One metric of a successful lens that is difficult to measure but highly valuable is "fun." But which lenses are the most fun and why? Here are five of mine.
I've never been one for getting new lenses and taking pictures of visual charts and zooming in 900% to a distant back-lit leaf to check for chromatic aberration. I can forgive all manner of shortcomings if the lens is fun to shoot with. I can and I do. In this article, I'm going to give my top five most fun lenses to use, and I want to hear about yours in the comment section below. In no particular order, let's get started.
Canon 135mm f/2 L
Affectionately known as Lord of the Red Rings, I have written odes to this lens over the years. There's something about this lens I've never quite been able to articulate. Let's be honest: it looks dreadful, the build quality is middling at best, and due to its age, it lacks features that newer lenses sport, but it's just so damn good. With almost every shoot I conduct, the 135mm will be making an appearance. It's the only Canon lens that survived my move to Sony and thus the only reason I bought an adaptor.
Fujifilm GF 110mm f/2
I have been waxing lyrical about this lens for nearly a year now, and even I'm a little sick of talking about it. However, to summarize, this lens just creates wonderful images without much work. It transformed the dull into the vaguely cinematic, and the vaguely cinematic into blockbuster imagery. If I were to move to Fuji, this would be my first purchase without hesitation. I'm convinced it had a "look" that I've never seen with any other lens/body combination, but it's difficult to prove, and the shot below isn't the best example of that.
Helios 40-2 85mm f/1.5
Definitely the weirdest entry on the list, this Soviet manual focus portrait lens is madness. Its radial bokeh, its unreasonably heavy weight, and its macro-esque narrow focal plane wide open means this lens is unlike the other two in the following way: it's a bugger to use well. But, it's a Russian manual focus lens with bizarre bokeh, so if you expected anything else, you were fooling yourself. It is also strangely cheap, with brand new units shipping from Russia for as little as $389.
I have missed so many shots with this lens, but when you nail it, it is memorable, and the steep learning curve is what made it so very fun.
Canon 17-40mm f/4 L
This is another weird entry to the list, but not in the arty, quirky way of the Helios, but rather in a sort of "why would you include that?" kind of way. I bought this lens secondhand quite a few years ago for a trip where I wanted to do some landscape photography. It was the least excited I have ever been for a "new" lens, and I tried it briefly before stuffing it into my bag. However, over the years, it got quite a lot of face time with me. Due to its sharpness and close minimum focus distance, it ended up being a bit of a niche lens for me. I would use it for commercial work in ways I wouldn't have thought possible before I owned it.
It's currently for sale at $499 brand new, and I think it's rather a lot of lens for that money.
Venus Optics Laowa 100mm f/2.8 2X Macro
I love macro photography, but before this, no lens had been much fun to use. The subgenre is difficult, and the lenses always felt very much like tools, and once they were on the front of my camera, I didn't think about them. When I moved to using a Sony macro lens and mirrorless body, my life got a lot easier, but it didn't get more fun. I wasn't disappointed at that; I didn't really have "fun" as a metric with that sort of photography. Then, last September, I reviewed Laowa's 100mm 2:1 macro lens and was genuinely surprised. Back when I started photography, 2x magnification in a lens was difficult and expensive to attain. Now, Laowa was offering it for $449.
It breathed a lot of life back into my macro photography while I had it with me. I started experimenting more and seeing what I could I achieve and thoroughly enjoyed myself. When I get my hands on their famous probe lens, it may well lose its place on this list, who knows.
Honorable Mention: Zeiss Otus 28mm f/1.4
The only reason this lens isn't on the list is because my hands-on with it wasn't overly long, and the only image I can find that I took with the 28mm f/1.4 is — as coincidences go — a behind-the-scenes shot of my model friend, Rachel, kissing a pissed-off Kiska the cat from image one of this article! The lens is built like a tank, beautiful and bizarre. It's a dream lens for astrophotography, but other than that, I wasn't sure when I'd use it, though it also felt like a great lens for photojournalism. Whatever the case may be, it's one of the most entertaining and luxurious lenses I've ever held.
What Is the Most Fun Lens You Have Used?
Time to pass the question over to you. Strip away every other criteria of buying a lens — price, application, weight, sharpness, and so on — and just tell us which lens you've had the most fun with. While you're at it, share a picture you took with the lens for good measure!
Oof, that's a great question. Off the top of my head:
Sigma 14mm f/1.8 Art: The combo of the focal length and maximum aperture was so unique that I was constantly inspired to find new and interesting shots.
