Glass with class: Intriguing lens options shown at Photokina

Many DSLR shooters prefer the comfort of purchasing lenses manufactured by the same companies that produced their camera bodies. And there's nothing wrong with going "Canon on Canon." But as I wandered the halls of Photokina in Cologne, Germany last week, it became apparent that loosening those family ties has become increasingly tempting. So if domestic harmony is important to you, here are three sirens to be wary of.

Bargain for Micro Four Thirds

Samyang is shaking things up in the compact system camera (CSC) space with its high quality, yet affordable fisheye lenses. The company's 7.5mm f/3.5 UMC Fish-eye for Micro Four Thirds is an optical gem at department store prices. For $299, you can mount 180 degrees of pure delight on your Olympus or Panasonic camera. It's manual focus only, but that really isn't an issue with a fisheye lens anyway, because everything seems in focus all the time.

Its maximum aperture of f/3.5 is bright enough to shoot indoors without a tripod. That's part of the thrill with this glass anyway: experimenting with different angles to see what effects they produce. Take a look at these two examples.

Scene capture with Panasonic 12mm

The first photograph shows a typical trade show scene with a dependable wide angle lens—the Panasonic 12-35mm at 12mm.

Scene captured with Samyang 7.5mm fisheye.

The second image is from exactly the same position, but this time with the Samyang 7.5mm fisheye. Even this mundane scene becomes interesting thanks to the exaggerated perspective created by the Samyang.

I'm going to be ordering one of these for my Olympus OM-D as soon as I get home.

Zeiss is nice

German lens maker Carl Zeiss is courting both Nikon and Canon shooters with its alluring fast prime lenses. The one that really caught my eye was the 35mm F/1.4 Distagon T mounted on a Canon 5D. Not only is this medium wide angle very fast at f/1.4, it is a marvel of mechanical engineering. Designed for those who prefer manual focus and exceptional image quality, you may find yourself picking up this lens even when you're not planning to take pictures. It feels that good.

Zeiss 35mm F-1.4 Distagon T Lens for Canon EF.

The large diameter focusing ring allows for very precise adjustment. When shooting wide open, your subject will be wonderfully detailed against a softened background. I actually enjoyed manually focusing because the process was so tactile and satisfying.

Unlike the Samyang, however, the Carl Zeiss 35mm has a price tag worthy of its construction. Current street price is around $1,850. It's available for both Canon and Nikon mounts.

Schneider-Kreuznach for your compact system camera

Back in 2011, Schneider-Kreuznach announced that it was going to produce top quality lenses for micro four thirds. And it is a company of its word. Its trio of prime lenses earned them a Photokina Star award.

Currently, the company is putting the finishing touches on the Super-Angulon 14 mm/2.0 wide-angle, Xenon 30 mm/1.4 standard, and a Makro-Symmar 60 mm/2.4 wide-aperture macro. I'm particularly interested in the f/1.4 30mm. That would be one fast lens on my CSC.

Unlike the optics mentioned earlier, the Schneiders will have autofocus. And in fact, it's the engineering for the autofocus that is occupying their attention at the moment.

Schneider-Kreuznach 30mm f-1.4

Serious CSC photographers working with the Panasonic GH3 or Olympus OM-D should keep an eye peeled for the release of the 14mm in the third quarter of 2013. The other two lenses should follow in the 4th quarter.

As with the Zeiss lens, this trio from Schneider will feature top tier mechanics and optics. Manual focusing will be a satisfying experience. Plus, autofocus will be available when needed. No prices have been announced yet, but educated guesses are hovering around $1,200 each.

Camera manufacturers will have to stay on their game to compete with these lens makers for premium glass sales. All of these lenses will produce beautiful still photos, and are very well-designed for movie making.

It's true that the Zeiss and Schneider primes are expensive. But they should also hold their value.

I think the real message is, do some research before buying your next lens. Simply going with the glass made by the camera body manufacturer might feel safe. But there are many tempting optics out there, as demonstrated so clearly at this year's Photokina.

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