, allowing it to double as a 560mm-equivalent f/4 optic, too. But really, the big story for us is the sense of photographic freedom that you get from leaving your camera support at home!
Buy now: B&H | Amazon | Adorama
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For everyone who's serious about the quality of their bokeh, this intriguing new STF lens from Sony is worth taking a closer look. The lens is manufactured with a form of apodization, which is intended to "smooth out" any bokeh elements that may contain hard edges, and in our real-world testing, we found the lens indeed capable of achieving exactly that!
Apodization is not new to the camera world in general, but is still fairly rare and certainly the first time we've seen it in a Sony FE-mount lens. Sony calls their version of this process "Smooth Trans Focus" and thus the "STF" in the name, and if you're interested in learning more about it, our publisher Dave Etchells discusses the mechanics of this in great detail in our 100mm f/2.8 STF Field Test. Most of us have seen the results of shallow depth of field for good subject isolation, but the additional smoothing characteristics imparted by this lens to the background elements add a new element to the overall subject isolation potential from the lens.
If you're ready to take your portraits to a new level and gain better control over the look of the background elements in your photos, you'll want to take a closer look at the Sony 100mm f/2.8 STF.
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Imaging Resource Camera of the Year Awards 2017
Best Prime Lenses (current page)