The 7 Best Exotic Lenses Of All Time


If you are like me, you may have a bit of a thing for lenses. Even the most basic barrel of glass and metal is so much more than the sum of its parts.

Lenses are fundamental to the way we create our images; they have character and quirks. They are fascinating. 

I have owned a few, amazing lenses in my time. The Nikon 14-24, was dare I say it, sexy.

Years ago, my Canon FD f4 was the sharpest lens I had ever put on a film camera. I even had an obscure mirror lens with its unique doughnut highlights.

As fun and interesting as these lenses were, though, they were not what you might call exotic.

Today we are doing to delve into some of the most incredible lenses ever made. It will be by no means an exhaustive list, but feel free to add your thoughts in the comments below. 

Nikkor 6mm f/2.8 Fisheye Lens

Ever wanted to have eyes in the back of your head? With the Nikkor 6mm f/2.8 Fisheye lens, you can. Its incredible 220-degree field of view means you can actually see behind you. You might, of course, worry about getting filters to fit it, but fret not, Nikon have you covered, it has six built-in filters. 

Although designed in the early 70’s it should still fit Nikon DSLR cameras of today. There is a couple of issues though. Firstly finding one, they are rarer than hen's teeth. Secondly, and assuming you do find one, it will cost the price of an Aston Martin. On the bright side, it will probably hold its value better than the Aston.

Look around corners with this Nikon Fisheye. Creative Commons

Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8 APO EX DG

Do you feel your 70-210 2.8 is just not long enough for your needs? Looking for an f2.8 with a longer reach. Sigma has the answer for you, their 200-500mm f/2.8 APO EX DG.

While their 50-500 EX gained the moniker of Bigma, as yet the 200-500 has not acquired its own nickname. I want to suggest “thickma” because it has some serious girth to it. 

A constant aperture zoom is always a desirable thing, but when that aperture is still f2.8 at 500mm, desirability becomes directly related to large bank accounts. Its current price at B&H is $26,000, but the good news is that you can get hold of one within 14 working days. Order yours as soon as you read this. 

You would need strong arms for this beast. Creative Commons

Canon 1200mm

Of course, some of you might laugh in the face of 500mm. You are not happy with less than 1000mm, perhaps more. Worry not, Canon has you covered or rather had you covered with their EF 1200mm f5.6. 

Originally created in a batch of 5 for the 1984 Olympic Games, this beast of a lens weighs in at 13lbs or 16.5kg. Not really for hand holding unless your biceps have a wider girth than the “thickma”.

The good news is that it came with its own custom tripod and carrying case. The bad news is there are not many available, less than 100 and maybe as low as 20. If you have the spare $180,000 and can find one, let us know in the comments. We would love to do a review.!

Frame close with this Canon. Creative Commons

Carl Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 1700mm

Continuing the bigger is better theme, let’s take a look this beast from Carl Zeiss. Laughing in the face of the Canon’s f5.6 at 1200, the Sonnar T gives you f4 at 1700mm. Perfect for long wedding shots in dimly lit churches – if that church is several kilometres from where you are standing.

Weighing in at a staggering (and you will be) 256kg, this lens is a one-off private order for an unnamed individual. Presumably, a very wealthy individual, although the price has not been disclosed.

50mm f/1.5 Zeiss Sonnar

Staying with Zeiss, they have been around for quite a while, and while the T 1700mm is a relatively new lens, they have, throughout their history, produced other stunning lenses. The 50mm f/1.5 Zeiss Sonnar dates from 1932. It was a legendary lens that often fetched huge sums of money. The interesting thing about this Sonnar is that Carl Zeiss have bought it back, for Leica lovers that cannot afford the original versions. Of course, that being said, it’s still a 50mm prime but being as it’s designed for the Leica mount, it weighs in at $1260 new. 

Carl Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7

Another lens from Carl, this one from the 1960s. At a time when space exploration was in its infancy, NASA needed some nice large aperture lenses to shoot the dark side of the moon. 

Only 10 of these beauties were ever made, six went to NASA, Carl Zeiss kept one, and Stanley Kubrick invested in the remaining three.

He did this to capture candlelit scenes in his upcoming film, Barry Lyndon. A German cinema rental company used to rent these lenses out to those channelling their inner Kubrick, but a quick look at their website suggests they no longer do that. Oh well, have to make do with an f0.95 instead. 

See in the dark. Creative Commons

Samyang 650-1300mm

For something a little more affordable yet still exotic, look no further than the Samyang 650-1300mm. While lacking the large, constant apertures of the Sigma 200-500mm EX “thickma” (I wonder if this will catch on?) and the T 1700mm, the Samyang is somewhat more obtainable. 

If the Sigma 200-500mm EX is distinctive for its girth, the Samyang is distinctive for its length. At nearly half a meter long yet just over 10cm in diameter, it looks more like a telescope than a lens. With the aperture running from f8 to f16, it will not appeal to the Stanley Kubrick's among you; however, if you want to stand out in a crowd, quite literally, the Samyang will do you proud. 

Final Thoughts

So there you have it, lenses ranging from 6mm to 1700mm with aperture maxing out at f0.7. Most of us will never see most of these lenses let alone use one.

However, photography is for dreamers, and you never know, one day, you might just be able to lay your hands on one of these exotic beauties.

Now if you will excuse me, I am off to buy a lottery ticket. 

Got any thoughts on weird and wonderful lenses? Tell us about them in the comments below

About Author

Jason has more than 35 years of experience as a professional photographer, videographer and stock shooter. You can get to know him better here.

An excellent article, love seeing the exotica that’s out there, Except that 16 kg is 31 pounds, not 13!

Still an excellent article…

The Leica 800mm Telyt f6. 3 used only two elements, was only made to order, and cost so much that it once was advertised as coming with a free “tripod” – – a VW Golf automobile–as a bonus!

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