The 60mm M.Zuiko macro lens.
IT IS a truth, universally acknowledged, that a young chap in possession of an interchangeable lens camera stands in need of all the lenses he can imagine or afford. Some beautiful examples came our way this year.
Sigma made its entry into lenses for the mirrorless camera category with a 30-millimetre f2.8 prime lens that comes in mounts for either Sony's NEX system (e-mount) or the micro four-thirds standard of Panasonic and Olympus. This sharp-as-a-tack little lens costs $270 and is the bargain of the year. On a Sony the effective focal length is 45 millimetres and on an OlyPana it is 60 millimetres. There are two caveats - manual focus is sticky and rough and close focusing is not possible. As a general-purpose, walk-around lens, particularly on a little Olympus body, it will make you feel like Cartier-Bresson.
For full-frame cameras the lens that has become a standard is the 24mm-70mm zoom. This year Tamron added a new lens to the category with optical image stabilisation and a constant f2.8 aperture through the focal length range. At $1200, it is $1000 cheaper than the alternatives from Canon and Nikon but still gives good performance. We used it as a portrait lens and were very pleased with the results.
The Sigma 18mm-200mm HSM.
Sigma also made a splash late this year with the 18mm-200mm macro lens in mounts for all popular SLR bodies ($699). This takes its place alongside the Tamron 18mm-270mm superzoom ($650) as the single unit that is intended to replace all the other lenses in the bag. Both these lenses work surprisingly well within the optical and mechanical limitations inevitable in such an optimistic zoom range. When used on a typical APS sensor DSLR, for which they are intended, their effective focal lengths are multiplied by 1.5, so the extreme reach of the Sigma is 300mm and the Tamron nearly 400mm. The Sigma has the added advantage of its macro facility, which works well. Autofocus on both lenses is lethargic and sometimes doesn't work at all when the lens is fully extended and shooting in low-contrast light. Extreme zooms come with compromises, but the payoff is incredible versatility, and as long as they are used at sensible, stopped-down apertures they work better than should be expected. And with the zoom at its shortest point they are amazingly compact and light.
Olympus brought out the 60mm M.Zuiko macro lens towards the end of the year. It will focus down to a 1:1 capture and if you want a close-up of the eye of a fly (gruesome, but marvellous) this is the lens. Being 60mm - 120mm in film terms - it is also a sharp, short telephoto portrait lens - the best of our testing year.