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Dive Photo Guide

Lenses

LATEST EQUIPMENT

Canon RF 14–35mm f/4L IS USM
Nikon Z MC 105mm f/2.8 VR S
Canon RF 100mm f/2.8 L Macro IS USM
Canon RF 16mm f/2.8 STM
Sony FE PZ 16–35mm f/4 G

As an underwater shooter with a DSLR or mirrorless camera, one of the best investments you can make is in quality lenses. Your lens selection becomes even more important because not all lenses are practical for underwater imaging. We have limited the lenses in this section to only the ones that are appropriate for underwater use.
 

CONTENTS

  1. Selecting Lenses for Underwater Photography
  2. Best Lenses for Canon Cropped-Sensor DSLRs
  3. Best Lenses for Canon Full-Frame DSLRs
  4. Best Lenses for Nikon Cropped-Sensor DSLRs
  5. Best Lenses for Nikon Full-Frame DSLRs
  6. Best Lenses for Sony Cropped-Sensor Mirrorless Cameras
  7. Best Lenses for Sony Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras
  8. Best Lenses for Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless Cameras
 

When purchasing underwater imaging equipment like the products mentioned in this guide, please support DPG by supporting our retail partner—Backscatter.

 

1. Selecting Lenses for Underwater Photography

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By Joanna Lentini
 

Once you know what subjects you want to shoot, you can choose the right lens for the job
 

Getting started in underwater photography can be an exciting endeavor. Whether you’ve just purchased a DSLR, mirrorless, or made an upgrade from a compact, the next natural step is deciding which lenses to purchase. In this article, we’ll discuss the factors you need to consider in this important decision-making process.

Bringing a camera underwater opens up a world of possibilities to scuba divers. The plethora of subject matter is overwhelming and one can easily be pulled in different directions trying to capture it all. But, of course, not every subject can be photographed with just one lens. Therefore, knowing what it is that you want to shoot is a good starting point when picking lenses.

 

 

Budget vs. Premium Lenses

While there are different lenses for every budget, investing in a good lens is, arguably, far more important than the camera body itself, as premium glass provides superior image quality. High-end lenses have faster speeds and better optics—meaning less distortion and chromatic aberration—optimal color and contrast, and better flare resistance.

The speed of a lens is determined by its maximum aperture. The larger the aperture, or opening, the faster the lens. Lenses with fast speeds let more light through over a given time frame and allow for shallower depths of field. Just remember the faster the lens, the smaller the f-number.

Some lenses offer an image stabilization (IS) feature which can help stabilize images taken with longer focal lengths at slow shutter speeds, but lenses with this feature usually come at a higher price point. But underwater, especially when using a strobe, this feature isn’t particularly important.
 

Zoom vs. Prime Lenses

Weighing the benefits of a zoom or prime lens is something to consider when making a lens purchase. In order to provide a range of focal lengths, zoom lenses consist of multiple layers of glass and therefore produce softer images compared to a prime, or fixed, lens. In general, the less glass a lens contains, the sharper the final image will be.

Prime lenses usually offer faster speeds and produce superior images, but require photographers to move themselves rather than the lens barrel to get closer or farther away from a subject. The speed of a prime lens will be listed as just one f-number, whereas the speed of a zoom lens will be expressed as a range of f-numbers for the different focal lengths, such as f/4.5–5.6.
 

For some subjects, a lens’ ability to zoom can be crucial to getting the shot

 

Focal Lengths and the Crop Factor

Some of the typical focal lengths used in underwater photography are 45mm, 60mm, 100mm, 105mm, 10–17mm, 8–15mm, and 16–35mm. A lens' focal length is the distance between the lens and the camera’s image sensor when the subject is in focus, and is expressed in millimeters (mm). For zoom lenses, the range of focal lengths is stated, such as 10–17mm, whereas for a fixed (prime) lens, focal length is expressed as a single number, e.g. 100mm.

An important thing to keep in mind is digital cameras have sensors of different sizes—“full frame” sensors (the same size as traditional 35mm format film, or 36mm × 24mm) or “cropped” sensors (smaller than full frame, such as APS-C or Micro Four Thirds). The field of view for a particular lens is dependent on which camera body/sensor you have. If you are using a camera body with a cropped sensor, the focal length for each of your lenses will be multiplied by the crop factor of your particular sensor, typically between 1.4 and 2.7.

A 100mm lens used with a cropped sensor with a 1.6× factor will result in the field of view equivalent to that of a 160mm lens (100 × 1.6) on a full-frame camera. A crop factor can actually be a benefit with small critters or skittish sharks. In order to compare one lens with another, we refer to the equivalent focal length in 35mm film, or with full-frame sensor. For example, a Micro Four Thirds 8–18mm lens has a “35mm equivalent focal length” range of 16–36mm, since the crop factor is 2.

While some full-frame lenses may work on cropped sensor cameras, some lenses are made specifically for cropped sensors and will not work on a full-frame camera. Lenses for full-frame cameras typically retain their value more so than lenses for cropped sensors, and they also tend to be of higher quality. Lens manufacturers usually have their own abbreviations for their cropped sensor lenses, such as Canon EF-S or EF-M, Nikon DX, Sigma DC, Tokina DX, and Tamron Di II.
 

Wide Angle or Macro?

Generally speaking, new photographers tend to choose between the two main genres of underwater photography: wide angle and macro. Each has its own learning curve and requires different lenses and ports. Once a specific genre is mastered, shooters usually move on to photograph different subjects. If macro and wide angle are equally appealing to you, there is no reason why you can’t jump into both.

Wide Angle

As the name implies, wide-angle underwater photography allows photographers to capture expansive reef scenes, large pelagics and schools of fish. It is the genre of underwater photography that most photographers begin with. While some may think wide angle is easier than macro, properly lighting a wide-angle scene can be far more challenging.
 

A wide-angle reef scene

 

Macro

Perhaps it’s the tiniest critters in the sea that appeal to you? Whether it’s a nudibranch, candy crab, or some other alien-like, microscopic creature, macro photography focuses on the sorts of things most people easily overlook or don’t realize even exist. This genre of underwater photography can be very rewarding but requires a good deal of patience as achieving and maintaining focus on miniature life forms can take time.
 

Small critters are best photographed with dedicated macro lenses

 

Lens Types for Underwater Imaging

The three main types of underwater lenses are fisheye, rectilinear, and macro. Usually each lens will require a specific extension ring or dome port.

Fisheye Lenses

Fisheye lenses are important tools in wide-angle underwater photography. These ultra-wide lenses allow photographers to get very close to subject matter, which helps achieve sharp underwater images. The less water there is between the camera lens and the subject, the greater clarity an image will have.

With large marine life or wrecks, a fisheye lens allows photographers to capture the entire creature in the frame at a close proximity. These lenses create beautiful curves in the underwater world and should be used with dome ports. They are also very useful for split shots—part topside, part underwater images. Fisheye focal lengths range from 8mm to 17mm.
 

Larger subjects are best shot up close and with a fisheye lens

 

Rectilinear Wide-Angle Lenses

Rectilinear wide-angle lenses do not have the curves found in a fisheye lens. Rather they create straight lines with little to no barrel distortion. These lenses can be quite helpful with marine life that doesn’t approach divers closely. This is one lens that is great both topside and underwater, and many photographers choose it because of its versatility. The most widely used rectilinear focal lengths are 16mm to 35mm, and while there is a little overlap with the focal lengths of fisheyes, they are not equivalent.
 

