Best lenses of 2021: from zooms to primes, fisheyes to supertelephotos!

Irix Cine 30mm T1.5
(Image credit: James Artaius)

We’re taking a stroll back through 2021, revisiting all the new lenses that sprang up along the way and picking out a star attraction for each of the 12 months.

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You'll see we've added links to all our original stories and lens reviews for the whole of 2021. We're in the middle of some big changes in the lens industry, with two very interesting new trends:

1) Smaller lenses, either primes or zooms, often sacrificing a little in terms of zoom range or maximum aperture for big gains in size and cost reduction.

2) A much wider choice of lower-cost independent and 'artisan' lenses, often with manual focus, sometimes with outrageous maximum apertures!

So here's our list of every lens story we covered in 2021... and there's a lot!

January 2021

Lighting the fuse for new-year fireworks, Sony sparkled with the launch of its FE 35mm F1.4 G Master (opens in new tab), inheriting all of the customary optical finesse and handling refinements of its G Master siblings. Coupling a classic, moderately wide field of view with a fast f/1.4 aperture, it was set to become an instant favorite, also earning a 5-star review and gold award from us.

The Sony FE 35mm F1.4 G Master headed the new year honors list (Image credit: Sony)
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Proving that full-frame isn’t the only new-year’s party in town, Fujifilm’s January announcements included two new X-mount lenses in the diminutive shape of the Fujinon XF27mmF2.8 R WR (opens in new tab) pancake prime and the larger Fujinon XF70-300mmF4-5.6 R LM OIS WR (opens in new tab), giving fairly standard and super-telephoto perspectives respectively, thanks to the system’s APS-C crop factor. The company also announced its fastest medium-format lens to date for the GFX system, the Fujinon GF80mmF1.7 R WR (opens in new tab). Not to be outdone, Irix served up the super-speedy 45mm f/1.4 Dragonfly (opens in new tab), claiming top spot as the world’s fastest GFX lens, even if it lacks autofocus.

Bearing price tags more akin to ‘January sales’, announcements came thick and fast from 7Artisans. Impressively engineered manual-focus offerings included the 7.5mm f/2.8 II fisheye (opens in new tab), the 55mm f/1.4 II (opens in new tab) portrait-friendly lens and the 60mm f/2.8 II macro (opens in new tab), all designed for APS-C and Micro Four Thirds crop-sensor cameras. For full-frame mirrorless cameras, there was also the 7Artisans 10mm f/2.8 fisheye (opens in new tab), in Canon RF, Nikon Z and Leica L flavors.

Typical of 7Artisans lenses, the 10mm fisheye has an impeccably engineered metal casing and comes complete with a smart soft case (Image credit: Matthew Richards)
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Firing up the afterburners, Venus Optics served up four ultra-fast new trailblazing manual lenses for crop-sensor cameras, including the Laowa 25mm f/0.95 (opens in new tab) in MFT mount, the Laowa 33mm f/0.95 (opens in new tab) in Fujifilm X mount and the Laowa 35mm f/0.95 (opens in new tab) and 45mm f/0.95 for APS-C format Sony E-mount cameras. The company also gave a sneak preview of its full-frame Laowa 35mm f/0.95 (opens in new tab), equally adept at stills and video capture.

The Laowa 35mm f/0.95 was one of four ultra-fast lenses announced by Venus Optics in January (Image credit: Hannah Rooke)
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For a truly cinematic experience, announcements included the budget-friendly Samyang 14mm T3.1 VDSLR Mk2 (opens in new tab), the mid-range Tokina Cinema Vista 65mm T/1.5 (opens in new tab) and the up-market Fujinon Premista 19-45mm T/2.9 (opens in new tab).

Our test lab had a similarly hectic start to the new year, with several lenses being put through their paces. First up was the newly launched Sony FE 35mm F1.4 G Master (opens in new tab), followed by a pair of Sigma 35mm F2 DG DN Contemporary (opens in new tab) and 65mm F2 DG DN Contemporary (opens in new tab) lenses, available in both Sony full-frame E-mount and Leica L-mount. Hot on their heels were the compact and lightweight Nikon Z 24-50mm f/4-6.3 (opens in new tab) standard zoom and two Fujifilm X-mount wide-angle and standard zooms, namely the Fujinon XF 10-24mm F4 R OIS WR (opens in new tab) and Fujinon XF 16-80mm F4 R OIS WR (opens in new tab). All in all, quite a month and a hefty kick-off for the new year!

We put the new Nikon Z 24-50mm standard zoom through its paces in January (Image credit: Nikon)
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February 2021

Canon’s RF 70-200mm F2.8 (opens in new tab) ‘trinity’ zoom is unusually small with an equally unusual extending inner barrel, at least for this class of lens. The F4 edition (opens in new tab) launched in February is even smaller, with a retractable design, measuring just 84x119mm and weighing in at a mere 695g. That’s amazingly compact for a full-frame telephoto zoom. In other news, Canon RF 24mm F1.4L and RF 50mm F1.4 lenses (opens in new tab) appeared on the distant horizon.

