A lens is one of the most important factors in how good a photographic is. The sensor or film is part of the equation, as is the skill and art of the photographer. But it’s the lens that is talked about being sharp or not. The best camera lens brands make lenses that fill the needs of all photographers.
Some of the best lenses from the different brands are often quite pricey. But not every lens needs to be the ultimate in high performance. There is definitely a place for lower cost lenses that cover the needs of a photographic solution. Even kit lenses are a good choice for some needs
Though there are lenses for all sorts of applications and formats, we’re going to concentrate on lenses for the 35mm Full Frame and APS-C digital cameras. In short, here is out rank of the top 5 camera brands. For more brands, see further below!
Top 15 Best Camera Lens Brands + Manufacturers
Nikon has been a top brand in 35mm photography for many years, basically since they started making cameras in 1946. What some photographers today might not know is that Nikon’s reputation as a choice for working pros actually started with their lenses. Their making optics began several years before they started building cameras.
After WWII, many working photographers, like members of the press corps, and servicemen who were stationed around the world, began putting Nikkor (Nikon) lenses on their Leica and Contax cameras. They found that some of these lenses outperformed the OEM brand lenses, either in image quality or other things like durability and functionality. Word spread, and Nikon’s reputation did, too.
With the advent of the 35mm SLR pro system cameras, Nikon began making lenses for almost every conceivable situation. They made extremely sharp lenses in the common focal lengths, often having two or more choices of each, for the differing needs of a wide range of photographers.
Nikon also designed some very special lenses. A wide angle lens that doubled the angle of view of a normal lens but with no distortion. A fisheye lens that could actually see behind itself. A super telephoto zoom lens that was as sharp as single focal length lenses.
Today, the Nikon line of lenses for digital and film cameras, in a variety of formats, has a lens for almost any need or want a photographer could imagine. Whether desiring a light weight, low cost option, or needing the absolute best at that focal length, Nikon has a lens that, if not completely filling the need, will be so close that the choice to purchase is clear.
There are a handful of brands that come to mind when thinking about 35mm pro cameras, and Canon is always in the list. Why? Because Canon is one of the top manufacturers of cameras, lenses, and video equipment. Canon is one the best camera lens brands due to making very high quality lenses of all types.
Since 1937, Canon lenses have found their way into the gear bags of photographers everywhere. In addition to the basic lenses that most photographers use, Canon has made some amazing optical tools. One of the fastest lenses made for a regular production run is a Canon lens. A maximum f-stop of 0.95 on a normal lens is quite an accomplishment, especially when you consider how good it was for regular use as well.
Sports and wildlife photographers are drawn to Canon cameras for those awesome long and fast telephoto lenses. Canon has led the way in creating smaller, lighter, better telephoto lenses. In other focal lengths, Canon also has a line of lenses with outstanding performance and durability, the L Series.
Canon is also friendly to photographers looking for lower cost lenses with superb performance. A hobbyist or someone just starting out, can equip their gear bag with a wide range of focal lengths without breaking the bank. For those needing the extra capabilities of pro quality lenses, Canon does not disappoint.
Canon cinema lenses are some of the best lenses made for that purpose. Made in a variety of mounts, formats, and focal lengths, Canon lenses are outstanding for video cameras.
Sony entered into the SLR world in 2006, having acquired the photographic assets of Konica-Minolta, formerly Minolta. This ushered in the era of there now being a Big Three of professional and high quality consumer digital SLRs and mirrorless cameras, along with their lenses.
Not that there aren’t other brands of professional cameras. But these are pretty much the current major three brands in 35mm photography. Other brands can even have a better camera or lenses, but based on market share and depth of product, it’s these brands.
Before moving into 35mm format cameras, Sony was huge in the video world. Still is. Sony has made (or had made for them) lenses, sensors, and electronics that are state of the art. In partnership with Carl Zeiss and other optical factories, Sony has had some of the best lenses in consumer and professional video.
That commitment to excellence continues with APS-C and Full Frame still digital cameras. Besides the fine Sony brand lenses, some older lenses originally made by Minolta in the A-Mount fit and function on Sony digital cameras.
