These are the world's top camera lens makers, albeit in the opinion of only one aficionado: moi. I'm going to make a guess—a wild leap of a guess—and predict that probably not everybody in every forum everywhere will agree with me 100%.
- all the rest
That isn't to slag your favorite lensmaker, though, no matter who you choose or what what you use, because:
- Virtually every lensmaker markets successful and not-so-successful designs;
- "Every lens gives its gifts"—that is, a great picture can be made with any lens*, including plastic lenses and toy lenses—all that's required is that the look of the lens be appropriate to the picture;
- There's sample variation and sensor/film matching to consider; and
- It's a matter of taste. In the end (assuming clients can't tell the difference), the only person your lenses have to please is you.
...And note that the bulleted points are a lot more important than the numbered ones.
*And the corollary, you can take a perfectly crappy picture with the best lens ever made
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Rowan Lamb: "Crikey, you're asking for trouble ;-) . I've only ever really used Canon and Sigma lenses, so therefore I am foaming at the mouth with fury."
Richard Tugwell: "Chicken! You omitted Canon and Nikon so you didn't have to specify a preference! (Even if it was 6th/7th)."
Mike replies: I'd pick Nikon. No, Canon. No...BAWWWK bawk bawk bawk bawk bawk
Keith B [not specifically in answer to Richard —Ed.]: "Way back in the 1970s at Popular Photography, Norm Goldberg wrote a test report on one of the then-current Nikon cameras, the Nikkormat FT2. His concluding line was, as I remember it, an absolute classic of Golbergian understatement: 'A solidly made film-exposing box for one of the world's more important lens systems.' He didn't write 'best' or 'greatest' or 'highest quality' lens system. Nikon, and also now Canon, are still important because their product ranges are large, not because they're 'the best.'"
Arri-Zeiss Master Primes
Crabby Umbo: "I've shot virtually everything in my career, and I mean everything, and I have to say, aside from being a Zeiss guy, which I love (but, which isn't always the sharpest), I'm always amazed at the quality of the Pentax stuff in the olden days...not unusual to be thrust into a situation where I'd go from shooting Nikon or Canon stuff, and have to shoot multi-coated, screwmount Pentax stuff, and it was just much better...it was so good, I've even thought of buying an old Pentax screw mount body and getting the last generation multicoated screw mounted lenses, just to have a film 35mm hanging around....
"Leica? Meh (don't even get me started, there's more 'religion' and 'Kool-aid' drinking in that bunch than lens quality). Proof positive that if it costs enough, it's great!
"Rodenstock? You've got to be kidding me! As a guy who made most of his money in sheet film, I have to say I don't get it. Either something happened to that stuff in the '90s to improve it, or no one knows what they're talking about! In the '70s and '80s, I never tested a Rodenstock view camera lens that didn't have horrendous color fringing, and questionable sharpness (possibly decentering). Never knew a studio rat in Chicago (or Milwaukee) that wanted to shoot with one, either! Fully willing to believe that they got better in the '90s (didn't they merge with Schneider? [no —Ed.]), but in most of my shooting era, they were dogs! Even Schneiders were hitting one good one out of three tested. We all thought Rodenstock's darkroom stuff was for crap too, compared to Schneider and Nikon....
"I'm amazed every day...."
Mike replies: You should try an Apo-Sironar-S. Best darkroom lens I ever used was a Rodenstock, too, and I've used a whole lot of those. I don't think Ctein thinks too highly of them, though.