When looking to expand your lens selection, it is natural to head straight for the current models adorning your local camera shop or favourite photo website. When a lens is updated, the maker tends to tweak the handling and performance rather than carrying out a major transformation, leaving the older model to become a bargain in its second-hand form. New generation lenses often have only a slight increase in optical quality.
Over the next five pages we examine a selection of discontinued lenses that offer excellent features and great value for money. Prices have been taken from a selection of dealers and the eBay internet auction site.
Tamron 18-270mm f/3.5-6.3 Di II VC LD Aspherical £230
Our twin test of Tamron’s 18-270mm superzoom lens (AP 27 June 2009) showed it to be capable of comfortably matching the build quality, handling and performance of an 18-200mm lens, while offering an extended telephoto setting. It is designed for the APS-C format, giving an equivalent 27-405mm focal length when used with a camera with a 1.5x crop factor. The zoom range of 15x was world-leading for a wide superzoom until the recent release of Nikon’s 18-300mm optic.
In 2011, the lens was replaced by the ‘PZD’ version, which was smaller and lighter, by approximately 20%, had a 62mm filter thread instead of 72mm, and saw the introduction of the company’s piezo ultrasonic motor for silent and rapid autofocus. However, those who do not require these improvements can rest assured that there is little to choose between the two lenses when it comes to optical quality, so a good saving can be had by purchasing the older model.
Tokina 28-70mm f/2.8 AT-X Pro SV £100-£150
Tokina no longer makes a 28-70mm f/2.8 lens, instead manufacturing a 28-80mm f/2.8. The AT-X Pro SV was the last in the line of Tokina’s renowned 28-70mm range, with the SV denomination standing for ‘special value’.
Designed for 35mm film or full-frame digital cameras, the most attractive feature of this lens has to be its price. Like other third-party optics, it was very reasonably priced to begin with, but second-hand these models can be found for around £100. That is excellent value for a full-frame lens with a constant f/2.8 aperture.
With 15 elements in 16 groups and a solid metal construction, the lens is extremely well built. Image quality does suffer when the f/2.8 aperture setting is used, but when stopped down to f/4 or f/5.6 the lens is very sharp, especially given its price. For those with a full-frame DSLR looking for an affordable short zoom lens, this is an excellent option
Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF(and AF D) £100
When Nikon introduced the Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G lens last year, it was the first time in 30 years that it had changed the optical design of its 50mm f/1.8 lens.
In our test in AP 23 July 2011, we discovered that while the new lens is slightly sharper when shooting at f/1.8 and has slightly better contrast, the older Nikkor AF (pictured) and AF-D lenses were almost identical in terms of detail resolution.
Even better is that the older Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 lenses can be found second-hand for less than £100, which saves around £60 on the current lens. It has been known for these older 50mm f/1.8 lenses to be sold with old Nikon AF film cameras for less than £80, so if you look out you can find a real bargain.
One thing to note is that the newer Nikkor AF-S 50mm f/1.8G lens has no aperture ring, and more importantly it also has a built-in AF motor. The older lenses don’t have this internal AF motor, so rely instead on a camera with its own built-in AF motor. Generally, this is not available on entry-level Nikon DSLRs, so on models below the D7000 you can still use manual focus.
Canon 28-105mm f/3.5-4.5 II USM £100
This very compact lens offers a handy extended range for a standard zoom, reaching the popular 105mm focal length used for portraits and close-up work. It has since between replaced by a larger 28-135mm optic with a smaller maximum aperture. This lens is a hangover from the film-camera sector and its focal length is less suited to the 1.6x crop of Canon APS-C sensors, equating to 45-168mm. Full-frame users are more likely to be drawn to the 24-105mm L-series model, but this lens is a fraction of the cost and, while it won’t match the L-series glass, still produces nice results.
Canon EF 55-200mm f/4.5-5.6 II USM £100
Now superseded by the EF-S 55-250mm version, this lens is the perfect accompaniment to the standard 18-55mm kit lens that comes with most of Canon’s DSLR range. At launch, this second version featured a redesigned grip, new lens coatings to minimise ghosting and flare, and faster autofocus. There’s no image stabilisation, though, and the maximum aperture is quite small, but with second-hand prices at around £100, it is an affordable addition to a collection. The first version of the current EF-S 55-250mm lens features image stabilisation and is available for as little as £150 second-hand
Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro £150-£250
When Sony bought out Konica Minolta, it also inherited the Minolta Alpha mount, which gave birth to Sony’s Alpha range of DSLR cameras. Much of the technology in early Sony DSLRs also came from Minolta, with many lenses aesthetically redesigned and rebranded as Sony Alpha products.
