You don't have to spend a fortune buying lenses for your DSLR, as there are many excellent and interesting optics that cost less than u00a3150. Richard Sibley rounds up a selection of bargain lenses

Bargain lenses for a DSLR

Not all lenses cost hundreds of pounds. There are a few great models that can be bought brand new for less than £150, and many more that are available second-hand.

In the age of the autofocus digital camera, formerly popular lenses have fallen by the wayside. This is particularly true of manual-focus optics, but it also applies to the now discontinued autofocus lenses. Although the AF speed may seem a little slow or even non-existent on these models, compared to current lenses they are often just as good optically.

We look at a range of twenty lenses that stand out, either for being highly regarded in terms of image quality or for offering something a little different. Some of these lenses are brand new, while others can be found second-hand and may require a suitable mount adapter for use on a modern DSLR.

What to look for when buying a used lens

  • While buying used lenses online (from eBay, for example) may offer the lowest price, you are also buying the product unseen. With this in mind, be sure to check the seller’s feedback to see if they are reputable and whether they have successfully sold lenses in the past.
  • It is always a better option to buy lenses in person, be it from a camera store or a dealer at a photographic fair. In this way you will be able to inspect the lens and you should also have someone to contact should there be a problem.
  • Inspect the lens for marks and dents. Any such marks can be a sign that the lens has been dropped, which could damage any moving parts or knock a lens out of alignment.
  • Check the front and rear elements for any scratches, but also look for dust or signs of fungus. The odd fleck of dust shouldn’t be too much of an issue, but avoid any lenses that have a lot of dust. Any lenses with fungus should be avoided altogether. It is difficult and expensive to remove fungus if found internally, and it can damage the coatings of a lens.
  • Look out for any mechanical issues. Check that the aperture is not stuck or sticky by moving the aperture ring, or by asking to take a few photos at different aperture settings. Make sure that the zoom and focus barrels move smoothly and don’t feel too loose or stiff.
  • If it is possible to try the lens on a camera make sure that you do so. Take a few photographs and check that the AF works correctly and that the lens doesn’t have any other focusing issues.

Olympus Zuiko 28mm f/2.81. Olympus Zuiko 28mm f/2.8

Price – Used: Around £80

This wideangle lens was in production for
more than 20 years and is still a favourite
among Olympus OM camera users.

It is compact and offers excellent image quality; it has a 42mm field of view on APS-C-format cameras, and a 56mm equivalent view when used with a Four Thirds sensor.

Please note, an OM adapter is needed for Four Thirds and APS-C cameras (see below).

Nikkor 28mm f/2.8D

2. Nikkor 28mm f/2.8D AF

Price – Used: Around £150

Like the Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF (see page 78), this 28mm f/2.8 lens is one of the more inexpensive options in Nikon’s lens line-up.

It is an excellent wideangle lens on full-frame cameras, and is compatible with Nikon’s 3D matrix metering system.

Released in 1994, it is still a very popular lens, and you should pounce if you see one second-hand and in good condition.

3. Zenitar 16mm f/2.8 fisheye

Zenitar 16

Price – New: Around £105

This Russian 16mm f/2.8 fisheye lens has a near 180° field of view when mounted on a full-frame camera.

This makes it very interesting for both photo and video use. Sadly, images on smaller sensors won’t show this effect and will just appear wide and distorted.

This lens is available in a variety of mounts to fit most cameras, and is the cheapest dedicated fisheye lens available.

Visit www.rugift.com for details.

Bargain lenses

4. Nikkor Ai 50mm E Series

Price – Used: £20-£30

Nikon’s E-series, F-mount lenses were designed to be inexpensive and affordable, and they still
are today.

This 50mm f/1.8 lens can be found for as little as £20, and although you will have to focus manually and set the aperture, it can be used on nearly all Nikon DSLRs. Its slim design makes it light enough to keep permanently in your camera bag and it is great for portraits.

