Good Stuff! Awards 2014: the best lenses of 2014

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2014 is over and CameraStuffReview has completed 200 lens reviews, 125 reviews of zoom lenses, and 75 reviews of lenses with a fixed focal length. We celebrate that with the release of Good Stuff! Awards for the 20 best lenses of 2014.
We have selected various types of lenses (standard, telephoto zoom, etc.) for multiple lens mounts (Canon APS-C, Nikon FX, Micro-43, etc.). All these lenses scored very high in our reviews on image quality (both with and without lens corrections). It is not the case that we only included new lenses in our list.
It namely does not matter to us what year a lens came to market. We made the selection of the best lenses on image quality, in order to keep it as objective as possible. In 2015, we want to try to expand that with other factors, without risking objectivity.

Good Stuff! awards, best lens 2014, best lens for Canon, best lens for Nikon

Good Stuff Awards 2014: the best lenses of 2014

Current prices for the best lenses of 2014. 
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Influence of the camera on lens performance

Without a camera, we cannot review any lenses. Of course, the quality of the camera has an influence on the image quality. Therefore, we choose a best lens for different camera mounts.

Be careful in comparing scores from different periodicals and websites. Reviewing a lens with a camera that is a few years old, usually with relatively few pixels, is not comparable with a review of the same lens on a modern camera. Modern cameras like a Nikon D810 or Sony A7R reveal both the strong and the week sides of a lens very clearly. You might not initially expect it, but the Nikon 1 and Micro-43 cameras—with more pixels per millimeter—place higher demands on the resolution of a lens than a camera with a full-frame sensor.
The degree of sharpening and the file type that is used for the review also influence the review results. In-camera corrections (chromatic aberration, vignetting, distortion) often, but not always, improve a test result. In order to create as fair a playing field as possible, we do our best to review lenses with the best camera (in many cases: the highest sharpness) that is available. Sometimes, we repeat lens reviews with a more modern camera, when we see the chance. We are convinced that some lenses can do better. But as long as the camera that helps them to do that is not for sale, it doesn't mean very much.

Which lens property is important for you?

With every lens review, we give our results on the basis of jpg files with the standard camera settings from the manufacturer ("WYSIWYG"), supplemented with as many in-camera corrections (chromatic aberration, distortion, vignetting) as possible. If, for example, the correction of distortion leads to a loss of resolution, then a lens scores lower in the rest for sharpness in the corners for a jpg file.
This testing procedure connects best with the method of working ("workflow") of many amateur photographers, who do not want to worry about all the technological aspects, but just want to have a good lens in order to express their creativity. It does not give, however, a complete image of what a lens is capable of doing.
Some camera brands offer more options to correct lens properties. And the sharpness, in particular in the corners, does decrease a bit when you correct for distortion. You see that in the practice shots and in our WYSIWYG scores. It is not a quality difference that many photographers will worry about too much. Perfectionists will, though.

Get the information out of our reviews that is important for you.

Perhaps you would like more information about the performance of a lens without corrections? Because you do not correct for vignetting, distortion and chromatic aberration in your workflow? In order to inform you about that, we test RAW files without sharpening or other corrections. The sharpness in the corners of RAW files will not be negatively influenced by any lens corrections. The image quality on the basis of uncorrected RAW files is a "worst case" for a number of other lens properties. Many photographers correct their RAW files for various lens errors, such as vignetting or distortion, while we do not do that in our reviews. 

D7100BW
The image quality of all lenses will be assessed by CameraStuffReview individually for both unedited, unsharpened RAW files and edited (sharpened and corrected jpg) files. Both scales run from 5 ("the worst") to 9.9 ("the best"). As soon as a better lens comes along, the values of all lenses drop, so that the results for all lenses—if you take into account the test camera—can be compared with each other. This way, you can directly compare our review results from the past year with our reviews from previous years. That is possible for very few photography sites.

