There are so many brands of camera lenses out there and that can make it difficult to pick the right one. Whether you want to either get the best lens from the brand that made your camera or break out and try something new, you need to know what’s out there.
One of the best parts of being a photographer is being able to experiment with different lenses. There’s more to it than just aperture and focal length. Each different brand has its own unique lens formula which can shape how your pictures ultimately look.
You can even mix and match brands when it comes to lenses. Just because a lens has a different mounting system doesn’t mean you can’t use it on your camera. You’ll just need to pick up a lens mount adapter, and you’ll be able to use everything from Canon to Zeiss.
If you need a crash course in lens brands—or you just want to get quick facts about a new lens you’re researching—this is the guide for you.
We’re going to walk you through everything from common brands like Canon and Nikon to lesser known brands you should absolutely consider like Angénieux and Bell & Howell.
Canon is one of those brand names that is synonymous with high-quality lenses.
Canon got its start under the name Precision Optical Instruments Laboratory in 1937 when they produced the “Kwanon” camera—Japan’s first 35mm camera! The “Kwanon” name slowly changed to “Canon” over the years, but it’s actually a reference to Buddhist bodhisattva Kannon who is associated with compassion!
There’s no denying that Canon is one of the biggest brands out there, but let’s take a look at their most popular types of lenses.
Canon EF lens mount
The Canon EF lenses are basically designed for Canon’s full-frame cameras. But the EF lenses will work also on the crop sensor type cameras.
The EF lenses also have the “L” lenses, which are of higher quality and more expensive than the “regular” in built and optics.
Canon EF-S lens mount
Canon EF-S lenses are designed for their line of APS-C cameras. APS-C stands for “Advanced Photo System – Classic” size. These are crop sensor cameras that make a few budget-friendly trades. They typically have fewer features, a smaller sensor, and offer a streamlined build quality, but they’re also very affordable.
EF-S Mount lenses are usually very cost-effective. You can buy a high-quality piece of glass, what photographers tend to call lenses and stay on budget.
You can use the EF-S lens on your full-frame camera but you need to take into consideration that the camera is cropping the image to the middle of the sensor by about 1.6x.
Canon EF-M lens mount
Lenses designed for the Canon EF-M mount are in a very interesting position.
These are crop sensor lenses very similar to the EF-S line of lenses. However, these are designed for mirrorless crop sensor cameras.
Mirrorless cameras are the latest successor to the DSLR camera. Instead of flipping up a mirror like a traditional film camera, mirrorless cameras skip everything and go right to the digital sensor.
Canon EF-M mount lenses are a great choice for people with budget-conscious, crop sensor mirrorless cameras.
Canon RF mount
Lenses that have the Canon RF mount are the latest offered by the company. These are the most up-to-date, modern lenses that go with their mirrorless cameras.
Canon was a little bit late getting to the mirrorless camera game. Other companies, namely Sony, have edged them out when it comes to leading the way with mirrorless. However, Canon isn’t exactly out for the count yet.
Canon has long had a reputation for making some of the best lenses in all of the photography. The Canon RF mount means that they’re taking their high-end lens design to the world of mirrorless. These are designed to work with their professional mirrorless cameras.
If you’re a professional photographer, or you’re looking to get the results of a professional photographer, you want to pick up a Canon RF mount lens to go with your Canon mirrorless camera.
Nikon is one of the biggest names in photography, but unfortunately, they’ve also become a little bit overlooked when it comes to their lenses. If you’re looking to get some crystal clear photography, Nikon could be what you’ve been missing.
Nikon got their start in 1917 making professional-grade lenses and other glass implements. In fact, they made the lenses for the first Canon cameras.
In the 1950s, Nikon was the go-to choice for professional photographers the world over. They were seen as making some of the best film cameras for working photographers no matter what field you were in.
There are even Nikon cameras on the moon. Early astronauts on the Apollo Mission took Nikon cameras with them to space to document some of humanity’s first steps off this planet.
Today, Nikon is making a range of powerful and effective lenses. However, there’s also a thriving market for vintage Nikon lenses taking a beautiful effect you just can’t quite capture with anything else.
nikon makes DSLR cameras in two different sensor sizes, which are known as FX-format and DX-format. in addition, for its mirrorless camera line, Nikon makes the Z line of lenses that fits the Z mount.
