2024: The Year of the Lens Revolution

2024: The Year of the Lens Revolution

The photography landscape is undergoing a significant transformation, particularly in the field of lens technology. As we approach 2024, two key trends have become increasingly evident: the emergence of revolutionary lens designs and the rise of high-quality, affordable lenses. This pivotal shift is reshaping the choices available to both professional photographers and enthusiasts, setting the stage for what could be a landmark year in photographic equipment.

The evolving lens technology is not just a matter of improved specifications; it's a fundamental change in the way manufacturers approach their craft. The availability of advanced lenses at various price points is democratizing high-end photography, enabling more photographers to access tools that were once the preserve of a select few. 

The Rise of Cutting-Edge Lens Designs

Innovative Technologies and Materials

The lens industry is experiencing a renaissance, driven by breakthroughs in materials and optical technologies. One of the most significant advancements is the use of diffractive optics, which has led to more intricate and high-performance lens designs. While diffractive optics aren't anything new, I expect them to gain momentum as lens manufacturers are starting to hit the point of diminishing returns with their top lenses in terms of image quality and turn their attention to other methods of distinguishing themselves, such as lighter and more portable designs. Take, for example, the Nikon NIKKOR Z 800mm f/6.3 VR S lens. This lens takes advantage of Phase Fresnel (PF) elements to significantly reduce the size and weight of the lens without sacrificing image quality. Anyone who lugged around an older supertelephoto prime lens knows the value of shaving a few pounds off its weight. 

Versatile Zooms Replacing Primes

The move from prime lenses to more versatile zooms is a trend that is picking up steam. Canon’s shift from the 300mm f/2.8 to the 100-300mm f/2.8 lens is a great example, demonstrating how aperture and focal length combinations traditionally reserved for prime lenses are growing. Nikon also has their AF-S 120-300mm f/2.8E FL ED SR VR. This trend is reshaping the lens market, as photographers increasingly seek out versatile tools that can handle a variety of shooting scenarios without the need for multiple prime lenses. And while such lenses are often quite expensive, when you add up the cost of the primes they replace, they often become a good value.

Anyone want to buy me one?
Another lens that exemplifies this trend is the Canon 28-70mm f/2L, a lens that challenges the traditional boundaries of zoom lens apertures. This lens offers a unique combination of a wide aperture with a versatile zoom range, making it an attractive option for photographers who need the flexibility of a zoom but don’t want to compromise on aperture size. I've had this lens for a few years now and absolutely love it; in fact, I no longer use any prime lenses between 14mm and 100mm. And Canon is clearly embracing this trend with the RF 24-105mm f/2.8 L IS USM Z lens.

Perhaps my lens emblematic of this trend, though, is the Tamron 35-150mm f/2-2.8 Di III VXD. If I could pick any lens to bring to the Canon RF mount, it would be this one. The demand for all-in-one lens solutions is on the rise, reflecting a shift in photographers' preferences towards gear that offers greater versatility without compromising on image quality. Lenses that cover a broad range of focal lengths while maintaining high optical performance are becoming increasingly popular. This trend is particularly beneficial for photographers who often find themselves shooting in a variety of conditions and need to adapt quickly. It used to be that such lenses couldn't offer competitive image quality, but modern options have shown truly impressive performance. This is particularly advantageous for photographers working in dynamic environments where conditions can change rapidly. For people like wedding photographers, such lenses are invaluable.

Specialized Lenses for Niche Photography

The development of specialized lenses tailored for specific photography genres is another significant trend. Manufacturers are now focusing on creating lenses that meet the unique needs of various types of photography, from macro to astrophotography. This specialization is a boon for photographers who require specific tools to capture their vision.

For instance, Canon's recent autofocus tilt-shift patent with automatic tilt-shift bracketing is a breakthrough for architectural and landscape photography. This technology automates what was once a manual and time-consuming process, allowing for more precision and creative control. It demonstrates how lens manufacturers are not just improving existing designs but are actively innovating to solve specific challenges faced by photographers in different fields.

Tell me you wouldn't have fun with one of these. 
Of course, a patent doesn't guarantee a device will make it to the market, but other such lenses are already here. Recent examples include the Canon RF 5.2mm F2.8 L Dual Fisheye, the Venus Optics Laowa 9mm f/5.6 FF RL, the OM System M.Zuiko Digital ED 150-400mm f/4.5 TC1.25X IS PR, and the Venus Optics Laowa 24mm T8 2X Macro Pro2be.

The Emergence of Cost-Effective, High-Quality Lenses

Budget Lenses Gaining Ground

If you got into photography in the last 10 years or more recently, it might be hard to understand just how different the third-party lens landscape was a decade ago. There were very few competitive options outside of first-party manufacturers, and if you wanted professional-level quality and reliable performance, you often had no choice but to splurge for the most expensive lenses. 

