Where is the Perfect Prime Set?

Some time ago I wrote an article on dslrbodies.com as to what I felt would be a "perfect" prime lens set for any new (or existing) mount. I'll save you the trouble of reading that article and just cut to the chase. Here's the final list I came up with:

  • 20mm f/1.4, f/4 Tilt/Shift 
  • 24mm f/1.2, f/2 
  • 28mm f/1.2
  • 35mm f/1.2, f/2, f/2.8 Tilt/Shift 
  • 50mm f/1.2, f/2 
  • 60mm f/2.8 macro
  • 85mm f/1.2, f/2, f/2.8 Tilt/Shift macro
  • 105mm f/1.4
  • 135mm f/2.8 macro
  • 200mm f/2, f/2.8 macro
  • 300mm f/2.8, f4 
  • 400mm f/2.8 x/1.4x TC, f/4 
  • 500mm f/4 w/1.4x TC
  • 600mm f/4 w/1.4x TC, f/5.6 

That's a total of 25 prime lenses. The ones I felt were the most necessary are in bold (13 total lenses). 

So where are the mirrorless makers these days? I'm only going to put full frame lenses introduced in the last 10 years in this table, as that's what I keep getting all the questions about (I consider m4/3 and to a lesser degree Fujifilm XF to have quite reasonable prime lens choices these days). 

Canon and Nikon, in particular, have lots of legacy lenses that can be used on their mirrorless cameras (Sony/Minolta a little less so), but many of those were designed for film SLRs or early digital and don't reflect current optical design, thus my omission of them here. Top optics today really need to be designed with recent image sensor designs in mind to excel (e.g. changes in filtration, microlenses, BSI, etc.).

Canon RF Nikon Z L Alliance Sony FE
20mm f/1.4 f/1.8 14mm f/1.8, f/1.4 f/1.8
20mm f/4 TS F mount

19mm f/4 TS
24mm f/1.2 F mount f/1.4 f/1.4 f/1.4
24mm f/2 EF mount f/2.8 f/1.8
28mm f/1.2 F mount f/1.4 f/1.4 f/2
35mm f/1.2 EF mount f/1.4 F mount f/1.4 f/1.2, f/1.4
40mm f/1.4
f/1.4
35mm f/2 f/1.8 macro f/1.8 f/2 f/1.8
35mm f/2.8 TS EF mount

40mm f/2.8
f/2.8
50mm f/1.2 f/1.2 f/1.4, f/1.4, f/1.4 f/1.4
50mm f/2 EF mount f/1.8 f/1.8 f/2, 45mm f/2.8 f/1.8, 55mm f/1.8
60mm f/2.8 macro EF mount

50mm f/2.8 macro
F mount

58mm f/1.4
70mm f/2.8 macro 50mm f/2.8 macro
85mm f/1.2 f/1.2, f/1.2 DS F mount f/1.4 75mm f/2, f/1.4 f/1.4
85mm f/2 f/1.8 90mm
f/1.8
85mm f/2.8 TS macro 90mm f/2.8 macro
105mm f/1.4 F mount f/1.4 f/2.8
135mm f/2.8 macro EF mount

135mm f/4 TS macro
f/1.8 not macro f/1.8 not macro
200mm f/2 F mount
200mm f/2.8 macro
300mm f/2.8 EF mount A mount
300mm f/4 F mount
400mm f/2.8 EF mount F mount f/2.8
400mm f/4 EF mount
500mm f/4 EF mount F mount
600mm f/4 EF mount F mount f/4
600mm f/5.6


Things to note about where we are:

  • Wide angle: Canon RF is the laggard here, with very little recent wide angle prime work.
  • Mid range trio: Everyone has something in the 35mm, 50mm, 85mm trio realm.
  • Telephoto: the Canon RF and Nikon Z mounts are highly dependent upon EF and F mount lenses used on adapter for most telephoto work. The L-mount is missing telephoto above 135mm. Sony is the only one with some dedicated long telephoto mirrorless lenses, and those offerings are still sparse. 
  • Macro: All over the board, with lots of "short" macro and almost nothing that has any reasonable working distance at 1:1.
  • Tilt/Shift: Still a Canon/Nikon game, and only with EF and F mount lenses used on adapters. 

The L-mount is strong with (big) primes from 14mm to 135mm, but nothing really specialty. Canon and Nikon are weak overall, relying upon their DSLR mount lenses to tide them over as they fill in their lens lines. Sony is the best of the bunch, but still with a lot of significant gaps or missing lenses.

In short, we're still a long way from full prime lens sets in mirrorless full frame. Everyone has gaps and liabilities in what they're doing so far. 

text and images © 2020 Thom Hogan
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