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.