As photographers, many of us are obsessive gear heads always on the hunt for the holy grail of glass. No lens is good enough, we have this mysterious idea of a perfect lens in our imagination that no company could possibly ever actually create. There are, however, a ton of fantastic lenses out there that many photographer would never give a second thought that are more than capable of bringing magic to your next shoot. In this post I'm going to cover three of my favorites.
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM
Whoa... hold on back up. He just wrote down the old Sigma 50mm and not the much coveted and renowned 50mm f/1.4 ART. He must be insane! Yup, I am, but there is method to my madness so hear me out. I adore my 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM. I've had this lens since before the new hotness (aka ART) hit the stage and have been very fond of it the whole time. I originally purchased it because I wanted a 50mm and had a fiery burning hatred for Nikon's fifties. Sorry Nikon, you have some great lenses but your fifties have always left me wanting more. After reading reviews and obsessing over sample images I opted to purchase the Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM on eBay for all of $250. I figured the cost was low and even if it wasn't great it wasn't a huge loss. Turns out I love this lens because of the way it renders bokeh. Part of the reason I wasn't a fan of the Nikon fifties was because their bokeh always bugged me, it was distracting, this lens's bokeh is not. It has a subtle painterly feel and does a great job of transitioning from in focus to out of focus in a smooth, pleasing manner.
The Sigma 50mm f/1.4 DG HSM isn't all peaches and cream though. As expected from an older Sigma that is pretty cheap sharpness is a concern. I don't think of this lens as a 50mm f/1.4, instead I think of it as a 50mm f/1.6. Wide open the images are just too fuzzy for me to ever consider using it. That said, f/1.6 is almost always more than enough for what I need to do so I'm quite happy with this lens. I like to think of this lens as a poor man's version of Nikon's 58mm f/1.4G that is known to be a bit soft wide open but also creates amazing bokeh. This lens isn't quite as nice as Nikon 58mm but at more than a thousand dollars cheaper I'm more than happy with using it instead.
Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro
Those who have used this lens know just how amazing this hunk of glass truly is. I owe my entire career to this lens, in a sense. I started out as a landscape/nature photographer and bought this originally for shooting flowers. It turned out to be my main portrait lens for years as I transitioned to photographing people. I imagine their 100mm is a bit of irony for Tokina, at the time of this lens's launch it seemed Tokina was focused on defining themselves as the company who made great, fast, wide angle lenses as most of their offering were wide at the time. Then this lens arrives and was easily the best lens Tokina had ever made. Priced at half the cost of the Nikon and Canon equivalents the Tokina comes in with better optics, less weight, and innovative ergonomics in the form of its focus clutch mechanism that I adore. Whether you are a macro shooter or a portrait photographer the Tokina 100mm f/2.8 Macro is an amazing deal that deserves a spot in your lens bag.
Sigma 150mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM APO Macro
Not quite as "budget" as the other two I have come to adore this lens for portraiture due to its unique focal length. I long for a modern 135mm on the Nikon mount, no one seems interested in making one so this lens is the next best thing. In my opinion between about 120mm and 160mm is the sweet spot for the perfect headshot lens and the Sigma 150mm f/2.8 sits comfortably within that zone. The OS is also pretty great for an older generation lens as I'm able to comfortably make sharp images handheld down to about 1/40th of a second with it. It is also wonderfully sharp, even towards the edges and the auto focus is fast, quiet, and accurate. The Sigma 150mm f/2.8 has quickly become my go to headshot lens and will remain so until someone finally gives me a 135mm that beats it.
Finding the perfect lens for your workflow isn't always about finding some impossible holy grail or needing to trade a kidney in order to afford the lens. Instead, its about finding the lens that most matches your creative vision and your workflow. The lenses above all meet that criteria for me and I'm sure they also will for many others. I'd love to hear about a few more amazing gems, though. Head down to the comments and give me the run down on some of your unexpected favorite lenses.