A school of spadefish shot with a rectilinear lens

 

Macro Lenses

Used behind a flat port, macro lenses are capable of capturing stunning portraits of tiny life forms as well as interesting close-up portraits of fish. These lenses allow photographers to fill the frame with small subjects that would otherwise be lost with a wide-angle or fisheye lens. Typical underwater macro lenses have focal lengths of 45mm, 60mm, 100mm and 105mm.
 

The focal length of a macro lens determines how close you can get to your subject: A “short” macro lens (e.g., 60mm) focuses closer than a “longmacro lens (e.g., 100mm)

 

Final Thoughts

As with topside photography, the glass you choose can greatly impact the quality of your images. And, as we’ve discussed here, only certain lenses that are used topside will serve the underwater photographer or videographer well.

In subsequent articles, we’ll take an in-depth look at what the best lenses are for underwater work, for the different brands and sensor sizes.

 

2. Best Lenses for Canon Cropped-Sensor DSLRs

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By DPG Editorial Staff
 

The lenses we choose for underwater photography and video are important decisions, which impact the quality of our images. As we discussed in “Selecting Lenses for Underwater Photography”, certain lenses are made specifically for cropped-sensor DSLRs, while full-frame lenses can work on both cropped and full-frame cameras. Most lenses made specifically for APS-C cameras will only work on cameras with the proper lens mount, which in the case of Canon is the EF-S mount. Each lens manufacturer has different acronyms to differentiate between full-frame and cropped lenses. If you plan to switch to a full-frame camera one day, Canon’s EF-S lenses won’t work. However, EF lenses designed for Canon’s full-frame bodies generally work fine on cropped-sensor cameras.

While it’s important to know whether the lens you are planning to purchase will work with your specific camera body, it is also of great importance to understand how the cropped sensor changes the focal length of any given lens. Canon cameras have a crop factor of 1.6, which means the actual focal length of a lens can be determined by multiplying the focal length by the 1.6 crop factor. Thus, a 100mm lens becomes 160mm on a DSLR with an APS-C sensor.

Let’s take a look at the best lenses for underwater photographers with Canon cropped-sensor DSLRs:
 

Make/Model
Minimum Focus
Angle of View
Weight (Air)
Price

Sigma 8–16mm f/4.5–5.6

9.4in/24cm 115–76° 19.6oz/555g $700

Tokina AT-X DX 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5

5.5in/14cm 180–100° 12.3oz/350g $550

Canon EF-S 10–22mm f/3.5–4.5

9.5in/24cm 108–64° 13.6oz/385g $650

Sigma 10–20mm f/3.5

9.4in/24cm 102–64° 18.3oz/520g $450

Canon EF 16-35mm f/4L

11in/28cm 108–63° 21.7oz/615g $1,100

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro

7.8in/20cm 25° 11.8oz/335g $470

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro

12in/31cm 24° 21.1oz/600g $600


Recommended lenses for cropped-sensor Canon DSLRs compared

 

Sigma 8–16mm f/4.5–5.6

This ultra-wide rectilinear zoom lens from Sigma is the widest lens available for Canon cropped sensor DSLRs. After taking into account the 1.6 crop factor, this 8–16mm lens becomes a 13–26mm and creates an exaggerated perspective that is ideal for underwater photography. With its close focusing distance, this lens is great for the close-focus wide-angle technique. Keep in mind that this is not a fisheye lens, however, so it doesn’t distort the image to the same degree as a lens like the Tokina 10–17mm. As it is a rectilinear, it will keep any lines found underwater straight and should therefore appeal to wreck photographers.

$700 | www.sigmaphoto.com

 

Tokina AT-X DX 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5

This fisheye zoom lens is a beautiful tool for capturing vast underwater scenes. Made specifically for cropped-sensor DSLRs, the 10–17mm has an equivalent focal length of 16–27mm, with a maximum 180-degree field of view that will amaze first-time users. Unlike other fisheyes, this lens provides a full corner-to-corner image. With its minimum focusing distance of less than six inches, photographers are able to get very close to their subjects, thereby reducing the water column and increasing image clarity. There are many reasons why this lens is the workhorse of many wide-angle underwater photographers, from close-focus wide angle to expansive seascapes and marine life portraits, this lens is the holy grail of underwater lenses. (Read more about it in: “An Underwater Photographer’s Guide to the Tokina 10–17mm Lens.”)

$550 | www.backscatter.com

 

A reefscape shot with the Tokina 10–17mm lens

 

Canon EF-S 10–22mm f/3.5–4.5

This ultra wide-angle rectilinear EF-S zoom lens is designed specifically for use on Canon’s cropped-sensor DSLRs—meaning it will not work on a full-frame DSLR. With the 1.6 crop factor, the lens essentially becomes a 16–35mm lens. As we mentioned, rectilinear lenses are good for creating straight lines, photographing skittish marine life, and reef scenes. Canon also makes a less expensive, slightly slower and wider 10–18mm f/4.5–5.6, which is less than half the price.

$650 | www.backscatter.com

 

Sigma 10–20mm f/3.5

Like the more-expensive Canon 10–22mm, this Sigma wide-angle zoom is made specifically for cropped-sensor DSLRs, with versions available with mounts for Canon and Nikon cameras, among others. Offering excellent image quality, the lens features a constant maximum aperture of f/3.5 throughout the entire range of focal lengths, which is equivalent to 16–32mm on full frame. With a minimum close-focusing distance of nine inches, the lens is ideal for shooting wide angle, wrecks and sharks—and is a great topside lens as well.

$450 | www.sigmaphoto.com

 

A Caribbean reef shark shot with the Canon 16–35mm f/2.8L on a cropped-sensor DSLR

 

Canon EF 16–35mm f/4L

This rectilinear wide-angle full-frame zoom lens provides photographers with excellent image quality, a bit more reach for encounters with timid marine life, and is a nice travel lens for both topside and underwater photography. With an equivalent focal length range of 26–56mm, it’s also a great option for those looking for a different perspective from the go-to fisheye lens. Canon offers two 16–35mm L-series lenses at different speeds and price points. If it’s not really necessary to shoot wide open, the f/4 will be your best bet for underwater use—as the f/2.8L retails for twice the price.

$1,100 | www.backscatter.com

 

Canon EF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro

The Canon 60mm macro lens is an EF-S lens with an equivalent focal length of 96mm. It is usually the most popular choice for macro photography among new underwater shooters looking to capture small critters and fish. Compared to the 100mm macro lens (below), the 60mm is better for focusing in low light, weighs half as much, and is less expensive. As the lens can go closer than the 100mm, you'll have less water between the lens and the subject, which will help in poorer visibility conditions. Just be careful not to spook your subject as you move in tighter!

$470 | www.backscatter.com

 

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro

A brilliant lens for capturing the smallest creatures in the sea, this lens produces life-size 1:1 macro magnification. As it is made for full-frame cameras, the 100mm focal length becomes 160mm on a cropped DSLR. The lens can have a bit of a learning curve for new macro shooters, as focus can shift a bit when trying to lock onto your subject—but once mastered it is an invaluable tool for macro photography. The Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro is also a great choice—as L-series lenses provide superior image quality—although it will set you back half as much again.

$600 | www.backscatter.com

 

A blue-ringed octopus shot with Canon’s 100mm macro lens

 

Final Thoughts

The selection of lenses above is a good representation of the most widely-used lenses for the different genres of underwater photography—wide angle and macro—and should fit every budget. If you are just getting started in underwater photography and you want to cover all of the bases, you certainly can't go wrong with the following three lenses in your camera bag: Tokina 10–17mm fisheye, Canon 60mm macro and a rectilinear wide-angle zoom like the Canon 10–22mm or 16–35mm.