Nikon DX Format Lens
the DX format basically fits for the DX camera sensor which is 24x16mm, also known as a crop sensor. you can use a DX lens on your FX camera, but the camera will automatically compensate and crop the image and take only the sensor’s center section.
Nikon FX-Format Lens
the FX format basically fits for a full-frame camera sensor which is 36x24mm. you can use the FX lens on your DX camera, but the camera will automatically crop the image by approximately a third and will give you the effect as if you were using a more narrow field of view (a more telephoto). by 1.5x to be exact, this is also called the 1.5x crop factor.
Nikon Z Mount System
The Nikon Z mount system basically fits the Nikon Z mirrorless cameras. the Z mount system features a broader diameter than the FX mount system by 17% and a short flange focal distance for more flexibility and more compact lenses.
Sony is a very interesting company when it comes to camera lenses. They built their reputation on the other side of the camera making televisions, VCRs and DVD players, and other home electronics.
Sony really jumped into the camera market in the 1980s when they released their first Cyber-shot cameras. These were point-and-click pocket mirrorless cameras designed to appeal to the casual photographer looking to take quick pics on their next vacation.
Everything started to change for Sony with their entry into professional mirrorless cameras. This new trajectory started in 2010 when they prototype their first mirrorless camera.
Today, the Sony Alpha 7 range of mirrorless cameras is leading the way in this technology. The Sony FE Mount camera lenses are also some of the best that you can buy when it comes to shooting mirrorless.
Sony went from casual pocket cameras to defining the world of professional photography.
Sony has 2 lens mount systems, the A-mount and the E-mount:
both are working with full-frame and APS-C crop sensors cameras
The Sony A-mount system is for Sony’s unique Translucent Mirror type camera bodies.
The Sony E-mount system is for Sony’s Mirrorless camera bodies. which have a shorter flange focal distance
Sigma is another popular lens manufacturer. They take an interesting approach to creating their lenses.
Rather than focus on designing their own cameras, Sigma manufactures lenses for Canon, Sony, and other lens mount systems. This means that you can buy Sigma lenses that work with pretty much any camera.
Sigma has a reputation for being budget-friendly, but don’t let that fool you. Their lenses are extremely high-quality. There are plenty of working photographers out there taking professional pics who exclusively shoot on Sigma camera lenses because of their affordability.
Sigma has the Art Line Lenses and the CINE Lenses.
Sigma’s Art line lenses are designed to offer outstanding optical performance and tremendous expressive power. These lenses deliver high-level artistic quality, making them ideal for professional photographers and videographers.
Sigma’s CINE Lenses are the perfect tool to help you take your cine journey to the next level. With full kits designed to bring your creative vision to life.
Tamron is another company that focuses on building a wide variety of lenses and other optical instruments. Their main consumer-focused may be lenses, but as a company, they’re just as invested in a variety of other optical businesses.
Tamron makes a variety of lenses for a few different mount systems. Sony currently owns around 12% of the Tamron company, which means that they have an interesting relationship when it comes to Sony E Mount lenses.
Tamron is considered to be the biggest rival of Sigma. These are the two largest third-party lens manufacturers.
The winner between Tamron and Sigma is going to come down to personal preference. Both of these companies are capable of delivering lenses that rival Canon, Sony, and Nikon.
Olympus is a lens brand that you might not have thought about recently. However, they’re extremely important when it comes to shaping where we are today when it comes to digital photography.
Olympus got their start making film photography cameras. Their film photography gear, including their Pen cameras, were some of the best out there when it came to consumer-grade film photography.
Then Olympus made the jump to digital photography. They were one of the first companies to take the world of digital photography seriously, and they were producing cameras with double the resolution of any competitor in the 90s.
Olympus even teamed up with Panasonic to create one of the first mirrorless interchangeable-lens camera systems.
Unfortunately, things have been a little rocky for the Olympus lens brand. They recently sold their camera division to another company. The future is a little uncertain for the world of Olympus lenses.
Here’s a fun fact about Olympus. Did you know that they actually own 70% of the world’s endoscope market?
Leica cameras have a historic reputation. They’ve been in the hands of some of the most celebrated artistic photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson.
