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.
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.
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.