While cropped-sensor DSLRs require a bit of math to figure out their actual focal lengths, they do have plenty of benefits for underwater and topside photography. In fact, a lot of professionals choose to shoot with cropped sensors for shy subjects and tiny critters in particular.

 

3. Best Lenses for Canon Full-Frame DSLRs

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By DPG Editorial Staff with Allison Vitsky and Andy Sallmon
 

Canon produces an extensive range of optics for both its cropped-sensor bodies and its full-frame DLSRs, but its most-impressive lenses are designed for use with the latter. The company’s premium range of prime and zoom “L”-series lenses are designed for professional use and aim to offer the best optical results, with characteristics such as fluorite and aspherical elements, wide maximum apertures, environmental sealing, and ultrasonic autofocus motors.

Some of the best optical quality in the business does come at a price, though, with many of Canon’s lenses putting a serious strain on your wallet. However, with Canon’s full-frame cameras ramping up the megapixels with each new generation, you’ll want to get the most out of your DSLR’s high-resolution sensor by using the very sharpest and highest-performing lenses on offer.

These are our top lenses for underwater photographers with Canon full-frame DSLRs:
 

Make/Model
Minimum Focus
Angle of View
Weight (Air)
Price

Canon EF 8–15mm f/4L Fisheye

 6.3in/16cm 180° 19.1oz/540g $1250

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Fisheye

5.9in/15cm 180° 13oz/370g $610

Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II

7.9in/20cm 114° 22.8oz/645g $2100

Canon EF 11–24mm f/4L

11in/28cm 126–84° 41.6oz/1180g $3000

Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II

11in/28cm 108–63° 22.6oz/640g $1600

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS

11.8in/30cm 23° 22oz/625g $900


Recommended lenses for full-frame Canon DSLRs compared

 

Canon EF 8–15mm f/4L Fisheye

Although it’s a zoom, the Canon 8–15mm is essentially two separate lenses in one: When zoomed out, it’s an 8mm “circular” fisheye, and when zoomed in, it’s a 15mm frame-filling fisheye. Behind a dome port with the appropriate extension ring, it’s wonderfully sharp, even at the periphery when using a wide aperture, and it focuses so close that shooters are more likely to be limited by the physical presence of the dome port—or the unwillingness of their subject to be in such close proximity to the dome. Using the 8mm end of the lens is often a creative choice, but with the right subject and composition, it is a powerful “bonus” tool that packs an artistic punch.

$1250 | www.backscatter.com

 

A temperate reefscape captured with the Canon EF 8–15mm f/4L Fisheye at 8mm (left) and 15mm (right)

 

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Sigma’s 15mm Fisheye is a great low-cost alternative to Canon’s 14mm rectilinear lens if you don’t mind (or love) the reality-bending effects of a fisheye lens. With its ability to focus incredibly close—just six inches—and the almost limitless depth of field even at maximum aperture, the Sigma 15mm is a very versatile lens that can be used to shoot medium and large marine animals as well as small subjects using the close-focus wide-angle technique. The exaggerated distortion isn’t suited to everything, however, and the lens shouldn’t be used wide open—to avoid light falloff and softness in the corners of the image.

$610 | www.backscatter.com

 

Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II

The Canon 14mm is an excellent—if rather pricey—lens that’s perfect for medium subjects such as sharks, seals and sea lions. The lens is very sharp in the center, though it suffers a little from distortion the further from the center you get. Ironically, this is due in part to one of the positive features of the lens: its ability to focus very close. Most underwater shooters will try to use it as they would a fisheye lens, but the depth of field in the corners just isn’t there when focused extremely close. The best way to use the lens is to maintain a high f-number (preferably above f/11) and refrain from extreme close-focus work, remaining at least a foot or a foot-and-a-half from your subject.

$2100 | www.usa.canon.com

 

Moray eels photographed with the Canon EF 11–24mm f/4L

 

Canon EF 11–24mm f/4L

Big, heavy, and expensive, the Canon 11–24mm is a beast of a lens. At 24mm, it’s as sharp as can be, while at the wide end, it displays a little distortion at the edges, which goes away as you zoom in and isn’t noticeable by about 13–14mm. Thus, the wider end of the lens works well for medium-sized subjects that are often framed centrally, such as such as sea turtles and sharks. More-skittish marine life can be captured using the 20–24mm end, making this lens a very versatile nature portrait tool that doesn’t have the “bendy” barrel distortion of a fisheye. The large diameter of this lens requires a special dome port, made by only a few manufacturers. With the added cost of the dome, the 11–24mm can be a very pricey proposition indeed.  

$3000 | www.backscatter.com

 

Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II

A top choice for many underwater shooters, the 16–35mm f/2.8L II is a versatile lens that shines as a portrait tool for skittish marine life at and beyond about 20mm. Similar to the 11–24mm, when zoomed out to its maximum width of 16mm, the center is sharp, but there is some edge distortion (some of which is correctable in post). Lighter than its wider sibling, it also works with standard diameter dome ports. Canon offers various alternatives to the 16–35mm f/2.8L II: The recently released 16–35mm f/2.8L III, which costs a hefty $2200, aims to reduce edge distortion and improve overall sharpness. At $1100, the Canon 16–35mm f/4L is a less expensive option offering impressive sharpness but with a narrower maximum aperture. The even cheaper Canon 17–40mm f/4L ($800) is another decent alternative, though corner sharpness isn’t quite as good as its more costly siblings.

$1600 | www.backscatter.com

 

An eagle ray captured with the Canon EF 16–35mm f/2.8L II

 

Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS

The longtime go-to macro lens for Canon full-frame shooters, the 100mm f/2.8L is capable of life-size (1:1) close-ups at its minimum focus distance of around 12 inches. The lens produces extremely sharp images and focuses very fast, even in low-light conditions—though the use of a focus light is always recommended for macro. Canon doesn’t offer a “short” macro for full-frame DLSRs; their 60mm macro is an EF-S lens designed for use only on cropped-sensor bodies. “Environmental” macro portraits, including more of a critter’s surroundings, aren’t easy to achieve with the 100mm.

$900 | www.backscatter.com

 

A cardinalfish with eggs shot with the Canon EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro

 

Final Thoughts

At a minimum, underwater shooters beginning their journey with a full-frame DSLR will likely want to have two lenses in their kit: the Canon 100mm f/2.8L for macro work, plus one of the various wide-angle options—depending on what they are most interested in shooting. If sharks and skittish creatures are more desired subjects, the 16–35mm f/2.8L II (or one of its close relatives) probably offers the most versatility. If epic reefscapes are the preferred target, the Canon 8–15mm f/4L is a top choice. Even if you never use the end that produces those novel “circular” images, you’ll appreciate the excellent image quality of the lens at 15mm, which ultimately has the edge on that of the Sigma 15mm fisheye prime.

 

4. Best Lenses for Nikon Cropped-Sensor DSLRs

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By DPG Editorial Staff
 

Nikon, like Canon, makes an extensive range of lenses specially designed for their cropped-sensor “DX”-format DSLRs (see “Selecting Lenses for Underwater Photography”). There are also various other companies, such as Sigma and Tokina, that manufacture lenses for the Nikon DSLR “F-mount,” which tend to be cheaper than their Nikon equivalent, and in some cases have no Nikon equivalent. Some Nikon lenses made for full-frame bodies (which are compatible with cropped-sensor bodies) are employed by DX-format camera users to good effect. It should be noted that Nikon manufactures its lenses under the Nikkor brand.

