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’.