It doesn’t matter if you are a professional or just a hobbyist. The thrill of creating truly exceptional gear is unparalleled. While we all have our limitations, we still love to look at what is possible. And no matter how old you get, the beauty of fancy toys will never go out of style. Are they really necessary? They are unlikely to be needed. They are unlikely to be purchased. It is unlikely. We will not spend hours staring at their faces. You bet. Photographers can’t resist the beauty of expensive, high-quality glass.
To whet your appetites, we have compiled a list with eight of the most costly lenses available. These lenses are a work of art in their own right because of the craftsmanship and delicacy. We could have searched for optics that were unique or sold well at auction, but the ones on this list are different. These optics are not hidden in the closet of a wealthy sheik or available only once a decade at auction. We only showcase lenses that can be purchased at traditional retailers.
There are likely to be lenses that are not listed on this list. For example, lenses from Phase One. Phase One does not publish its MSRP for its lenses. This is why we restricted the list to lenses that are readily available. You can easily, if you have the coin.
Leica Vario-Elmar-S 30-90mm f/3.5-5.6 ASPH – $12,495
Although this is not the first Leica lens on the list it will be the most versatile. Leica isn’t known for its zoom lenses. This beautiful medium format lens was the first and remains the only zoom lens for Leica S system. Although it does lose some sharpness as you get closer to 90mm, the lens’ strengths are really impressive at the longer end. The image is clear, without distortion and well-corrected for chromatic aberration. The Vario-Elmar-S has a remarkable resistance to flares. It is amazing how much light this thing can handle, considering the 14 elements that make up 11 of these groups.
Although it is not a lightweight lens, considering what it can replace in the bag and its excellent weatherization, this lens is an ideal choice for landscape photographers. This lens is available in used condition for as low as $10,000, despite being around for several years.
Canon RF 600mm f/4L IS USM – $12,999
A list of the most expensive lenses will soon look like a list with the top telephoto lenses. Given their complexity, speed, and size, this is inevitable. It is not surprising that our first Canon RF 600mm f/4L ISO USM appears so early on the list.
Functionally, the RF 600mm merely replaces the Canon EF 600mm f/4L IS III USM glass with an integrated EF–EOS R. So the reaction to the RF launch may have been less than it deserved. The adapter offers a few benefits, besides the obvious convenience.
The adapter doesn’t increase weight but it makes a significant difference in balance. The adapter, like the III, shifts weight rearward to improve handling. The mount also increases the CIPA image stability assistance rating by half a stop, from 5 to 5.5 stops.
The Canon L series is the best choice for wildlife and sports photography. The L series is the best in terms of image quality, auto-focus is fast and accurate, and the form factor has never been better. The execution is almost personal in terms of quality and precision. The magnesium-reinforced carbon alloy can produce thinner walls while retaining greater toughness. The lens is waterproof with a fluorine coating at the front and back. Each stage of manufacturing is meticulously done. Canon’s RF 600mm is truly Canon at its finest. You have a great (and expensive!) kit of wildlife or sports equipment when you pair it with the Canon EOS R5 camera.
Leica Summilux-M 90mm f/1.5 ASPH – $13,695
Before we can discuss the performance of the Summilux M 90mm, it is important to take a moment and marvel at its engineering achievements. It is not possible to create a compact lens that includes a floating element. It is remarkable that it achieves this feat with so little distortion and vignetting. It is best to use it on the basis of feeling alone.
This lens is able to convey tactile confidence, which is essential for any lens. But it’s even more important for one that screams “natural light portraiture”. The result is a smooth, confident focusing action, lightning speed, precise control of creamy, dreamy background, and a focal distance that ensures the photographer captures all details. The micro contrast is superior to almost all other competitors. The image quality is unimpeachable.
It is compact, but it is heavier than you would expect. Unfortunately, the front end is a bit too far from the front for maximum comfort. Its primary selling point, speed, is actually a trap. This lens is not one you want to use wide open. The lens’ overall usability can be limited, making it difficult to use. But, would the buyer really care? We bet that it won’t.
Summilux-M, in price, build, function, is a champagne lens. A classic car lens. It’s the best silverware. The Jaeger Lecoultre watch. Montblanc pen. It can be used when you feel the same quality. If you are looking to capture a particular kind of moment. When you want flexibility. It is a great investment and an undisputed success.
