What kind of camera gear do you use?
Currently I shoot with Leica, Fuji, and Canon cameras.
Leica: I shoot with Leica MP-240, Monochrom, M9, SL and SL2 cameras. Leica M-mount lenses are wonderful, compact and render spectacular imagery, and while manual focus only, I find that when I slow down and use manual focus, I am happier with the images.
Leica 35mm f/1.4 Summilux
This lens certainly goes into the pantheon of all time great lenses in the 35mm range. It’s optical performance is superlative, though perhaps not quite as good as the Zeiss Distagon version I talk about below. It is however, remarkably compact.
Leica 50mm f/1.4 Summilux
This lens is the reference lens for the Leica M-system, and perhaps the finest 50mm lens ever created. It is a small, but high performing 50mm lens with exquisite sharpness, rendering and compactness. This is the 50mm lens with which I compare all others.
Leica Noctilux 50mm f/0.95
There is no other equivalent lens on the planet for this lens. Yes, it is expensive. Yes, it is technically challenging to use. But the way it renders light in focus and out of focus is unique. You can almost always guess this lens when seeing a photograph shot with it wide open. It does not balance well on a Leica M body, but is a perfect match for the SL with an M-mount adapter.
Leica 90mm APO-Summicron f/2.0
This lens is the most outrageously high performing lens in this focal length range that I have ever used. Even wide open, this lens is absolutely tack sharp from the center, right out to the edges. I love this lens for portraiture, and any medium telephoto length work required. It’s light, and small, and fast, and makes gorgeous images with beautiful bokeh.
Zeiss 35mm f/1.4 Distagon
For me, the 35mm lens on a range finder camera is ideal. It encourages intimacy and at the same time makes for an excellent street photography lens, seemingly to match how I see the world from my eyes. But here is the trick… This Zeiss lens is at least as good as the Leica 35mm f/1.4, and perhaps better for far less money. It is an amazing lens with excellent build quality, nice dampening of the focus and the click-stop aperture ring. I would even go so far as to say that this lens is one of the best photographic lenses of all time, I love it that much. The tradeoff is that the Leica 35mm Summilux is more compact.
Zeiss 18mm f/4 ZM
For a wide angle, distortion free lens in an M-mount, this lens is hard to beat. Optically, it is the equal of the Leica 18mm lens and without the weird filter arrangement. Bonus: It is waaaay cheaper than the Leica version. Unfortunately, I do not think Zeiss makes this lens anymore. If you can find one, it is a wonderfully compact and optically beautiful wide angle solution.
Zeiss 50mm f/1.5 ZM
This is a very old 50mm lens design, originally from the 1930s, but with modern coatings, that is not quite as sharp as the Leica 50mm lenses, but is wonderfully compact and has the Zeiss contrast/pop that people like with Zeiss lenses.
Voightlander Nokton 21mm f/1.4
I am really excited about this lens, particularly when paired with the SL or SL2 cameras. This is a recent addition, so images and comments will be coming soon…
Voightlander Heliar-Hyper Wide 10mm f/5.6
This is a challenging, but immensely fun lens to use in a compact little package, perfect for travel. It is a great lens for landscape and architecture, or any scene you want to capture more of.
Laowa 9mm f/5.6
This is a crazy cool, and creative lens. There is not another rectilinear lens this wide, available anywhere to my knowledge. This is a challenging, but immensely fun lens to use in a compact little package, perfect for travel. It is a great lens for landscape and architecture, or any scene you want to capture more of. Particularly interesting is that it can focus as close as 4.72 inches leading to some creative potential there.
Helios 40-2 85MM f/1.5
This lens is not what you’d call optically perfect. It is far from it, with weird optical properties, light fall off, swirly bokeh, and it is soft. However, for all these reasons, this lens has character.
Canon EF 35mm f1.4L USM II
35mm is my favorite focal length, and therefore I had to have a Canon mount version. Optically, this lens is stunning with modern coatings to remove chromatic aberrations and seals to make it weather resistant. It truly is a wonderful optical example of a 35mm lens.
Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM
This is a perfect lens for portrait work and indoor shots where you might not want to use a flash. It is one of the fastest lenses you can buy and paired with the 1D Mk III or Mk IV, it is an amazing combination. Also, because of the speed, it should also make for one of the fastest sports photography lenses you can buy provided you can get in close enough. I elected the 50mm over Canon’s excellent 85mm to get weather sealing which the 85mm f/1.2 lacks.
Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 L IS USM
I am quite happy with this lens. For a 70-300 zoom, it is remarkably compact and draws much less attention than other equivalent zoom lenses while delivering good performance and remarkably sharp images for such a long zoom focal range. This makes it an ideal lens for people photography in areas/times where you may not want people to notice you or in crowds where a physically larger lens may get in the way. This lens is also remarkably sharp for a 70-300 zoom making it quite nice for bird photography.
Canon EF 100mm Macro f/2.8L Macro IS USM
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again here. If photography is fun to you, macro lenses will be high up on your list of lenses to acquire. The fun to dollar value of this lens is absolutely over the top. It is a wickedly sharp lens, that in addition to its value as a macro lens shows it’s flexibility as a very nice portrait lens. For those of you with some macro experience, you will also appreciate the fact that this lens uses inner focusing which in addition to providing a long working distance, also keeps the lens from poking out at your possibly skittish subject matter. There is a much less expensive Canon 100mm Macro f/2.8 that has optics that are also very good if not indistinguishable at times from the L lens. What you are missing with that lens are the image stabilization and the weather sealing that the L series lens provides.
Canon EF MP-E 65mm Macro f/2.8
This lens is unique in the SLR camera world. it is a manual focus lens that allows for full 1-5x magnification while avoiding the use of bellows. Technically it is a difficult lens to use as it requires a bit more time to set up, requires closer working distances to your subject matter and honestly, a focusing rail to get things *just right*. However, spending the time with it will reward you with images simply not possible with any camera system outside of a microscope or employing the use of bellows.
The Canon EF 24-70 f/2.8L II USM
This lens is an amazingly flexible and fast lens that is phenomenally sharp for a zoom lens. Looking at the images from this lens, I’ve seen images that are prime lens sharp. It is the lens that spends most of the time on the camera with the Canon EF 70-200 f2.8L IS USM running a close second. If this lens could be made with Image Stability, it would be one of the most perfect SLR lenses on the planet.
The Canon EF 70-200 f/2.8L IS II USM
I want this lens for times I don’t care about people noticing a big, white, lens pointed at them or for bird photography. This lens is ideal when you need sharp detail with good color fidelity or where things move fast. It is an amazing lens with good performance and like the 24-70, is razor sharp, yet lends itself nicely to handheld photography. I could travel just about anywhere on the planet with the 24-70 and the 70-200 and deliver with this combination.
The Canon EF 16-35 f/2.8L II USM
This lens is a fast, wide angle lens that also generates crisp images with excellent color fidelity and little to no vignetting.
The Canon EF 8-15mm f/4 L Fisheye USM
The Canon 8-15mm f/4 L fisheye is simultaneously an amazingly wonderful lens and one that is absolutely unique in the world of photography. I did not quite believe it when Canon announced this lens, it is that unique. This lens provides a very wide field of view, up to 180 degrees and can give you some interesting special effects. I wished that I had this lens on my embed with the crew of the USS Toledo. The lens is far sharper in the corners than I might have expected and very compact. It is not quite as fast as the previous 15mm f/2.8 fisheye lens from Canon, but the tradeoff in flexibility from the zoom features more than makes up for it.
Fuji 23mm f/1.4
This is perhaps my favorite Fuji lens. I wrote up a brief review here where I talked about first experimenting with a prototype lens in London. Because of the APS-C sensor size, this lens is a 35mm equivalent for the Fuji X-sensors and just the right size for a general use, walking around lens to capture everything from street photography to still life images. Saying that the Fuji lenses are spectacular might be an understatement. In fact, I’d argue that the Fuji lenses are perhaps the best optical bargains out there with designs that have very little, if any aberration, are crazy sharp particularly in combination with the X-trans sensor and they are small and compact.
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Young BWJones photo credit: Carolyn Jones