Tamron and Sigma just announced a few awesome lenses this week, and it got me thinking. Should we still consider purchasing lenses from Canon and Nikon when current third-party offerings match and even sometimes surpass the quality of first-party lenses, and for a fraction of the cost?
Third-party lenses are lenses that are not made by the manufacturer of the camera.
Let's go back in time
When I started photography almost a decade ago, the perception of third-party lenses (with the exception of Carl Zeiss) was much different then it is now. They were always second place, and were only to be considered if you didn't have the money to cough up for the more expensive lenses made by the manufacturers of the camera that you owned.
But as time went on we started to see a few hidden gems pop up. The first third-party lenses that I can remember being quite popular was the Tokina 12-24mm f/4 and Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8, both for crop sensor cameras. They were built like a tank, and sharp all around.
Back to today
Those hidden gems are no longer hidden, and we've found a lot more of them. Sigma, Tamron, Tokina and other third party lens manufacturers are now producing high quality lenses that often times beat out similar lenses from the big boys in the camera industry. Sigma's Art Series prime lenses, for example, beat out all of their Canon and Nikon counterparts AND cost less.
I've seen people make the full switch to using third-party lenses, and I completely understand their reasons for doing so. In fact, it may seem unwise to use such expensive lenses when there are cheaper, better alternatives out there.
So why would anyone still bother with first-party lenses? Well, there are still a few lenses out there that have no third-party alternatives.
One of the lenses that I recently bought is the Canon 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM. This lens has a lot going for it. It's an ultra-wide angles with IS, making is great for video, and it has STM, making AF in video quick and silent.
There also aren't really any better alternatives to the 50mm f/1.8 plastic-fantastic and the nifty-fifty from first-party manufacturers. Those will always be great options as second lenses fro beginner shooters out there.
These are a few examples of "gems" that you'd still want to pick up from the manufacturer of your camera, but are also dying out because third-parties are slowly building up their lens lineups.
For the more experienced
If you're an intermediate or advanced photographer looking to upgrade to more professional grade lenses, I think going with third-party lenses is the route to take.
Do you want a complete set of f/2.8 zooms? Tamron has you covered with their 15-30mm f/2.8 VC, 24-70mm f/2.8 VC and 70-200 f/2.8 VC.
Do you want a full range of f/1.4 prime lenses? Sigma has you covered with their 21mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm Art series lenses. They also have a fabulous 85mm lens that should be getting the Art series upgrade pretty soon as well.
These are lenses that I'm particularly interested in, but the options are plenty! Rokinon/Samyang have the market for manual focus primes for video. Voigtlander is producing super fast manual primes for smaller sensors. Whatever system you're shooting, there are now cheaper and better alternatives for you.
The range of third-party lenses looks very good now, but is constantly getting better. If Canon and Nikon don't step up, they might be out of the lens business in a few years.