Lenses are critical, yet many photographers tend to attach mediocre entry-level zoom glass on their camera when there are plenty of affordable quality lenses on the market. Here is a personal selection of some of the best optics that can be found under $300.
I always recommend to spend less on the camera body and save this money to purchase additional lenses that open new possibilities. There are plenty of options, and a good lens doesn't necessarily have to be expensive. I personally own several cheap lenses, and not every situation requires you to mount a thousand-dollar optic on a camera.
Please note that some of the prices indicated below are based on the ongoing rebate at B&H, but these items are regularly on sale throughout the year. Finding them for less than $300 shouldn't be an issue. I also haven’t listed used items and non-native mount.
Finally, keep in mind that Micro Four Third cameras crop the indicated focal by a factor two. Therefore, a 50mm lens designed for MFT is equivalent to 100mm on a full frame sensor.
Prime Lenses With Autofocus
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 45mm f/1.8 Lens: $249
Fast and lightweight, this lens is a great option for portrait photography. The image quality and sharpness are good even wide open. However, it might not be the best fit to shoot macro. In this case, the Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 would be the right choice, but this one is much more expensive.
Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC Contemporary: $289
Sigma offers another high quality optic without any compromise. The image quality is outstanding even wide open. Unlike many entry level options, the build quality has not been sacrificed on this glass. Finally, the shallow depth of field offered by the fast f/1.4 aperture can be precisely managed thanks to the oversized focus ring installed on this lens (it also has autofocus). A great option for low light and portrait photography.
Panasonic Lumix G 25mm f/1.7: $148
Only half a stop slower than the Summilux 25mm f/1.4, this lens is also four times cheaper.
Panasonic LUMIX G 14mm f/2.5: $198
Small and light, this 28mm equivalent is convenient for urban photography and gimbal use. The relatively fast aperture also helps to shoot in low light conditions. This tiny pancake optic is only 0.8 inches thick, which makes it ideal for street and travel photography.
Zoom Lenses With Autofocus
Lumix G Vario 45-150mm f/4-5.6 ASPH. MEGA O.I.S: $148
This lens packs a versatile telephoto (90-300mm in full frame equivalent) in a tiny form factor. The image quality and sharpness might not be the best for photography use, but this cheap lens has no problem outputting clean video files in 4K resolution (8 megapixels): a perfect companion for long focal video recording during daylight hours. I use this one a lot on my GH5 camera, and the 1.4x extra tele conversion gives you additional reach if necessary (300mm x 1.4 = 420mm equivalent). A fantastic video tool at this price.
Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6: $199
The specifications looks boring, but this super-versatile 28-84mm equivalent zoom comes in a slim pancake form factor, which makes it ideal for travel photography. This optic weighs only 3.2 oz and is shorter than one inch! (3.2 oz / 91 g and 2.4 x 0.9" / 61 x 22.9 mm). The downside? It is relatively slow, especially at the longer end of the focal range (f/5.6). If extreme portability is not a priority, you may want to consider the similar Panasonic Lumix G Vario 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 II that comes with optical stabilization (Mega OIS). But most MFT cameras come with sensor stabilization nowadays.
Manual Prime Lenses
Rokinon 85mm f/1.8: $299
The combination of long focal length and fast aperture makes this lens ideal for portrait photography.
Venus Optics Laowa 4mm f/2.8 Fisheye: $199
To my knowledge, this is the widest lens available for MFT camera. The huge 210° angle of view allows you to stitch 360° panoramas with just two shots. It also comes with a bright f/2.8 design for low-light conditions. However, the fisheye effect is massive, but it’s a fun lens to shoot with.
Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 NCS: $259
Need a wide and fast angle lens for low-light photography? The Summilux 12mm f/1.4 is the right tool for the job, but it’s ridiculously expensive for a MFT lens. The Rokinon 12mm f/2.0 loses one stop of aperture over the Summilux, but the price is also divided by four. The build quality is excellent, it comes with a hood, and the aperture must be changed directly on the barrel. But be aware it's a manual focus lens. Optically, this lens is very good with well-controlled chromatic aberration, excellent image quality, and sharpness.
7artisans Photoelectric 55mm f/1.4: $119
This underated telephoto lens is the perfect choice for portrait photography. It creates lovely bokeh thanks to the long focal length and fast aperture. The metal build quality is excellent, and it comes with a de-clicked aperture ring. However, the lack of autofocus means that it will not be the fastest lens to shoot with in real-life conditions. Image quality wise, this glass is excellent for the price. As expected, vignetting and softness are present at the corners at the maximum aperture, but the center of the picture is totally usable. In any case, there is not much risk at this price point ($119).
Lenses don’t necessarily have to be expensive to be useful. The Micro Four Thirds mount has been widely adopted by many manufacturers. As such, there are plenty of affordable options for photographers on a budget to pick from. Some like the Sigma 30mm f/1.4 are among the sharpest available optics in this format. Others are cheap and fun to shoot with, like the Laowa 4mm f/2.8. Give it a try, and I would recommend to try to squeeze more optics in your budget, even if it means spending less on the camera body during the acquisition phase.