Canon proves that full-frame telephoto zooms don’t need to be big, the retractable RF 70-200mm F4L IS USM taking up barely any room in a kit bag
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Sigma was also in the downsizing business, announcing a new 28-70mm f/2.8 DG DN Contemporary (opens in new tab) standard zoom for Sony FE and L-mount cameras. It’s about 40 per cent lighter than the 24-70mm DN Art edition, and a more natural fit on slinky mirrorless cameras. Even so, the Sigma looks lardy compared with the frankly tiny own-brand Sony FE 28-60mm f/4-5.6 (opens in new tab) that hit the shelves in February.

Leica L-mount launches certainly weren’t slowed by any adverse winter weather conditions. Leica itself unveiled the APO-Summicron-SL 28 f/2 ASPH. (opens in new tab), the company’s first wide-angle prime in the SL line-up. It’s a top-quality lens but the price tag demands a fat wallet.

Another linchpin of the L-mount alliance, along with Leica and Sigma, Panasonic announced the LUMIX S 70-300mm F4.5-5.6 MACRO O.I.S. (opens in new tab), its classic design combining a long-favored telephoto range with a variable aperture rating. It’s a quality item though, not to be confused with run of the mill, low-budget 70-300mm zooms.

At the budget-friendly end of the price scale, Venus Optics beefed up its L-mount range with four new manual lenses, including the Laowa 4mm f/2.8 Fisheye, Laowa 9mm f/2.8 Zero-D ultra-wide-angle, Laowa 24mm f/14 2X Macro Probe and Laowa 25mm f/2.8 2.5-5X Ultra Macro (opens in new tab). There’s a catch though, in that the fisheye and 9mm aren’t actually full-frame compatible, and need to be used in APS-C crop mode on full-frame cameras.

Venus Optics served up no less than four new manual lenses for L-mount cameras in February, including the 4mm fisheye and 9mm Zero-D pictured here, for use in crop mode (Image credit: Laowa)
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Venus Optics also announced the world’s widest-angle lens for Canon EOS R-series full-frame mirrorless cameras, in the surprisingly diminutive shape of the Laowa 11mm f/4.5 FF RL (opens in new tab). There was a little something for Nikon Z-series shooters as well, with the launch of the Laowa 65mm f/2.8 2x Macro APO (opens in new tab). Following in the footsteps of the larger 100mm model that’s available for various makes of both DSLRs and mirrorless cameras, this manual lens delivers an impressive 2x macro magnification at its shortest focus setting.

Down in February’s bargain basement, announcements included the full-frame Lomography Atoll Ultra-Wide 2.8/17 Art (opens in new tab) (assembled by hand, no less), the super-fast Kamlan KL 32mm f/1.1 (opens in new tab) and the Micro Four Thirds-mount Yongnuo 25mm f/1.7 ASPH (opens in new tab), an autofocus lens and the first Yongnuo to feature an aspherical element.

The newly announced Canon RF 70-200mm F4L IS USM (opens in new tab) made its way to our lab for a February review. We also gave our full attention to the Fujifilm Fujinon GF 32-64mm f/4 R LM WR (opens in new tab), Laowa 10mm f/2 Zero-D (opens in new tab) and the Samyang AF 85mm f/1.4 RF (opens in new tab).

One of Samyang’s growing range of autofocus lenses, the AF 85mm f/1.4 RF underwent our stringent testing in February (Image credit: Samyang)
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March 2021

Sony turned 60 back in March, in as much as it unveiled its 60th E-mount lens. To the astonishment of many, it managed to shoehorn a super-fast f/1.2 aperture into the admittedly bulky form factor of the FE 50mm F1.2 G Master (opens in new tab)

That’s quite an achievement considering that such a feat was considered impossible in some quarters, due to the relatively small diameter of Sony’s E-mount flange. Winning through, the new lens goes head-to-head with competing mirrorless mount 50mm f/1.2 primes from Canon and Nikon.

(Image credit: Future)
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For those hankering after something more compact and lightweight to hang on their Sony mirrorless bodies, the company also announced new FE 24mm f/2.8 G, 40mm f/2.5 G and 50mm f/2.5 G primes (opens in new tab). The trio is designed with size in mind, or rather the lack of it, a telltale sign being the 49mm filter thread that’s common to all three lenses. They’re also very similar in size and weigh around 170g a piece.

At the other end of the scale in every way, March saw the launch of the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25x IS Pro (opens in new tab). It’s a monster of a Micro Four Thirds lens, complete with an integrated tele-converter, delivering an ‘effective’ zoom range of 375-1000mm in full-frame terms. The price tag is pretty hefty too, but the Olympus undercuts similar full-frame super-telephotos from Canon and Nikon.

Not everything about the Micro Four Thirds is compact and lightweight, as amply demonstrated by the new Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25x IS Pro (Image credit: Olympus)
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Following on from the previous month’s announcement of Leica’s relatively weighty APO-Summicron-SL 28 f/2 ASPH (opens in new tab), the company launched the APO-Summicron-M 35 f/2 ASPH (opens in new tab) in March. Befitting M-series rangefinder cameras, rather than L-mount bodies, the new lens is typically small and lightweight. In fact, it’s the company’s most compact 35mm prime of all time.