One such lens is the Sony 50mm f/2.8 Macro, which is optically the same as the Minolta 50mm f/2.8 Macro. Originally released in 1985, the Minolta version went through two later revisions. In 1993, the RS model was released with a focus-range limiter and a focus-hold button, as well as a much needed rubber focusing ring grip. An even later 2001 version was largely a restyled version of the 1993 model, but internally a more circular aperture was added.
The Sony lens retails for around £470, although the earlier Minolta lenses can be found second-hand for under £250. If you hunt around, the original 1985 model (pictured) can be purchased for as little as £150.
With 1:1 reproduction at a closest focus distance of 20cm, Sony Alpha users searching for a highly affordable macro lens should look no further. It will also act as a nice portrait optic on Sony DSLRs with APS-C-sized sensors.
Nikkor AF 35mm f/2 D £200
This lens is popular with reportage photographers, thanks to its 35mm focal length, fast f/2 maximum aperture, compact (64.5mm) length and lightweight (205g) build. The lens is compatible with full-frame and APS-C sensors, the latter giving an approximate 52mm focal length.
Optical construction is simple, with six elements in five groups, and it should not be forgotten that the minimum focus depth is 25cm, enabling an impressive 1:4 reproduction. The filter thread is 52mm and made from plastic, so be sure to check the condition when buying second-hand. A hood is optional here, although the lens is known to control flare very well. It is also known for its fast focusing. As with any Nikon AF-D lenses, autofocus is available with Nikon bodies that feature an AF motor, which is the D7000 or ‘higher’.
Sigma 50-500mm f/4-6.3 EX DG HSM APO £600
With a 10x focal length ranging from a standard 50mm to telephoto 500mm, this Sigma lens offers the widest focal range of any telephoto lens. It is known as the ‘Bigma’, and comes in at just under 2kg and 218.5mm in length, with a filter thread of 86mm. The build consists of 20 elements in 16 groups.
Its 2010 replacement is similar in many ways, but offers optical stabilisation, which aims to deal with what is possibly the most limiting factor of this older lens. Without stablisation, the 50-500mm lens is best used in good light to avoid camera shake at its more telephoto settings, or mounted to a tripod and with a cable release to allow the use of slower shutter speeds. The later version allows a claimed 4 additional stops of usable, slower shutter speeds, but it is also significantly more expensive – approximately double the price.
Sigma 12-24mm f/4.5-5.6 EX DG £400
This full-frame lens remained a popular choice for landscape photographers from its launch in 2003 until its replacement with a Mark II version earlier this year. The original lens offers minimal distortion despite its wide field of view, and on the APS-C format produces an equivalent 19-38mm focal length, which is still perfect landscape territory, although the more affordable 10-20mm digital-only model has captured some of this market. The Mark II optic has a new lens construction with elements that reduce distortion and aberration, yet this first edition is still great. It is available second-hand for around £400.
Nikkor AF 60mm f/2.8D Micro £250
After 15 years in production, the Nikkor 60mm AF-D was replaced by the AF-S version in 2008. The most significant difference between the two lenses is that the latest version has a built-in motor that provides autofocus even with entry-level DSLRs that do not have a built-in AF motor themselves, such as the current Nikon D3100, D3200 and D5100. With the AF-D model, AF is only possible with a Nikon D7000 or ‘higher’.
At 440g and 74.5mm in length, the older version is a compact macro lens (Nikon terms its macro lenses ‘micro’) with close focusing of 22cm, 1:1 reproduction and the company’s close-range correction (CRC) system for high performance at both near and far focusing distances. The newer lens features more elements and aperture blades, with a construction consisting of 12 elements in nine groups and nine aperture blades.
The AF-D lens has eight elements in seven groups, and with seven aperture blades that are not rounded it has less impressive out-of-focus areas.
This lens is compatible with full-frame and APS-C formats, the latter of which provides a 90mm focal length – ideal for getting a greater distance from macro subjects. A lens hood was not supplied with the lens, but an optional hood is available.