The rise of affordable, high-quality lenses is a game-changer in the photography world. Emerging lens manufacturers are challenging traditional pricing models, offering lenses that rival the image quality of more expensive counterparts at a fraction of the cost. This shift is making high-quality photography more accessible to a broader range of photographers, from hobbyists to professionals on a budget. Manufacturers like Tamron and Sigma helped pave the way, but in the last few years, we've seen the emergence of ultra-low-priced lenses that still offer reasonable or even good performance and image quality. 

More lenses like this, please.
A prime example of this trend is the Viltrox AF 20mm f/2.8 lens. Priced extremely competitively, this lens offers solid performance, including good sharpness and controlled aberrations, making it an excellent choice for photographers looking for quality without the hefty price tag. The Viltrox lens is indicative of a broader market trend where cost is no longer a significant barrier to obtaining quality photography gear.

Impact on the Photography Market

The availability of affordable lenses is significantly expanding the photography market. Enthusiasts who previously may have been priced out of professional-quality gear now have access to a range of lenses that offer excellent image quality at much lower prices. This increased accessibility is driving more people to take up photography seriously, resulting in a more vibrant and diverse photographic community. The democratization of the craft is making it more inclusive, and that's a great thing. 

This trend also puts pressure on first-party manufacturers to respond. As third-party lens makers continue to offer high-quality alternatives at lower prices, established brands are compelled to reevaluate their pricing structures and product offerings. First-party manufacturers must either create similarly priced competitors or sufficiently distinguish their offerings to make them worth the premium prices. This competition is healthy for the industry. 

What's Next?

Based on the momentum observed in 2023, 2024 is poised to be a great year in lens technology. We can anticipate the continuation of trends like the development of versatile zooms and the proliferation of affordable high-quality lenses. Additionally, new advancements in optical technology and lens design are expected to further push the boundaries of what's possible in photography.

The coming year may also see more specialized lenses designed for niche markets, catering to the unique needs of various photographic genres. This specialization will likely drive further innovation in lens technology, leading to even more tailored solutions for photographers. As manufacturers continue to respond to the changing demands of the market, we can expect a wider variety of lenses that offer both technical excellence and creative versatility. Lighter designs, high-quality all-in-one options, and plain weird and fun lenses are all on tap. 

Photographers are set to have an unprecedented array of tools at their disposal, and I think that 2024 will be the year where we see that array of options really take hold. 

Alex Cooke's picture

Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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This article brings up so many points that are relevant to the types of photography I do that I am not quite sure where to start. As I read it there are like 12 different things I saw that I want to comment on!

For starters:

Alex wrote:

"The availability of advanced lenses at various price points is democratizing high-end photography, enabling more photographers to access tools that were once the preserve of a select few. "

One notable exception to this would be "traditional" supertelephoto lenses - which means lenses that are both very long and very fast - lenses with a huge entrance pupil. Such as 600mm f4, 400mm f2.8, 800mm f5.6, etc.

These lenses have actually gotten even more and more expensive with the rapid inflation of the past few years. Sure, there are much less expensive 400, 600, and 800 millimeter lenses available these days, but they are much slower than the traditional supertelephotos. And therefore they are not true professional-grade premium lenses made without compromise.

I don't think lens prices have come down at all. It's just that they make much less capable (much slower) lenses that were not being made 10 or 20 years ago. That's why you can get a 600mm or 800mm lens for cheap ..... but it's going to be really slow, with a relatively small entrance pupil. But if you want the true high quality professional grade fast 600mm or 800mm, you have to pay even more than you did before, like $12,000 to $15,000.

We have far more options than we ever had, but many of those options are lenses with compromises made to the specs to get the price and the weight down. They are actually economy lenses and not premium lenses. If you want affordable, you're stuck with a slow f6.3 or f7.1 or f8 lens. At least that is how it is in the world of true supertelephoto glass.

Things may be different with those little 50 and 100 and 200mm lenses that people use for shooting portraits of people and whatever else they shoot. But for world-class wildlife work, the very best lenses still cost a freaking fortune and all of the advances in technology and manufacturing techniques have really not helped with the prices of the really fast, really long glass.

I'm still waiting for the 14-300 2.8 pancake lens.

..... with excellent autofocus, weather sealing, no vignetting at all, extremely sharp in the deepest corners, and a minimum focus distance so close that it allows true 1:1 magnification at all focal lengths ... and of course with a built-in 1.4 teleconverter and a full lifetime warranty

I appreciate the sarcasm but I would really like to see Canon's 24-300 mm 2.8-5.6 L they patented this past August come to market. The one lens for everything!

I would love to see that lens, too. Just hope it has autofocus that us just as good as the more expensive lenses, especially for rapidly moving subjects via animal eye detect.


Excellent article especially the affordable lenses. Most any "inexpensive" lens by the big 3 camera companies is worlds ahead of lenses from the 70s and 80s.
Glad to see this happening with serious but inexpensive lenses. Again, an excellent article and thought provoking.
Thank you for the effort.

While they release ground breaking zooms that replaced SOME primes, they also patented new zooms and primes that will take the crown of the current kings. Upcoming years would look great for our gear, and not so well for out wallets...