APS-C, or Advanced Photo System type-C, which is used to describe cropped-sensor DSLR formats actually varies in size from one brand to another. Nikon’s APS-C sensor, designated “DX” format, is actually slightly larger than that of its main rival, Canon—23.6 x 15.8mm compared to 22.2 x 14.8mm. The difference, albeit small, translates to a slightly smaller crop factor for Nikon—1.5 versus Canon’s 1.6—which, on paper at least, arguably gives Nikon a slight advantage over Canon. In practice, the difference is far too small to be noticeable in terms of, say, angle of view, and is only one of many factors that combine to create a lens that produces “quality” results.

Instead, as with Canon, there are lenses in the Nikon lineup—and in the catalogues of third-party manufacturers—that are particularly favored by underwater shooters for their performance and versatility. Here are the top lenses for underwater photographers with Nikon cropped-sensor DSLRs:
 

Make/Model
Minimum Focus
Angle of View
Weight (Air)
Price

Nikkor AF-S 8–15mm f/3.5–4.5

 6.3in/16cm 180–110° 17.2oz/485g $1100

Nikkor AF DX 10.5mm f/2.8

5.5in/14cm 180° 10.8oz/305g $775

Sigma 8–16mm f/4.5–5.6

9.4in/24cm 115–76° 19.6oz/555g $700

Tokina AT-X DX 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5

5.5in/14cm 180–100° 12.3oz/350g $470

Nikkor AF-S DX 10–24mm f/3.5–4.5

9.4in/24cm 109–61° 16.2oz/460g $900

Nikkor AF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro

7.3in/19cm 27° 15oz/425g $600

Nikkor AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8 Macro

12in/31cm 15° 25.4oz/720g $900


Recommended lenses for cropped-sensor Nikon DSLRs compared

 

Nikkor AF-S 8–15mm f/3.5–4.5

Recently released, Nikon’s first fisheye zoom is actually a premium (“Gold Ring” series) lens designed for full-frame format cameras, where it offers an unusual behavior, producing a circular fisheye at the wide end and changing to a frame-filling 180-degree diagonal angle of view at the long end. However, it’s also compatible with DX bodies, and in this case—perhaps more usefully—the image fills the frame at both ends of the zoom, from 110 to 180 degrees. That makes this lens a sort of premium version of the coveted Tokina 10–17mm—only even wider, with an equivalent focal length range of 12–23mm. If it performs as well as its spec sheet suggests, this lens could emerge as the ultimate fisheye lens for wide-angle underwater photography.

$1100 | www.backscatter.com

 

Nikkor AF DX 10.5mm f/2.8

With its frame-filling 180-degree angle of view, this “Gold Ring”-series compact fisheye lens is unique among lenses for cropped-sensor cameras—of any brand. Only Nikon produces a prime lens with an equivalent focal length of 16mm on a full-frame DSLR. Its extreme distortion is a novelty on land, but underwater the lens produces a fantastic perspective that works well for everything from sharks to small subjects using the close-focus wide-angle technique, owing to its very close focus (less than six inches from the back of the camera, so just over an inch from the front of the lens). Being a prime lens, the quality of results is top notch, with excellent corner sharpness.

$775 | www.nikonusa.com

 

Sigma 8–16mm f/4.5–5.6

If you want to go really wide, but without the exaggerated distortion of a fisheye like the Nikkor 10.5mm or Tokina 10–17mm, the Sigma 8–16mm is a great choice, with an equivalent focal length range of 12–24mm on Nikon DX bodies. This ultrawide rectilinear zoom preserves straight lines, making it ideal for wreck photography or for shooting under manmade structures like piers or oil platforms. Its minimum focus is just a few inches from the front of the lens, so it can also be used for close-focus wide-angle work, again, without the heavy distortion of a fisheye.

$700 | www.sigmaphoto.com

 

A diver at Orange Grove Sink, Florida, taken with the Nikkor 10–24mm

 

Tokina AT-X DX 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5

This comparatively inexpensive fisheye zoom is the go-to wide-angle lens for many shooters using cropped-sensor DSLRs, with any number of applications, from fish portraits to reefscapes. Producing a frame-filling image, the Tokina 10–17mm has a maximum field of view of 180 degrees and an equivalent focal length range of 15–26mm on Nikon DX camera bodies. It also focuses very close, so it’s possible to create dramatic close-focus wide angle portraits, too. Find out why this lens is so popular by reading our guide, “An Underwater Photographer’s Guide to the Tokina 10–17mm Lens.”

$470 | www.backscatter.com

 

Nikkor AF-S DX 10–24mm f/3.5–4.5

Covering an equivalent focal length range of 15–36mm, this rectilinear wide-angle zoom is designed specifically for DX-format cameras, and as such can tackle a range of subjects, such as pelagics, models and wrecks. The lens offers superb image quality throughout the zoom range, and has a minimum focus less than six inches from the front of the lens. The Sigma 10–20mm f/3.5 ($449) and the Nikkor 10–20mm f/4.5-5.6 ($310) are two cheaper alternatives with similar specs but slightly lower image quality that are also popular choices.

$900 | www.backscatter.com

 

Golden sweepers photographed in their environment with the Nikkor 60mm

 

Nikkor AF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro

For various reasons, Nikon’s 60mm is the go-to lens for macro photography for many shooters. With an equivalent focal length of 90mm on a Nikon cropped-sensor body, it’s a versatile lens that can shoot up to life-size (1:1 reproduction ratio), anything from nudibranchs to larger macro subjects like fish. Compared to the 105mm, the lens is a great choice when you want to include some of the critter’s environment in your shot, and it’s also more forgiving in low-light or poor visibility conditions. With skittish subjects, however, the 60mm isn’t the best option, because of its relatively short working distance. (For more on the pros and cons of the “short” and the “long” macro lens, see “Comparison: 60mm vs. 105mm Macro Lenses for Underwater Photography.”)

$600 | www.backscatter.com

 

Nikkor AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8 Macro

With a greater working distance than the 60mm, and an equivalent focal length of 158mm, the 105mm is the better option for shy subjects such as blennies or mandarinfish, or if you don’t need to come in close to minimize backscatter. Capable of shooting up to 1:1 reproduction ratio, the 105mm autofocuses well when conditions are clear and bright, though getting focus spot on takes a little practice for shooters accustomed to the 60mm. It’s possible to add a teleconverter to the 105mm to increase the working distance even further for the most skittish subjects.

$900 | www.backscatter.com

 

A whip coral shrimp shot with the Nikkor 105mm

 

Final Thoughts

These lenses represent the most popular choices for underwater photography and video among Nikon cropped-sensor DSLR users, whether you’re a macro maniac or wide-angle wizard. Most established shooters will own the Nikkor 60mm macro, a rectilinear zoom like the Nikkor 10–24mm, and of course, the workhorse Tokina 10–17mm fisheye zoom. Macro enthusiasts will also very likely want to add the excellent 105mm to their arsenals.

In the Nikkor 10.5mm and the new Nikkor 8–15mm, Nikon DX shooters have the option of two interesting fisheye lenses where equivalents are not found in the lineups of other brands, potentially unlocking some creative perspectives on a variety of underwater subjects.

 

5. Best Lenses for Nikon Full-Frame DSLRs

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By DPG Editorial Staff
 

While there is an excellent selection of lenses optimized for Nikon’s cropped sensor “DX” format DSLRs, both from Nikon and other manufacturers, the best quality glass is reserved for Nikon’s full-frame “FX” format cameras. As you’d expect, lenses for full-frame bodies tend to be heavier and bulkier than their “DX” counterparts, which is one reason why underwater photographers prefer the latter format, but there can be little doubt that Nikon aims to maximize the optical quality of its full-frame lenses.

