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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!