For all of you who use and love third-party lenses, this post isn’t an invitation to outrage. I am merely expressing my opinion about my OWN experiences. With that in mind, let’s continue.

I am often asked why I don’t give more coverage to third party lenses. There are many reasons, including the fact that the smaller companies won’t send me review samples. Also, the third party lenses just don’t get as much attention here because my audience isn’t as interested in them. Third-party lenses have a much smaller market share than the lenses made by the camera manufacturers. But the big reason I don’t give them much coverage is that third party lenses are a gamble – and if you gamble and miss – it can be an expensive gamble.

I have used and owned several great third party lenses made by a variety of manufacturers. Not all third-party lenses are bad. But I have also used some pretty mediocre third party lenses. While photographing eagles in Alaska recently, I tested a few lenses from a well-known third part lens manufacturer that just didn’t work well with the new cameras, particularly the Nikon D4.

The lenses in question would either have focusing issues or would simply start shutting down due to random error codes. Even worse, I got spurts of five black (blank) frames several times while shooting a third-party lens on the D4. What if those were once-in-a-lifetime shots? I can’t get them back.

I’ve always said that third party lenses, particularly the expensive, high-end versions, can be a good investment but that quality control is usually what you give up when you go that way. Nikon and Canon do a much better job in my experience than the third-party companies at making sure that no bad “copies” of lenses get shipped.

This recent incident has me more convinced than ever that if you’re shooting something important, or if you’re a professional, you want to choose your lenses carefully and remember that shooting with a third party lens can be risky. If you get to Alaska and that’s your only lens and it craps out on you – you’ve traveled a long way, at great expense for nothing.

The problem often happens because the third-party lens manufacturers aren’t able to keep up with all the changes in the new camera bodies. If you have an older camera this is less of a problem.

One last thing – if you do decide to buy third-party lenses stick with their pro lines. They are usually the closest to the manufacturer’s specs.

The bottom line is this. If you look at the prices, you may or may not save significant money buying off brand. You may even end up with a great lens – I have had several – but there is also a chance that you’ll end up in trouble and on a critical shoot, that can be bad news. So tread lightly and good luck.


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