The Swedish magazine FOTO does a lot of lens testing, and for more than 20 years has published MTF results of the lenses it reviews. Its database of lenses is available only to subscribers. However, recently FOTO published a list of the ten lenses that scored the highest all-time in their MTF ratings.
It's in Swedish, but you'll be able to see what the lenses are at the link. Included are three Canons, four Nikkors, a Sigma, a Voigtländer, and Zeiss. I can only attest personally to two of their choices, but they've got those right.
Curiously, there are no 50mm lenses, and no Leica lenses.
(Thanks to Lars K. Christensen)
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Featured Comments from:
Jack Martin: "Not surprisingly, my beloved Olympus Micro 4/3 body cap lens just missed the list. :-) 2,872th on the DxO mark list, but there were other things besides sharpness pulling it down."
Ctein: "One shouldn't be surprised to see zooms on the list. The old generalization that zoom lenses are inferior to fixed focal length lenses has long been wrong. Once upon a time it was true; advances in optical design have negated it. The only way in which prime lenses can be counted on to be superior is that they will be smaller.
"By way of example, last year I tested a mixed bag of zooms against a mixed bag of prime lenses for my micro four thirds system. There was no pattern to the results. Some zoom lenses were superior to some fixed focal length lenses. Others were not. The very best fixed focal length lens blew away everything at its focal length, but the very best zoom lens blew away all the fixed focal length lenses over its zoom range and it was as fast as the fixed focal length lenses, to boot. It was the size of a small cannon and very expensive, but if you wanted one single lens with superior optical quality, it was the one.
"In that same vein, the absence of Leica from the list may not be as surprising as it seems. For one thing, Leica may not be optimizing for sharpness, which is what this test was about. For another, most Leica designs are pretty old; they may have been the superior designs of their day, but that was then.
"About 25 years ago I tested all the top-end enlarger lenses made. Only one Leica lens came close to making the 'best of' list—their (then) relatively new 100mm Focotar II. All the venerable classic Focotars and Focotar II's, much lauded (properly) in times past, had been surpassed by newer designs in every measurable characteristic of image quality.
"It's like the folks who, up to the very end, were talking about Kodachrome 25's unsurpassed sharpness and fine grain. True, once upon a time, but that time had passed 20 years earlier."
Gordon: "Is it just me? I find, generally, that ultra-sharp, optically perfect lenses are just...well, boring. I'll take a lens with a bit of character any day over any of these."