Canon 135mm f/2L: Same feelings as you. That was my first real portrait lens and I've loved it ever since.
Canon 200mm f/2L: There's no other lens like it. Instantly memorable rendering, perfect technical quality.
Sony Planar T* FE 50mm f/1.4 ZA: The only 50mm I've ever liked or wanted to shoot with.
Venus Optics Laowa 10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 FE: Needless to say, it's basically taped down to 10mm. Just an insanely unique and fun perspective. I had a lot of fun in Manhattan with this lens.
The Nikon 200mm f2 VR and VRII lenses are very much like it and I believe they actually best the Canon image quality by a little bit if you check the MTF charts, however I used to have and use the older Canon 200mm f1.8 L and that was a little more unique. I loved that lens, but unfortunately it was stolen at a wedding I was shooting.
I'm scared for my wallet if I ever try the 200mm f/2.
I freaking love my Laowa 7.5 F2 for M43 on the GH5. It's just a blast to play around with.
Canon 15mm f2.8 fisheye any day of the week. 70-200mm f2.8 is next in line then my nifty 50
To start with a couple AF lenses...
Sigma 24-35mm f/2: A unique blend of larger aperture, useful zoom, and great resolution. My go-to events setup used to be a fast 35mm and 85mm. But the 35mm is now replaced by this lens for good reason!
Sigma 135mm f/1.8: For the same reasons as the Canon!
And some classics:
Voigtlander 21mm f/1.8: I know the Loxia and new CV21mm f/1.4 are all the rage at this focal length, but my copy of this lens is super sharp and I have no reason to try anything else!
Canon FDn 85mm f/1.2L: It's sharper than the EF version. Nuf said.
Olympus 180mm f/2.0: Smaller and lighter than Nikon or Canon's 200's and just as fast. Super rare though.
That Voigtlander does sound good fun!
I have to say that 17-40 is an odd one as the barrel distortion can be a bit rough. I shoot interiors and see real estate photographers using it from time to time.
Canon 50mm TSE 2.8L is my absolute favorite lens to shoot with. It's great for tight compression shots when needing to get over a couch but not lose perspective.
Canon 24mm TSE 3.5L is the lens I find myself going to more often then not when stitching a panorama of a larger space
Sigma 50mm f/1.4 ART for photos of my infant daughter who is slowly teaching me to enjoy portraiture.
Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS is my favorite landscape lens, the compression with it is amazing. Also when I can actually use it in an interior it feels so satisfying for vignettes.
Fujinon 56mm f/1.2 was the first "portrait" lens I shot with when I had a Fuji body. It was one of the most fun lenses I messed around with and stupidly sold for cheap when I switched to Canon.
This is a magnificent thread and article. love it !
For fujifilm geeks i'd have to say :
1. Nikon 105 2.5 AIS. Old nikon lens that Steve McCurry used for the afgan girl shot. This lens for portraits is heavenly
2. samyang/rokinon 12mm F2.0 - at the price it costs, it will produce wonderful landscape and astrophotography
and not so much about fuji now...
3. ricoh GR III with the fixed 28mm F2.8. The most fun camera i've used in years!
Easy...70-200 f2.8 L II. Hands down, my favorite to use.
Canon 100mm f/2 USM has just the right amount of compression and softness to make anything look like a pleasant memory, and the focus falloff is really forgiving
Not a single fun lens from Nikon? I think you are based
More like most shooters don’t have both Canon and Nikon 35mm systems. Because why would you.
I haven't used enough Nikon lenses or I have no doubts there would be some in this list, they've got some great glass.
Ditto the Canon 135mm. It also doubles as a fantastic wildlife lens.
There has actually been an article on this website in praise of the lens I'm about to mention: the 40mm Pancake. I bought the lens for travelling and immediately really enjoyed using it, and the results that came from such a compact, lightweight lens. I went from shooting with a 24-70 zoom to shooting with a single prime again and it was similar to the experience with my first Nifty Fifty. The focal length really is that perfect blend of 35mm and 50mm and it's just a really fun lens to make pictures with. I use 50mm a lot now but honestly, that 40mm is more fun.
"I use 50mm a lot now but honestly, that 40mm is more fun" 100%! - great street lens too; nice length and makes my 6D look much less intimidating.
Agreed. I definitely felt a lot less conspicuous with the 40mm Pancake than the 24-70.
Ultra wide for me, don’t care about the brand, getting close in on a subject and blowing out the background never gets boring. Otherwise the Fuji 27mm pancake lens is pretty fun.
I've never quite found the fun in UWA lenses, but they aren't really designed for me. A 27mm pancake lens definitely sounds right up my street though!