If you want the highest-quality “Nikkor” lenses, as Nikon calls them, you should look to its “Gold Ring” series—denoted, unsurprisingly, by the gold ring on the edge of the lens barrel—which include technologies such as Aspherical and Extra-Low Dispersion elements and Nano Crystal Coat antireflection coating. Just a few “Gold Ring” lenses are “DX” format; the vast majority are “FX” lenses. Note that unlike Canon, Nikon’s full-frame bodies are compatible with “DX” lenses; the camera automatically goes into “DX” crop mode if a “DX” lens is attached.

Here’s our pick of lenses for Nikon full-frame DSLRs that are best suited to underwater photography:
 

Make/Model
Minimum Focus
Angle of View
Weight (Air)
Price

Nikkor AF-S 8–15mm f/3.5–4.5

 6.3in/16cm 180–175° 17.2oz/485g $1100

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 EX DG Fisheye

5.9in/15cm 180° 13oz/370g $610

Nikkor AF-S 14–24mm f/2.8G ED

11in/28cm 114–84° 35.3oz/1000g $1900

Nikkor AF-S 16–35mm f/4G ED VR

11.4in/29cm 107–63° 24oz/680g $1100

Nikkor AF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro

7.3in/19cm 39° 15oz/425g $600

Nikkor AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8 Macro

12in/31cm 23° 25.4oz/720g $900


Recommended lenses for full-frame Nikon DSLRs compared

 

Nikkor AF-S 8–15mm f/3.5–4.5

While Canon users have enjoyed the novelty of a fisheye zoom offering both “circular” and “frame-filling” images since 2010, Nikon has just released its equivalent lens. Fortunately, it seems to have been worth the long wait: This “Gold Ring” 8–15mm Fisheye offers the highest quality results throughout the zoom range. The frame-filling image you get at 15mm offers an ultra-wide angle of view that’s perfect for reefscapes and the biggest pelagics. The circular images you get at 8mm won’t be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that the effect is unique, and there’s no telling what creative tangents it could lead you to explore.

$1100 | www.backscatter.com

 

Sigma 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye

Nikon’s 16mm f/2.8 Fisheye ($1000) is equivalent to the company’s 10.5mm f/2.8 Fisheye for cropped-sensor DSLRs, with a frame-filling 180-degree angle of view. But Sigma’s similar prime ultra-wide lens is slightly wider, at 15mm, focuses closer, and costs considerably less, while matching the Nikon 16mm in terms of optical quality. The Sigma 15mm’s fisheye perspective works a treat for subjects such as sharks and sea lions, but creative shots of small subjects can also be achieved using the close-focus wide-angle technique.

$610 | www.backscatter.com

 

A wall adorned with sea fans in Palau captured with the Sigma 15mm Fisheye

 

Nikkor 14–24mm f/2.8G ED

This “Gold Ring”-series rectilinear wide-angle lens is a monster in more ways than one: It tips the scales at a weighty 2.2lbs, has a very chunky front element, and commands a hefty price tag—probably the most cash a Nikon-toting underwater shooter will ever put down for a piece of glass. The reward is a very versatile lens offering breathtaking optical quality and very minimal distortion and aberration throughout the zoom range, even at the wide end. The 14–24mm can take on any wide-angle subject, but as a rectilinear lens, it’s particularly well suited to shooting such things as wrecks, piers, and kelp forests. Keep in mind that the lens does require a very large (and expensive) dome port.

$1900 | www.backscatter.com

 

Nikkor AF-S 16–35mm f/4

The go-to lens for a whole range of subjects, from sharks to wrecks, the 16–35mm—a “Gold Ring” series lens—offers good image quality throughout a very useful zoom range. Barrel distortion is noticeable at 16mm, but this can be quite easily corrected in post-processing. If you have deep pockets, a more-expensive alternative is the Nikkor 17–35mm f/2.8, which offers a wider maximum aperture but somewhat reduced corner sharpness at wide apertures compared to the 16–35mm f/4.

$1100 | www.backscatter.com

 

Gray reef sharks in French Polynesia photographed with the Nikkor 16–35mm

 

Nikkor AF-S 60mm f/2.8 Macro

Whether you shoot smaller subjects with a 60mm “short” macro or a 105mm “long” macro often comes down to personal preference. With its wider field of view, the 60mm is considered to be the more versatile of the two, and can be used to shoot portraits of medium-sized subjects as well as macro critters up to life-size (1:1 reproduction ratio), allowing you to include some of the subject’s environment in the frame. The 60mm’s short working distance means you can get very close to minimize backscatter in low-visibility situations, but this also makes the lens unsuitable for photographing shy critters.

$600 | www.backscatter.com

 

Nikkor AF-S VR 105mm f/2.8 Macro

Owing to its greater working distance, the 105mm is the lens of choice for filling the frame with more skittish critters like mantis shrimp, gobies, and blennies, which don’t allow you to get so close. The 105mm tends to create more-dramatic macro images, and produces an attractive bokeh that is favored by many macro photographers. It can also shoot up to 1:1 reproduction ratio. The “Gold Ring”-series 105mm works best in bright, clear conditions, and can sometimes struggle to gain focus if the light level or visibility isn’t ideal. (For more on the advantages and disadvantages of “short” and “long” macro lenses, see “Comparison: 60mm vs. 105mm Macro Lenses for Underwater Photography.”)

$900 | www.backscatter.com

 

A sailfin blenny shot with the Nikkor 105mm

 

Final Thoughts

Apart from the lenses being smaller and lighter weight, cropped-sensor DSLR users love the flexibility (and low cost) of the Tokina 10–17mm, a fisheye zoom that has no equivalent in full frame. Most full-frame DSLR shooters will use the Sigma 15mm prime for ultra-wide-angle fisheye duties, because of its ability to focus just as close as the Tokina. Alternatively, consider adding the new 8–15mm to your kit if you want to add a little spice to your wide-angle shooting experience in the form of “circular” images.

The “Gold Ring” rectilinear zooms recommended here—the 14–24mm, 17–35mm, and 16–35mm—are comparatively expensive, but you get what you pay for in terms of image quality.

If you’re just starting with full frame, there’s one other lens you should probably have in your camera bag: the 105mm macro. If you love shooting the really small stuff, you’ll quickly appreciate the extra working distance that this high-quality lens gives you.

 

6. Best Lenses for Sony Cropped-Sensor Mirrorless Cameras

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By DPG Editorial Staff
 

With DSLRs dominating the photography landscape for so long, it’s little surprise that mirrorless interchangeable lens camera systems are still playing catch-up. In terms of camera features and performance, the gap is almost non-existent—and in some areas mirrorless models have outclassed their DSLR counterparts—but it’s the lens selection that is often the biggest bugbear.

Lenses for the Canon EF-mount and Nikon F-mount have been produced—and refined—over many years, or even decades, and there’s a lens for just about any subject and situation, including those underwater. By contrast, there is a much narrower selection of glass for the Sony E-mount, and photographers restricted to Sony’s own lenses would quite quickly appreciate the limitations—particularly for wide-angle subjects. Fortunately, there are now adapters available, such as that from Metabones, that make it possible to use lenses with the Canon EF-mount on Sony E-mount cameras without loss of functionality or autofocus speed. The possibility of attaching popular lenses like the Tokina 10–17mm to Sony E-mount cameras has further leveled the playing field, finally giving Sony shooters a full range of lens options for underwater work.