Venus Optics certainly wasn’t standing still in March, racing ahead with four more announcements, this time for ultra-fast Argus f/0.95 primes, including a 25mm for Micro Four Thirds, a 33mm for APS-C, and a pair of 35mm and 45mm (opens in new tab) lenses for full-frame cameras.

Our March review-fest included full tests of the Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Zero-D Shift (opens in new tab), Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art (opens in new tab), Sony FE 24mm f/2.8 G (opens in new tab), Sony FE 40mm f/2.5 G (opens in new tab), Sony FE 50mm f/2.5 G (opens in new tab) and the Sony FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master OSS (opens in new tab), which kept us out of mischief momentarily.

The dinky little FE 24mm f/2.8 G was one of three compact Sony lenses that we tested in March, along with the comparatively bulky FE 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 G Master OSS (Image credit: Rod Lawton/Digital Camera World)
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April 2021

Leaked images and a rumor mill running in overdrive drove speculation of just how special the forthcoming Canon RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM (opens in new tab) might be. An official announcement followed in mid-April, confirming that Canon’s first native RF full macro lens (and then some) would combine a world-leading 1.4x macro magnification, at least for an autofocus lens, with a novel SA (Spherical Aberration) control ring for enhancing the quality of bokeh. 

On top of that, there’s 5-stop hybrid optical image stabilization that works a treat for extreme close-ups, boosted to 8-stop effectiveness on later EOS R-series bodies that feature IBIS. All in all, the perfect lens with Spring bugs bursting forth to have their photos taken.

Canon RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM (Image credit: James Artaius)
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Professional action, sports and wildlife photographers the world over welcomed April’s announcement of Canon’s RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM and RF 600mm F4L IS USM (opens in new tab) super-telephoto primes. These direct updates of the company’s highly acclaimed EF-mount lenses for DSLRs were perfectly timed to coincide with the launch of the super-sporty Canon EOS R3 mirrorless camera. At the other end of the focal length scale, Canon submitted patents for ultra-wide-angle RF-mount zooms (opens in new tab).

In other enticing wide-angle news for full-frame mirrorless photographers, announcements included the Sony FE 14mm F1.8 G Master (opens in new tab), Samyang 24mm f/1.8 FE (opens in new tab) and Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG DN Art (opens in new tab). It was exciting times over in the crop-sensor camp as well, with an April shower of Samyang/Rokinon AF 12mm F2 E (opens in new tab), Tamron 11-20mm F/2.8 Di III-A RXD (opens in new tab) and Fujinon XF18mm F1.4 R LM WR (opens in new tab) lenses. Tamron neatly covered off the super-telephoto side of things, with the 150-500mm F/5-6.7 Di III VC VXD (opens in new tab), while Venus Optics announced its Laowa CF 33mm f/0.95 APO (opens in new tab) lens for APS-C format mirrorless Canon, Sony, Nikon and Fujifilm cameras.

The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 DG DN Art launched as the new mirrorless version of one of our all-time favorite 35mm primes for Canon and Nikon DSLRs (Image credit: Sigma)
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Satisfying the need for speed on a tight budget, TTartisan popped up with a 50mm f/1.2 (opens in new tab) lens in Leica L and Nikon Z mount options, complete with a sub-$100 price tag. And for a more fully cinematic experience, Mitakon launched three 17mm, 25mm, 35mm T/1.0 (opens in new tab) lenses for Micro Four Thirds, plus a 35mm T/1.0 for Super35 and a 50mm T/1.0 (opens in new tab) full-frame lens, again combining ultra-fast apertures with irresistibly affordable prices.

April was a bit quiet on the reviews front but we did rather fall in love with the Sony FE 50mm F1.2 G Master (opens in new tab), which surpassed itself in our tests.

The Sony FE 50mm F1.2 G Master was a starring attraction of our April testing schedule (Image credit: Future)
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May 2021

It’s rare to find a lens that gives you an utterly different perspective on the world, but the mammoth field of view and extreme barrel distortion of a fisheye lens definitely lets you see things differently. 

The new 7Artisans 10mm f/2.8 Fisheye (opens in new tab) was first spotted on a Nikon Z  body back in May but is also available in Canon RF, Leica L and Sony E mount options. As a ‘diagonal fisheye’ for full-frame mirrorless cameras, it produces an image circle that fills the whole sensor, delivering an almost 180-degree viewing angle on the diagonal. This manual lens is impeccably turned out with a full metal jacket, is top fun to use and delivers superbly sharp image quality for a fisheye, all at a very budget-friendly price.

With historical links to 7Artisans, TTartisan also had a May release with its new portrait-friendly 90mm f/1.25 (opens in new tab) in Leica M-mount, at only a quarter of the price of Leica’s equivalent own-brand lens. Meanwhile, proving that not all Leica lenses cost an absolute fortune, the Leica Vario-Elmarit-SL 24–70mm f/2.8 ASPH (opens in new tab) was announced, as the company’s most inexpensive zoom. Even so, it’s certainly not a low-budget offering.

