A small but growing collection of L mount lenses that work across all three brands of available cameras and are also affordable.

When I first dove into the L mount system I did so because I thought the Panasonic S1, S1R and S1H were compelling tools for professional image makers. They obviously weren't designed for old duffers who complain at every turn about the size and weight of the cameras. The cameras all met my expectations admirably. The only thing that gave me pause was the paucity of the kinds of lenses we used all the time in the film days. Small, sharp and economical. I can tolerate a heavy camera if I'm getting something in return but most of the lenses that were available for the L mount in 2019 were very fast ones and because they were mostly f1.4 or f1.2 aperture lenses, and designed to be top of class, they were enormous, more expensive and, because of all the heavy glass inside, they were slow to autofocus.

What I wanted was lenses like the ones from the past. I wanted to be able to buy a selection of lenses with much less glamorous f-stops and much less impressive and complex optical formulas. I wanted lenses like the Contax 28mm f2.8 Y/C lens which traded lens speed for great optical performance and smaller size. Not tiny-sized but right-sized. Same with the Contax (or Nikon or Pentax) 50mm "normal" lenses. Even the well regarded Contax/Zeiss 50mm f1.4 from the film days was about a third the volume of something like the Sigma 50mm f1.4 Art lens or the Panasonic S-Pro 50mm f1.4. And most 50mm lenses from back in the day were about 1/4th the price of the new hyper-lenses. Sure, I get that they didn't autofocus but I can do that on my own and in fact often prefer it. 

It was thrilling when Sigma announced a wildly different kind of lens for the L mount systems. It was part of their "Contemporary" series. It was the 45mm f2.8. I bought one, shot it for a couple of weeks and then bought a second one (which came as part of a bundle with the then newly released Sigma fp camera). Mindless critics mostly trashed the lens for one reason; when focused close (within five or so feet) and used at its maximum aperture it was less contrasty, less snappy than other lenses from various makers. Subtlety is lost on the masses of YouTubers. The lens performs magnificently at f4.0 but more importantly it has its own way of rendering images that is lovely. Calm and sharp simultaneously. Stopped down to f5.6 and beyond it can actually become quite clinical. But not in a harsh and frantic way. 

That lens set a style for a whole series of lenses that's been introduced over the last two years. It's well crafted out of metal, has great feeling controls and each of the lenses in the series has a wonderful and well damped aperture ring. But the real beauty is that this lens and the ones that followed are easy to use by dint of being right sized for both my cameras and my hands. While delivering good and even great performance. 

After using the 45mm f2.8s for nearly a year I ordered the 65mm f2.0 lens the minute it was announced. It's a focal length I really like and early testers were uniformly impressed by the lens's optical performance. Sharp and contrasty even when used wide open. A wonderful, short portrait lens!

I also ordered and have been shooting  most of my recent portrait assignments in the studio with the 90mm f2.8 model. It's almost as small as the 45mm and even wide open is probably sharper that every competitor's 90mm lens. 

The fourth Sigma Contemporary I bought was a used one that a friend bought on a whim and never used. He coveted a particular lens I had and we traded. It was the ultra-diminutive 24mm f2.8. I immediately stuck the lens on my Leica CL and used it in the crop mode for a while as a 35mm equivalent street shooting lens. It autofocuses quickly and gave great results. It's just as good on a full frame camera like the Leica SL2. 

All four of these lenses together weigh less than my Leica 24-90mm zoom lens. That makes them comfortable to carry and easy to use on daylong, multi-location shoots. 

Each of the lenses costs somewhere between $549 and $700. There is a 35mm f2.0 version which I don't yet own and also a fast 24mm f2.0 in which I have no real interest. There is one missing focal length which I hope they fill in soon and that would be the classical 135mm f2.8 short telephoto. 

When I packed for a fun couple of days of personal shooting recently I grabbed the Leica SL2 and all four of the Sigma Contemporary L lenses I own and put them into one Domke F2 canvas camera bag. Heaven. 

Another interesting Contemporary lens which I am using in a very counter-intuitive way is the 18-50mm f2.8 that is designed only to cover an APS-C format. I'm using that lens on my SL2 as well. The camera automatically switches to the APS-C mode for me and gives me a file that's still around 24 megapixels. Its small size makes the entire package very manageable and you get great image performance in that tiny package. All for around $600. I know some Leica owner somewhere is reading this and trying to figure out how to censure my heresy but it's wise to understand that just owning a Leica camera body isn't a pact to the death to only equip your SL2 with Leica branded lenses and accessories. Though I'm sure Leica appreciates it when you do....

Can't wait till some third party comes out with cheap batteries for the SL2. I'll buy them....

But for now it's all about the joy of the lenses. 

Final packing for my trip is tomorrow. Monday I'll be heading west into a big storm and then, further West, into the land of wildfires. I hope for the best. 

The two images just above are of the sub-structure of that big curved building I've been showing you for the last several months. These images are from three + years ago and were made with my 45mm lens.



Biro said...

I'm right there with you on the smaller Sigmas, Kirk. I have the 24mm f/3.5, 35mm f/2.0, 45mm f/2.8 and 90mm f/2.8. All work wonderfully on my Panasonic S5. And the all-metal build and aperture rings make them a genuine pleasure to use. All have gaskets around the mount and, since these are all primes, that may be all the weather resistance they need. These Sigmas, along with the 20mm and 65mm f/2.0, are also available in Sony FE mount.

Russell Parkinson said...

The 90mm f2.8 would be a 135mm equivalent on your CL. I’m looking at it for that reason and trying to convince myself I don’t need it. I’ll lose that argument and buy it of course.

Alex Carnes said...

Yes, completely agree with you about the sigma contemporary lenses; the 45/2.8 was welded to my S1R before I bought the Lumix 50/1.8, which I think I prefer - optically, anyway.

What I'm waiting for is an updated 50/1.4 Art. Sigma must, surely, be working on a new version for mirrorless? In fact, I'm astonished that such a lens hasn't yet been released!

Chuck Albertson said...

I have a trip to northern Arizona coming up in a couple of weeks, so I've been checking both the NWS forecasts for the area, and the national bushfire map: https://maps.nwcg.gov/sa/. In a month or two, I'll likely be checking the latter for fires in my neck of the woods.

TMJ said...

"I also ordered and have been shooting most of my recent portrait assignments in the studio with the 90mm f2.8 model. It's almost as small as the 45mm and even wide open is probably sharper that every competitor's 90mm lens".

My Leica 90mm Apo/Asph M lens is the equal sharpest lens I own, the other being the Canon 40mm f2.8 'pancake'lens.

tnargs said...

I agree with your haptic sentiments here, Kirk, but regarding the size of the big modern 1.4 lenses, it only takes a glance at the test bench results for say Leica’s 50mm 1.4 L lens and their 50mm 1.4 M lens to see the extra performance from the extra size. It has nothing to do with AF.