A quick guide to Alpha DSLR Lenses

For anyone who doesn't know, Sony's Alpha DSLR line is nothing more than the result of Sony buying Minolta, then rebranding their DSLR cameras and continuing to develop them. I recently purchased an Alpha A100, and am in the process of looking at various lenses to work with it.

A brief note about the Cameras

The A100 may have come out earlier, but it is in no substantial way inferior to the Alpha A200 camera. In fact, in a couple of minor ways it can be argued to be the superior of the two. The A100 does get outclassed by the other models (A250, A300, A350, and A700) - but if you're looking at buying an Alpha, and wouldn't mind getting the A200... get the A100, since people are selling them for dirt-cheap as they move up to A700's and A300's.

Variables that Matter

I've shamelessly lifted this table of aperture information from this page.
Typical Maximum Apertures Relative Light-Gathering Ability Typical Lens Types
f/1.0 32X Fastest Available Prime Lenses (for Consumer Use)
f/1.4 16X Fast Prime Lenses
f/2.0 8X Fast Prime Lenses
f/2.8 4X Fastest Zoom Lenses (for Constant Aperture)
f/4.0 2X Light Weight Zoom Lenses or Extreme Telephoto Primes

Useful Sites

General Rules

Lenses with a big, wide zoom range generally suck throughout much or sometimes even all of their range. The more range of zoom a lens has, the more places there are for miscalibration and imperfection to damage the quality of the image coming through it. 28-300mm is a very large range, approximately 10x zoom, and there are very few reports of good performing lenses in this area. Professional quality lenses do not even attempt this range, simply because for the price of a pro-quality lens of that magnitude, one could easily a second DSLR with a good lens to cover the other bits of range. This is why event photographers frequently have two lensed cameras on their hip, for different roles, rather than swap lenses on the go.

Brands and Claims to Beware of

  • Cosina: Cosina is a large Japanese manufacturer which puts out lenses of varying quality. Generally the optics are pretty good, but the construction itself is out of cheaper materials, with laggy autofocus. Apparently good value-for-money, just not very durable. They tend to use plastic housings, for example. Another point of interest is that they make lenses for Zeiss, among other well reknowned names.
  • Kalimar: This is apparently, like Quantaray, a US label slapped onto numerous imported lenses from Japan and Korea. The internet seems to be unanimous in the advice to avoid Kalimar at all costs. For the lens ranges Kalimar is available in, there's always a cheaper, better alternative.
  • Kenko: Kenko seems to be held in the same esteem as Tamron. Some optical quality issues around the edges are common on their lenses, but for the price they work quite nicely.
  • Kiron: VERY well spoken of macro lenses, almost legendary. However, they're no longer produced.
  • Opteka: Some of their lenses use plastic threads. Aperture on their 1300mm lenses tends to be f8-16 (yes, 16!), which will render all but practically-daylit scenes quite badly. From what I've read, avoid all Opteka, period. Purportedly, they have their lenses made by Cosina.
  • Quantaray: This is a Ritz camera in-house brand, and the lenses are made by a wide variety of manufacturers. Some happen to be good brands, such as Sigma - others are just pure crap. At any rate, when compared against mid-range lenses, Quantaray lenses usually don't stack up in dollar for quality.
  • Rokinon: Purportedly Korean, has good reviews.
  • Sigma: Apparently this brand puts out some absolutely stellar gear, and some mediocre gear with slightly less clarity than the kit lenses common to inexpensive DSLR startup packages. Research on a case-by-case basis.
  • Tamron: This is not a feminine product, it's a fairly well respected third party lens manufacturer. They may not make the uber-top-end, but they don't make crap lenses either.
  • Tokina: This is considered a very good brand. I have yet to find an overall negative review of Tokina glass. They have a tendency to exhibit more CA than some of the higher-end lenses, but as an experienced DSC-F828 shooter, I'm used to shooting around CA-prone lenses.

-- SeanNewton - 30 Aug 2008

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Topic revision: r4 - 2008-09-03 - SeanNewton
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