Let’s take a look at the best lenses for underwater photographers with Sony E-mount cropped-sensor mirrorless cameras:
 

Make/Model
Minimum Focus
Angle of View
Weight (Air)
Price

Tokina AT-X DX 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5
+ Metabones Adapter

5.5in/14cm 180–100° 12.3oz/350g $550
+ $400

Canon EF 8–15mm f/4L Fisheye
+ Metabones Adapter

6.3in/16cm 180° 19.1oz/540g $1250
+ $400

Sony E 16mm f/2.8
+ Sony Fisheye Converter

9.5in/24cm 180° 2.4oz/67g
+ 5.3oz/150g
$250
+ $150

Sony E 10–18mm f/4 OSS

9.8in/25cm 109–76° 8oz/225g $850

Sony E 30mm f/3.5 Macro

3.7in/9.5cm 50° 4.9oz/138g $280

Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro

6.3in/16cm 32° 8.4oz/236g $450

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS

11in/28cm 17° 21.2oz/602g $1100


Recommended lenses for Sony cropped-sensor mirrorless cameras compared

 

Tokina AT-X DX 10–17mm f/3.5–4.5 + Metabones Adapter

The Nikon and Canon underwater photographer’s workhorse fisheye lens for years, the Tokina 10–17mm is a welcome addition to the Sony shooter’s arsenal—made possible by adapters like the Metabones. All of the benefits afforded DSLR users are on offer: speedy and accurate autofocus; an eminently usable 15–25.5mm equivalent focal length range for everything from sharks to seascapes; and a very short minimum focus distance, allowing effective close-focus wide-angle shots. While image corners can look a little soft, and there’s a slight loss of sharpness at longer focal lengths, generally image quality is very good. The adapter adds significantly to the overall price, but this lens is still a reliable choice capable of great results.

$550 | www.backscatter.com | $400 | www.metabones.com

 

Canon EF 8–15mm f/4L Fisheye + Metabones Adapter

Used with full-frame cameras, the Canon 8–15mm produces a circular image at the wide end and a frame-filling one at the other, but on cropped-sensor bodies, it fills the frame for most of the focal length range—10–15mm (15–22.5mm equiv.). Usefully, a Focal Length Limiter can be engaged to avoid the 8–9mm range that produces the undesirable partial circular fisheye effect. As well as autofocusing quickly and accurately, the lens produces a pleasing fisheye effect throughout the zoom range as well as exceptionally sharp images corner to corner. With the ability to focus on subjects virtually stuck to your dome, you can achieve creative close-focus wide-angle images with this lens.

$1250 | www.backscatter.com | $400 | www.metabones.com

 

Anemonefish and their host captured with the Canon 8–15mm Fisheye

 

Sony E 16mm f/2.8 + Sony Fisheye Converter

Sony’s own effort at a fisheye for cropped-sensor cameras is actually two lenses: a 16mm combined with a fisheye converter. This compact, lightweight and low-cost combination is surprisingly good underwater, with an impressive near-180-degree angle of view and respectable optical quality. Lack of zoom aside, there are a few caveats for a lens at this low price point—soft corners, good-but-not-great center sharpness, and chromatic aberration—but it is still capable of producing decent results, especially when you light your subjects properly with strobes. Unfortunately, the lens has a rather long minimum focus distance, so the close-focus wide-angle technique will see less use here.

$250 | www.backscatter.com | $150 | www.backscatter.com

 

Sony E 10–18mm f/4 OSS

If the radical distortion of a fisheye doesn’t do it for you, Sony has you covered with their super-wide rectilinear lens designed especially for APS-C bodies. With an equivalent focal length range of 15–27mm, it’s perfectly suited to capturing everything from large wrecks to kelp forests—without bending a single straight line out of shape—as well as capturing more natural perspectives of subjects like big animals and divers. At wider apertures, the edge softness of images is more noticeable upon close inspection, but sharpness is generally very good across the frame.

$850 | www.backscatter.com

 

Schooling fish photographed with the Sony 16mm plus Fisheye Converter

 

Sony E 30mm f/3.5 Macro

With a focal length equivalent of 45mm, this inexpensive lens has a very short working distance, making it more suitable for environmental fish portraits rather than close-ups—let alone 1:1 macro work. While the minimum focus distance is also very short, even if your subject allows you to get really close, you will likely have difficulties lighting it properly. As a “short macro” lens, however, the Sony 30mm lens does the job well if you keep the subject centered in the frame and important elements out of the corners, where sharpness tends to fall off.

$280 | www.backscatter.com

 

Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro

This 75mm equivalent lens is a versatile tool that’s capable of shooting “proper” macro shots at a comfortable working distance as well as portraits of fish or even larger animals such as sharks. With a suitable additional wet lens attachment, you can even capture super-macro images of the tiniest critters. Details are rendered with impressive sharpness across the frame, even in the corners, giving you added compositional flexibility, while the appealing bokeh gives a pleasing look to out-of-focus areas. Autofocus is adequately fast, but especially in low-light conditions, when the autofocus misses the mark, it can take frustratingly long to recover.

$450 | www.backscatter.com

 

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS

With an optical quality befitting its hefty price tag, the chunky Sony 90mm is the ultimate choice for 1:1 macro reproductions boasting eye-popping sharpness from center to corner and silky smooth bokeh. Super-macro is also possible, aided by the in-lens image stabilization, while the addition of a wet macro attachment will open up impossibly tiny underwater worlds. The 135mm equivalent focal length means a substantial working distance, which is ideal for skittish subjects like blennies and gobies, but also takes some getting used to. For photographers willing to put in the time and effort, it’s possible to get exceptional results with this lens.

$1100 | www.backscatter.com

 

A whip coral goby shot with the Sony 90mm

 

Final Thoughts

Sony E-mount lenses have come some distance in recent years, with important additions to the macro lineup in the 50mm and 90mm, which are both capable of high-quality results. As usual, whether you prefer a “short” or a “long” macro depends to a large extent on personal preference, the kind of subjects you like to shoot, and how creative you want to get.

For larger underwater subjects—reef scenes, wrecks, and big animals—Sony’s limited choices have been successfully countered by combining fisheye “classics” like the Tokina 10–17mm and Canon 8–15mm with suitable lens adapters, which have also seen continual improvement over several years, making such lenses perform very much as they do natively. However, the addition of an adapter does add quite significantly to the cost, especially when you factor in the already expensive dome port required. In general, comparing the three fisheyes here, you get what you pay for, and if you want the ultimate in optical quality, there’s a substantial outlay involved.

 

7. Best Lenses for Sony Full-Frame Mirrorless Cameras

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By DPG Editorial Staff with James Ferrara
 

While the lens selection for photographers shooting Sony interchangeable-lens cameras is more limited compared to that from the big DSLR makers, the full-frame underwater shooter is well catered to with the professional-grade optics offered by Sony. The Japanese manufacturer is also more than two decades into its partnership with German glass gurus Zeiss, and those collaborative efforts have yielded both noteworthy Zeiss and Sony-Zeiss lens creations. Sony’s own premium lenses go under the G series (barrel logo: “G” on black background) and top-of-the-line G Master series (barrel logo: “G” on orange), which are designed to complement the high-resolution sensors found in the company’s Alpha camera line.

One lens not offered by Sony—or Zeiss for that matter—is a high-quality full-frame fisheye. However, with EF-mount to E-mount adapters like that from Metabones, it’s possible to use Canon’s fisheye zoom on a Sony body retaining full functionality and autofocus speed and accuracy.