5. Olympus Zuiko 50mm f/1.8

Price – Used: £25-£45

Originally packaged as the kit lens for OM-series cameras, this 50mm f/1.8 is one of the smallest and lightest Olympus Zuiko OM-fit lenses. It can be found for well under £50 and can be fitted to both Four Thirds and Micro Four Thirds cameras via the respective Olympus MF-1 and MF-2 OM adapters.

It will, of course, offer the equivalent of a 100mm focal length when used on a Four Thirds sensor, and will be extremely sharp as only the centre portion of the image is used.

6. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II

Price – Used: £60-£100
 
Very similar to Nikon’s 50mm f/1.8 lens, the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II is around the same price new but is as little as half that price second-hand.

In fact, the previous (Mark I) version of this optic actually commands a higher value on the second-hand market as it has a metal lens mount, as opposed to its successor’s plastic one.

7. Sony DT 50mm f/1.8 SAM

Price – Used: £120

Like Canon and Nikon, Sony also currently manufactures a 50mm f/1.8 AF lens, and like the other 50mm f/1.8 lenses, it is also great for portraits.

Among Sony and Minolta users, the newer Sony lens is more highly regarded than the older Konica Minolta 50mm f/1.7 optic.

8. Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D AF

Price – Used: £50-£90
 
The Nikkor 50mm f/1.8 AF lens is one of the best-selling Nikon AF lenses of all time. It is sharp and bright with an f/1.8 aperture, and if you hunt around you can find it new for under £100.

However, the older versions of the lens are optically identical, with any differences largely cosmetic. It is possible to find used versions of the earlier lens for around £50-£70.

Bargain lenses

9. Vivitar 90mm f/2.5 NF Macro

Price – Used: £70-£120
 
This Vivitar lens is regarded as one of the sharpest lenses ever produced, and it is still highly prized among macro and portrait photographers.

The lens was manufactured in most major camera mounts and can be fitted directly, or via a suitable mount adapter, to most DSLR models. It originally came with a macro adapter (pictured) that changes the magnification ratio from 2:1 to a full 1:1 macro.

As the lens is so highly regarded it can be difficult to get hold of, particularly with the macro adapter. Those interested in macro photography should add one of these to their shopping list.

10. Tamron 135mm f/2.5 Close Focus

Price – Used: £60-£80
 
Described as Close Focus, this Tamron 135mm lens actually has a minimum focus distance of 120cm, which gives it a 1:7 magnification ratio.

Although not quite close enough to be classified as a macro lens, it is still a great lens for close-ups of still-life subjects. The lens is part of Tamron’s Adaptall-2 range, so it requires a suitable Adaptall mount adapter.

The lens is well thought of but not quite as sharp as other 135mm optics that are available. However, this allows it to be cheaper and means it is another excellent fixed manual-focus lens for those on a budget.

11. Pentax SMC 135mm f/3.5

Price – Used: £40-£50
 
The Pentax SMC 135mm f/3.5 optic was a popular Pentax lens of the 1970s, and as such there are many of them available second-hand.

The f/3.5 maximum aperture makes it a good lens to use in low light, and many prefer it to the Pentax 135mm f/2.5 as the smaller aperture makes the lens smaller and lighter. It is very sharp and the Super Multi Coating gives it a good level of colour and contrast.

Best of all is the price: the lens can be found for as little as £40.

12. Sunagor 135mm f/2.8

Price – Used: Around £10
 
One of these Sunagor 135mm f/2.8 lenses recently sold for just 99p on eBay.

Its compact size makes it ideal for micro-system cameras, as it offers a roughly 200mm equivalent focal length on an APS-C-format camera, or a huge 270mm equivalent on a Four Thirds sensor, which also uses the centre of the frame where the image is at its sharpest.

Although there are sharper 135mm lenses available, many of the third-party optics by smaller companies such as this are available so cheap that they are an absolute bargain.  

Bargain lenses

13. Konica Minolta AF 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6

Price – Used: £70-£120

Those just starting to build a Sony Alpha system should remember that there is a large collection of Konica Minolta AF lenses available that can be mounted to their modern cameras. As the Konica Minolta lenses are now defunct, these can be bought at very affordable prices.