Cambo WRA/ and WRE-2138 With Rodenstock 138mm F/6.5 HR Digaron SW Float Lens – $13,965 – $14,710
Cambo was established in 1946 in the Netherlands. It is the first studio camera manufacturer that made an all-metal large-format camera. Cambo is well-known for its made-for digital view cameras and landscape-wide cameras, as well as other specialty options. These cameras can be used with Sinar, Sinar, Leaf, Mamiya/Phase One and Leaf digital backs.
Some, such as the Actus series are made for mirrorless cameras such as Sony E, Fuji X, GFX, Hasselblad X. These allow photographers to make a wide range of rear and front movements that aren’t possible with small format digital cameras. Horizontal and vertical shifting are also possible. This allows for images with a higher resolution as well as allowing an APS-C sensor or full-frame sensor, to be converted into medium- or large format. These are intended for still life, studio and landscape photography.
Cambo also makes a variety of Wide RS lenses panels — Rodenstock lenses that are fitted with an Aperture Only Mount (“WRA”) or a Tilt/Swing Module (“WTSA”) and designed for use with the Cambo Wide Digital Series. These lenses include the 23mm f/5.6 HR Digaron S to the 180mm F/5.6 HR-S Digaron.
The 138mm F/6.5 HR Digaron SW Float is the most expensive. It is a sharp, long focal length lens that has a maximum reproduction ratio 1:5. The lens produces images with high resolution at all distances thanks to the combination of eleven elements in ten groups and a floating element.
Compatible with the Cambo Wide RS series sensors and sensors with e shutters, the WRA-2138 can be used. When fitted with a Phase One X-Shutter, the WRS-2138 can also be used with the Phase One XT Camera. You can purchase or have a non-WRS version mounted with the X-Shutter to use with the IQ4 Infinity platform. The WRS-2138’s electronic shutter can be controlled by USB from a computer, an Android, iPhone or iPad, or via an app.
You can get any Rodenstock lens for as low as $70, and they all are great, but the Rodenstock 138/6.5 is the most expensive and best-selling Rodenstock lens.
Leica Noctilux-M 75mm f/1.25 ASPH – $14,295
The Noctilux M line dates back to Johnson and is long considered to be the most beloved of all Leica designs because of its speed and quality. What is it that sets the 75mm apart? It is simply that good.
First, the Noctilux was a 50mm lens in the past. Photographers will instantly think of the Noctilux 50mm when you mention “Noctilux”. The 75mm is much more recent, more expensive and the first of its type. It’s also fast, making it unique in the Noctilux line. This title was previously held by Noctilux 50mm F/1.2. This sentence overlooks a remarkable fact: It was the fastest full frame 75mm lens created, until 7Artisans produced their own version.
The Noctilux lens line was designed by Leica using a number of core principles. These include the fastest maximum aperture, the most effective suppression of aberrations and pleasing color reproduction. They also have the greatest wide-open performance in isolation and focus, as well as some of the best flare resistance among super-fast lenses. The 75mm excels across all categories. Nikon Noctiluxes 50mm and 75mm Noctiluxes are the only lenses that can surpass them. However, it is significantly heavier and lighter than the Noctiluxes.
This compact, front-heavy telephoto lens is designed for portraiture, just like the Summilux. Its incrediblely fast falloff is what makes it stand out. This lens provides a separation between background and subject that is almost unimaginable in terms of its cleanliness. This trait is often associated with Leica ASPH lenses and Zeiss Otus lenses, Sigma Art and other fast and well-corrected lenses such as the Noct–Nikkor. Aspherical elements suppress spherical aberration, resulting in a smooth transition from the focus to the out, giving you what many call a “3D look”.
However, 75mm can still be a difficult focal length for some photographers. The Summilux has the same limitations as the Summilux: this is a special case where wide-opening is the best option. You might want to consider a slower lens if you don’t have the right equipment.
Horseman 23mm f/5.6 HR Digaron-S Lens Unit – $15,620
The Komamura Corporation has been manufacturing horseman cameras since the beginning. They are associated with large format film, both small format 6×9 and large format 4×5 fields and technical cameras. The company is now also well-known for its digital camera solutions.
For example, the Horseman VCC Pro is a handheld camera that can be used with Nikon and Canon SLRs. It allows the user to control tilt, swing and shift as well as rise and fall movements. The Horseman Axella XX view camera can accept everything, including Nikon Z and Canon EF, as well as Fujifilm XX and GFX. Phase One and Hasselblad backs are also accepted. The Horseman LD Pro view camera is the “ultimate viewcam” for Hasselblad and Phase One digital backs. It allows them to have extremely precise front and back movement control as well as vertical and horizontal stitching to produce extremely high-resolution images.