Let’s take a look at the best lenses for underwater photographers with Sony E-mount full-frame mirrorless cameras:
 

Make/Model Minimum Focus Angle of View Weight (Air) Price
Canon EF 8–15mm f/4L Fisheye
+ Metabones Adapter
6.3in/16cm 180° 19.1oz/540g $1250
+ $400
Sony FE 12–24mm f/4 G 11in/28cm 122°–84° 20oz/565g $1700
Zeiss Batis f/2.8/18mm 9.8in/25cm 99° 11.6oz/330g $1400
Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar
FE 16–35mm f/4 ZA OSS
11in/28cm 107°–63° 18.3oz/518g $1350
Sony Zeiss Distagon
FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA
11.8in/30cm 63° 22.3oz/630g $1600
Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro 6.3in/16cm 47° 8.4oz/236g $450
Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G OSS 11in/28cm 27° 21.2oz/602g $1100


Recommended lenses for Sony full-frame mirrorless cameras compared

 

Canon EF 8–15mm f/4L Fisheye + Metabones Adapter

For Sony full-frame users, the only fisheye option is the Canon 8–15mm in combination with an appropriate adapter like the Metabones. Fortunately, this is an optically first-rate lens, producing vibrant images that are sharp all the way to the corners and snapping to focus almost instantaneously. Close-focus wide-angle shots can be achieved with ease due to the near-zero minimum focus distance. And then there’s the bonus: As well as frame-filling fisheye at the 15mm end, you’ve got circular fisheye at the 8mm end, adding yet another dimension of creativity to your photography.

$1250 | www.backscatter.com | $400 | www.metabones.com

 

Sony FE 12–24mm f/4 G

If you’re not smitten by the distortion of the Canon fisheye, this ultra-wide rectilinear zoom should fully satisfy your wide-angle cravings. Sony has managed to engineer a relatively lightweight and compact lens with a reasonable price tag—it’s half the weight and a little more than half the price of Canon’s equivalent ultra-wide. Expect mind-blowing perspectives and excellent sharpness, perfect for wrecks, large reef scenes, and the biggest animals—in a lens not much bigger and heavier than the 16–35mm f/4. The only real consideration is the expense of the dome port you’ll need with this lens.

$1700 | www.backscatter.com

 

A tiger shark captured with the Zeiss Batis 18mm

 

Zeiss Batis 2.8/18

The Zeiss Batis 18mm is the perfect wide-angle lens for photographing fast-moving sea life. Fleeting wildlife interactions means little time to prepare image settings, and the rapid autofocus of the Batis 18mm allows you to keep up with the action. This lens consistently produces beautifully crisp images, even with the challenges of unpredictable marine subjects, and the shallow depth of field when used at maximum aperture opens up possibilities for different styles of shots. Being a prime, the Batis 18mm is also comparatively compact and lightweight, a bonus for photographers wanting to streamline their underwater setups. James Ferrara

$1400 | www.zeiss.com

 

Sony Zeiss Vario-Tessar FE 16–35mm f/4

The Sony 16–35mm is the go-to lens for many a wide-angle shooter. With an eminently usable focal length range, it’s great for medium-sized subjects like turtles, but wide enough for reefscapes and big animals. Being a rectilinear lens, it doesn’t suffer the extreme distortion of a fisheye lens, so it’s also ideal for wrecks and divers. Corner sharpness is superb across the focal length and aperture ranges. If you’ve got deep pockets, Sony also offers a G Master version, the FE 16–35mm f/2.8 GM ($2,200), which promises even more impressive sharpness as well as beautiful bokeh.

$1350 | www.backscatter.com

 

A sea turtle photographed with the Sony Zeiss Distagon 35mm

 

Sony Zeiss Distagon FE 35mm f/1.4

An ideal choice for larger subjects that are further away, such as sharks and turtles, the Sony Zeiss Distagon 35mm works best in clear water with reduced chances of backscatter. The minimum focal distance of around a foot still allows you to get up-close detail shots of your subject, while autofocus is fast, though not quite as quick as the Zeiss Batis 18mm. As you’d expect with a prime lens, image quality and sharpness are exceptional. Shooting at apertures as low as f/1.4 gives you the opportunity to make the most of the attractive bokeh of this lens. James Ferrara

$1600 | www.sony.com

 

Sony FE 50mm f/2.8 Macro

Optically excellent, this versatile “short” macro lens offers underwater photographers great opportunitites to shoot close-up environmental portraits of small subjects, while bigger creatures like turtles and even sharks are also fair game. In practice, while true 1:1 macro is possible for almost-stationary subjects like nudibranchs, the working distance is too short for skittish critters like gobies and blennies, and achieving even lighting becomes difficult. Although autofocus is reasonably fast, the lens is prone to hunting, making working in low-light conditions frustratingly difficult.

$450 | www.backscatter.com

 

Sony FE 90mm f/2.8 Macro G

Images produced with the Sony 90mm are impeccably sharp from corner to corner, with a very pleasing bokeh and virtually imperceptible distortion. The adequate working distance makes it possible to capture spectacular 1:1 close-ups, even with more skittish subjects. The lens can also be used with a wet diopter for creative super-macro images. Getting the most out of the lens requires practice and patience, but the best performance can only be achieved under very forgiving lighting conditions. In lower-light, lower-contrast situations, the lens often fails to lock focus.

$1100 | www.backscatter.com

 

Nudibranch shot with the Sony 90mm

 

Final Thoughts

Its leading position in full-frame mirrorless camera technology may be under threat from the likes of Nikon and Canon, but Sony is, ironically, well ahead in terms of native lenses. And even when compared side by side with the lenses on offer for Canon’s and Nikon’s full-frame DSLRs, the Sony, Zeiss and Sony-Zeiss lenses are impressive.

Wide-angle shooters who want a fisheye perspective will still need to go with the Canon 8–15mm and an appropriate adapter. If not, either the 12–24mm or 16–35mm are excellent choices, though few would justify owning both. If you want maximum optical quality and superior bokeh, you can also consider prime wide-angle lenses—the Zeiss 18mm and Sony Zeiss 35mm. You’ll be forgoing the convenience of zoom in favor of a faster maximum aperture. Macro shooters may be generally dissatisfied with the performance of their Sony full-frame camera with either of the macro lenses here, as both are prone to autofocus issues in the demanding conditions underwater, but due to the working distance, the optically outstanding 90mm remains the obvious choice for “true” macro.

 

8. Best Lenses for Micro Four Thirds Mirrorless Cameras

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By DPG Editorial Staff
 

Since the standard was introduced by Panasonic and Olympus in 2008, the Micro Four Thirds (MFT) system has successfully set itself apart from its full-frame and APS-C cousins, and as cameras continue to be challenged by cell phones for photography dominance, this smaller-sensor format—with its correspondingly less bulky lens selection—may well endure longer. For many traveling image-makers—underwater shooters especially, enthusiasts and pros alike—the format offers the ideal compromise between sensor size (and thus image quality) and system portability.

The MFT standard, designed for mirrorless cameras, has largely sidelined the Four Thirds standard, which was created by Olympus and Kodak for DSLRs a couple of years earlier, but the specifications are the same. The 4/3-type sensor is 18mm x 13.5mm, giving a crop factor of 2 relative to full frame (36 x 24mm). However, there’s also an inherent difference in how an image taken with an MFT camera looks because of the aspect ratio—4:3 compared to the more elongated 3:2 aspect of the 35mm system and its derivatives.