Continuing the theme of taking a different slant on perspective, May brought exciting news on the tilt & shift front. Canon appeared to be going great guns on developing two new RF-mount lenses which are planned to become the world’s first autofocus examples of the breed. They’re the Canon TS-R 24mm f/3.5L and the Canon TS-R 14mm f/4L (opens in new tab), the latter also being the most wide-angle tilt & shift lens to date. Only just though, as the manual Laowa 15mm f/4.5 Zero-D Shift (opens in new tab) (without tilt) also hit the news with the addition of Leica L and Pentax K mount options to the existing line-up of Canon EF and RF, Nikon F and Z and Sony E-mount editions.

Further out on the fringe, May was a good month for fans of all things retro, with the launch of the Voigtlander Ultron Vintage Line 28mm f/2 Aspherical VM (opens in new tab) lens for Leica M-mount. Having a distinctly 1950s sci-fi look, Zenit released 35mm f/2 and 50mm f/1.5 (opens in new tab) lenses in Sony E-mount, along with Zenitar 60mm f/2.8 macro and Selena 58mm f/1.9 (opens in new tab) lenses in Canon EF and Nikon F-mount options.

Some of Zenit’s new lenses look more like flying saucers from 1950’s sci-fi B-movies (Image credit: Zenitar)
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Our raft of reviews in May included the Fujifilm Fujinon XF27mmF2.8 R WR (opens in new tab), Funleader CAPLENS 18mm F8.0 (opens in new tab) for Leica M mount, Sony APS-C format Samyang AF 12mm F2.0 E (opens in new tab) and the full-frame Sony format Samyang AF 24mm F1.8 FE (opens in new tab).

June 2021

We’ve waited a long time for a native Nikon Z-mount ‘Micro’ lens and then, like buses, two arrived at the same time. The Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S (opens in new tab) is a completely serious macro lens with a seriously strong feature-set and enhanced handling characteristics, as featured in the company’s pro-grade ‘trinity’ f/2.8 zooms. 

A full-on pro-grade macro lens, the Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S features the usual OLED display and customizable function button (Image credit: Future)
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The Z MC 50mm f/2.8 (opens in new tab) is a more light-hearted affair, and significantly more compact and lightweight, working brilliantly well as a standard prime while also boasting full 1.0x macro magnification.

Continuing the compact, lightweight theme, Nikon also announced the Z 28mm f/2.8 and Z 40mm f/2 (opens in new tab) full-frame primes, the Z 28mm later becoming available in an SE (Special Edition) version with retro styling, ideally matched to the APS-C format Z fc camera on which it gives an ‘effective’ focal length of 42mm, while still being fully compatible with full-frame Z-series bodies. More firmly in the DX camp, the Z DX 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR (opens in new tab) was also announced in June, becoming just the third APS-C format lens in Nikon’s Z-mount line-up, and the first and only superzoom.

Another crop-sensor highlight was the first new lens announced by Olympus in a very long while, but the M.Zuiko 8-25mm f/4.0 Pro (opens in new tab) was well worth the wait with its thoroughly pro-grade credentials and build quality. Venus Optics served up a comparatively ‘diet’ Micro Four Thirds option with a new Laowa 7.5mm f/2 (opens in new tab) lens that’s less than a couple of inches long and weighs in at just 150g. Suiting a really tight budget, TTartisan launched yet another manual prime for various APS-C format cameras, as well as Micro Four Thirds, namely the TTartisan 17mm f/1.4 (opens in new tab).

The pro-grade Olympus M.Zuiko 8-25mm f/4.0 Pro gives an effective 16-50mm zoom range on Micro Four Thirds cameras, with a constant-aperture f/4 rating (Image credit: OM Digital Solutions)
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Shifting up from Micro Four Thirds to full-frame cameras, Panasonic and other L-mount body owners were treated to the availability of a new super-speedy and highly affordable Mitakon Speedmaster 50mm f/0.95 III (opens in new tab), from Zhong Yi Optics. For those preferring new-fangled technologies like autofocus and camera-based aperture control, June also saw the announcement of the Panasonic LUMIX S 50mm F1.8 (opens in new tab), as a much more lightweight and inexpensive alternative to Panasonic’s existing S PRO 50mm f/1.4 lens.

Last but by no means least, Canon also jumped on the downsizing bandwagon with a June announcement of its new RF 14-35mm F4L IS USM (opens in new tab). Again, it’s a lens that significantly undercuts the company’s ‘trinity’ f/2.8 wide-angle zoom in size, weight and price.

Our review schedule in June had something of a crop-sensor slew, with a line-up that included Fujifilm’s Fujinon XF18mm F1.4 R LM WR (opens in new tab) and Fujinon XF 70-300mm F4-5.6 R LM OIS WR (opens in new tab), plus the Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmar 100-400mm f/4-6.3 Asph. Power O.I.S. (opens in new tab) A couple of full-frame lenses also got the full testing treatment, including the mighty Sigma 500mm F4 DG OS HSM Sports (opens in new tab) and the Tokina atx-i 100mm F2.8 FF Macro (opens in new tab).

