10 Favorite Cameras and Lenses from 2016

10 Favorite Cameras and Lenses from 2016

2016 produced a lot of high-profile, long-awaited updates to flagship favorites: the Nikon D5, Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 III, Fuji X-Pro 2, and the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8E, just to name a few. Here are some big and small releases in 2016 that you might have missed. Check out some of our other best picks with our guide to the best mirrorless cameras.

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Rokinon Xeen Cinema Lenses

Rokinon is one of our most popular rental brands among videographers and night photographers. Professional shooters like Grant Kaye and David Kingham hail Rokinon lenses for being extremely sharp, fast, and bright while mitigating coma and other aberrations during night sky photography.

The Xeens follow up this reputation with improved 4K optical performance that is completely reconfigured for the demands of filmmaking. These lenses are not just a rehoused update of an older line. “Xeen” is a play on “scene” and “seen” and Rokinon has positioned these lenses as game-changers for an industry where cinema lenses are typically very unaffordable.

You can rent the entire Xeen set in EF or PL mounts. They can also be individually rented in the following focal lengths: 14mm, 24mm, 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm – all with consistent T1.5 transmission stops, with the exception of the 14mm’s T3.1. While these lenses were designed with filmmakers in mind, they are also perfectly suitable for manual-focus-loving photographers, especially night photographers who need their point sources (typically stars) to have as little distortion as possible.

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Kodak PIXPRO SP360 4K Dual Action Camera

This Hal 9000-esque set represents a growing trend of VR-friendly cameras hitting our shelves, which also includes the 360Fly. A hand-holdable dual base carries 2 of these spherical cameras back-to-back and then you combine your footage using Kodak’s Stitch Software (free for Mac and PC). You can also use the cameras separately as you would any action cam for a 235º ultra-wide field of view. But unlike just any action cam, this rental gets you 2 cameras in 1!

What stands out about this camera is its battery life – 55 minutes of 4K shooting with WiFi on, though these lifespan claims are sometimes optimistic. It’s drop-proof up to 6.5′ but still requires a housing unit to take underwater. For an action cam that will swim naked with you, check out the GoPro HERO5 Black instead.

Want to create interactive virtual reality footage? Rent the Kodak PIXPRO. You may also want to try it out for some new perspectives when shooting music videos, weddings (360º bouquet toss, perhaps? It is drop-proof, after all) – or any cool action event.

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Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 300mm f/4 IS PRO Lens

The arrival of this lens was a little bit of a non-event at BL HQ but my colleague Jamie MacDonald of Mirrorless Minutes (an informative YouTube channel for both Olympus fans and the Olympus-curious) was bursting at the seams with excitement over this telephoto prime for Micro Four Thirds shooters.

Photography can be hard on the shoulders and back so a welcome feature of this lens is it is one-third the size and weight of a typical 600mm DSLR lens (600mm being the equivalent focal length for the 300mm f/4 PRO in 35mm terms – if you don’t know what that means, please head over to What You Must Know About Full Frame vs Crop Frame Sensors Before Choosing a Lens and Understanding Full Frame vs Crop Frame Sensors). It is completely weather sealed, which is great for wildlife and outdoor sports shooters. These same shooters benefit from the Movie & Still Compatible system on this lens, which provides silent AF (so imagine golf games, concerts, and skittish creatures). Additionally, there is a dedicated L-Fn button that can be programmed with one of up to 27 different functions. The default is “AF Stop”, which will deactivate the AF and fix the focus at that point, which sounds pretty good to me but have fun exploring the other 26.

Rent the Olympus 300mm f/4 IS PRO lens, especially if you’re also shooting with an E-M1, E-M5 Mark II, or PEN-F, which allow you to take full advantage of both in-lens and in-camera image stabilization.