These cameras use large format technology so super-wide-angle lenses are rare. The Horseman 23/5.6 Digaron S is one of the most wide-angle medium and large format lenses. The lens is fitted with a Copal #0 shutter. However, it is constructed into a special focusing system as it does NOT contain a helicoid (large format lenses do).
It is not compatible with all Horseman cameras, including the SWD Pro, SWD II Pro and SW612D. These cameras are compatible with a range of film and digital backs from Hasselblad and Contax as well as Mamiya and other manufacturers. The SW612D can also accept medium format roll holders ranging from 6×7 to 12×12.
The 23mm Digaron can be paired with a 54x40mm digital sensor to produce a field of vision equivalent to 15mm full-frame. Although it is a very special lens, the combination of the lens with the many compatible cameras gives you a lot of potential that you won’t find anywhere else.
Nikon AF-S Nikkor 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR w/ 1.25 Teleconverter – $16,295
This one was long-awaited, and that is an understatement. It was almost a quarter century since Nikon updated its 800mm f/5.6 EDIF manual focus lens. Nikon teased the 800mm lens release almost a decade ago. It was long past time that an auto-focusing 800mm lens would be released. The company delivered.
Nikon has made a significant stride with the Nikkor 800mm. This is the first lens to use fluorite elements, other than for microscopy and medical purposes. It’s also the first Nikon Telephoto lens to pivot from its standard mechanical diaphragm. The electronic control is possible thanks to the use of an electromagnetic diaphragm. This is a significant step forward in terms of achieving consistent and accurate results across multiple exposures when you shoot quickly in auto-focus.
The 800mm lens is lighter than the 600mm and 400mm lenses, thanks to its thinner barrels and fluorite elements. Autofocus is quick, precise, and easy.
Although it took a while, the final result was undoubtedly worth the wait. Nikon has created a telephoto lens with comparable features, construction, and form to Canon’s 800mm. It has also created a telephoto lens that is superior to Canon’s 800mm in terms of image quality. The included AF-S Teleconverter TC800-1.25E ED, which converts the lens to a 1000mm f/7.1 at 4.5 stops VR and maintains its minimum focus distance, gives photographers more flexibility. It is compatible with the Nikon AF–S TC-14EIII 1.4x, Nikon AF–S TC-17 II and Nikon AF–S TC-20EIII 2x teleconverters, giving you options of 1120mm f/8 and 1360mm f/9 equivalents.
Pricing here reflects the confidence in this product. This confidence is valid, but we expect that the gap between Nikon and Canon telephoto lenses will shrink over time.
Sigma APO 200-500mm F/2.8 with 2x Teleconverter, $25,999
You wouldn’t be wrong to call the Sigma APO 200-5500mm the Incredible Hulk, given its jade hued and massive size. It is fast, just like the comic-book character and can smash your wallet and expectations.
The Sigma APO 200-500mm f/2.8 lens is available in three mounts: Canon EF, Nikon F and Sigma SA. It’s not a new lens, but most photographers know at least some of its details. It is still the most expensive lens you can buy through normal means, even though it has been around a decade since its launch.
This lens is unique because it allows for a maximum aperture of F/2.8 at 500mm focal length. It also boasts an apochromatic designation. This lens is truly unique in its engineering. This lens features an LCD panel built into it that displays zoom, focus distance, and other information. It is powered by an internal battery motor.
It has been wild for thirteen years and is still a fascinating creature. It would still be an interesting purchase, even with all the money in the world — especially considering the incredible ISO capabilities of modern cameras.
This lens is amazing on paper and is very easy to use in practice. This is despite its enormous size. The electronic focusing is the best example of this. The electronic focusing is faster than you would expect, but slower than you would prefer due to the high price. The Sigma is not weather-resistant or dust-sealed, making it the perfect safari camera.
Another thing to remember when you dream about this lens is that it will likely cost you far more than $26,000. If you’re responsible, you will likely spend at least another few thousand on a support system. This workhorse/show pony combination weighs in at 35 pounds.
Despite all this, Sigma’s Hulk lens is charming. This lens is a remarkable technical achievement. There isn’t anything else like it for good or ill. The included 2x Teleconverter makes it a remarkable kit. It can be attached to a 400-1000mm f/5.6 lens.
This is what I would expect for $26,000.