Not to be confused with low-budget tele zooms, the Fujinon XF 70-300mm F4-5.6 R LM OIS WR is a properly up-market lens (Image credit: Fujifilm)
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July 2021

Something of a summer scorcher, the HD PENTAX-DA★16-50mm F2.8 ED PLM AW (opens in new tab) pitched up in July to prove that there’s still life in crop-sensor cameras in general and DSLRs in particular. 

A new lens for Pentax’s high-end ‘Star’ stable, this high-grade standard zoom combines a useful focal length range with a fast and constant f/2.8 aperture (Image credit: Ricoh)
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A perfect pairing for the Pentax K-3 III, this up-market standard zoom has an ‘effective’ 24-75mm range in full-frame terms, with a fast and constant f/2.8 aperture rating. You really have to hand it to Pentax for the novelty value of a brand new DSLR lens in 2021.

Back on the mirrorless side of the fence, Tokina literally knocked us for six with the announcement of half a dozen new lenses for Fujifilm X-mount and Sony E-mount APS-C format cameras. In fairness, the atx-m 23mm F1.4 X and atx-m 33mm F1.4 X (opens in new tab) were already available, but will be joined by a new atx-m 56mm F1.4 X. Also in the pipeline are Tokina atx-m 23mm F1.4 E, atx-m 33mm F1.4 E and atx-m 56mm F1.4 E (opens in new tab), so basically the same again in Sony E-mount.

Not to be beaten in the numbers game, Venus Optics announced a sprawling collection of nine new lenses in July. Esoteric options included the Laowa 10mm f/4 pancake lens, Laowa 20mm f/4 Shift lens and Laowa 6mm T2.1 cine (opens in new tab) lens, along with the Laowa FF 24mm T14 2x (opens in new tab) macro periscope lens, a follow-up to the company’s 24mm ‘macro probe’ optic. And as if that wasn’t enough, Venus Optics also announced it was extending the mount options of its Laowa 14mm f/4 Zero-D (opens in new tab).

New versions of the full-frame compatible Laowa 14mm f/4 Zero-D include mount options for Canon and Nikon DSLRs (Image credit: Laowa)
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Meanwhile, Panasonic confirmed fast (but not cheap) thrills for Micro Four Thirds cameras, with its forthcoming LEICA DG VARIO-SUMMILUX 25-50mm F1.7 ASPH. (opens in new tab) zoom lens. With an equivalent full-frame zoom range of 50-100mm, it neatly picks up the baton from Panasonic’s existing LEICA DG VARIO-SUMMILUX 10-25mm F1.7 ASPH. super-fast standard zoom.

On the stranger side of the street, TTartisan announced a trio of retro-styled 50mm f/1.2, 35mm f/1.4 and 17mm f/1.4 (opens in new tab) lenses, ideally matched to the new yet vintage Nikon Z fc camera. Meanwhile, Canon momentarily bypassed its burgeoning RF-mount line-up for just long enough to blueprint a clip-on telephoto lens (opens in new tab) for smartphones. Also breaking new ground, the Voigtländer NOKTON 35mm f/1.2 (opens in new tab) was officially announced, the company’s first ever lens for Fujifilm X-mount cameras.

Much of our testing for reviews in July was done in extreme close-up, with the Canon RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM (opens in new tab), Nikon Z MC 50mm f/2.8 (opens in new tab) and Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S (opens in new tab) lenses. We also checked out the Olympus M.ZUIKO DIGITAL ED 8‑25mm F4.0 PRO (opens in new tab) before gazing into the distance with Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/5.6E ED VR (opens in new tab) and Tokina SZX Super Tele 400mm F8 Reflex MF (opens in new tab) lenses.

Something of a retro throwback, the Tokina SZX Super Tele 400mm F8 Reflex MF is an extremely compact telephoto lens that produces the trademark ‘donut bokeh’ (Image credit: Future)
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August 2021

A legend in its own lifetime, Sigma’s 150-600mm Sports lens for Canon and Nikon DSLRs delivers stunning performance backed up by really robust build quality, at a very competitive price. It’s undeniably a big and heavy lens, however, so Sigma set about redesigning it with all the same good bits but less of the size and weight, in the new ‘DN’ edition for Sony E-mount and Leica L-mount cameras (opens in new tab), the latter naturally including Panasonic’s Lumix S-series bodies.

‘DN’ are the most notable letters in the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports, signifying it’s newly designed for mirrorless cameras (Image credit: Digital Camera World)
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Two more reasons to be cheerful, at least for Sony mirrorless shooters, were the August announcements of the Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8 Di III VXD and Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 Di III VXD G2 (opens in new tab) zooms. The 35-150mm is an unusual lens, its zoom range and fast aperture making it ideal for wedding and event photographers, enabling you to seamlessly switch between individual portraits and group shots without the need to swap lenses. The 28-75mm is a ‘Generation 2’ update to a rather fine original.