Leica cameras have been around since 1913. The first model, the Ur-Leica, dates back to 1914, but it wouldn’t be until the early 1920s when Leica cameras had a wide-ranging production.
Leica cameras built up their reputation on their unbeatable quality. Not only did they have a very solid build, but they produced images that were crystal clear. Their 35 mm cameras in particular were incredibly popular the world over.
Today, Leica is recognized both for its high-quality, artistic photography lenses and equipment as well as for the brand itself. You can expect to pay a bit more for Leica products due to the high quality as well as the brand recognition.
Pentax lenses are built for the K-mount system. These are the mounts that you’ll find on Pentax cameras.
The camera division of Pentax was sold to the Ricoh company. This created a big shake-up when it comes to Pentax and, much like a few other brands were talking about today, the future is uncertain when it comes to Pentax lenses.
You won’t find nearly as big of a selection when it comes to Pentax lenses. This is especially when you compare Pentax to bigger brands like Sony and Canon.
However, Pentax lenses are of great quality and can deliver some fantastic images. This is especially true if you already have some Pentax cameras, and you’re looking to stick with the brand.
Pentax is also a great brand if you’re looking to try a specialty lens, but you don’t want to pay the same price you would for Canon or Sony.
Tokina is one of the smaller lens brands that we’re going to be talking about today.
They don’t really have the history of Leica nor do they have the market share of Sony. However, it’s still worth pointing out Tokina because there are a few people that respect what this brand creates.
Tokina is a great choice if you’re still shooting on Canon EF-mount cameras or Nikon F-mount cameras. You can get a lens that people often compare to the quality of Canon and Nikon, but it is about 1/3 of the price.
These are extremely budget-conscious lenses. The price has even gone down in recent years. One thing to point out is that Tokina has yet to jump into the modern, mirrorless world.
Panasonic is a major player when it comes to global electronics. Cameras and lenses are a bit more of a side business for this brand, but they’re still up to something inspiring.
Panasonic is part of what’s known as the L-Mount Alliance with its LUMIX Lenses line. This is an agreement between Panasonic, Sigma, and Leica to create lenses for the Leica L-mount system.
This means that Panasonic is putting more effort into making L-mount lenses. The lenses are a great choice for people who are looking for more versatility but still want to stick with the Leica cameras that they know and love.
The last few Panasonic cameras have also featured the L-mount system. It looks like Panasonic has gone all-in on the L-Mount Alliance for the time being.
Now we’re going to one of the biggest brands when it comes to camera lenses. Zeiss represents not just the pinnacle quality, but also one of the most important historic brands when it comes to optics.
Zeiss got its start in 1846. The company has been making some of the best lenses ever released since.
You can find Zeiss lenses for nearly any camera mount. Sony E, Canon EF, and even mount systems for Leica and Nikon all feature Zeiss lenses.
Zeiss has a reputation for offering some of the cleanest images, the best build quality, and all-around high end lenses.
Carl Zeiss Sports Optics, LLC
Carl Zeiss Sports Optics is an offshoot of the Zeiss brand. This company focuses more on making performance optical equipment for the sporting scene rather than on camera lenses.
This is actually very common when it comes to lens manufacturers. The same optics that go into your camera lens also go into similar devices like rifle scopes, binoculars, and rangefinders.
Carl Zeiss Sports Optics makes high-end optical equipment for a variety of different sports and outdoor activities.
Contax is another historically important lens brand. Contax was originally started as a camera brand from this Zeiss company.
These were some of the best 35 mm film cameras that you could buy when they were released. Today, you could compare them to the high-end mirrorless cameras that cost thousands of dollars.
Contax was so popular that it eventually became its own line of lenses and camera products. The lenses from Contax have a reputation for delivering unique visuals that you just can’t get with any other lens.
However, it’s getting harder to find Contax lenses that are perfect for the camera mount system you have. You often have to get mount adapters, or even multiple mount adapters, to connect a Contax lens to a modern mirrorless camera.
Contax just goes to show the importance of still shooting on older equipment even though the specs don’t quite line up with modern standards.
Vivitar is a camera and lens manufacturer based out of California.