The relative compactness of MFT is most obvious when it comes to selecting lenses: They’re smaller and lighter than their APS-C and full-frame counterparts. At the same time, optical quality is at a similarly high standard to that of lenses for other formats, and again similarly, you’ll find “premium” lenses that cost more but offer high-tech coatings, top build quality, and large maximum apertures. Let’s take a look at the best lenses for underwater photographers with Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras:
 

Make/Model Minimum Focus Angle of View Weight (Air) Price
Olympus M.Zuiko 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye Pro 4.7in/12cm 180° 11.1oz/315g $900
Olympus M.Zuiko 7–14mm f/2.8 Pro 7.9in/20cm 114°–75° 18.8oz/534g $1200
Panasonic G X Vario 12–35mm f/2.8 II 9.8in/25cm 84°–34° 10.8oz/305g $1000
Panasonic G X Vario PZ 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 7.9in/20cm 75°–29° 3.4oz/95g $400
Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8 5.9in/15cm 27° 7.9oz/225g $800
Olympus M.Zuiko 60mm f/2.8 Macro 7.5in/19cm 20° 6.5oz/185g $400


Recommended lenses for Micro Four Thirds mirrorless cameras compared

 

Olympus M.Zuiko ED 8mm f/1.8 Fisheye Pro

One of two “Pro”-designated Olympus lenses on this list, the 8mm f/1.8 fisheye is a premium lens with a 16mm equivalent focal length and a 180-degree angle of view. With an impressive maximum aperture of f/1.8, it’s also much brighter than its Nikon and Canon rivals. As such, this lens, with its dramatically distorted perspective, is an awesome tool for getting in close to marine megafauna like sharks and whales, and for producing reality-bending close-focus wide-angle shots. If you prefer to have “Panasonic” on the box when you purchase your lenses, you can confidently opt for the slightly cheaper Panasonic 8mm f/3.5 fisheye ($800), which is half the weight and focuses even closer (3.9"/10cm).

$900 | www.backscatter.com

 

Olympus M.Zuiko ED 7–14mm f/2.8 Pro

With a “Pro” label and a hefty price to match, the Olympus 7–14mm f/2.8 is great to have for situations where the exaggerated perspective of a fisheye might not be desirable—subjects like pelagics, wrecks, and models. The rectilinear lens, with its 14–28mm equivalent focal length, also offers the added versatility of a zoom, making framing of speedy subjects such as sea lions, dolphins and sharks easier. If you can live without the weather sealing and fancy coatings, the slower but significantly less expensive Panasonic 7–14mm f/4 ($800) does a similar job, even if it isn’t quite as sharp in the corners. Cheaper still, at $600, the Olympus 9–18mm f/4–5.6 doesn’t go as wide (18–36mm equivalent) but is still a solid choice.

$1200 | www.backscatter.com

 

Schooling fusileers beneath an arch, Raja Ampat, Indonesia: Reefscapes are a breeze with the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye, not only because it’s so wide but also because the edge clarity is fantastic even with larger apertures

 

Whale shark feeding, Yucatán, Mexico: At 7mm, the Olympus 7–14mm f/2.8 is the widest on the market, making it an ideal lens for large pelagics in blue water, where the distortion from the lens–port combination is much less noticeable

 

Coral seascape, Bali, Indonesia: As an alternative to the Olympus 7–14mm f/2.8 that won’t break the bank, the Olympus 9–18mm f/4–5.6 offers a nice balance of wide-angle possibilities as well as working well for fish portraits

 

Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 12–35mm f/2.8 II

Offering a classic equivalent focal length range of 24–70mm, the Panasonic 12–35mm f/2.8 is metal-barreled and weather-sealed, and offers superb image quality. An ideal travel lens for topside use, it’s also nice to have when capturing more timid marine life where the extra reach comes in handy, and it performs well for capturing video as well. Like the 14–42mm, it can be paired with wet lenses to open up possibilities for a broad range of subjects. The Olympus equivalent, the Olympus 12–40mm f/2.8, which is a little less pricey at $850, is also a versatile topside/underwater dual-use lens.

$1000 | www.backscatter.com

 

Panasonic Lumix G X Vario 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 Power Zoom

Employing a retracting “pancake” design, the Panasonic 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 PZ is ridiculously tiny and lightweight, but don’t let the compact dimensions fool you: Optically, this is great performer that provides a useful equivalent focal length range of 28–84mm that works well for everything from fish portraits to pelagics. But much as you would with a fixed-lens compact, this lens can be combined with high-quality wet optics for shooting macro and wide-angle subjects. The 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 PZ really shines when partnered with the Nauticam WWL-1 Wet Wide Lens and a diopter like the Nauticam CMC-1 Compact Macro Converter. A similar midrange (but non-pancake) kit lens that also works well with wet attachments is the Olympus 14–42mm f/3.5-5.6 II ($225).

$400 | www.backscatter.com

 

Green turtle captured off Sabang Beach, Puerto Galera, Philippines: The Panasonic 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 is a versatile lens that is great for environmental portraits

 

Giant frogfish beneath a jetty, Alor, Indonesia: With a 130-degree maximum field of view, the combination of the Panasonic 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 and Nauticam WWL-1 makes for exceptionally wide shots with very little lens distortion, as can be seen from the pillars

 

Panasonic Leica DG Macro-Elmarit 45mm f/2.8

Designed in collaboration with German heavyweights Leica, the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 macro lens offers 1:1 magnification for true macro and confident (though a little sluggish) autofocus. While you’ll need to pay quite serious money for this lens, your investment will be rewarded with very crisp images and pleasing bokeh. With an equivalent focal length of 90mm, you get a relatively short working distance that suits various kinds of small critters, especially when you’d like to include some of the subject’s environment in your composition.

$800 | www.backscatter.com

 

Olympus M.Zuiko ED 60mm f/2.8 Macro

For shy or skittish macro subjects, the shorter working distance of the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 can be a little restrictive. That’s when it’s great to have the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 macro in your arsenal as well—fortunately, you’ll only have to spend half as much again to do that. This 120mm-equivalent long macro offers 1:1 reproduction ratio and creamy bokeh, while the greater working distance gives you room to add an additional wet lens for in-your-face supermacro.

$400 | www.backscatter.com

 

Moray eel, Alor, Indonesia: With a focal length equivalent of 90mm in full frame, the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 macro lens is suitable for subjects as small as pygmy seahorses while also being ideal for larger subjects like this moray

 

Xeno crab, Anilao, Philippines: With the Olympus 60mm f/2.8 Macro, being able to back up a little from the subject and set a large aperture allows for a nice shallow depth of field that lets the subject stand out

 

Final Thoughts

Compact shooters thinking of moving up to an interchangeable-lens camera system should certainly consider the tangible benefits of Micro Four Thirds: (a) You can travel with a ton of kit in much less space (literally half the amount you would need to pack a full-frame rig), and (b) you are at liberty to pick and choose among the excellent lens lines of both Olympus and Panasonic (and any other company that cares to join the MFT party). Port systems tend to be generally more compatible, too.

If you love the flexibility of wet lenses, the Panasonic 14–42mm f/3.5–5.6 PZ—which weighs about the same as a pack of four AA batteries—can be paired with a couple of decent wet attachments to create an incredibly compact, lightweight and versatile rig. If you prefer separate lenses for different purposes, then wide-angle photographers and videographers have two superb choices—the Olympus 8mm f/1.8 fisheye and the rectilinear Olympus 7–14mm f/2.8—although these are the two priciest lenses on our list. Those beginning to shoot the small stuff should probably go for the cheaper Olympus 60mm f/2.8 “long macro” first, and then consider investing in the Panasonic 45mm f/2.8 “short macro” later.

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