We've pored over more than 80 lenses and saw a handful of patterns emerge.
Traditionally, image stabilization rarely made it into lenses wider than 18mm. Then, about two years ago, came the Nikon 16–85mm, followed a year later by Canon’s 15–85mm , Tamron’s 17–50mm , and, in December, Sigma’s 17–70mm— all wider than 18mm and all with shake control.
The newest stabilized wideangle, Sigma’s 17–70mm f/2.8–4 DC Macro OS HSM, offers the highest magnification in the class (1:2.7), plus comes in most mounts, giving Pentax and Sony shooters the option of cameraor lens-based stabilization.
Among the 80-plus lenses that we surveyed were seven high-speed normal-range primes—a trend, for sure. Why do they matter? Sharp, light, and well-made, these singlepopular focal-length optics have bright apertures for low-light shooting and nicely defocused backgrounds. They’re also very reasonably priced (several sell for less than $200). In short, you get a lot of lens for the money.
Even better? All but the Nikon and Sony 35mm lenses offer 1:1 macro capability.
These New Normals include APS-C-format glass from Nikon (35mm f/1.8), Pentax (35mm f/2.8), Sony (30mm f/2.8 and 35mm f/1.4), Tokina (35mm f/2.8), and Tamron (60mm f/2), plus a full-frame 60mm f/2.8 from Nikon.
A category that didn’t exist just two years ago, compact Micro Four Thirds lenses now number close to 10 (and counting) between the Olympus and Panasonic catalogs.
Olympus has a 17mm and 14–42mm, plus an announced 9–18mm and 14–150mm. Likewise, Panasonic supports its Lumix G1 and GH1 Micro Four Thirds bodies with a 20mm, 7–14mm, 14–45mm, 14–140mm and 45–200mm—all very healthy and hopeful signs for this emerging format.
Why should Canon or Nikon shooters care about optical developments in the Micro Four Thirds arena? Because the innovations that Olympus and Panasonic are bringing to these lenses may ultimately migrate to other platforms. These include:
- Remarkable miniaturization. The Olympus 14–42mm, for example, which was used to capture the dining room, contracts to a truly slim 1.75 inches in its “off” position. As our photo reveals, this unusual retractable zoom barrel exacts little or no price in contrast, sharpness, or distortion control.
- Going green. On these lenses, Olympus jettisoned lead-based lens coatings in favor of titanium, reducing the possibility of heavy metals being discharged back into the environment.
- Updateable firmware. Micro Four Thirds lenses have on-board, user-addressable CPUs. This unique, Olympusoriginated technology is now coming of age, and has proven invaluable in adapting Olympus lenses for Panasonic camera bodies, among other uses. Some Oly lenses have already benefited from as many as four firmware updates.