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Pentax K-1 Digital SLR

As a fan of “underdog brands”, I was pleased to see a new Pentax body (along with a new 70-200mm f/2.8 and 24-70mm f/2.8) added to our shelves, freshening up our Pentax selection. Outdoor shooters love Pentax for their ruggedness and dedication to weather-sealed builds. The K-1 follows the current trend of ditching the optical low-pass filter, which is great news for landscape, cityscape, and wildlife shooters who want maximum clarity and detail. When you need the low-pass filter, the K-1 has an Anti Aliasing Filter Simulator to combat those rare times you do see moiré aberrations.

The K-1 is a very forgiving piece of kit in more ways than just with moiré. It has Motion Correction, Diffraction Correction, Lens Aberration Correction, Fringe Compensation, SR II in-body shake reduction, and 4 Operation Assist Lights. The 36.4MP full frame sensor is a first for Pentax. Or is it? Learn more about Pentax’s fascinating first attempt at digital full frame here. Typical of full frame cameras is the relatively slower 4.4 FPS shooting speed but the K-1 still delivers with an ASP-C mode with up to 6.5 FPS.

Rent the Pentax K-1 because this camera has something for everyone (even 1080p video). It’s an especially ideal body for those who shoot in harsh environments.

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Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G ED AF-P VR DX Lens

2016 saw Nikon finally catch up to Canon’s 2012 with stepping motor technology in their lenses. Now that Nikon is taking DSLR video seriously, AF-P (pulse motor) lenses are available for crop sensor Nikon users (or shooters with full frame cameras that shoot in crop mode). What this means is silent autofocus – ideal for video but also handy for event, sports, and wildlife photographers.

Nikon is just getting started with AF-P lenses so, as of this writing, this lens is fully compatible only with the following bodies: D3400, D500, D5300 (firmware here), D5500 (firmware here), D3300 (firmware here). It will mount fine to other DX camera models but with limited AF-P functionality. This lens is purportedly the fastest-focusing DX telephoto Nikon has ever made. Users also get to enjoy image stabilization and the portability of a long-range lens that’s under a pound.

Join the silent ranks of stepping motor shooters and rent the Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3G AF-P lens. It also provides an extremely affordable opportunity for beginner crop sensor shooters to explore telephoto subjects.

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RED DSMC2 Line

Getting our first RED at BL was a very big deal. Thanks to RED’s giant 2016 release, we now rent 6 different RED models. How far we’ve come! You’ll say the same if you give yourself the opportunity to rent one of these for your own project. While RED is still very much for the pro user, they are getting more approachable.

RED continues their modular design and maintains their intense naming scheme with the Helium sensor inside the EPIC-W 8K and WEAPON 8K and the Dragon sensor in the WEAPON 6K (which will be getting an upgrade to the DRAGON 8K VV sensor later), the RED Scarlet-W 5K, and the RED RAVEN 4.5K. Of these, the RED RAVEN is the most “affordable” and sports the smallest form factor of any RED camera (it weighs only 3.5 lbs). RED doesn’t want to be left out of the drone boom.

See all of the RED DSMC2 cameras that are available to rent on one handy page here. Older RED gear is slowly getting phased out but you can view all our RED rentals here.

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New Sigma Art Lenses

At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, I think the Sigma Art series is the best thing to happen to photography in last few years. These lenses are more affordable than many of their competitors and every bit as good – if not better. They feel good, look good, and are sharp. They even have a cool name: Art!

Joining 2014’s 50mm and 2013’s highly-praised 35mm, 2016 blessed us with 2 new Art primes: the Sigma 20mm f/1.4 and the long-anticipated Sigma 85mm f/1.4. Worth noting are the releases of a few new zooms as well: the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 and the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 (which is for crop sensors only). The 20mm boasts suppressed edge blur, coma, and other aberrations – ideal for night sky shooters. It also can withstand a large range of temperatures, which might be handy if shooting time-lapses overnight in a cold environment. For the 85mm, I hope you use a tripod because this lens is big and heavy. I wasn’t able to create my own Imatest results, but the Sigma 85mm is plenty blogged about and appears to handily beat the older, but revered, Canon 85mm f/1.2L II in sharpness and autofocus speed.

