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World's Costliest Camera Lens

There are a fair number of rare and exotic camera lenses available from different optics manufacturers. Some offer a particularly large aperture, others an extreme telephoto reach, and still others are notable for the control they provide over perspective or angle-of-view. The Leica APO-Telyt-R 1:5.6/1600mm carries the somewhat dubious honor of being the world's most expensive lens ever produced for civilian use.

It is Leica's longest, biggest, and heaviest telephoto lens. It was delivered in 2006 on special order from a rich photography aficionado and former Minister of Culture, Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar, at a price of 16 million Hong Kong Dollars - the equivalent of 2,064,500 US dollars. The lens is a unique copy, but a prototype is on display at Leica's showroom in Germany, and can be admired there.

Al Thani
Sheikh Al-Thani[qtel]

Unfortunately, little is known about the technical specifications of the lens. It has a bayonet mount for Leica's R-series manual focus SLR-cameras, is approximately 1.2m long (1.55m with lens hood attached), has a maximum lens barrel diameter of about 42cm, and weighs no less than 60kg. With a focal length of 1600mm, it covers a diagonal angle of view of merely 1.5 degrees. The lens should be compatible with Leica's 1.4x and 2x APO-teleconverters, giving rise to whopping 1:8/2,240mm and 1:11/3,200mm optical systems, respectively.

The designation APO-Telyt suggests that the lens contains apochromatic lens elements to correct for chromatic aberration. In good Leica tradition, this correction should not only apply to the center but throughout the entire image circle, so that color fringing should be well controlled. Yet, getting sharp images from such a behemoth of a lens will be a major challenge and requires very solid tripod support. The Danish Leica expert Thorsten Overgaard reported that Sheikh Al-Thani had commissioned a specially-equipped Mercedes four wheel drive to carry his expensive lens and move it around. Whether this setup has been successful in sufficiently steadying the lens is unclear, however, since no images taken with the lens have been made available.

Luckily, there are supertele options that are more accessible and affordable, even though they might not provide the same reach and light-gathering power as the APO-Telyt 1600mm. The table below lists a number of lenses from different manufacturers with a focal length of at least 500mm, together with their physical specs. And unlike Mr. Al-Thani's Leica R-lens, all of the optics support autofocus operation, which is – well – extremely useful when shooting sports or wildlife. Maybe the Sheikh has a collection of these lenses in his gear bag too, since in relative terms they look sooooo cheap. Indeed, he could buy all 16 of them for less than one sixteenth of what he paid for the Leica...

Some Extreme Tele-photo Lenses and their Specifications
Lens
Length
(mm)
Diameter
(mm)
Weight
(kg)
Launch date
(year)
Launch price
(USD)
Street price
(amazon)
Used price
(ebay)
Canon EF 500mm f/4.0L IS II USM 383 146 3.190 2011 9,499 latest check
Canon EF 600mm f/4.0L IS II USM 449 168 3.920 2011 11,999 latest check
Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM 461 163 4.500 2008 12,999 latest check
Nikon AF-S 200-500mm f/4E ED VR 268 108 2.300 2015 1,399 latest check
Nikon AF-S 500mm f/4E FL ED VR 387 140 3.090 2015 10,299 latest check
Nikon AF-S 600mm f/4E FL ED VR 432 166 3.810 2015 12,299 latest check
Nikon AF-S 800mm f/5.6E FL ED VR 461 160 4.590 2013 16,299 latest check
Sigma AF 50-500mm f/4-6.3 APO DG OS HSM 219 104 1.970 2010 1,659 latest check
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary 259 104 1.950 2014 1,289 latest check
Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Sports 290 122 2.860 2014 2,229 latest check
Sigma APO 200-500mm f/2.8 EX DG 726 236 15.700 2008 25,999 latest check
Sigma AF 300-800mm f/5.6 EX DG APO HSM IF 544 166 5.880 2005 7,999 latest check
Sigma 500mm f/4.5 EX DG HSM 350 123 3.150 2005 4,999 latest check
Sigma 800mm f/5.6 EX DG HSM 521 158 4.740 2005 6,999 latest check
Sony 500mm f/4 G SSM 368 140 3.460 2012 12,999 latest check
Tamron SP 150-600mm f/5-6.3 Di VC USD 258 106 1.950 2013 999 latest check

Further Reading

The Leica 1600mm is not the only exotic lens in the APO-Telyt range. A Leica 600mm f/5 mirror lens has been equally coveted by collectors and changed hands at photography auctions for five-figure amounts. Now, the low contrast and donut-shaped out-of-focus bokeh of mirror lenses is not to everybody's liking, so that a look at Leica's APO-Telyt Module system of two heads and three focusing units, which can be combined to create six lenses with focal length ranging from 280mm to 800mm, is perhaps advisable if high optical performance is called for.

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