The Lens That Should Exist But Never Will

The Lens That Should Exist But Never Will

We all dream of a premium quality lens that is suitable for every situation (maybe a pancake 14-400mm f/2.8), but of course this is not exactly realistic. My dream, however, is infinitely more reasonable and completely feasible, yet despite this, no lens manufacturer will ever create it.

More than 15 years ago when I started learning about photography by shooting parkour, my gear was an entry-level Canon on black and white film with a kit lens. Very quickly I realized that 28mm wasn't wide enough and tried to figure out a way of shooting wider but without spending what then seemed to be an insane amount of money. I was a student and photography was a hobby, so my first acquisition was a fisheye converter, a cheap chunk of glass bought on eBay that screwed onto my kit lens. This blurry, clunky piece of tat was a bit of a game changer. The images were rubbish but suddenly I saw the world in wide angle.

parkour fish eye lens

Early 2004, when I knew nothing about photography, and the world knew nothing about parkour.

Since then, my Canon 6D spends most of its time with my beloved Canon 16-35mm f/2.8 attached. I love the geometry of this lens, its sharpness, its ability to cope when I point it straight into the sun, and the speed and reliability of its autofocus. However, its size is a problem, and if I choose to upgrade to the Mark III, this only gets worse, jumping from 1.4 pounds (635 grams) to 1.74 pounds (790 grams). As a nomadic minimalist, I feel every single ounce.

I've written before about my love of Canon's 40mm pancake and this led me to wonder if I could find something smaller for those trips where I know I'm not going to be shooting that much but can't face a week away without something wide in my bag. My beloved 16-35mm is not ideal, especially when I considered that it's very rare that I shoot with an aperture larger than f/4.0. As a result, I've started to question whether lugging my lump of a lens around is always justified. Maybe I could find a prime that would keep me happy.

The 16-35mm is incredible but, as with any ultra-wide lens, you've got to be careful what you put at the edges of the frame. Fingers become elongated, heads become alien, and ladies with the slimmest of shoulders can quickly look like they've been in the gym, albeit only working one side. To account for this, I often find myself shooting between 18 and 21mm, despite the 16mm that I have available.

wide angle lens parkouar

Amie (left) has not been injecting steroids into her right arm. And nor are her hands different sizes. Unable to move any further backwards, I had little choice but to shoot at 16mm, and I paid the price for it.

With this in mind, I started hunting for a walk-around 20mm prime that would be a bonus addition to my gear, and get thrown with my 40mm pancake in for short trips where weight and space is at a premium. Three other considerations: I need autofocus as I enjoy street photography; I don't need anything faster than f/4.0; and this is a supplementary lens that will get caked in climbing chalk and thrown in a bag with other stuff, so the price has to be relatively low.

Sounds straightforward, right? Not quite. Canon's 20mm prime is f/2.8 and hasn't been updated since — and this is slightly amazing — 1992, the year it was launched. It's barely an inch and a half shorter than my 16-35mm and hardly compact, and I wonder if an f/4.0 version (were it to exist) would be a little smaller. I was excited to see Sigma releasing their new range of Art lenses a few years ago, but their 20mm is f/1.4 and, let's not forget, this lens weighs an incredible 2 pounds (950 grams).

So I wait to see if Yongnuo or Samyang will add to their selection of affordable primes (I'm about to splash out on the Yongnuo 50mm f/1.8 II). Guys, if you're reading, help me out! Maybe until then I need to stop being sniffy about the bulk and best before date on Canon's own 20mm prime and pick one up second hand — it's certainly been around long enough that there's more than a few knocking about on eBay.

All of this leads me to ask a question of the community: which lenses don't exist that really should? Leave your thoughts in the comments, please.

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80 Comments

Ryan Cooper's picture

I'd like to see a 180mm f/2.4. Something that is basically a lighter, smaller, cheaper, alternative to a 200mm f/2.0.

Matt Williams's picture

I would love this

Legacy lens? I just picked up a like new Nikkor 180 f2.8 for $140 and use it on my MFT in aperture mode. The only down side, weight - sometimes I feel as if I am using an old Nikon with a motor drive,

Ryan Cooper's picture

The old Nikkor 180 2.8 was pretty good for its time but at 2.8 it doesnt offer much over a 70-200 other than price. Especially if you take into account the lack of VR.

A modern 180 2.4 VR would offer narrower DoF than a 70-200 as well as likely sharper images.

PS: good find at $140 dude! Still an amazing lens and that price is a steal.

Tony Tumminello's picture

If you shoot Canon there's already the 200mm f2.8L II. It's definitely due for an update sometime soon since it's from 1996, but it's still a good lens and isn't that expensive; a nice condition one with all of the accessories runs ~$600.

Ryan Cooper's picture

An old 200mm 2.8 offers nothing really over a modern 70-200 2.8 with stabilization. What I'd be looking for is something that is superior to a 70-200 zoomed to 180mm. A 2.4 prime with modern stabilization could offer that. It should be sharper and have a shallower DoF.