Tamron also announced that it was bringing its considerable superzoom prowess to both Sony and Fujifilm APS-C format mirrorless cameras, with its new 18-300 mm f/3.5-6.3 Di III-A VC VXD (opens in new tab) lens.

Venus Optics was back in August with another ‘something different’ lens. This time it was a Z-mount edition of the existing Laowa 9mm F2.8 (opens in new tab) APS-C format lens. Nikon Z 50 and Z fc owners lamenting the lack of a fast, ultra-wide-angle prime could now dry their tears.

The manual-focus and aperture control rings of the Laowa 9mm F2.8 are particularly well suited to the design ethos of the Nikon Z fc (Image credit: Laowa)
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With summer holidays back on the agenda in 2021, we got sidetracked from the lab to the beach this year. Even so, we still found time to put the rather magnificent Fujinon GF80mm F1.7 R WR (opens in new tab) through its paces, a pretty epic lens for the Fujifilm GFX medium-format system.

September 2021

Picking up the baton from Olympus, OM Digital Solutions announced its first ever f/1.4 prime, the M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm f/1.4 Pro (opens in new tab) having a useful and versatile effective focal length of 40mm in full-frame terms, along with the prospect of fast shutter speeds and a fairly tight depth of field. A new M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/4.0 Pro (opens in new tab) was simultaneously announced, giving photographers a more compact, lightweight alternative to the existing f/2.8 lens in Olympus’s line-up.

The M.Zuiko Digital ED 20mm f/1.4 Pro joins the Micro Four Thirds party as the first f/1.4 prime from OM Digital Solutions (Image credit: OM System)
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Affordable, compact and lightweight primes were the order of the day, or rather the month, with enticing announcements including the dinky little Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM (opens in new tab), Nikon Z 40mm f/2 and Sigma 24mm F2 DG DN and 90mm F2.8 DG DN (opens in new tab), the Sigma lenses launching in full-frame Sony E and Leica L mount options.

And there’s more! Panasonic released news of a Lumix S 24mm F1.8 (opens in new tab), which made a nicely compact and affordable change to the company’s usual S PRO heavyweights. For crop-sensor cameras, 7Artisans announced the speedy 25mm f/0.95 (opens in new tab) manual lens in a slew of mirrorless mount options including Sony E, Nikon Z, Fujifilm X, Micro Four Thirds and Canon EF-M. They joined the existing 7Artisans 50mm f/0.95 and 35mm f/0.95 lenses, further extending the ‘Firefly’ series. TTartisan also released a 40mm Macro f/2.8 (opens in new tab) in Sony E, Fujifilm X and Micro Four Thirds mount versions, while Cosina served up a new Voigtländer Nokton 35mm f/1.2 (opens in new tab) for Fujifilm X cameras.

Fujifilm itself announced four new lenses as part of an updated X-mount roadmap, including the Fujinon XF33mm f/1.4 R LM WR and XF23mm F1.4 R (opens in new tab) to arrive within the next couple of months, plus the XF18-120mm superzoom and XF150-600mm (opens in new tab) super-telephoto for further down the line. Fujifilm also said it was planning a medium-format tilt & shift lens (opens in new tab) for the GFX system, although it’s likely to be a long time coming.

Viltrox launched a budget-friendly 35mm f/1.8 (opens in new tab) autofocus lens for Nikon Z-series cameras, which is a tempting proposition for both FX and DX format bodies, with an effective focal length of 52.5mm on the latter, thus working well as a ‘standard prime’.

The Viltrox 35mm f/1.8 proves a tempting proposition for those seeking an autofocus lens for Nikon Z-mount cameras, on a tight budget (Image credit: Viltrox)
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DSLR owners weren’t completely left out of the loop, thanks to the Irix 30mm f/1.4 (opens in new tab). Available in Canon EF, Nikon F and Pentax K mount options, it’s technically a ‘new’ lens but firmly based on the company’s previous Cine 30mm T1.5 optic.

Our September review schedule included plenty of intriguing new lenses, including the 7Artisans 10mm f/2.8 Fisheye (opens in new tab), 7Artisans 50mm f/1.05 (opens in new tab), Laowa Argus 35mm f/0.95 FFII (opens in new tab) and the epic Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG DN OS Sports (opens in new tab).

October 2021

While Canon had been going great guns on its rapidly expanding range of RF-mount super-telephoto prime and zoom lenses, Nikon offered nothing native other than coupling a Z 70-200mm lens with a 2x tele-converter. That all changed in October, with the eagerly awaited announcement of the new Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S zoom and Nikkor Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S prime (opens in new tab), the latter coming complete with a built-in 1.4x tele-converter. 

