Buying new camera lenses can be an exciting yet daunting experience. With so many options on the market, it can be tough to decide which features are really worth the extra cost. One key factor to consider is lens coatings. Manufacturers apply special coatings to lens elements to reduce reflections and improve light transmission. But with terms like “multi-coating,” “Nano-coating,” and more being thrown around, it’s hard to know which coatings actually make a difference and are worth paying extra for.
In this article, we’ll break down the most common lens coating types, examine their benefits, and help you determine which are worth the added expense for your needs.
Lens Coating Basics
Before we dive into the specifics, let’s review some lens coating basics. Lens coatings are added to the glass elements to improve light transmission and reduce internal reflections that can cause flare, ghosting, and reduced contrast.
There are two main categories of lens coatings:
- Anti-reflective coatings – These minimize reflections from the surface of the glass. The more layers, the less light that reflects.
- Anti-scratch coatings – Add a protective layer to the exterior elements to reduce scratches and dirt buildup.
Manufacturers use special multi-layer application processes to apply these microscopic coatings. The type and quality of the coatings impact performance and cost.
The most basic type of lens coating is a single anti-reflective (AR) layer. These are inexpensive but provide minimal benefit. With only one layer, they reduce reflections from 5% to about 3.5% of light. This can slightly improve contrast and prevent some flare, but the improvements are minor.
Single coatings are still better than no coatings at all. But the impacts are so subtle that it’s not worth paying much extra for this coating alone.
The next step up is a multi-coated (MC) lens. This means at least one element has multiple anti-reflective layers to suppress reflections better. This improves light transmission to about 98-99% depending on the quality.
Multi-coating effectively minimizes flare and ghosting. It provides a noticeable jump in contrast and clarity. lens elements. Here’s a comparison of the improvements:
For most photographers, multi-coating is the minimum level worth seeking out. The improvements are substantial enough to justify some extra cost. Multi-coated lenses provide better image quality, especially when shooting in challenging conditions.
Fully multi-coated (FMC) lenses take things a step further. This means that multiple anti-reflective layers are applied to ALL lens elements, not just one. This requires a more complex coating process.
The result is maximized light transmission reaching about 99-99.5%, virtually eliminating flare and ghosting. It also further increases resolution and contrast. FMC lenses are noticeably sharper and clearer than non-coated or single-coated versions.
Here are the improvements of a fully multi-coated lens:
The tiny improvements beyond multi-coating come at a steeper price. But for photographers who frequently shoot in challenging lighting, the added cost can be worthwhile.
Some high-end lenses feature premium coatings that go above and beyond full multi-coating. These include:
- Aspherical elements – Correct distortions and aberrations.
- ED/Fluorite/UD elements – Reduce chromatic aberration for sharper images.
- SWC (Subwavelength Structure Coating) – Further reduces ghosting and flare.
- Nano-coating – Uses tiny nano-particles for enhanced scratch resistance and less debris buildup.
While these all sound appealing, most photographers don’t necessarily need them. Premium coatings make the most difference for very specialized lenses designed for the highest performance levels. For general photography needs, fully multi-coated lenses provide excellent quality at a more affordable cost.
Coating Comparison Chart
Here is a chart summarizing the different coating types and their key benefits:
|Contrast & Sharpness
Do Coatings Really Make a Difference?
With so many coating options, you may wonder – do they really improve image quality? The short answer is yes, good coatings certainly make a significant difference. Poor coatings can lower contrast, reduce sharpness, increase aberrations, and exacerbate lens flare.
Modern multi-coated lenses provide major improvements over non-coated versions. Images will be sharper, clearer, and exhibit fewer artifacts. The difference is especially noticeable when shooting in challenging conditions like directly into light sources.
That said, don’t pay excessively high prices just for premium coatings. Full multi-coating provides excellent performance that meets most photographers’ needs. Only specialized lenses designed for the highest-end users require the most advanced coatings.
While coatings play a key role, keep in mind they are just one piece of the overall lens quality puzzle. Here are some other factors to weigh when choosing lenses:
- Intended use (portraits, landscapes, macro, etc.)
- Maximum aperture
- Lens elements and groups
- Image stabilization
- Build quality
- Manufacturer reputation
- Your budget
Consider the big picture when evaluating lens options to find the right balance of performance, features, and cost.
Upgrading camera lenses is an exciting way to improve your photography. But higher quality comes at a price. Determining which lens coatings are worthwhile involves balancing benefits versus cost.
While premium coatings sound appealing, for most users, a strong fully multi-coated lens provides tremendous quality. Only those requiring the absolute best optics for specialized applications need the most advanced coating technologies.
When purchasing lenses, don’t get carried away chasing minor performance gains from exotic coatings. Seek out high-quality optics with proven multi-coating at a reasonable price for your needs. This delivers excellent results for the money and lets you spend more on other gear.
With smart choices, you can build an impressive lens collection that takes your photography to the next level without breaking the bank.