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AP Awards 2021: The Best Lenses and Accessories

February 19, 2021

As a weekly magazine Amateur Photographer tests more  lenses and accessories than any other UK publication and our tests are respected around the world for their independence, quality and depth. Consequently, the AP Awards, which have been an annual highlight in the photography calendar for over 40 years, are held in higher regard within the global camera industry than any other UK award.

The lenses and accessories below are the most technologically advanced ever produced – we’re truly spoiled for choice – but our thorough testing identifies the strengths and weaknesses of each product to help you choose which one is right for you, and which really are the finest in their class.



Innovation of the year: Fujifilm XF 50mm F1.0 R WR

Why we like it
● Super-fast f/1.0 maximum aperture
● Much more reliable autofocus compared to super-fast DSLR lenses
● Delivers lovely-looking images with gorgeous background blur

While we saw fewer new products than usual in 2020, camera makers still came up with some exciting innovations. Canon’s EOS R5 was the first mirrorless camera capable of recording 8K video, although with limitations on recording time. Sony produced arguably a more practical video tool in the shape of the Alpha 7S III, and we were particularly impressed by its 9.4-million-dot, 0.9x magnification electronic viewfinder, which counts as the first to clearly surpass the optical viewfinder of any full-frame DSLR.

Ultimately, though, we’ve chosen a lens as our innovation of the year. Fujifilm’s XF 50mm F1.0 R WR is currently the world’s brightest autofocus optic, thanks to its f/1.0 aperture. Yet unlike other super-fast lenses, it’s reasonably affordable at £1,500, and entirely practical to use. It’s capable of autofocusing accurately on a subject anywhere in the frame, which is a key advantage of mirrorless camera technology.

Optically, Fujifilm has chosen to prioritise attractively blurred backgrounds over out-and-out sharpness at f/1. This isn’t necessarily to everybody’s tastes, but in the right hands, the lens is capable of delivering truly lovely images.


Highly commended
■ Canon EOS R5
■ Fujifilm XF 50mm F1.0 R WR
■ Sony Alpha 7S III


Zoom lens of the year: Nikon Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S

Why we like it
● Stunning image quality
● Fast and quiet autofocus
● Robust, weather-sealed build
● Useful display panel
● Extensive external controls

We’ve seen plenty of superb lenses this year, with the camera companies and third-party makers alike taking full advantage of the increased freedom in optical design afforded by mirrorless mounts. But our pick of the zooms has to be Nikon’s superb fast telephoto offering.

Nikon originally pitched its Z lens line-up at travel photographers, and has taken a while to make the workhorse f/2.8 zooms favoured by many photographers. However, they’ve been well worth the wait. The firm hasn’t just replicated its DSLR designs for mirrorless, but made an array of key improvements.

The lens has an array of additional features and controls, including a useful status display panel on top, a control ring adjacent to the camera body, and two programmable L.Fn buttons. Needless to say, this is a stellar performer, giving incredibly sharp, clean images with beautiful background blur. Its autofocus is fast and silent, while the optical VR works together with in-body IS to provide up to 5.5 stops stabilisation.

It’s a superb, state-of-the-art lens, and one that many Z-series users will aspire to own.


Highly commended
■ Nikon Nikkor Z 70-200mm f/2.8 VR S
■ Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 12-45mm F4 Pro
■ Sigma 100-400mm F5-6.3 DG DN OS
■ Tamron 70-180mm F/2.8 Di III VXD


Prime lens of the year: Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art

Why we like it
● Fantastic optical quality
● Relatively small and light
● Excellent handling
● Built-in aperture ring
● Very competitive priceThis year’s shortlist includes a diverse group of lenses, but one theme perhaps shines through. Our pick of the year’s best offerings all feature fine optics in relatively small sizes, particularly compared to their DSLR equivalents. Our winner exemplifies this, with Sigma’s latest designed-for-mirrorless 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art being fully 30mm shorter and 500g lighter than its stablemate for DSLRs.

Despite this it gives up absolutely nothing in terms of image quality, while offering improved handling. In terms of design, the lens features an electronically coupled focus ring, along with an aperture ring that can be switched between clicked and clickless operation.

The barrel features dust- and splash-resistant construction, the diaphragm employs 11 curved blades for attractive bokeh, and autofocus is driven by a silent stepper motor. Image quality is stunning, with extraordinary sharpness even at f/1.4, and no unsightly colour fringing due to chromatic aberration. What’s more, the lens is great value, matching its Sony FE 85mm F1.4 GM rival in every respect for £500 less. Overall, Sigma has created a gem of lens that has to be one of the best we’ve ever tested.