When I was in high school in the70's my friends and I were captivated by the Series 1 Vivitar zoom that was heralded as being computer designed and presaged a flood of never-before lenses.
When we got our hands on an inexpensive 18mm lens our minds were blown.
We dreamed of a 24-100 mm zoom or a 20-50 zoom.
Today I use a Canon 11-24 zoom every day. The 16-35 is my walk around lens and my 24-70 and 70-200 (really old tech I guess) are my workhorses.
The 17TS-E still astounds other photographers and laypeople alike.

Daniel Karr's picture

I've always wanted a Lens right in between a 16-35 and 24-70. Something like a 20-50 2.8. When I travel I usually only take two lenses with me, a wide 18mm or 20mm and a standard 50mm or 55mm. A 20-50mm would be my single lens solution for a full frame walk around lens

Andy Day's picture

Great shout. 20-50 would be amazing.

Lee Stirling's picture

I shoot a Minolta XD11 with a 35-70mm f/3.5. It's a very useful focal range with reasonably fast constant aperture.

Richard Barcelo's picture

I agree with this sooooo much!! Also, make it f1.4 pls!

:)

Josh Leavitt's picture

For micro four thirds I'd like to see a 12-100mm F/2 with image stabilization. That would combine the fabled 24-70 & 70-200 full-frame equivalents into one lens, so no more need to carry two bodies and switch between cameras at events.

For full-frame, I guess I wouldn't mind an updated version of the push/pull zoom 28-300mm F/3.5-5.6L IS from Canon; only with the updated model I'd like it to have diffractive optic technology to bring the weight down by half or so, and shrink the overall length by about 4-5 inches when fully extended. That lens combined with the 16-35mm F/4L IS would be about all I need in my bag.

Darren Loveland's picture

The holy grail of versatility (as I've said in a previous comment a year or two ago) would be a 24-105mm f/2.8. One of the off brand lens companies made one several years ago, but the reviews all showed the lens was basically useless at f2/8. Leica makes a 24-90 f/2.8 but it's $6k USD. Canon has a nice 24-105mm but it's widest aperture is f/4. At 24mm you can still get pretty nice landscape shots at a wide angle, at 105mm you can bring the frame in nice and tight from a distance, and the focal lengths in between are great for the right situations. When you need excellent bokeh the f/2.8 is clutch (not as solid as primes with 1.4 or so, but still much better than f/4). Please Canon bring out the 24-105 at f/2.8!

Matt Williams's picture

The Leica 24-90 isn't a constant f/2.8, it's 2.8-4

Matthew Saville's picture

Sure, if your idea of "versatile" is a 3+ lb lens. No thanks!

Do you think a Tokina 11-16 F2.8 on a APS-C canon would do the trick?

Sigma also has a 10-20 3.5.

Nick Papadopoulos's picture

The lens that should exist but never will is a 24-105 f2.8.

user-189304's picture

I'm sorry, but I have to go there. If weight is your overarching concern, why on Earth are you shooting on a full frame DSLR?

I would observe that the Nikkor 20mm f/1.8 is pretty small and light. But again, I know little of Canon.

As to what I want, nope, I'm good. I've started doing hikes with an A6000 with a Sigma 19mm f/2.8 - that's it, and i couldn't be happier.

Matthew Saville's picture

THIS. The minute you're OK with f/4 on full-frame, you /should/ be just fine with f/2.8 on APS-C. And there are LOTS of options in that arena.

Andy Day's picture

Good question! My minimalist nomadism has only come about in the last 2 years. Switching to an APS-C system is definitely something that I'm considering. Having shot full frame for so long, it feels like a helluva transition! Maybe I just need to bite the bullet.

user-189304's picture

It's pretty awesome being able to walk around all day holding the camera without ending up with wrist strain

Quentin Decaillet's picture

You should look at Fuji for example. Their 10-24 and 14 could probably be the answer you're looking for :)
APS-C will be smaller, lighter, and cheaper. Image quality on APS-C may not be as good as full frame, but that's debatable and I'm sure most of your clients wouldn't see the difference anyway.

Andy Day's picture

I think I need to rent or borrow something so that I can see all of the implications of moving away from full frame. It's definitely something I'm pondering. Thanks for the suggestions!

Darren Loveland's picture

I don't think I've complained about weight on my setup once in the 10+ years I've been shooting. Almost always FF, typically with heavy glass. Maybe that's just me, but I think if weight is the issue, the overall setup should be considered, not just the lens.

user-189304's picture

When was the last time you were climbing mountains? For me it was last weekend.

Andy Day's picture

Darren, you might be right. It's something I'm pondering but for some reason, the prospect of moving from full frame is a bit scary. I think I probably need to borrow a MFT or APS-C system from a friend for a week and see how it goes. So many of my friends have A6500s that I wonder if I should give it a go.

Sean Gibson's picture

For sports photographers, a 200-400 f/2.8 is the dream. I was really hoping Sony would follow suit with the a9 taking a leap past Canon/Nikon, and come out with this lens instead of creating a 300 or 400mm prime. You could price it where the 400mm is now, and save on R&D and production costs by not having to produce two separate lenses. All sports shooters use a 70-200, so to have a 200-400 to complete the range would be amazing. Oh well, guess the dream will live on.

I have two dream lenses: 35-50/2 and an 85-135/2. The former wouldn't have to be overly large. The latter would have to be huge, but it would be an amazing portrait and wedding range.

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