You and your mirrorless camera have been getting close, taking nice pictures and going everywhere together… but you’re starting to wonder, is your kit lens really enough? What else is out there? Is there something that can get you closer to the action? Something that will perform better in low light? Something that will get you pretty blurry bokeh backgrounds at a fast aperture?
There’s no One Lens to Rule Them All, but a good wide prime or a killer zoom are both incredibly versatile options that will go a long way to improving your images. We’ve rounded up the best prime and zoom lens for each mount system.
Sony E Mount – Sony Alpha (A) Series Cameras, Sony NEX Series Cameras
The Best E-Mount Prime: Sony E 35mm f/1.8 OSS
It’s a bit pricey for an f/1.8 prime, but with good reason – Sony’s E 35mm f/1.8 OSS is the Little Thirty-Five That Could.
A 7-blade aperture ensures beautiful smooth bokeh, built in image stabilisation helps make handheld videos smoother and photos sharper, and it’s built to get you the best contrast, colour and resolution possible without distortion. It’s a great all-rounder – the bright f/1.8 maximum aperture will get you extra brightness in low light, it’s a quick and silent focuser, and it’s small – so it won’t take up much room in your bag, or weigh you down when you’re on the go.
The Best E-Mount Zoom: Sony E PZ 18-105mm f/4 G OSS
On an APS-C sensor, an 18-105mm zoom range covers the equivalent of a 27-157mm range, which means you can get close to things photographically without having to get close to them physically.
It maintains its maximum f/4 aperture throughout its entire focal range, which helps ensure you can let in plenty of light even at the telephoto end – way more than your kit lens can. Keep in mind that it’s a little on the heavy side though – it weighs in at 428 grams.
Canon EF-M Mount Cameras – EOS M Series
The Best Canon EF-M Prime: Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM
Slightly wider than a 35mm, this 32mm lens gives a nice wide angle and tack-sharp images.
The f/1.4 maximum aperture is super bright and makes for beautifully blurred-out backgrounds, and its Super Spectra Coating means you’ll see vibrant colour in your images. The f/1.4 aperture means the price is a little higher than f/1.8 primes, but it’s worth it for the jump in image quality.
Pricing for the Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM Lens starts from $827. Find it on Amazon here.
The Best Canon EF-M Zoom: Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-f/6.3 IS STM
If you’re into wildlife (yes, your pets count), sports photography (yes, your kid’s soccer game counts) or plan to travel soon, it’s hard to go past Canon’s 55-200mm offering – a focal length equivalent to a whopping 88-320mm on a 35mm sensor.
It has image stabilization, which is important when you’re zoomed all the way in and the slightest shake can throw off your composition, plus a built-in autofocus motor so you can focus silently while videoing. It’s not super bright, so it might not be the best option for shooting in the dark, but in the day time at those longer focal lengths, you can still capture a gorgeous portrait.
Pricing for the Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-f6.3 IS STM starts at $448. Find it on Amazon here.
Fujifilm X-Mount - Fujifilm X Series
The Best Fujifilm X Prime: Fujinon XF 23mm f/2 R WR
Silent and fast autofocus, robust weather- and dust-proof metal exterior, vintage aperture ring design - what’s not to love about the Fujinon 23mm? On the cropped APS-C sensors of the Fujifilm X series cameras, 23mm is the equivalent of 35mm on a full frame camera - which makes this lens wide enough to capture most of a scene and bright enough to handle low light or night-time shooting situations. Modelled after the film lenses of days gone by, this lens is built for style just as much as performance and is available in both black and silver.
Pricing for the Fujinon XF 23mm f/1 R WR starts at $615.50. Find it on Amazon here.
The Best Fujifilm X Zoom: Fujinon 18-135mm f/3.5-f/5.6 R LM OIS WR
This is that All-In-One lens you’ve been looking for.
When you convert 18-135mm on an APS-C crop to full frame, you’ve got yourself a 27-206mm focal length – and that’s a focal length that can take on anything. Landscapes? Sure. Portraits? No problem. Wildlife? Gotcha. Street photography? Piece of cake.
It has an HT-EBC coating to keep contrast and nix unwanted flare and ghosting, and five stop-effective image stabilisation means you can hand-hold your camera at much slower shutter speeds and not experience the blurry anguish of camera shake. Plus it’s weather sealed against dust and moisture, so you can take it adventuring almost anywhere.
Pricing for the Fujinon 18-135mm f/3.5-f5/6 OIS starts from $799. Find it on CameraPro here.
Micro Four Thirds Mount – Panasonic G Series, Olympus OM-D Series
The Best Micro Four Thirds Prime: Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8
Olympus like to tout this lens as being perfect for street photography, but really it’s perfect for a lot of pursuits.
It has a unique two-position snap focus ring to make switching between auto and manual focus easy and enjoyable, and its 34mm equivalent focal length is sits it comfortably in the realm of wide shooting. It’s not sealed against the elements like some of the other lenses on this list, but it’s super bright at f/1.8 to make shooting in the dark or capturing creamy bokeh a breeze, and its small enough to cart around with you everywhere.