With the introduction of sharing the L-Mount for mirrorless Full Frame digital cameras, this brand is poised to open up to more and more serious and professional photographers. In the photographic business since 1914, the original company made optical equipment long before that.
While some photographers have seen Leitz and Leica as some of the best photographic lenses and cameras ever made, they have been seriously out of reach for anyone on a limited budget. It’s not like Nikon and Canon don’t have pro lenses costing thousands of dollars, but most Leica products have been out of the price range of consumer level photographers.
But look at those lenses! Their reputation was built on superb quality, and Leica definitely deserves it. Besides image sharpness, Leitz lenses have amazing optical performance. Tonal range, contrast, color correction, and optical imperfections have been perfected to the point of excellence.
Leica is now also making lenses for their medium format cameras, for point and shoot cameras from their own brand and others, and even for some smart phones.
Fuji cameras are some of the best digital cameras in APS-C format. They also make a wonderful mirrorless medium format camera. Their lenses are superb. Established in 1934, Fuji has made lenses for multiple formats of cameras for decades.
Actually, Fuji has made almost everything that could be made for photography. Film, paper and chemicals. 35mm and medium format cameras and their lenses. Also lenses for large format cameras and industrial use. You could basically never have to leave the Fuji brand to do everything photographic.
Their APS-C format lenses are amazingly sharp and well made. Many of their professional level optics are also extremely rugged and even water and dust resistant. Some of their fast prime lenses are among the best in the industry.
In the APS-C mirrorless format, Fuji has created some of the best cameras and lenses available. With some lenses geared toward consumers and others toward professional and other serious users, Fuji has lenses in a wide range of capabilities and prices.
Olympus began making medical and optical equipment in 1919 and cameras in 1936. Optical and mechanical excellence is the normal state of Olympus photographic equipment. Olympus was also a pioneer of small sizes for quality equipment, their OM 35mm cameras system was part of the result.
A new format for digital SLRs known as Four Thirds System was initiated by Olympus along with several other manufacturers in 2001, and the mirrorless Micro Four Thirds (MFT) later in 2008. With a mix of professional and consumer level cameras and lenses, Olympus has lenses for almost everyone.
This 4/3rds and MFT system has helped compact interchangeable lens digital cameras remain a viable choice for photographers of all types. Many of the Olympus pro series of lenses are water and dust resistant, as well as made to be very durable. Optical quality is excellent across the brand.
Asahi Pentax made the first 35mm SLR with an instant return mirror in 1957, having been in business since 1919. Pentax has been a major brand in photography and continues to this day. Making APS-C and Full Frame digital cameras and lenses, Pentax is one of the most well known camera brands.
The Pentax photographic legacy is based on more than 35mm. They have made a fine line of medium format cameras and lenses from the early days of film to today’s digital cameras.
Having made some fine professional equipment for years, Pentax has been best known for consumer level cameras. Pentax mount lenses have been made by many manufacturers due to the way the company licensed the specifications. Pentax lenses are very high quality, whether you look at their pro systems optics or the more budget friendly consumer level.
Panasonic is one of the largest manufacturers of electronic equipment in the world. From home entertainment to mobile phones to cameras, Panasonic makes a product for virtually every need.
In business since 1919, Panasonic began making video cameras in the 1970s. Panasonic was an early leader in the computer industry, including imaging. In 2001, along with Olympus and several other digital camera manufactures, they brought out the Four Thirds System and later MFT.
The 4/3rds and MFT cameras and lenses from Panasonic are very high quality. Their lenses used for videography are specially optimized for that use. In partnership with the L-Mount, Panasonic has recently introduced a Full Frame format digital camera.
There should be a lot more to say about Panasonic lenses once the L-Mount gains traction.
Zeiss has been making optics since before the art of photography took off. Founded in 1846, their lenses have been used in scientific and photographic equipment for over 150 years.
Zeiss lenses have been part of several different camera systems such as Hasselblad, Panasonic video, Contax and Arriflex cinema cameras. Their lenses are nothing short of superb.
