Third-Party Lenses


Today’s Question: I need to purchase another couple of lenses. I shoot with a Canon and am considering purchasing a lens other than Canon, because of the big price difference. What do you think of the image quality in some of the bigger name off-brand lenses?

Tim’s Quick Answer: I have been very happy with a variety of lenses from third-party manufacturers. I think the most important thing to keep in mind is that each lens should be evaluated individually, and you can’t make broad assumptions about quality based only on the manufacturer of a given lens.

More Detail: I also happen to use primarily Canon cameras. To be sure, there are some excellent lenses made by Canon. There are also some lenses that Canon makes that aren’t especially great in terms of overall image quality. In general those lenses that don’t produce the highest image quality are lenses aimed at offering a lower price point compared to the top-end lenses. But the point is that you can’t assume a lens produces images of exceptional quality simply based on the name of the manufacturer.

I have also had the opportunity to test out a variety of lenses from different manufacturers, and I own lenses from different manufacturers. I’ve been extremely happy with some of those third-party lenses. In some cases the lens is one at a lower price point but with quality that is very close to that of the more expensive comparable lens from the camera manufacturer. And in some cases the third-party lens actually exceeds the quality of the lens from the camera manufacturer.

The biggest challenge in my mind is evaluating various lenses, since there are so many variables involved. Some photographers might be willing to pay any price for the lens of the highest quality, for example, while another photographer is looking for a better value with a lens at a lower price point.

There are also many factors that impact overall image quality as well as the utility of the lens. You’ll want to consider prime versus zoom, maximum aperture, whether or not stabilization technology is improved, size and weight, and many other factors.

One source of information I’ve found helpful as a starting point for getting a sense of relative quality for different lenses is the DxOMark ratings. You can view the scores in various categories for a number of different lenses on the DxOMark website here:

You might be surprised to find that in some cases the less expensive third-party lens actually scores better than the more expensive lens with similar specifications that is manufactured by the same company as the camera.

And, of course, there are also DxOMark scores for cameras in addition to those for lenses. But I most certainly would not hesitate to purchase a lens from a manufacturer other than the camera manufacturer if that particular lens met my specific needs.