Highly commended
■ Fujifilm XF 50mm F1.0 R WR
■ Laowa 65mm f/2.8 2x Ultra macro
■ Sigma 85mm F1.4 DG DN Art
■ Sony FE 20mm F1.8 G


Smartphone camera of the year: Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra

Why we like it
● Useful set of lenses
● Easy-to-use camera app
● Raw format shooting
● Attractive output
● Handy S-Pen StylusEnthusiast photographers tend to have a complicated attitude towards smartphone cameras. Despite continual hype, they don’t yet provide what most would consider ‘SLR-level image quality’. But equally, the truism is that the best camera is the one that you have with you, and chances are you will carry your phone all the time. So it makes sense to get one with the best camera.

When choosing our pick of the year, we were looking for much the same qualities as with ‘proper’ cameras. In other words, a useful set of lenses, an easy-to-use interface that gives good results in auto mode while enabling plenty of
manual control, and of course the ability to deliver attractive images in a wide range of conditions.

Ultimately, Samsung’s Galaxy Note20 Ultra fits the bill best. Highlights include ultra-wide, wide and telephoto lenses; a well-designed and intuitive camera app with a capable Pro mode; a stunning 6.9in screen; and DNG format recording. Images look great on social media, with strong colour and tonality. We’re also fans of Samsung’s unique S-Pen Stylus, which can be used as a remote shutter release.


Highly commended
■ Apple iPhone 12 Pro
■ OnePlus 8 Pro
■ Samsung Galaxy Note20 Ultra


Accessory of the year: Kase Wolverine K9 filter system

Why we like it
● Compact, lightweight holder
● Polariser mounts magnetically
● Superb quality glass
● Well designed and easy to use
●  Various kits available

It can be difficult to get excited about filter systems, as on the whole, they tend to do much the same thing in slightly different ways. But with its Wolverine K9 system, Kase has carefully rethought every component. The result is a top-quality set-up that’s easy to use and delivers superb results.

Various kits are available, including different sets of filters at prices from £130 to £745. Highlights include a slimline, low-profile holder with extensive light-sealing for use with neutral density filters. The 82mm polariser clips into place magnetically, which makes it unusually quick to fit or remove compared to the conventional screw-in approach; it’s also easy to adjust from behind the camera. Neutral density filters are rectangular rather than square, which makes them much easier to swap in and out, especially when you’re using a graduated filter in the front slot.

All of the filters use top-quality glass, and even the strongest 16-stop neutral density is perfectly colour-neutral. Everything fits together into a single case that can be strapped onto your tripod. It’s one of the best filter systems you can buy.


Highly commended
■ Benro Rhino 24C tripod with VX25 head
■ Essential Film Holder Kit
■ Interfit Honey Badger Unleashed
■ Kase Wolverine K9 filter system
■ NiSi NM-180 Macro Focusing Rail
■ Vanguard Veo Select 46BR


Accessory of the year: NiSi NM-180 Macro Focusing Rail

Why we like it
● Smooth, precise operation
● Good range of movement
● Fully Arca Swiss compatible
● Excellent build quality
● Impressive load capacity

Macro rails are invaluable for close-up photography, enabling sub-millimetre adjustment of the camera for precise control over framing and focusing. NiSi’s NM-180 is arguably the best of its kind available right now, combining excellent quality build with super-smooth operation.

It’s easily capable of holding a full-frame SLR while providing a good degree of travel (up to 130mm). One of our favourite features is its extensive compatibility with the Arca Swiss quick-release system. The rail has a dovetail profile along its base, allowing it to be clamped to a tripod head at any point.

On the top, it has a rotating clamp with click stops at 90° intervals, which makes it equally at home for holding lenses via their tripod collars or cameras with L-brackets. Meanwhile a fold-out handle provides fine positional adjustment, while a set of screw-in feet enable desktop use.

Everything works as it should, with the rail capable of positioning the camera smoothly and precisely even when it’s pointing vertically down, which can defeat lesser designs. At £105, it’s competitively priced compared to similar alternatives. Overall, it’s a neatly designed and well-made device that’s great for close-up photography.


Accessory of the year: Vanguard Veo Select 46BR

Why we like it
● Slimline yet spacious design
● Flexible kit access options
● Comfortable to carry
● Hand-luggage compatible size
● Comes in black or green

Designed to be suitable for both DSLR and mirrorless users, this backpack is capable of swallowing a substantial amount of kit while retaining a travel-friendly 28cm slim profile. Backpacks can be difficult to work from, so we were particularly impressed by the array of access points provided to its spacious main compartment, which allow you to get at your kit from the back, top or either side.

In terms of capacity, the bag is capable of holding a full-frame DSLR with four to six lenses (depending on size) and is supplied with plenty of movable inserts which allow you to configure it to match your needs. It has a well-padded sleeve for a 13in laptop, and an array of pockets for organising such things as memory cards and batteries. It’s also possible to strap a tripod onto either side.

Crucially, the Veo Select 46BR is comfortable to carry for long periods when fully laden, thanks to its padded harness and back that are complemented by a tuck-away waist belt. It also offers good protection, including plenty of padding and a waterproof base. At £109, it represents excellent value for money.


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