In addition to built in lenses for video and still cameras in multiple formats, Zeiss has a line of lenses for several different mounts of Full Frame and APS-C cameras. These lenses are manual focus, extremely sharp, and very expensive, though some are more attractively priced for serious users.
Since 1961, Sigma has been a top quality manufacturer of cameras, lenses, and other photographic equipment. One of the founding members of the L-Mount alliance, Sigma will make and market Full Frame digital cameras and lenses with a mount shared by Panasonic and Leica.
Sigma has made a wide variety of lenses for photographers of all levels. They have made accessory lenses for almost every 35mm SLR camera on the market. Currently, Sigma make lenses that fit Full Frame and APC-C format digital cameras. All lens functions capable with the OEM mount work.
With many of their lenses being very popularly priced, a lot of cameras have Sigma lenses on them. The Art line of Sigma lenses are professional quality, as are many of their other lenses.
Opened in 1950, Tamron has been making lenses for multiple camera mounts since that time. The lens mount adapter idea was employed by Tamron in various models, currently they make separate lenses for each mount.
One of the best third party brands, Tamron makes both consumer level and professional caliber lenses. Completely compatible with OEM lens functions, the control features are reliable and rugged. Extremely well made, Tamron lenses have been popular among serious photographers for many years.
Founded in 1950, Tokina began business by making lenses and lens elements for other brands. That tells you how good a lens is, if another brand wants to stake its reputation on that lens.
With several different lines of lenses, Tokina makes Full Frame and APS-C format lenses for cameras from entry level to professional. As a third party lens maker, they offer their lenses in most of the lens mounts used by current cameras, including the newest mirrorless cameras.
Branded as Rokinon since 1979, the lenses are manufactured by Samyang, founded in 1972. Many lens types that aren’t usually made by popularly priced third party lens makers can be found in the Rokinon lineup.
If you want a fish eye lens at a very reasonable price, Rokinon is the brand for that. Also made are ultra long telephoto lenses, tilt and shift lens for perspective control, super fast primes, and extreme macro lenses.
They also make a very nice line of cinema lenses to use on various different cameras. Available like the other lenses in most of the camera lens mounts currently in use.
Originally founded in 1938, the Vivitar brand was established in 1960. Vivitar commissioned experienced lens designers and high quality optical lens manufacturers such as Kino Precision to produce their lenses. They have built a reputation for good quality lenses at modest prices.
The Series 1 line of lenses was one of the early attempts of third party popular lens makers to compete directly with camera brand lenses, and they succeeded very well.
Sometimes marketed under the Samyang brand, Vivitar also makes several specialty lenses such as fish eye lens and ultra telephotos. Vivitar lenses comes in most current lens mounts.
Originally formed in 1914, Schneider Kreuznach has made superior lenses for many different cameras, including the classic Kodak Retina cameras.
New DSLR lenses are available as well as many lenses for a wide variety of formats from APS-C to large format. A large part of the current line up is cine lenses for multiple formats. Other specialty lenses are tilt and shift, macro, and super wide angle. Prices are fairly high, but optical quality is outstanding.
In business since 1935, Angenieux primarily makes cine lenses now for a variety of formats. Digital cinema is a very demanding format, lenses from Angenieux have filled those needs for several brand’s lens mounts.
While the lenses are expensive, the optical and mechanical quality are very high. For many years, certain types of lenses like zoom lenses from this company were sold in cooperation with other high quality European camera brands, such as Leica and Rollie.
Sharpness is only one aspect of what makes a lens good. The best camera lens brands also have good color correction and freedom from major optical aberrations. Other things that high quality lenses have is high performance in auto focus (if applicable), rugged construction, and great handling.
What makes a lens brand stand out as truly special is for those lower price lenses to be high quality. The best camera lens brands have a lens that satisfies the needs and wants of a wide variety of photographers. If a wildlife or sports photographer needs an ultra fast water resistant super telephoto lens, or if a hobbyist needs to add to their equipment’s capabilities while staying on a budget, the best camera lens brands will have a lens for each.