Best prime lens of 2021
Prime lenses aren’t what they used to be – while today’s ‘nifty fifties’ are bigger, and typically more costly than their SLR-era forebears, they’re also typically far more advanced. Meanwhile, specialized wide and tele primes and macro lenses just keep getting better and better.
Our editorial team has had its say already, in our annual DPReview Awards, but which of this year’s new prime lenses was your favorite? This your chance to let us know. And if you think we missed something, please leave a comment.
Voting in three categories (cameras, prime and zoom lenses) runs through December 19th, and once the vote has closed we’ll run a fourth and final poll drawn from the winners of the first three to determine your choice for overall product of the year. Look out for that one early in the new year.
Canon released four new prime lenses this year, including native mirrorless mount versions of existing EF 400mm and 600mm tele primes. Of more interest (and actually within financial reach) to enthusiast photographers, however, are the RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM and RF 16mm F2.8 STM – very different lenses, but potentially equally attractive to owners of one of Canon’s R-mount range of mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras.
The 100mm macro is a powerful, stabilized lens for closeup shooting and portraiture, while the 16mm F2.8 is a compact, lightweight ultra-wide for landscapes and everyday photography. They’re pretty hard to find in stores, but let us know if any of Canon’s latest primes take your vote for best lens of 2021.
- Canon RF 100mm F2.8L Macro IS USM
- Canon RF 16mm F2.8 STM
- Canon RF 400mm F2.8L IS USM
- Canon RF 600mm F4L IS USM
Fujifilm has kept up a breakneck pace of new lens releases, and 2021 was no exception, with a grand total of five new primes entering the market, four for the company’s APS-C X line, and one for medium format. The GF 80mm F1.7 is a fast, versatile 63mm equivalent lens, which we love for portraits and low-light work, while three new F1.4 options for X-mount refresh some of Fujifilm’s earliest mirrorless lenses, while adding an attractive 18mm (27mm equiv) option. Meanwhile, the XF 27mm F2.8 is a (relatively) cheap but very cheerful everyday lens, that now gains weather sealing.
Do any of these optics earn a place in your personal list of the best prime lenses of the year? Cast your vote and let us know.
- Fujifilm GF 80mm F1.7 R WR
- Fujifilm XF 18mm F1.4 R LM WR
- Fujifilm XF 23mm F1.4 R LM WR
- Fujifilm XF 27mm F2.8 R WR
- Fujifilm XF 33mm F1.4 R LM WR
Leica released two new prime lenses in 2021, both full-frame, but technologically totally different. The APO-Summicron-M 35mm F2 is a superbly sharp medium wideangle lens for the company’s rangefinder M-mount, which will work just as well on an M4 from the 1960s as it will on the latest M10 models (assuming you don’t mind guesstimating focus in its closest focus range). The APO-Summicron-SL 28mm F2, on the other hand, is designed to autofocus on the latest L-mount mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras. Both are excellent lenses, and, as you might expect, neither comes cheap.
Have you used and loved either of them? Let us know.
Nikon had a busy year when it comes to lenses, releasing four primes, all for its native mirrorless Z mount. At the top of the line is the impressive Z MC 105mm F2.8 S, an effectively stabilized macro lens which is equally capable of creating stunning, aberration-free portraits. The MC 50mm F2.8 also offers true closeup shooting, at a shorter but arguably more ‘general purpose’ focal length.
Falling squarely in the ‘go everywhere, do anything’ category are the Z 28mm F2.8 and Z 40mm F2 – two compact and budget-friendly primes which we’ve been enjoying on both the full-frame Z6/7 II and the APS-C Z50 and Z fc. What do you make of Nikon’s latest selection of prime lenses? Let us know by casting your vote.
- Nikon Nikkor Z 28mm F2.8 / SE
- Nikon Nikkor Z 40mm F2
- Nikon Nikkor Z MC 105mm F2.8 VR S
- Nikon Nikkor Z MC 50mm F2.8
We added one NiSi lens to our database this year – the 15mm F4 ‘Sunstar’, the first lens the company has released. The 15mm F4 is an all-manual ultra-wide prime lens for Canon RF, Fujifilm X, Nikon Z and Sony E mount cameras. The ‘Sunstar’ name comes from the lens’s characteristic 10-point sunstars, but its great build quality and good cross-frame sharpness make the 15mm F4 useful as an everyday ultrawide, wherever the sun is in the sky.
Is it one of your favorite lenses of the year? Let us know by casting your vote.
OM Digital Solutions
2021 saw OM Digital Solutions release the first lens under its new brand name, ‘OM System’. The OM System 20mm F1.4 Pro is a fast, 40mm equivalent prime lens for Micro Four Thirds, designed for high-resolution multi-shot imaging and general use. It also comes with the same ‘feathered bokeh’ look as some previous fast-aperture Olympus-branded ‘PRO’ lenses when shot wide open.
