The best third-party prime lenses under $500 can provide professional-level results in the right hands. When dealing with optics under the $500 bracket, it’s good practice to go all-in with a prime lens as opposed to the zoom variety. This is mainly because zoom lenses need lots more internal wizardry than a prime. Plus, a prime lens can pour all of its efforts into just one single focal length.
Then there is the fact that third-party lenses generally provide the most value for money. This means that a high-quality third-party prime lens may not give you the same variety of focal lengths as a zoom, but it can win out in every other respect.
There may be some caveats with the under $500 bracket, such as a more cost-effective build quality and lack of weather-proofing. Fortunately, if you choose wisely, there is no reason why you can’t achieve great results.
1. Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 Di VC USD (Overall Winner)
Normally at this point, we would be waxing lyrical about a 50mm or 35mm prime for its all-round versatility and usefulness. But in this case, it’s the Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8, which comes in at 67.5mm on crop sensor cameras and benefits from image stabilization.
The lens features a very capable f/1.8 aperture for shallow depth of field shots and low-light capabilities. The optical arrangement includes one Low Dispersion and two Aspherical elements, along with eBAND, BBAR, and fluorine coatings to reduce lens artifacts.
The image stabilization system may not always be needed at this focal length, but it’s a great help for handheld shots. Everything is wrapped inside a fully moisture-resistant lens barrel.
This lens is clear, fast, and sharp, and while it may not be one of the more traditional focal lengths, it’s surprisingly adept in many different areas. Portrait shots are produced with very respectable detail and bokeh, while environmental images have plenty of punch and definition.
If you need a lens that is just a touch out of the ordinary and still provides professional results. The Tamron SP 45mm f/1.8 is both a surprising and sharp lens to use in the real world.
2. Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary
If you can’t quite justify the cost of Sigma’s Art series of lenses, then the Contemporary line is a good second choice. The Sigma 56mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary provides a roughly standard view on full-frame cameras while having an 84mm equivalent focal length on crop sensor versions.
The Sigma benefits from a large light-collecting f/1.4 aperture along with Special Low Dispersion and aspherical elements. The lens is topped off with a Super Multi-Layer Coating which has been applied to all lens elements for added clarity and image definition.
At the f/1.4 aperture, the Sigma works great in low-light conditions while also providing an extremely sharp center of the frame. For the sharpest edges, the aperture will need stopping down to f/2.8, but you can’t fault the lens for its color and contrast rendition.
This lens weighs in at only 280g, which means it will be a worthwhile travel companion and a great solution for discreet street photography.
3. Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary
Covering the wide-angle side of things, the Sigma 16mm f/1.4 DC DN Contemporary is in no question about offering the most bang for your buck. The lens features a very-wide-for-its-price-point f/1.4 aperture and although it feels big and bulky, it weighs in at a respectable 405g.
The optics are wrapped around an arrangement of 16 elements in 13 groups, with a Super Multi-Layer Coating applied to all lens elements. The stepping autofocus motor may not have the same speed refinement as the Art series versions, but its still respectably fast and quiet.
Where this lens stands out is its extraordinary value for money for this level of optics. Images always come out looking crisp with lots of detail, while also having plenty of low-light capabilities. The lens also works very well for environmental shots and is a great application for landscape photography.
4. Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro
The main benefit of the Sigma 105mm f/2.8 EX DG OS HSM Macro is that it’s not just a good portrait prime, but it also works as a fully-fledged macro lens.
The lens also has the benefit of optical image stabilization, while the macro side of things offers a full-sized 1:1 maximum magnification, with a reasonable 31.2cm close focusing distance. A floating elements system has been included to provide the best image quality through the focusing range, with a lens arrangement of 16 elements in 11 groups.
This lens doesn’t just stand out as a good portrait solution, but it’s also a great deal of fun as a macro shooter. Once you nail the focus with the smallest of subjects, the lens can provide a surprising amount of detail. The f/2.8 aperture produces very creamy looking bokeh, which is an ideal attribute for any portrait work.
5. Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC (Budget Winner)
In the interest of variety and because it’s a great lens for the money, the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 IF ED UMC covers the widest of angles without getting into fisheye lens territory. The Rokinon is a fully manual lens, which shouldn’t be a problem for landscape shooters, and it includes two ED lens elements, one hybrid aspherical, and a glass aspherical element in the total optical arrangement.
For a third-party prime lens under $500, the Rokinon provides very respectable image sharpness at f/2.8 and when stopped down is a great solution for astrophotography and landscape work. It may not have the ultimate definition of lenses costing more than twice the price, but if you can live with manual only workings, the Rokinon is a cost-effective option for the wide-angle side of life.
Final Words on the Best Third-Party Prime Lenses Under $500
All the third-party prime lenses under $500 above provide great optical qualities for their price points with some options having tasty features such as image stabilization. If you haven’t already, it’s worth taking the examples above for a test drive to see if they fit your particular shooting needs and scenarios.
As we stated at the beginning of the article, in this budget range it’s wise to go down the prime lens route. This will ensure the most optical quality for your money, while also providing the widest apertures.