See I wouldn’t see the fun in a standard portrait lens, they are certainly awesome lenses that yield some special results but fun is not a word I’d use to describe them. I always think fun lenses would be more quirky than standard, like pancake lenses, fisheye, tilt shift etc.
Retro lenses. Like the M42 Takumars and the C/Y line. Nikon.
Canon 70-300L Is my 'fun' lens, wildlife, candid shots at parties etc. Great quality for such a wide range, fast autofocus and lovely solid feel. Heavy though - wouldn't want to hike up a mountain with it.
I take mine everywhere. I find that it's 'brother' the 100-400 4.5-5.6 L Mk 2 is too heavy for everyday, but I take that to nature reserves and airshows. However I'm a big fan of the 135mm which I bought as a reminder of my first telephoto lens.
- Rodenstock 32mm,
- Rodenstock 23mm,
- Schneider Kreuznach 150mm f/2.8
- Mamiya 500mm f/5.6,
5th place I’m uncertain. Probably the
- SK 35mm
I have used precisely zero of those lenses! Time to start Googling.
They are medium format lenses, so they are not so popular. The rodenstocks are tech cam lenses, the rest are ordinary M mount lenses (for Mamiya/Phase One system).
Hands down. the most fun lens for me HAS to be the Canon EF 40mm f/2.8 pancake on both a full frame (6D) and a 1.3 cropper (1D MKIII).
But, then I ran across a picture [below] taken with my ex Canon EOS-M5 and my EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro, and remembered how much fun THAT lens can be, no matter what you put it on,.. I was right in the face of my grand daughter with this RightOutOfTheCamera shot. Maybe I shoulda hung on to the M5 body...
Kiska! I love Maine Coon kitties! They are always The best models and definitely elevate the bar of sophistication in my ‘verse! Lol!
Tokina 100mm f/2.8: Simply a joy to use. (photo attached) The build quality is excellent. It's bright and crisp. I shoot a lot of bands in poorly lit rooms but it does a good job of getting a 1/2-length portrait or head shot from a reasonable distance without crowding the stage.
Sigma 17-50mm f/2.8: My everyday, walkin' around lens. Goldilocks - not too big, not too heavy but comfortable to operate with just enough weight to stay steady. I have a fabric camera strap and with it wrapped around my forearm, my D7500 & Sigma lens are just an extension of that limb. When shooting bands, on the street or flower gardens all I have to do is extend my hand and release the shutter.
Leica 42.5 mm on Lumix GH5/G9: incredible rendering and bokeh.
Leica 15 mm as well
Canon 24 TSE on GH5 with adapter, fun and easy to use with the lumix system
I owned a Canon 135 f2L some years back and sadly parted with it due to focal length in the studio. I regretted it immediately. Come last week and I see an ad in a Canon forum looking to swap a 135 for a wide angle, which I have, but underused. I couldn't resit. This morning I took the newly re-acquired 135 out to a portfolio book session for an actor and in 5 minutes fell in love with it all over again. I can't believe just how happy I am to have rectified such a crass error on my part so many years ago. I have the feeling the 135 is going to be basically living on my camera for a long while to come.
Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF --- Amazingly sharp while having a size and weight footprint comparable to a standard 300mm f/4. Awesome Vibration Reduction. A weight-conscious, travel and wildlife photographer's dream.
IRIX 11mm f/4 Blackstone -- Cause 11mm is just cool. Really solidly made, great sharpness, surprisingly small.
Nikon 18-200mm, when I shot nikon I use to love taking out this lens on the D200 and leaving everything else at home. Sure there was a compromise in quality but the versatility and freedom of that one lens made it so much fun to use.
Well, this is going to really give away my "noob" status, because... I've only had my DSLR for under a year. Rebel T7 + Kit lens got me going. I added Canon's 55-250mm STM and while I don't grab it often, it's nice to keep in my kit. Upgraded the kit lens to Canon's 18-135 f/3.5-5.6 STM. About a week ago I decided to grab the Nifty Fifty. Yeah, it's 80mm equivalent, but holy cow.... Going from Max f/3.5 with all the focal length I could want (for now...) to a limited focal length but f/1.8??? I can see why it's a recommended lens! I'm sure there all sorts of cool/fun/exotic/arty lenses that people will rave about, and I'll go read the comments... But having a f/1.8 is a blast. I kinda wish I would have grabbed the Sigma 17-70mm f/2.4-4 HSM OS C instead of the 18-135mm...oh well. Limited budget means limited options