The 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6 optic is a great second zoom lens for Sony Alpha users on a budget.

14. Nikkor 70-210mm f/4 AF

Price – Used: Around £129

The best features of the Nikkor 70-210mm f/4 AF lens are its constant f/4 aperture and a 1.1m minimum focusing distance. On a DX-format (APS-C) camera it becomes a 105-300mm equivalent optic.

Interestingly, a lens of this specification has never been reproduced in the Nikon AF range. However, as an early Nikon AF model, it doesn’t exchange focus distance information with the camera, which means it will not be able to take advantage of 3D matrix metering.

15. Konica Minolta AF 35-200mm f/4.5-5.6

Price – Used: Around £150

Like the 80-200mm f/4.5-5.6 lens, this 35-200mm f/4.5-5.6 is a great second lens for Sony Alpha users.

Its large focal range (equivalent to 53-300mm)makes it a good travel zoom lens for accompanying a kit zoom lens or a fixed wideangle optic.

16. Canon 80-200mm f/4 FD

Price – Used: £130

With a focal length covering 80mm, 105mm, 135mm and 200mm, this manual-focus, Canon FD-mount (an FD/EF adapter is needed for EOS models) 80-200mm f/4 lens was a popular choice when it was introduced in the late 1970s.

The lens consists of 11 elements in eight groups. The minimum f/4 aperture is constant throughout the zoom range and with a minimum focus distance of one metre, the 80-200mm lens is useful for close-up images and portraits.

17. Tamron 70-210mm f/3.5 SP Macro + 2x converter

Price – Used: £60-£100

This 70-210mm f/3.5 lens is part of Tamron’s Adaptall-2 system. With the right Adaptall-2 mount, the lens can be attached to many different camera mounts, including Nikon F, Pentax K, Olympus OM, Konica Minolta and Canon EF. This makes it particularly versatile for photographers who have more than one camera system.

The lens itself has an f/3.5 aperture and is far cheaper and smaller than the equivalent f/2.8 lens. On an APS-C-sized sensor it becomes a 105-300mm equivalent lens; combining it with the specially designed Adaptall-2 2x converter makes it an impressive 210-600mm equivalent, or a 280-840mm on an Four Thirds sensor.

Although it has a solid metal construction, it is heavy at 860g.

18. Centon 500mm f/8 Reflex (Minolta MD fit via T2 mount)

Price – Used: £100

This lens uses an internal mirror to achieve a 500mm focal length, which does mean it has a fixed f/8 aperture. However, when using a lens of this size you would not often want to use an aperture larger than this. It offers a huge 750mm equivalent focal length on an APS-C-sized sensor, or 1,000mm on a Four Thirds sensor.

It is easier to handle than the Optomax 500mm f/8 lens, but for best results it should still be used on a camera with built-in image stabilisation, or better still a tripod or monopod. A T2 adapter is needed for this optic

19. Optomax 500mm f/8

Price – Used: £50

Made in Japan in the 1970s, this 500mm f/8 lens frequently appears for sale. The size of a small telescope, it does look a bit ridiculous, and with an aperture of f/8 it can also only really be used with a tripod or monopod in bright sunshine.

However, given the price, it is a good starting point for wildlife photographers, especially when paired with a Four Thirds or Micro Four Thirds camera. This will offer the focal-length equivalent of a huge 1,000mm lens for around £50. You’ll need an M42 adapter for this lens.

20. Canon 300mm f/5.6 FD

Price – Used: £60-£100

Originally designed as a budget telephoto optic, the Canon 300mm f/5.6 FD lens is fairly small and light, with good optical quality.

The f/5.6 aperture is wide enough for wildlife photography and general telephoto photography, and its large focus barrel makes it smooth and easy to focus. This lens requires an FD adapter.

Thanks to Mr Cad (www.mrcad.co.uk) for the loan of the used lenses

  • Richard Bond

    I would add the Minolta AF 35-105 mm to this list.