Which Company Makes the Best Camera Lenses?

(A listing of average MTF values for all the major brands.)

The website http://www.photodo.com/nav/prodindex.html provides MTF values for many lenses sold by most of the major lens manufacturers. It occurred to me that by summing the values provided for a particular brand then dividing by the number of lens I could get average MTF number for that brand. This provides a rough indicator of the overall quality of lens that manufacturer is likely to produce.

Unfortunately, the Photodo site doesn't list nearly enough lenses to make this comparison valid and many that are listed are discontinued or long out of date. Still, if you're a die-hard Canon fan and you're arguing with a Nikon admirer about which company produces the better quality lenses on average, the numbers below may be useful for you to win the argument.

There are several factors to be considered when reading a list like this. Most importantly is that the larger lens makers produce lenses that are extremely hard to made, consequently the MTF ratings on these lenses may be low. This doesn't necessarily mean the company couldn't produce a good lens. It may be that that particular lens is nearly impossible to make. For example, a 50mm, F5.6 prime lens is fairly easy to make and make well. A 200-1200mm, F1.4 - 3.5 lens would be a monster to design and fabricate and it would be unfair to expect its MTF rating to be as high as the 50mm's.

Also, several brands are only represented by a few lenses and as such their average MTF rating isn't as indicative as that from a company that had 30 lenses tested.

The MTF ratings are based on Photodo's system of converting the actual MTF values into a number from 0 to 5.0. According to them, any lens with a rating of 3.5 or higher should be considered very good, 4.0 outstanding, and anything above 4.5 to be an optical treasure. Their numbering system was set up so that the highest rating any lens can get is 4.8.

Ideally, a company should have had many lenses tested, a very high average MTF score up in the 4.0s and a very small differential between its worst and best lens (suggesting the high optical quality is consistent through out their lenses).

Brands with the highest average MTF scores are placed at the top of the following list:

Leica M: number of lenses tested = 12
...........average MTF = 4.2 (Highest average MTF)
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 0.8
...........best lens = Summilux-M Aspheric 50mm F2.0, MTF = 4.6
...........worst lens = Summilux-M Aspheric 35mm F1.4, MTF = 3.8

Konica: number of lenses tested = 3
...........average MTF = 4.2
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 0.7
...........best lens = M-Hexanon 50mm F2.0, MTF = 4.5
...........worst lens = M-Hexanon 90mm F2.8, MTF = 3.8

Leica R: number of lenses tested = 16
...........average MTF = 4.0
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 1.4
...........best lens = Elmarit-R 90mm F2.8, MTF = 4.6
...........worst lens = Vario-Elmar-R 28-70mm F3.5-4.5, MTF = 3.2

Contax: number of lenses tested = 28
...........average MTF = 3.9
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 2.0
...........best lens = G Planar 45mm F2.0, MTF = 4.7
...........worst lens = 645 AF Zeiss Sonnar 210mm F4.0, MTF = 2.7

Mamiya: number of lenses tested = 11
...........average MTF = 3.7
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 1.4
...........best lens = 7N 150mm F4.5 L, MTF = 4.3
...........worst lens = RZ M 140mm F4.5 Macro M/L-A, MTF = 2.9

Canon: number of lenses tested = 64
...........average MTF = 3.6
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 2.6
...........best lens = EF 200mm F1.8 L USM, MTF = 4.8 (Best single-lens MTF)
...........worst lens = EF 28-80mm F3.5-5.6 IV USM, MTF = 2.2

Nicon (Nikkor): number of lenses tested = 71
...........average MTF = 3.5
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 2.3
...........best lens = AF 50mm F1.4, MTF = 4.4
...........worst lens = AF 75-240 F4.5-5.6, MTF = 2.1

Rollieflex: number of lenses tested = 7
...........average MTF = 3.5
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 1.5
...........best lens = Schneider Xenotar 80 F2.8, MTF = 4.1
...........worst lens = Distagon 50 F4.0, MTF = 2.6