Pricing for the Olympus M.Zuiko Digital 17mm f/1.8 starts at $349.99. Find it on Olympus here.
The Best Micro Four Thirds Zoom: Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 II Power OIS
She is beauty, she is grace; she will zoom up in your face. Lumix’s 35-100mm lens is a very bright 70-200mm lens in disguise.
It’s sharp, it’s weather sealed, it has Panasonic’s signature Power Optical Image Stabilisation to keep things sharp at slower shutter speeds or smooth on video, and it can pull off an f/2.8 aperture at any focal length – so you don’t lose any brightness or bokeh when fully zoomed in.
Pricing for the Lumix G X Vario 35-100mm f/2.8 II Lens starts from $1022. Find it on DigiDirect here.
Nikon Z Mount - Nikon Z Series
The Best Nikon Z Prime: Nikkor Z 24mm f/1.8 S
It’s not cheap, but it is lovely. Nikon’s 24mm f/1.8 prime promises “immersive storytelling at its best”, and with the bright f/1.8 maximum aperture and the innovative and extra-wide 55mm diameter of the Z-mount, it’s going to help you tell those stories just as well in the dark as in brightly lit situations.
The 24mm focal length allows plenty of room to capture an entire scene, making it a great choice for landscapes, travel, environmental portraits and a whole lot more. It’s clear and sharp from edge to edge, with fast and accurate autofocus and comprehensive distortion control to keep your shots free from chromatic aberration, ghosting, and flare.
The Best Nikon Z Zoom: Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR
Up to 5 stops of image stabilisation for an affordable telephoto lens? Yes please!
Nikon’s Z series zoom hero offers powerful image stabilisation, almost-silent blazing fast focussing, an Extra-low Dispersion glass lens element for clearer, sharper photos and an assignable control ring so you can customise it to work for you.
Oh yeah, and that zoom range means it’s going to make for killer portraits, concert photos, wildlife, sports, events – the possibilities are endless.
Pricing for the Nikkor Z DX 50-250mm f/4.5-6.3 VR starts from $349.95, but it’s not available yet. Preorder it from Nikon here.
The Prime Lens – What’s It Good For?
Pretty much everything.
Prime lenses are fixed at their focal length, so you can’t zoom in and out, but what you lose in focal range you gain in sharpness and maximum aperture values.
Wider primes, like 35mm and 50mm lenses, can handle just about anything you throw at them because of their versatile focal length. That makes them great for portraits, landscapes, travel photography, street photography, architecture photography and more. They’re very sharp when the aperture is closed down smaller for a greater depth of field, and give fantastic bokeh when the aperture is opened up for a shallower depth of field. Their wider maximum apertures make them a great choice for shooting in low light, like night-time cityscapes or Instagram-style neon portraits.
Prime lenses with longer focal lengths, like 85mm and 105mm options, are more limited in their application. They’re known for their phenomenal portraits, but because they are fixed at closer focal lengths you can’t fit a large amount of your scene into the frame, unless you can “zoom out with your feet” - or take several steps back to get a decent distance away from your subject.
You can still take a great landscape or travel photo with an 85mm or 105mm or even 200mm lens, but you’ll have to get creative with your vantage point.
The Zoom Lens – What’s It Good For?
Again – pretty much everything.
Concerts, wildlife, landscapes, architecture, portraits, travel – you name it. What your lens is capable of depends on its focal range and maximum aperture. Higher focal length numbers (the ones followed by “mm” or “millimetres”) mean you can zoom in further, so 200mm means you can make something quite far away fill your frame, while 12mm means you can fit almost everything you can see around you into the shot without moving your feet.
A lens that covers a broad focal range will mean you don’t need to change lenses as often. You’ll pay a lot more for a zoom lens – or any lens – with a brighter maximum aperture like f/2.8, or a lens that keeps its maximum aperture throughout its full focal range.
Cheaper zoom lenses tend to lose aperture width as you zoom in, which means you can’t get as wide an aperture at the telephoto end as you can at the wide end, and they won’t perform as well in low light.
What does “equivalent focal length” mean?
Most mirrorless cameras have “cropped” sensors – sensors that are a little bit smaller than the ones you’d find in professional or “full frame” cameras.
We still use 35mm film as our reference for what constitutes a “full frame”, so “equivalent focal length” refers to what the focal length of a lens would be if it was used on a 35mm or full frame camera.
Focal lengths are longer on cropped sensors than they are on full frame sensors, which is why 24mm turns out more like 35mm on a cropped camera, or 35mm more like 50mm. That applies to most of the cameras the abovementioned lenses fit, except for the Sony A7 and its variants, the Sony A9 and the Nikon Z6 and Z7, which are full frame cameras.
The forthcoming Nikon Z50 will be the first Z series camera with a cropped APS-C sensor.