Electronics – Photography – Lenses
The Road Less Traveled
It’s true that most photographers looking to buy an SLR go with a Canon or a Nikon camera. But, despite their market share, the big two aren’t the only game in town. The Pentax brand has been around for a long time, and if you learned photography in the 70s or 80s, you probably picked up the classic manual focus K1000 SLR at some point in time.
In the digital world Pentax SLRs set themselves apart from the competition by concentrating on build quality rather than bells and whistles. Even the budget-friendly K-70 has a glass pentaprism viewfinder and extensive weather sealing–features that are only available in bodies priced over £1,000 if you are shopping for a Canon or Nikon SLR. But the company is a little behind the times in some other areas, including video capture, and has been slow to add Wi-Fi to its camera line.
But if you’re more interested in pure photography and not enticed by bells and whistles, a Pentax SLR might make a lot sense. Add in the fact that the company is strong in terms of backward compatibility (those manual focus lenses from the 70s work on modern digital bodies just fine) and builds shake reduction into the body so that every lens is stabilized, and you have an appealing platform. Most Pentax SLRs use the APS-C sensor size, the same as you’ll find in entry-level models from Nikon and Canon.
There is one full-frame model available, the 36MP K-1. You can use APS-C lenses with it–we’ve tested some and found that a few cover the whole sensor and are decent performers–but for best results look for lenses marked as FA or D FA if you shoot with the K-1. Pentax doesn’t have the sheer number of lenses available as you’ll get with one of the more popular systems, but the selection is still pretty extensive, and includes an excellent series of compact prime lenses.
It’s missing some of the more esoteric options, like tilt-shift lenses, autofocusing f/1.2 primes, and really long telephoto glass. Third-party lenses fill some of those gaps, although lens makers like Sigma and Tamron haven’t been making newer lenses for Pentax. There are pluses and minuses with every system.
But if you’re looking for a solid APS-C SLR on a budget, the K-70 is a solid value option, even thought its video capabilities lag behind other systems. But if stills are your priority, you can pair it with any of the lenses in this roundup for image quality that’s just as good–and in some cases better–than what you’ll get from more popular systems. If you’re in the market for a new SLR body you can peruse the Best SLRs we’ve tested.
Great Cameras Deserve Great Lenses
The image quality of recent Nikon SLR cameras is very strong, so you’ll want to make sure that you’re using a quality lens. This advice applies both to affordable models with 24MP resolution right up to the full-frame D850 and its monster 46.5MP sensor. Luckily, Nikon owners have access to a wealth of excellent options, ranging from the Nikkor glass made by Nikon itself, to third-party options from the likes of Sigma, Tamron, and Zeiss.
First-time SLR owners are advised to consider an upgrade from the 18-55mm Nikkor that’s bundled with the D3400 and D5600. It’s a decent starter lens, but it limits the image quality and versatility that an SLR can provide. For those users we recommend going third-party, either with the Sigma 18-35mm (if you value a wide aperture) or 17-70mm (if zoom range is paramount).
Another popular choice is to supplement a wide zoom with a prime lens–the Nikkor 28mm f/1.8G is a fine choice if that’s the path you want to take. The two Sigma zooms listed here only cover the APS-C image sensor used by DX Nikon models, but they can be used on a full-frame (FX) body, they just won’t use the entirety of the image sensor.
We’ve also highlighted an excellent macro lens, the AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105mm f/2.8G IF-ED–one of the best we’ve tested for any system. A handful of strong telephoto options can bring distant subjects into close view.
And if you want to capture the world in an ultra-wide perspective, Nikon offers the excellent 16-35mm zoom for full-frame models. Pros will want a pair of zooms, the 24-70mm and 70-200mm f/2.8. Thankfully Nikon’s latest entries are both top performers.
If you need longer reach, Sigma’s affordable 150-600mm Contemporary is our favorite affordable wildlife lens, but you can also opt to pack light and go with the sharper, lighter Nikon 300mm f/4–it’ll work with a teleconverter if you need more reach. And portrait specialists should look at the 105mm f/1.4E ED. We didn’t have room in our top ten to include it, but it’s a one-of-a-kind lens that delivers crisp images with a razor thin depth of field.
These are just the tip of the iceberg in Nikon’s vast lens catalog.
If you want to see all of the lenses (and cameras) we’ve reviewed, check out our Digital Cameras Product Guide.
Featured Nikon SLR Lens Reviews:
First Name in Cameras
Canon SLRs are some of the most recognizable in the world. You see them on the sidelines of NFL games, around the necks of seemingly every tourist, and in retail displays far and wide. And while seasoned pros who know their cameras inside and out are well aware of what lenses are needed to get the job done, photographers who bought a Rebel bundled with an 18-55mm have good reason to seek out a better lens.
The zoom that’s included with an entry-level camera is usually the weakest link in the chain as far as image quality goes. It’s designed to be inexpensive enough to manufacture to be included at a modest premium. The narrow f/3.5-5.6 variable aperture isn’t the best choice for shooting in dim light, and there’s visible distortion throughout the zoom range.
These aren’t issues that are unique to Canon–most starter lenses leave a lot of room for improvement. Your new SLR deserves a better lens. Thankfully, with a Canon camera you have dozens of options as far as lenses go.
You can go for name-brand Canon lenses–some of those are the best in the business–or you can opt for a third-party option, some of which are just as good as Canon glass, often for less money. We’ve highlighted 10 our favorites here. First-time SLR owners looking for a similar, but better, zoom lens can think about a Sigma 18-35mm or 17-70mm zoom, both of which are designed to cover the APS-C image sensor found in Rebel models.
And creative pros should give unique lenses like the 85mm f/1.2 and 100-400mm a look. Remember, if you have a full-frame model like the 6D, you can’t use an APS-C lens with an EF-S designation. But owners of Rebel models can use both EF-S and EF lenses, as well as their third-party equivalents.
Our favorite APS-C only zooms are actually a pair from Sigma, the 18-35mm f/1.8 and the 17-70mm f/2.8-4. But if you’re eyeing an eventual upgrade to a full-frame system, consider skipping over EF-S lenses entirely. If you’re in the market for a new SLR body you can peruse the Best SLRs we’ve tested.