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When looking at various lenses you will see the camera manufacturer lenses made by the camera manufacturer. Then you will see other 3rd party lenses (Tamron, Sigma, etc). Does it pay to get the manufacture lens over the 3rd party lens?

I ask because I have seen some lenses price vary drastically between two lenses.

Here is an example, this Nikkor Lens is priced at $586 (USD) while this Sigma Lens with the same specifications is priced at $169. That is a $417 dollar price difference! With the lower price I would assume lower quality?

Note: I do understand that this can and does vary depending on the manufacturer, model of lens, etc. The answer I am looking for is 1) What is the general rule of thumb? (if there is one) And 2) What do other photographers generally buy?

Edit - I have looked at this question and this one and those two do not answer my question.

Edit 2 - After reading this question and answers I guess my question comes down to this: Does the higher price lens always reflect better quality regardless of it being 3rd party or not?

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@mattdm - That does help explain some of my question. Edited question to reflect this. –  Lynda May 15 '12 at 1:56

3 Answers 3

up vote 8 down vote accepted

When comparing lenses, it is important to look at all the qualities and features. In this case, those really are not comparable lenses. The Sigma is their base line, whereas the Nikon is a stabilized, internally focusing, high quality glass lens. The Sigma would compare better to this lens from Nikon, also compatible in price.

When comparing lenses, its important to examine the lens 'name' to know what to look for:

Nikon 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6G ED IF AF-S VR

Focal Length: (70-300) be sure both lenses are similar focal length: 70-300 in this case

Maximum aperture:(f/4.5-5.6) Aperture has a big impact on price, as lenses with lower aperture numbers require larger pieces of glass to support such large aperture. Some zooms, like these, provide multiple maximum apertures (4.5-5.6) meaning it is f4.5 at 70, and f5.6 at 300. Pricier lenses will list f2.8 for example.

Stabilization: (VR) mechanics that reduce vibration or shake are expensive. These are called VR, IS or OS by several brands.

High quality glass: (ED) special low distortion or low dispersion lenses add to the quality of the image, but also the cost. Nikon uses the words ED, Canon doesn't use a designation, but their L lenses have such glass.

Other: (AF-S indicates ultrasonic focus motor [hat tip rfusca], IF means Internally Focusing)

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3  
Af-s doesn't mean for digital only. Af-s will focus with some film even. It refers to the ultrasonic in-lens focus instead just 'af' for in-camera focus. –  rfusca May 15 '12 at 2:40
    
thanks for the correction @rfusca, edited –  cmason May 15 '12 at 17:07

Good things are not cheap and cheap things are not good.

This is true of all lens manufacturers. There is a small premium for brand name lenses usually but price is largely proportional to quality. For example, Sigma produces plenty of cheap low-quality lenses but they also produce some excellent lenses and, guess what?, they are far from cheap.

When evaluating lenses you just have to look at the whole specification as @cmason mentioned. Unfortunately, there is no absolute specification for quality. The thing is that other than focal-length, aperture and a few other easily measurable specifications, plenty of things are not comparable. Stabilization for example is not the same between brands and even between models of the same brand. The same with adjectives used to describe optical glass like ED (Extra Low Dispertion, How low?), HRI (High Refrective Index, How High?), etc.

You can start with the MTF chart for contrast and sharpness but it does not say anything about distortion, vignetting and aberrations. This is when price is a big indicator as are good reviews. Sadly, they are hard to come buy and there are often large variations (more so with third-party lenses based on my experience) between lens quality from unit to unit.

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The edited question: "Does the higher price lens always reflect better quality regardless of it being 3rd party or not?" can be generalized for any product: Does the higher price product always reflect better quality or not?

The answer, in general, is "it depends" Sometimes higher prices reflect higher costs (better engineering, better material, better manufacturing techniques, etc.) and sometimes it is just a brand premium. Is an Audi better than a VW, for those cars where the Audi is based on the VW? Probably yes, but is it worth the price difference? That is more of a personal opinion.

For camera lenses, the answer is mostly yes, but it depends too.

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