Is the OM System 20mm F1.4 Pro one of your favorite primes of 2021?
Panasonic continues to expand its L-mount lens lineup, adding three more prime lenses to its range, to accompany last year’s 85mm F1.8. The main characteristics of all of these lenses are relatively small size and weight, affordability, and solid image quality including good sharpness across the aperture range. But what’s really clever about them is they all share basically the same ergonomics – and have similar centers of gravity – which allows them to be used interchangeably by filmmakers in built-up rigs and on gimbals, without affecting the geometry or balance of the setup.
What do you make of them? Let us know.
Ricoh / Pentax
Ricoh released four Pentax-branded prime lenses in 2021, three of which are revamped versions of popular older designs, with welcome tweaks, including improved coatings. The 21mm F2.4ED Limited, meanwhile, is a totally new design, released very recently. Are you a Pentax fan? Or have any of these lenses tempted you to try out the system? Cast your vote and let us know.
- HD Pentax-FA 31mm F1.8 Limited
- HD Pentax-FA 43mm F1.9 Limited
- HD Pentax-FA 77mm F1.8 Limited
- HD Pentax-D FA 21mm F2.4ED Limited DC WR
Samyang / Rokinon
The Samyang / Rokinon (depending on where you look) AF 24mm F1.8 FE is another high-quality, low-cost option for Sony E-mount shooters. Offering a very respectable performance for the price, we love lenses like this, but how do you feel? Let us know by casting your vote.
Sigma released three lenses this year, all designed from scratch for mirrorless. These included two lovely ‘Contemporary’ branded primes, covering 24mm and 90mm respectively. Slower but smaller than Sigma’s ‘Art’ series, the 24mm F2 and 90mm F2.8 make great everyday companions for L-mount shooters and users of the Sony E mount, and maintain Sigma’s reputation for mechanical as well as optical excellence.
The 35mm F1.4 ‘Art’ is the greatly improved successor to one of our favorite of Sigma’s original Global Vision primes, and like the 24mm and 90mm it’s designed for full-frame shooting on L and E-mount. Did any of these lenses take your fancy this year?
Sony had an even busier year when it came to lenses than it did for cameras, with no fewer than six prime lenses being released in 2021, all of which cover the full-frame imaging circle of its a1, a7 and a9-series mirrorless interchangeable lenses.
The FE 35mm F1.4 GM and FE 50mm F1.2 GM update older versions of these classic focal lengths, providing improved optical quality and ergonomics. Meanwhile the FE 14mm F1.8 GM is a stunningly sharp lens, ideal for astrophotography. Lower down the range (and the price scale) the FE 24mm F2.8, FE 40mm F2.5 and FE 50mm F2.5 offer solid performance, great build quality and are genuinely compact.
Did any of these lenses impress you enough to make it your favorite prime of 2021?
- Sony FE 14mm F1.8 GM
- Sony FE 24mm F2.8 G
- Sony FE 35mm F1.4 GM
- Sony FE 40mm F2.5 G
- Sony FE 50mm F1.2 GM
- Sony FE 50mm F2.5 G
Tokina spent 2021 on a trio of really lovely small prime lenses for APS-C Sony E-mount and Fujifilm X-mount shooters. In a world where third-party support for some mirrorless mounts (including Fujifilm X) is still pretty thin, we love to see brands like Tokina step up and provide options to enthusiast photographers building out a system.
Did any of Tokina’s F1.4 primes earn a place in your camera bag this year? Cast your vote and let us know.
Venus Optics is one of the most imaginative lens makers out there, with a tendency towards filling gaps in the market that, honestly, we didn’t know existed. The Argus 33mm F0.95 CF APO is an ultra-fast manual focus lens for APS-C mirrorless bodies, available for Sony E, Fujifilm X, Nikon Z and (rather oddly, for an APS-C lens) Canon RF mount cameras, while the Argus 35mm F0.95 FF is available for Sony E, Nikon Z and Canon RF mounts and is designed for full-frame.
Both are fully mechanical, fully manual lenses, with all the fun and challenges that come with such optics. Did either of them rock your world this year?
A new entrant in this years’ polls, Viltrox released two prime lenses in 2021, and in doing so provided a rare third-party alternative for native Canon and Nikon mirrorless shooters respectively. The 35mm F1.8 is an affordable alternative to the Nikon Z 35mm F1.8 S, while the 85mm F1.8 AF provides a portrait option for Canon RF photographers. Both lenses are priced at a very attractive MSRP of $400.
Have you been tempted? Or maybe you own one and love it? Let us know.
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