Some of the best third-party lenses under $500 can provide great results if applied correctly. While it’s fine to own expensive, all singing and dancing cameras and lenses, there are scenarios where a solution under $500 is needed. This may simply be down to budget, it being your first interchangeable lens, or you may require a cost-effective backup lens.
Third-party lenses can be a good choice as they are generally cheaper than same-make brands. This is not always the case, especially with high-end lenses, but considering the features and optics they offer for the money, they are a good first port of call.
Therefore, we’re going to round up some of the best third-party lenses which come under the $500 price point. These lenses will cover the most useful focal lengths and provide some options in both the prime and zoom lens categories.
1. Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Art (Overall Winner)
The Sigma 30mm f/1.4 DC HSM Art lens just scrapes by price-wise and gladly, as the Sigma Art range is filled with wonderful lenses. This particular model can be used on either full-frame or crop sensor bodies and comes in a range of camera mounts.
Mounted to a crop sensor camera, the lens provides an equivalent focal length of 48mm, being just a touch under the 50mm standard. The internal optics comprise of one aspherical element with a Super Multi-Layer Coating wrapped around a Thermally Stable Composite (TSC) lens barrel.
This lens does display slight edge softness at f/1.4, but in all other respects, the lens is extremely sharp after f/2. Considering the useful focal length and the wonderful optics for the price, the Sigma will suit most applications from a general walkaround lens to a capable portrait shooter.
Another lens that comes in just under $500 is the Tokina AT-X 11-16mm f/2.8 PRO DX II. At this price point its usually advisable to pour your money into a high-quality prime lens simply to obtain the best optical quality, but in the case of the Tokina, it provides very respectable images for the price.
The lens comprises of one P-MO hybrid aspherical element, two glass-molded aspherical elements, three SD ultra-low dispersion elements, with multi-layer coatings to reduce flare and ghosting. Autofocus has a full manual override and a constant f/2.8 aperture included. This lens has very good low-light capabilities as well.
As an extremely wide-angle zoom, the Tokina works great in low-light conditions and the one-touch focus clutch mechanism is a great way to quickly swap between auto and manual focusing. The widest focal length is almost verging on fisheye lens territory, just without the bending lines at the edge of the frame.
In total, the Tokina delivers surprisingly sharp and accurate images. Plus, the lens delivers a constant f/2.8 aperture, providing some wonderfully low shutter speeds.
The pro version of this lens is just out of the $500 range, but that doesn’t mean the Rokinon 85mm f/1.4 isn’t just as capable. To reduce costs and weight, this is a manual focusing only lens with a fast f/1.4, one hybrid aspherical element, an Ultra Multi-Coating, and an eight-blade rounded diaphragm.
If this lens is used on the Nikon F-mount, it can still relay exposure and shooting information via the included chip. While on other camera mounts, the lens has full manual workings.
The main stand out points with the Rokinon are the sharp image detail and the f/1.4 aperture when you can lock in the focus. The lens hood feels like an afterthought, but an f/1.4 lens with good image quality at this price is simply a no-brainer. That’s if you don’t mind the lens’ manual way of working.
Relatively wide-angle to a standard focal length zoom has many uses, thus recommending the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8 EX DC OS HSM. On a crop sensor body, this lens provides a 27.2-80mm equivalent focal length with a constant f/2.8 aperture, Hyper Sonic Motor (HSM), and an Optical Stabilizer.
The optics comprise of two F Low Dispersion (FLD) and three aspherical elements, rounded out by a Super Multi-Layer Coating to increase clarity and contrast.
The autofocus system is fast and accurate and the f/2.8 aperture works very well in low light, achieving reasonable bokeh effects with a very close-up subject. The stabilization system is basic, but still does a reasonable job of providing very low shutter speeds while providing more keeper images. On the whole, this lens is excellent value for money and gives very respectable images.
5. Yongnuo YN 35mm f/2 (Budget Winner)
It was initially hard to believe the Yongnuo YN 35mm f/2 is under $100 and still provides decent optics. Although there are no fancy elements in the optical design, individual elements have a multi-coating for increased contrast and color, while also reducing ghosting and flaring.
The lens is equally capable on full-frame and APS-C-format cameras providing a 56mm equivalent focal length. The Yongnuo has auto and manual focus, a reasonable seven-blade diaphragm, plus Gold-plated electronic contacts to round off the package.
The autofocus system isn’t exactly quiet and there are soft edges at f/2, but you cannot fault the image quality for the price. This lens is respectably sharp throughout the aperture range and while colors may seem a little oversaturated at times, the final look isn’t unbearable.
Some say that the Yongnuo YN 35mm f/2 provides better image quality than a basic zoom kit lens. In some cases this is justifiable, so if you’re on a very tight budget the Yongnuo can act as a great walkaround lens.
Choosing the Best Third-Party Lenses Under $500
The general rule with any lens is to buy the best glass you can afford. All very well when you have deep pockets, but when a strict budget is in place, the options become less wide. Our advice would be to buy into the best quality prime lens you can afford.
A zoom lens may initially seem more versatile, but a prime will generally provide you the best image quality for the money. However, this will also depend on the intended use. A prime lens will provide a generally wider aperture and will be a better performer in low-light conditions. These types of lenses are also a great way to fully practice at certain focal lengths.
Either way, all the best third-party lenses under $500 above supply great image quality for the money and in the case of the Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8, even have built-in image stabilization.