Practica: number of lenses tested = 2
...........average MTF = 3.4
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 0.1
...........best lens = 70-210mm F4.5-5.6, MTF = 3.4
...........worst lens = 35-70 F4-5, MTF = 3.3

Angenieux: number of lenses tested = 3
...........average MTF = 3.4
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 1.2
...........best lens = Distagon CF 50mm F4.0 FLE, MTF = 3.9
...........worst lens = Makro-Planar CF 120mm F4.0 Macro, MTF = 3.3

Pentax: number of lenses tested = 51
...........average MTF = 3.2
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 2.9
...........best lens = SMC-A 85mm F1.4, MTF = 4.6
...........worst lens = SMC-FA 28-200mm F3.8-5.6 AL(IF), MTF = 1.7

Hasselblad: number of lenses tested = 8
...........average MTF = 3.0
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 2.7
...........best lens = AF 50mm F2.8 Macro, MTF = 4.2
...........worst lens = 400mm F5.6, MTF = 1.5

Olympus: number of lenses tested = 6
...........average MTF = 3.3
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 1.6
...........best lens = 90mm F2.0 Macro, MTF = 4.2
...........worst lens = 28mm F2.0, MTF = 2.6

Minolta: number of lenses tested = 38
...........average MTF = 3.3
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 1.9
...........best lens = AF 50mm F2.8 Macro, MTF = 4.5
...........worst lens = 75-300 F4.5-5.6, MTF = 2.6

Exacta: number of lenses tested = 3
...........average MTF = 3.3
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 0.9
...........best lens = 80mm F2.8 Macro, MTF = 3.8
...........worst lens = 60mm F3.5, MTF = 2.9

Sigma: number of lenses tested = 42
...........average MTF = 3.0
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 2.7
...........best lens = AF 50mm F2.8 Macro, MTF = 4.2
...........worst lens = 400mm F5.6, MTF = 1.5

Tokina: number of lenses tested = 24
...........average MTF = 3.0
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 4.3
...........best lens = AT-X 90mm F2.5 Macro, MTF = 4.6
...........worst lens = AF 35-300 F4.5-6.7, MTF = 0.3 (Worst single-lens MTF)

Tamron: number of lenses tested = 26
...........average MTF = 2.9
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 3.1
...........best lens = AF SP 90mm F2.8 Macro, MTF = 4.3
...........worst lens = AF 200-400mm F5.6 LD, MTF = 1.1

Yashica: number of lenses tested = 9
...........average MTF = 2.9
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 3.7
...........best lens = MI 50mm F1.4, MTF = 4.3
...........worst lens = AF 28-210 F3.5-5.6, MTF = 0.6

Soligor: number of lenses tested = 1
...........average MTF = 2.9
...........difference between the worse and best lens = n/a
...........best lens = 80-200mm F 4.5, MTF = 2.9
...........

Ricoh: number of lenses tested = 3
...........average MTF = 2.8
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 0.5
...........best lens = Rikenon P 35-70 F3.4-4.5, MTF = 3.1
...........worst lens = Scanring 35-70 F3.4-4.5, MTF = 2.6

Vivitar: number of lenses tested = 17
...........average MTF = 2.1
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 3.1
...........best lens = AF 105 F2.5 Macro Series I, MTF = 4.0
...........worst lens = AF 28-210 F3.5-5.6, MTF = 0.9

Cosina: number of lenses tested = 10
...........average MTF = 1.8
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 2.2
...........best lens = AF 19-35 F3.5-4.5, MTF = 3.1
...........worst lens = AF 100-400 F4.5-6.7, MTF = 0.9

Centon: number of lenses tested = 2
...........average MTF = 1.4 (Lowest average MTF)
...........difference between the worse and best lens = 1.2
...........best lens = 70-210mm F4.-5.6, MTF = 2.0
...........worst lens = 75-300mm F4.5-5.6, MTF = 0.8

 

 
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