Measuring is a tool

The Imatest measurement results make it possible for us to give the image quality of every lens a score. Measurements are naturally not holy. The measurement results serve our practice tests. Differences that you can measure but not see, we do not count heavily. It is about visible quality differences in the photos that you make with a lens. Good lenses score highly in both lists.
Be careful, because you cannot just directly compare the RAW scores and jpg scores of CameraStuffReview with each other. Within 1 scale, it is quite possible to compare all the lenses with each other: even if they are made for different camera brands and different sensor sizes. If a RAW files makes a score with a Nikon 1 lens that is higher for vignetting than a RAW file made with a lens on a camera with a full-frame sensor, then we see that difference in the practice shots as well. The same applies for sharpness and distortion.
Even so, there are differences between the RAW and the jpg scales. A lens that scores a 7 for distortion in a jpg file has much less distortion than a lens that scores a 7 for distortion in a RAW file, since there are many lenses for which the distortion in jpg files will already be corrected in the camera. First, the visible quality differences—which weigh the most heavily in our scores—are small for the best lenses, so that two lenses can switch places due to small variations in the measurement results or the assessment of the practice shots. It also often happens that one lens benefits more from sharpening and lens corrections than another lens because there is not much more to improve with software in the image quality of the very good lens. Therefore, a very good lens and a good lens (on the basis of RAW files) end up close together on the jpg scores.

 We have weighed all this information in order to arrive at a list with the 22 best lenses of 2014, divided into 4 groups:

Best standard zoom lens

Zoomlens

If you only look at the image quality, then it is quite understandable that zoom lenses are more often used. Thanks to technological progress, the quality of zoom lenses comes ever-closer to the quality of lenses with a fixed focal length. And even when you look at the brightness, there are now zoom lenses that give nothing up to lenses with a fixed focal length. The Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 and the Samsung 16-50 mm f/2-2.8 are zoom lenses that leave behind most fixed focal length lenses not only in terms of image quality—the build quality and the AF speed and precision are also flawless.

 Sigma18-35mm-sample

Tokina is a small specialist manufacturer of lenses that has released a large number of high-quality wide-angle zooms, of which multiple Tokina lenses have landed very high in our reviews. In our tests, the Tokina 17-35 mm f/4 AT-X PRO FX SD an a Nikon D3200 scored so high that this lens deservedly came out among the best lenses of 2014. On other cameras with other sensor sizes, this lens also makes a fantastic impression.

Tokina-17-35-mm-review

There are few kit lenses that appear in this list. We make an exception for Fujinon. We were pleasantly surprised in 2013 by the construction quality of the Fujinon XF 18-55 mm f/2.8-4 R LM OIS zoom—a kit lens with lightning-fast AF and very efficient built-in image stabilization as well. Fujifilm has chosen, just like Nikon, Olympus and Panasonic, to have lens errors corrected in the camera, without the user being able to switch that off. As far as I'm concerned, it's a good choice: in terms of image quality, this zoom lens keeps up with the very best lenses, both on cameras with an APS-C sensor and with a full-frame sensor.

produkt

The Sigma 18-35 mm f/1.8 zoom lens beats out nearly every lens with a fixed focal length and comparable focal lengths and brightness. Our boundless enthusiasm for this lens is not alone. This little miracle of modern technological design was unanimously positively received last year by the trade press. Sigma has long had difficulty in meeting the demand for this lens. You can't get higher praise from consumers. 

Sigma18-35mm

Best standard lens with a fixed focal length

stilleven

If you have a Sony FE camera like the Sony A7R, then the Sony FE 55 mm f/1.8 ZA Carl Zeiss Sonnar T cannot be missing from your photo bag. Unless it's on the camera. That's good, too.

