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In The Practicing Photographer, photographer and teacher Ben Long shares a weekly serving of photographic instruction and inspiration. Each installment focuses on a photographic shooting scenario, a piece of gear, or a software technique. Each installment concludes with a call to action designed to inspire you to pick up your camera (or your mouse or smartphone) to try the technique for yourself.
Choosing a new lens is always a complicated decision because there's just so many different factors to weigh. Obviously most important there's price. But then you have to pick a focal length range you want. You've gotta worry about image quality. You've gotta think about other features that you might want like image stabilization. If all this sounds like gobbly goo to you, take a look at my Foundations of Photography Lenses course where in we talk about all of the specifics and give you kind of a workflow for how to choose a new lens. One question that comes up though, is third party lenses.
So I'm a Canon shooter, does that mean I should only by Canon lenses? I'm a Nikon shooter, does that mean I should stick with Nikon lenses? Certainly both Canon and Nikon make exceptional lenses, but there are third party lenses out there, Tamron, Sigma, Tokina. There are also just lenses made for other cameras. You might want to use a Nikon lens on your Cannon camera, or maybe you see a nice Olympus lens of some kind. But these third party brands, Sigma, and Tokina, and Tamron, should you really be considering those? They're much cheaper. Is it possible that they can be as good? Yes, it is.
And, for years, those have been viable alternatives to the branded lenses that match your camera brand. However, for years, you've also had to be careful when buying those lenses. For a long time, the image quality across the entire product range has not been consistent. Now, this is true with Canon and Nikon also, but with Sigma and, and Tamron and Tokina, you've had to be careful that they've had some great lenses and some real dogs. And so it's been worth doing some research to find out if the lens you want was one of the good ones. Also, for a long time, with the third party lenses, built quality was consistent.
You might buy a lens and it, it felt fine out of the box and you put it on and it worked and everything but focus was just a little bit off, or sharpness was a little soft. Swap the lens, get another one, maybe have the same problem. Swap it again, get another one, you'd have a perfectly fine lens. So, getting a specific unit that was good could often be trouble. Nowadays, things have improved a lot. The third party vendors are seeing the benefits of the digital photography explosion and the SLR proliferation and they've upped their game both in terms of build quality, consistency, reliability and in terms of the products they're designing.
Now in some cases, we're seeing third party lenses really take the lead in certain areas. For example, I have here. A Sigma 18 to 35 1.8 zoom. This is the first 1.8 zoom in existence. You can't get a zoom lens this fast from Canon or Nikon. And it's an extremely good lens. The build quality is exceptional. Image quality is fantastic and the functionality is amazing, especially if you're using a cropped frame camera. This is a great focal length for a cropped frame camera.
And having that extra speed buys you some of that shallow depth of field that you lose from having a smaller sensor. So this is a very, very smart niche for Sigma to be hitting. It's something that's not matched by one of the brands and they've managed to produce a really good lens. Another very nice lens, if you're looking for a wide angle, the Tokina 11 to 16. When you're considering any of these lenses, you want to go through the same process that you would go through when looking at a brand lens. Image quality. How's the sharpness? How's the sharpness across the frame? Is there distortion? Meaning do I look all fisheye, or do I look all pinched? Is there vignetting in the corners? Is there really bad flare? All those things you would address on a branded lens, are the same things you need to look at here.
You also want to consider build quality, you also want to look for those features you would look at in a branded lens, such as image stabilization. And, you don't just want to look to see if they have it, you want to check out some reviews on whether the stabilization is any good. There are a lot of different stabilizing technologies. Some companies have more effective stabilization than others. I mentioned before the option of using a lens from a different mount. So I have here a very nice Olympus 12 260. This is a two eight to have four. I can adapt to this to work on my Canon camera with the appropriate adapter.
And, in some cases, depending on the adaptor and the nature of the lens, not give up any functionality. In other cases, I might give up auto focus or some automatic metering. That's easy enough to research and find out. So, the short of it is yes, third party lenses are absolutely something you should be considering. You can get in many cases lenses that are an equivalent quality to branded lenses for less money, and in some cases get fantastic lenses that you cannot get from your camera vendor. Really the way to dig into this is you've got to look for specific lens reviews and really hit some good analysis of those critical features that you look at any time you're shopping for a lens.
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