Nikkor AF-S 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G DX ED VR £350
This optic was originally introduced in 2005 as one of the first superzoom lenses for digital cameras. With a huge 11.1x zoom range (27-300mm equivalent), this is a highly versatile lens that can be used to photograph many different scenes. In 2009, a Mark II (and current) version was introduced with a few new features, one of which is a zoom lock to stop the lens creeping when not in use. The vibration reduction system has also been upgraded, with the current optic making use of the second-generation VR II system. Finally, the current lens uses Nikkor’s Super Integrated Coating on its lens elements, which is designed to reduce lens flare and improve contrast.
However, optically the latest model is the same as the original. Both feature 16 elements in 12 groups, including two ED glass elements and three aspherical elements, which gives almost identical image quality. Second-hand versions of the original 18-200mm lens can be found for as little as £300, although generally they are available for around £350-£370. This is around £200 cheaper than the Mark II version, which costs around £580.
Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG Macro £250
This is the lens we use at AP to shoot the test chart when reviewing cameras because it delivers such impressive resolution. Although designed for close-up work, the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 can be used to achieve a nice shallow depth of field in portraits and it comes in just about every major SLR mount. It was replaced with a new version earlier this year, which included a new optical construction and image stabilisation, but for tripod-based macro use or distant subjects, this is still a great option
Pentax SMC D-FA Macro 100mm f/2.8 £350
Pentax announced its SMC D-FA Macro 100mm f/2.8 WR in 2010 to replace the older, ‘non-WR’ version. The key difference is build quality: where the latest model features a weather-resistant aluminium body (and consequently no aperture ring), this older version is made from plastic and does feature an aperture ring. Most importantly for anyone considering this lens is that both versions feature the same optical construction (nine elements in eight groups), a 49mm filter thread and 1:1 magnification for macro work. This makes the older lens equally capable of delivering excellent-quality macro images or portraits.
Minor differences in out-of-focus areas (bokeh) may be seen at f/2.8 and f/5.6, because at these settings the aperture blades in the latest WR model are classed by the company as rounded, whereas in the older version they are not.
Leica Elmar-M 50mm f/2.8 £500
The first version of this lens was introduced alongside, and was only available with, the Leica M6J. In 1995, it became available separately in lightweight black (170g) or chrome (240g) versions. Leica opted to depart from the Elmarit name for this f/2.8 lens, instead calling it Elmar for ‘historical’ reasons. The lens has an aperture range of f/2.8-22, with its aperture ring in front of the last lens group. The barrel of the lens is collapsible and has a parallel guide focusing mount.
Images taken with this lens are free from curvilinear distortion, but suffer minor vignetting at maximum aperture. It is at f/5.6 that the optimum contrast and clarity can be achieved. Leica stopped production of the lens in 2007 and introduced its ‘budget’ Summarit-M 50mm f/2.5, which is still in production.
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM £800-£1,200
Like Canon’s 24-70mm optic, this lens was a popular professional model until its replacement in early 2010. The Mark II version saw a new construction for better image quality, an improvement in the image stabilisation – from 3EV to 4EV – and closer focusing. This older lens, however, is still extremely sharp and gives great results throughout its range. This is a handy focal range for both full-frame and APS-C cameras, and features two stabilisation modes and a focus-limiter switch. When buying, look out for signs of heavy use, such as dents and scratches or dust inside the lens, as it may have had a hard life if previously used professionally.
Leica Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 (III) £800
The first version of the Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 lens was released in 1965 and is one of the most reworked lenses in Leica’s collection, now in its fifth incarnation (Elmarit-M 28mm f/2.8 Asph), announced in 2005. With each release, Leica has reduced the size of the lens, with the current version the most compact Leica M model and with a claimed improvement to its
The third-generation optic featured here was produced from 1979-1993. It has an optical construction of eight elements in six groups, rearranged since the previous model to accommodate a more compact build. Unlike its predecessor, though, the Mark III optic here has a redesigned mount that features Leica’s familiar focusing tab, making it a firm favourite with reportage photographers. Leica states that the optimum aperture setting of the lens for centre contrast and sharpness is f/4, but its range stretches from f/2.8 to f/22.
Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L USM £700-£900
This highly popular standard professional zoom lens was only recently replaced with a Mark II version, and is well worth seeking out. The new lens reversed the extension, so it now extends for longer focal lengths, while this version extends for shorter focal lengths. It features a 77mm filter thread and a water-resistant body to complement Canon’s professional camera bodies. Results are extremely sharp, and its constant f/2.8 aperture is great for low-light shooting. This is an ideal lens for any full-frame Canon body. The new model is only just reaching stores, but once it does we expect this older version to be a popular second-hand choice.