DSLR accessories

Brand vs Third Party Lenses

Written by Gayan Gunawardana

Third party lenses have built up a good reputation over the years. Buying one can save you a lot of money.

Have you been using a DSLR for some time and now looking with a certain amount of lust at that amazing lens from your camera manufacturer? Are you counting both your savings and the days till you can buy that lens?

How would you feel if I tell you that you can have a lens close to or equally as good for about 3/4th of the price?! Welcome to the world of third party lenses.

Premium priced OEM lenses

In most situations camera manufacturers make more profit off lenses than with camera bodies. The camera body acts as a honey-pot drawing buyers to it. Once they buy a certain body they are automatically invested and locked in to that manufacturers system.

Almost all the “good lenses” from manufacturers carry premium prices. There are certain exceptions to this rule, of course, but over time you may end up paying several times more for  lenses than your camera body. To minimize that expense, consider third party lenses.

Who are third party lens manufacturers?

By definition a third a part manufacturer is anyone who is not the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) who made the camera body. In the DSLR world there are three major third party manufacturers:

  • Tamron
  • Sigma (although Sigma has its own DSLR range it still is one of the major third party lens manufacturers)
  • Tokina

All three are well established manufacturers of lenses and a whole host of other camera accessories. They have their own design and engineering teams and have built up a good reputation over the years.

What is a third party lens?

The five major DSLR camera makers (Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax and Olympus) also have an extended range of lenses. But they are designed only to work on their cameras.

For example a Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens will only work on Canon cameras. But third party manufacturers don’t play with the same rules. They normally would have a “base lens” that they  produce with mounts designed for all major camera brands. For example the very excellent Tamron 17-50 F2.8 comes in Canon, Nikon and Sony mounts.

Pros of Third Party lenses

  • Cheaper – Sometimes price of a third party lens can cost almost 40-50% less than their firstst party cousins. (for example, at the time of this writing, the Canon 70-200 F2.8 costs around $1500 while the similar Tamron 70-200 F2.8 and the Sigma 70-200F2.8 sell for about half the price of the Canon)
  • Equivalent or even better construction – Most third party manufacturers go to great lengths to make their lenses stand out from the competition. This can result in premium build quality on some not-so-premium-priced lenses and include a number of accessories with the lens.
  • Variety of focal lengths – May offer useful focal lengths not available by first-party manufacturers.
  • Warranty– some third party lenses come with a longer warranty than first party lenses. For example, Tamron offers a six year warranty compared to Canon’s one year warranty.

Cons of Third Party lenses

  • Compatibility – third party lenses are made using reverse engineering. If and when a camera manufacturer changes something on the camera body there is a risk of the lens not been compatible any more. This is more common when a new camera model is introduced. While most third party manufacturers have historically offered free modification programs in such situations, the risk of incompatibility is always there.
  • Quality control – There is a consensus among photographers that the chances of getting a “bad copy” from a third party manufacturer is markedly higher compared to a first party manufacturer. But there is some evidence that this situation has improved in recent times.
  • Performance – while third party lenses can have image quality on par with a first-party lenses, there may be differences such as speed of focus or the noise emitted when using AutoFocus. For all but the most demanding photographer, these may be minor issues.

So what should you do?

The answer to that question depends on your requirements. If money is not a problem or if you want the ultimate best lens out there, consider branded lenses. But if you are on a tight budget and would like the most value for money then seriously consider the third party option. You will be taking certain risks but the pros often outweigh the cons.

Before you buy

To learn more about a lens, visit the Fred Miranda site before buying. In the review area you’ll learn a lot about the quality of a lens and can ask questions to help determine if a particular lens is suitable for your needs.

Another way to learn the strengths and weaknesses of a lenses is to rent it first. If you buy a lens and don’t like it, you may pay more in restocking fees than the cost of renting a lens for a week or two.

About the author

Gayan Gunawardana

Gayan Gunawardana is a Houston based photographer who's interests include landscapes, street photography and portraiture.

Trained as a Chemical Engineer, Gayan started his own company in Sri Lanka. In 2009, he moved to Houston Texas with his lovely wife to read for his MBA at the University of Houston.

Gayan considers him self as an advanced amateur photographer and currently shoots with a Canon DSLR. He believes that a good photo is 50% composition, 30% technique, 15% post processing and only 5% equipment. Gayan's interest in photography started in 2005 and has been growing steadily. It occupies an ever increasing portion of his time and he's loving it. :)

4 Comments

  • rhesa, the focal length certainly complements the lenses your have already. I’m not familiar with the Sigma lens, but I highly recommend you ask around at the Fred Miranda website. The participants offer lots of good feedback about lenses and cameras. The lens has a four star rating at Amazon, but some in the user reviews complain about the slow or problematic focus, not ideal if you want to focus moving animals.

  • i’m thinking of buying new lenses. now i have 18-55 vr kit lens and 55-200mm vr. I”m used to using vr lenses and most of the time i don’t carry around my tripod with me so vr has been giving me less worries with regard to camera shake. i like taking landscape photos and moving animals..mostly nature. what do you think about sigma 70-300mm macro(motorized) for nikon? will it work for me?