Most experienced photographers and videographers have at some point used or owned a third-party lens. However, with such a wide variety of options available, it can be difficult for beginners to ascertain which brands and models they should use. In this post, we identify some of the best third-party lenses for Canon, Sony, Panasonic, and other camera brands.
We focused on selecting lenses that pair well with the most popular mirrorless camera systems from the past few years. But first, let’s define exactly what we mean by third-party lens.
What is a Third-Party Lens?
Lens/camera compatibility is determined by the mechanical interface used to connect the two, a.k.a. the lens mount. For example, Canon’s full-frame mirrorless cameras use RF mount lenses, while their older DSLR models use EF and EF-S mount lenses. Canon also makes an adapter that allows you to use EF and EF-S mount lenses with an RF mount camera.
A third-party lens is any lens with the same mount as your camera, but manufactured by a different brand. An example being an RF mount lens made by a brand other than Canon.
Some of the leading third-party lens brands include Sigma, Tamron, ZEISS, Rokinon, Samyang, Tokina, and TTArtisan. While some of these brands also make their own cameras, they are best known for their lenses, which are designed for use with cameras from brands such as Canon, Sony, Panasonic, Fujifilm, Leica, and Nikon.
Why use a Third-Party Lens?
There are numerous factors a photographer will consider before investing in a third-party lens. One of the most common reasons is price, as third-party lenses tend to be more affordable than their first-party counterparts.
Affordability is sometimes wrongfully perceived as a sign that a lens has inferior capabilities or build. However, there are plenty of third-party lenses available that are not only comparable in quality to first-party lenses, they’re arguably better.
A third-party lens could offer a faster autofocus, a lighter or more portable build, or fewer image quality issues such as chromatic aberrations or focus breathing. Additionally, a third-party lens may offer a specific focal length and aperture combination that’s not offered by your camera’s brand.
Another factor to consider is the unique visual style of each brand. The coloring and tone of your imagery can vary slightly depending on the lens and camera you use. Photos captured on a Canon lens tend to have a warmer tone, while the ZEISS “look” is known for being relatively neutral.
In short, photographers invest in third-party lenses for the same reason they invest in any lens. The most important factors to consider are the lens’ performance/image quality, build, and price.
The Best Third-Party Lenses for Canon RF Mount (and EF mount)
The first four RF mount lenses were released in 2018 alongside Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless system, the EOS R. Canon has continued to regularly release new full-frame mirrorless cameras and lenses since then. Most recently, the Canon EOS R3 camera.
As a relatively new lens mount, there isn’t a large range of options, though we’ve done our best to identify some of the best third-party Canon RF mount lenses currently available.
The Rokinon 24mm T1.5 Cine DSK lens is one of our favorites. As a Cine lens, it’s designed for video and does not support autofocus. However, the affordably priced wide-angle lens is well-built and captures truly impressive visuals.
We also like the NiSi 15mm F4 Sunstar ASPH lens. While NiSi is best known for making lens filters, the 15mm F4 Sunstar is a high-quality and affordably priced manual focus lens. The lens delivers remarkably sharp, clear imagery. Its unique aperture design also allows it to capture sunstars – aesthetically pleasing streaks of light that emanate from bright sources. It’s great for photographing landscapes, architecture, and skylines.
If you’re after a longer focal length, the Rokinon 85mm F1.4 AF is another great option. The high-speed, autofocus prime lens delivers impressive visuals thanks to its sophisticated optical design. It’s great for portraits, street photography, and wedding photography.
Using the Canon mount adapter we mentioned earlier, you can also use EF (and EF-S) lenses with an RF mount camera. The ZEISS Milvus 50mm F1.4 captures breathtaking visuals at a versatile focal length, though is manual focus only. If autofocus is important to you, you may prefer the similarly impressive Sigma 50mm F1.4 DG HSM Art or 35mm F1.4 HSM Art.
For photographers looking for a zoom lens, the Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 DG OS HSM Art is an excellent choice. If you want more range, the Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM and the Tamron 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 Di III VC lenses are also great options.
The Best Third-Party Lenses for Sony E-Mount
One of the best things about third-party lenses is they are rarely limited to a single mount. For example, most of the lenses recommended above are also available in Sony E-mount. We won’t mention them again for this reason, though they are also worth considering when shopping for a new E-mount lens.
One of our favorite third-party E-mount lenses is the Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art. When we compared it to the Sony 85mm F1.4 GM lens, we found it offered comparable performance capabilities, a smaller and lighter build, and a more affordable price tag. Like the Rokinon 85mm lens mentioned above, it’s great for portrait, wedding, and street photography.
We also really like the Tamron 28-75mm F2.8 Di III VXD G2. The second-generation lens was only recently released, and compares favorably to the Sigma 24-70mm F2.8 Art and Sony 24-70 F2.8 GM lenses.
It’s also worth looking into the ZEISS Batis, Loxia, and Touit lenses. All three lens lines were designed specifically for use with Sony E-mount cameras. We’re particularly fond of the Batis 40mm F2 CF, a dynamic wide-angle lens that houses high-quality optics in a sleek metal build.
If you have an APS-C camera such as the Sony ZV-E10 or a6600, there are plenty of additional crop-sensor options. The Tamron 11-20mm F2.8 Di III-A RXD and Sigma 18-50mm F2.8 DC DN Contemporary lenses are both strong (and complementary) choices.
The Best Third-Party Lenses for L-Mount
L-mount was first introduced in 2014 by Leica. In 2018, Leica formed the L-Mount Alliance with Sigma and Panasonic; a unique partnership that allows all three brands to manufacture and sell L-mount cameras and lenses.
For this reason, all the Sigma lenses recommended above for Sony E-mount cameras are also available in L-mount. And they pair just as well with the Leica SL2, Panasonic LUMIX GH5 II, or any other L-mount camera.
In addition to those lenses, Sigma’s 35mm F1.2 DG DN Art and 105mm F2.8 DG DN Art are excellent choices. Both primes were released in the last year, and offer fantastic image quality, fast & quiet autofocus, and a premium build. You can read our review of each lens here and here.
Ultimately, this post only provides a small glimpse into the world of third-party lenses. Rather than recommending a specific lens or two, we hope this post gives you an idea of the diverse variety of options currently available to photographers and filmmakers.
There are so many factors to consider when buying a lens: image quality, autofocus, focal length, build, price, and more. Don’t hinder your abilities or creativity by limiting yourself to a single brand, especially if you’re at a beginner or intermediate skill-level.