Vivitar got their start when they hired experienced lens developers to use sophisticated computer technology to design new lenses. These lenses were built to be extremely affordable but still offer comparable quality to the bigger brands.
Vivitar had great early success with these lenses in the 70’s and 80’s. In fact, these vintage Vivitar lenses are prized by photographers for their unique feel.
There are a few Vivitar lenses for modern cameras, especially for the Canon EF system. However, you’re going to probably need mount adapters in order to make the most out of Vivitar lenses.
Vivitar has shifted its focus as a company. They now specialize in making pocket, point-and-click cameras that are entry-level and friendly for any budget.
We hope you aren’t looking to be budget-conscious when you’re shopping for Angénieux lenses. Now it’s time to talk about a brand that is so high-end, budget isn’t even in question.
Angénieux builds a unique style of lens called a Cine lens. These are specialty lenses designed for cinematographers rather than photographers and videographers.
These lenses have different mechanics that are designed to respond to the unique needs of the cinematographer. They are the kind of lenses you would be using on a professional film set rather than on your average YouTube channel or wedding video.
We can almost guarantee that Angénieux lenses are going to cost three to five times as much as your camera.
Angénieux is a French brand that is synonymous with lens quality.
The lenses from Angénieux are extremely high quality. They make some of the most unique and impressive Cine lenses out there!
Cosina is a retro lens brand that is mostly found on secondary markets and for sale by thrifty photographers.
Cosina is all about film photography. While you could get clever and use a few mount adapters to use your Cosina lens on a digital camera, they were meant to be used for a film.
They deliver a dated, retro look with their images. Cosina was always chasing Zeiss and other big name brands of the day, but they never emerged to topple those giants.
The Cosina brand is still around making photography equipment and accessories.
Cosina currently makes Zeiss rangefinder cameras and the Voigtländer Bessa camera.
Schneider Kreuznach has been around for over 100 years. The Schneider Kreuznach company has a sprawling catalog of lenses and cameras in addition to their projector equipment.
What Schneider Kreuznach is really known for today is their lens design for digital electronics. They make lenses for certain smartphone brands as well as for other electronic devices that have built-in lenses.
If it sounds like the Schneider Kreuznach day has passed, think again!
Schneider Kreuznach lenses are a photographic goldmine for vintage glass. They are hot items on resale websites and photographers who love that old-school look love working with these lenses.
Bell & Howell
The Bell & Howell brand might be one of the most exciting lens companies on this list.
Bell & Howell isn’t really known for its photography lenses. The Bell & Howell company got its start in 1907 by designing a variety of optics. In a very familiar story, they were building everything from camera lenses all the way over to military equipment.
What really sets Bell & Howell apart is when they start making 8 mm film cameras. If you ever found an old school film camera and your grandparents basement, there’s a good chance it was either a Bell & Howell or based on an old Bell & Howell design.
This company defined a generation of 8 mm, Super 8, and 16 mm home videos.
Bell & Howell also made projectors. This means that you could record your own home movie and then play it back on your Bell & Howell system after you got the film developed.
There are plenty of professionals out there that will refurbish Old Bell & Howell equipment and get it up and running again.
Rokinon is the true budget alternative for camera lenses. You can find Rokinon brand lenses for a variety of camera mount systems. There are even Rokinon cine lenses that cost next to nothing when you compare them to the extremely expensive professional Cine lenses.
The Rokinon brand is one of the many lens brands from the Samyang company. This is a South Korean camera and optics manufacturer. Samyang also makes Bower, Opteka, Vivitar, and Phoenix.
Rokinon lenses are a great budget alternative no matter what you’re looking to take pictures of. Whether you want to get started working with professional cinematic lenses or you are looking to experiment with new focal lengths, Rokinon has great budget-friendly lenses.
Wrapping Up the Best Camera Lens Brands
So, which brand of lens are you going with for your next camera purchase?
Are you going to pick the popular big-name brands like Canon, Sony, and Nikon or go with the artistic history of Zeiss, Bell & Howell, and Contax?
You could also get a high-end lens at a bargain price with ROKINON, Tamron, or Sigma.
You’ve got plenty of solid options and more than enough to round out your photography kit. Let us know which lens brand is your go-to and make sure to check out our other lens articles!