Finally announced in October, the Nikkor Z 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6 VR S looked like it should be well worth the considerable wait (Image credit: Nikon)
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Nikon also announced yet another standard zoom, the Nikkor Z 24-120mm f/4 S (opens in new tab) filling a Z-mount hole in the shape of the well-loved AF-S 24-120mm F-mount lens for DLSRs. The frankly tiny range of own-brand DX format Z-mount lenses was also increased by 50 per cent, with the launch of the Nikkor Z DX 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR (opens in new tab). More remarkably, Nikon filed patents for 35-50mm and 50-70mm zoom lenses (opens in new tab), the ‘remarkable’ part being that they’re due to have super-fast f/1.2 apertures.

And then it was time for something completely different. Canon announced the RF 5.2mm f/2.8L Dual Fisheye lens (opens in new tab), a revolutionary stereoscopic 180-degree lens for shooting 3D virtual reality video and stills on an EOS R5. Of more universal appeal, at least for Canon full-frame mirrorless shooters, the highly anticipated, budget-friendly and refreshingly compact Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM ultra-wide-angle-prime and RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS STM super-tele zoom (opens in new tab) both started shipping.

Sticking with the theme of compact lenses for compact system cameras, Sigma launched its first ever lens for APS-C format mirrorless cameras, the 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN Contemporary (opens in new tab) being available in Sony E and Leica L mount options. And it really is just a slip of a thing, weighing a mere 290g. Going large by comparison, Sony announced the FE 70-200 f/2.8 G Master II (opens in new tab) but, even so, it’s almost 30 per cent lighter than the original edition.

Big might be beautiful but sometimes small can be better. That’s the thinking behind the new Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN Contemporary (Image credit: Sigma)
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Also catering to Sony mirrorless cameras, Tokina announced E-mount versions of three existing Fujifilm X-mount primes from its ATX-M line-up, namely the ATX-M f/1.4 23mm, 33mm and 56mm (opens in new tab). They deliver a useful spread of effective focal lengths, all with the same fast f/1.4 aperture rating. Fujifilm photographers themselves were treated to the new Samyang/Rokinon AF 12mm F2 X (opens in new tab), the company’s first autofocus lens for X-mount cameras. In arguably bigger news, the company’s first ever zoom lens almost snuck in under the radar, in the shape of the Samyang AF 24-70mm f/2.8 FE (opens in new tab) aimed at full-frame Sony E-mount cameras.

7Artisans followed up its existing 25mm f/0.95 (opens in new tab) prime for crop-sensor cameras with a more portrait-friendly 50mm f/0.95 (opens in new tab) lens, again available in Sony E, Fujifilm X, Canon EOS M, Nikon Z and Micro Four Thirds mount options. And for something speedier, Kipon released the Ibelux 40mm f/0.85 Mark III (opens in new tab) in Fujifilm X-mount. In full-frame territory for Canon RF, Nikon Z and Sony E-mount mirrorless cameras, there was also the TTartisan 32mm f/2.8 (opens in new tab), standing out from the crowd with its rectangular cut-out hood.

For cinema lovers, October’s announcements included a range of no less than 13 new Leitz Elsie cine prime lenses (opens in new tab). Lucky for some! The full-frame compatible lenses range from 15mm to 150mm in focal length, all but the last having a confirmed rating of T/2.1. For our part, we served up a review of the Irix Cine 30mm T1.5 (opens in new tab).

We reviewed a bit of movie magic back in October, in the shape of the Irix Cine 30mm T1.5 (Image credit: James Artaius)
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November 2021

Some say the best things come in small packages. That would seem to be the case for lovers of all things retro, as Nikon’s latest Z 28mm f/2.8 (opens in new tab) is officially the smallest own-brand Nikkor Z-mount prime. The SE version is very marginally bigger but has immaculate retro styling that harks back to the glory days of 35mm film photography. Despite being full-frame compatible, it looks right at home on the similarly styled Nikon Z fc APS-C format camera, for which it’s offered as a kit lens option.

With lettering font and knurling copied from ancient Nikon blueprints, the Z 28mm f/2.8 (SE) is perfectly matched to the old-school Z fc camera body (Image credit: Future)

There was plenty more small news in November, leading with Samyang producing the most diminutive and lightweight 50mm lens for Sony full-frame E-mount cameras. Not just for stills, the Samyang AF 50mm F1.4 FE II (opens in new tab) still manages to squeeze in a stepping motor autofocus system that enables smooth, virtually silent focusing for video capture, along with minimal focus breathing.

Venus Optics jumped on the little bandwagon as well, launching the Laowa 85mm f/5.6 2X Ultra Macro APO (opens in new tab) as the smallest macro lens with a 2x magnification factor. Available in Canon RF, Nikon Z, Leica M and Sony E mount options, it only offers manual focusing and aperture adjustment via onboard control rings, but that’s often preferable in macro photography.

And if you’re spotting a downsizing theme developing for November, it’s confirmed by Panasonic’s announcement of the Lumix S 35mm F/1.8 (opens in new tab). The relatively modest aperture rating enables it to follow suit with the existing Panasonic Lumix S 24mm f/1.8, 50mm f/1.8 and 85mm f/1.8 lenses, bringing the total tally to four.