SonyZeiss55mm
On a camera with a full-frame sensor, I prefer a 35 mm lens above a 50 mm lens. I place great value on a bit larger field of view. Many documentary photographers choose 35 mm. Granted, Nikon has a series of f/1.8 lenses that each offers very high image quality. It is thus tough to choose between a Nikon 35 mm f/1.8 and a Nikon 35 mm f/1.4, because the latter is quite a bit more expensive. If you look at the build quality (the 1.4G is built like a tank), the (center) sharpness and the bokeh, then the Nikon 35 mm 1.4G beats out other Nikon lenses with similar focal lengths. The higher brightness gives a brighter viewfinder image and less chance of motion-blurred shots in low light. For anyone who can take on a lens with a list price higher than a thousand euros, this is a must-have. Nikon-35-mm-review-product1

Both the Sigma 35 mm f/1.4 Art and the Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Art put on top performances for both cameras with a full-frame sensor and APS-C sensors. There are also many videographers who will use these lenses on cameras with smaller sensors due to the beautiful bokeh. On a camera with an APS-C sensor, both Sigma Art lenses beat out a whole army of more expensive, well-known lenses on a camera with a full-frame sensor. The two Sigma toppers differ little from each other in quality, but that we have the impression that the Sigma 50 mm f/1.4 Art is just a little better. The difference is so small, though, that in our jpg review list, the roles are reversed. 

Sigma50mmArt

Best telephoto zoom lens

gier

There are not many zoom lenses that are as good, or perhaps better, than the lenses with a fixed focal length. The Nikon 70-200 mm f/2.8 and the Nikon AF-S 70-200 mm f/4G ED VR belong to this select company of top zoom lenses. With this, you get the maximum sharpness from a camera with a 36 megapixel sensor, like the Nikon D800E. Whether you want to make a concert photo or a vacation quickie, these are absolute toppers. They are mechanically very solid lenses that meet the highest optical norms at all focal lengths and lens apertures, with good auto focus and vibration reduction. The f/4 did marginally better in our review, which corresponds with the MTF diagrams that Nikon has published for the two lenses. For the sharpness of practice shots—which was a pleasure to be able to test with a 36 megapixel camera—practically no one will be able to distinguish between the two.

 

Nikon 70-200mm f4G ED VR

 

Samsung is a relative newcomer in the photography world, but appears to be able to build professional, bright lenses that let the image quality of the 28 megapixel sensor of the Samsung NX1 come into its own. This telephoto zoom set, together with the Samsung NX1 (28 megapixels on an APS-C sensor!), puts on a performance that leaves behind many lenses tested on a camera with a full-frame sensor.
Samsung50150mm2p8

Best Low-Light lens

minicake

Good bright lenses are the most difficult to make and therefore are also more expensive than the other lenses. This is the premier league for manufacturers of lenses. These are flawlessly built lenses that allow you to make sharp photos where a normal lens delivers a motion-blurred shot. A butter-soft bokeh coupled with high sharpness gives some of these lenses a unique character. You work with a lens longer than a camera because most photographers replace their cameras much earlier than their lenses.

Sigma-85-mm-product1
It might seem strange to buy a relatively large lens for a small camera. However, these kinds of bright lenses are actually addicting to use. The Nikon 1 32 mm f/1.2 is one of the most expensive lenses for the Nikon 1 series. This lens is more expensive than the camera. No wonder, because it is the best lens from the Nikon 1 series. The high brightness makes it possible to keep photographing at low ISO values for a long time, allowing the image quality of the Nikon 1 system to come even better into its own.  Nikkor32mm
The Panasonic 42.5 mm Nocticron is the most expensive lens for Micro-43 cameras. With that, this lens is not within reach for everyone. Furthermore, this is a lens with pure advantages. The sharpness at full aperture beats out many 85 mm lenses at f/2.4 on cameras with a full-frame sensor. The speed and accuracy of the AF in low light is something that many owners of a f/1.2 or f/1.4 full-frame lens will be jealous of. The build and image quality are so exceptionally good that this lens is certainly not too expensive in my eyes. More to the point: The Panasonic 42.5 mm Nocticron is more than worth every euro that is asked for it. H-NS043E
Ivo Freriks
Author: Ivo Freriks
With Camera Review Stuff I hope to make a modest contribution to the pleasure that you get from photography. By testing cameras and lenses in the same way, evluating the results and weighing up the pros and cons, I hope to help you find the right camera or lens.

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