You can rent the 20mm in both Nikon and Canon mounts as well as the 85mm in both Nikon and Canon mounts. If you’re not a fan of zooming with your feet, you can rent the Sigma 12-24mm f/4 in Nikon and Canon mounts and the Sigma 50-100mm f/1.8 in Nikon and Canon mounts, but remember that last one is designed for crop sensors.

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Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM Lens

The Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 joins the aforementioned Sigma 85mm in the “big and heavy” class. I can’t imagine pairing this lens with, say, a Sony a6500 (I should, though – it’s totally compatible, even if designed for the full frame sensors of the Sony a7 series). The sacrifice in portability might be worth it: quiet focusing, a great range (even on crop sensors, 36-105mm equivalent), moisture sealing, and the ever-handy Focus Hold button.

There isn’t much more to say about this lens because it is just so proficient in everything required of a mid-range zoom. It’s sharp, fast, quiet, and rugged. Rent the Sony FE 24-70mm f/2.8 for an event, especially if you need to shoot both stills and video. Pairing your a7 body with a grip will help balance out the heft.

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Olympus ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ Lens

If all this talk of heavy lenses is weighing on you, Olympus has the perfect antidote: a pancake lens in a great zoom range (an effective 28-84mm). Apart from looking incredible on the stylish Olympus Pen-F (another fun new release from 2016), this lens is Movie & Still Compatible with 3X Electronic Zoom and an Electronic Retraction feature.

That said, there are some drawbacks with this lens. For one, the Electronic Zoom looks good on paper but most people simply prefer the feeling of manually zooming a lens. The aperture is also a touch slow, leaving much bokeh opportunity to be desired especially when you consider that out-of-focus elements are already hampered by smaller Micro Four Thirds sensors. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, check out How Crop Sensors Affect Depth of Field and The Bokeh Effect: How Sensor Size Affects Background Blur.

If you’re traveling or love street filming/photography, the Olympus ED 14-42mm f/3.5-5.6 EZ Lens is a must-rent item.

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Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Milvus Lens

It isn’t everyday that lenses are named for medium-sized birds of prey, though it isn’t the first time Zeiss has done some kind of bird theme for their lenses (see the Touit). The Milvus line joins Zeiss’ Otus and Batis lines (which also had great releases this year, including the Otus 28mm f/1.4 for Nikon and Canon and the Batis 18mm f/2.8 for Sony E Mount) with super-sharp optics, smooth manual focusing, metal construction, and weather sealing.

The Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 Milvus, like the rest in the line, has the resolving power (i.e. can distinguish enough details) to pair with 4K cameras. A rubberized ring allows comfortable control over your focus and the de-clicked aperture ring ensures silky smooth exposure and depth of field changes – a perfect feature for filmmaking.

Rent the Zeiss 15mm f/2.8 for Nikon or Canon mounts, or choose one of the following Milvus primes that came out in 2016: the Zeiss Milvus 135mm f/2 in Nikon/Canon and the Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8 in Nikon/Canon.


Hungry for more? There is so much more where this came from – we saw a lot of great releases in 2016. See all of BorrowLenses.com’s new items from this year on one convenient page here and get ready for the year to come with our guide for the best camera for travel in 2017. If you’re looking for more lens evaluations, visit our top picks including the best lenses for Sony a6000 and more!

Gear photography by Kymberly Cortigiano.

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Alexandria Huff's photography and lighting tutorials can be found on 500px and her blog. She is a Marketing Coordinator for BorrowLenses.com and also writes for SmugMug. She learned about lighting and teaching while modeling for photographers such as Joe McNally and has since gone on to teach lighting workshops of her own in San Francisco. See her chiaroscuro-style painterly portraits on her website.

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