With the advent of the Panasonic Lumix S 35mm F/1.8, there are now four f/1.8 primes in the relatively compact stable, ranging from 24mm to 85mm in focal length (Image credit: Panasonic)

Ultimately, it’s always a tough choice. Do you go with a compact, lightweight lens with a modest aperture rating, or go for broke with super-fast glass? Perhaps the ideal compromise, the M.Zuiko 20mm f/1.4 Pro (opens in new tab) bridges the gap between featherweight Olympus f/1.8 lenses and relatively clunky f/1.2 options. The first new lens under the OM system banner, this one has an effective 40mm focal length in full-frame terms, making it ideal for street photography and a whole lot more besides, while its At 63x61mm dimensions and 247g weight give it perfect poise and balance on slinky Micro Four Thirds camera bodies.

November’s box office attraction was a set of four new cine lenses from Samyang. The starring cast comprised the Samyang Xeen Anamorphic 50mm T2.3 (opens in new tab), along with Xeen Meister 35mm, 50mm and 85mm T1.3 lenses.

Our review schedule in November was refreshingly lightweight too, in as much as we tested Canon’s new lightweight RF 16mm F2.8 STM (opens in new tab) and RF 100-400mm F5.6-8 IS USM (opens in new tab) lenses, as well as the delightfully compact Nikon Z 40mm f/2 (opens in new tab). And just to keep in shape, we also tested the well-established and comparatively heavyweight Tamron SP 70-200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD G2 (opens in new tab) for DSLRs.

Incredibly tiny for a full-frame, ultra-wide-angle lens, the Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM was a joy to review (Image credit: Alistair Campbell)
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December 2021

Following hot on the heals of Nikon’s Z 100-400mm f/4.5-6.3 VR S and Z 400mm f/2.8 TC VR S announcements (opens in new tab) back in October, December saw news of the latest and, in terms of focal length, definitely greatest native Z-mount super-tele lens. 

Due to the humungous telephoto reach, Nikon said it was employing Phase Fresnel glass in the design of the Nikon Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S (opens in new tab), similar to that used to focus lighthouse beams and theatrical stage lighting, along with a fairly modest aperture rating. It all helps to keep the size and weight manageable. We’re very much looking forward to seeing how that works out.

Not for the feint-hearted, Nikon’s Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S promises to be a bit of a monster, despite the use of Phase Fresnel glass (Image credit: Nikon)
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One thing that’s definitely manageable is the new Nikon Z 28-75mm f/2.8 (opens in new tab). It lacks a little wide-angle potential, compared with the company’s two Z 24-70mm lenses already on the market, but outstretches them marginally for telephoto reach. More importantly, it packs a fast, constant f/2.8 aperture rating into a lightweight build that tips the scales at just 565g, or just over a pound. That’s great news for all of us who want an f/2.8 zoom for fast shutter speeds and a tight depth of field, without having to hang a hefty lens on the front of our slimline compact system body. The lens makes good sense financially too, only costing about half as much as the more pro-grade Nikkor Z 24-70mm f/2.8 S (opens in new tab).

Worse news for photographers the world over is that, if you had a $13,000 Leica Summilux on your Christmas wish list, you probably didn’t get one. It’s not all bad news though, as you can rekindle the festive cheer by treating yourself to the equivalent Mitakon Speedmaster 90mm f/1.5 (opens in new tab) for just $649. And this budget option from Zhong Yi Optics isn’t just available in Leica M-mount either, as it also comes in Canon RF, Nikon Z and Sony E-mount options. Let the mirrorless festivities begin!

The Mitakon Speedmaster 90mm f/1.5 has a lot to offer, in a variety of mount options, and at a sensible price (Image credit: Zhong Yi Optics)
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Oh, and before we go, there was plenty of seasonal glee in our test lab, with fun and games centering around the new Fujifilm Fujinon XF33mm F1.4 R LM WR (opens in new tab), Nikon Z 28mm f/2.8 SE (opens in new tab) and Nikon Z DX 18-140mm f/3.5-6.3 VR (opens in new tab). And the Irix 30mm f/1.4 Dragonfly and Canon RF 14-35mm f/4L IS USM pitched up just in time for the Christmas party.

How we test lenses

We test lenses using both real world sample images and lab tests. Our lab tests are carried out scientifically in controlled conditions using the Imatest testing suite, which consists of custom charts and analysis software that measures resolution in line widths/picture height, a measurement widely used in lens and camera testing. We find the combination of lab and real-word testing works best, as each reveals different qualities and characteristics.

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Best camera lenses to get (opens in new tab)
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Best Sony lenses (opens in new tab)

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Matthew Richards

Matthew Richards is a photographer and journalist who has spent years using and reviewing all manner of photo gear. He is Digital Camera World's principal lens reviewer – and has tested more primes and zooms than most people have had hot dinners! 

His expertise with equipment doesn’t end there, though. He is also an encyclopedia  when it comes to all manner of cameras, camera holsters and bags, flashguns, tripods and heads, printers, papers and inks, and just about anything imaging-related. 

In an earlier life he was a broadcast engineer at the BBC, as well as a former editor of PC Guide.