How You Can Save Thousands of Dollars on Top-level Professional Lenses

Supertelephoto primes are some of the most desirable lenses out there, but their prices often run upwards of $10,000. You can often pay half or even a third of that without major sacrifices if you are savvy, though, and this helpful video will show you both how and what to expect. 

Coming to you from Jan Wegener, this great video will show you the benefits and drawbacks of buying earlier generations of Canon supertelephoto prime lenses. People often associate the Mark II and Mark III versions of such lenses with improved image quality and autofocus, and while it is generally true that such things do improve in new generations, the important thing to remember is that even the first versions of such lenses often offered superlative performance. As such, the improvements are often less noticeable than you might think; in fact, Canon often made weight savings the headline features of their new supertelephoto primes, not improved image quality. For example, I paid about a third the price of a new EF 400mm f/2.8 L IS III USM by going with the Mark I version, and while it is indeed a behemoth, it offers spectacular image quality and blazing autofocus, particularly when mounted on my EOS R5. And since I always use it with a monopod, the weight issue doesn't really bother me. Check out the video above for the full rundown from Wegener.

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Alex Cooke is a Cleveland-based portrait, events, and landscape photographer. He holds an M.S. in Applied Mathematics and a doctorate in Music Composition. He is also an avid equestrian.

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It's an interesting perspective though one I do not necessarily share. Earlier version lenses are typically heavier and may no longer be supported by the manufacturer. Additionally, older lenses may not function as well on newer MILC bodies (read lower FPS or focus area). The value equation is complex and should be individualized according to one's need and risk tolerance.

at the same time. The price tag for the newer versions scares people away. One would have to make at least $100,000-$150,000 in profits in their photography business to justify these expensive lenses. Canon released a 1200mm lens that cost almost $20,000 pre sales tax. I would have to make $100,000 in profit a year, to even entertain the thought of purchasing that lens.

I am always scanning for good opportunities to buy the next lens that I would like to add to the collection, even though in reality that translates to a lens per year or less. I have done what you mentioned in this article. There are two other things that I have done also. One is that I chose an f/4 telephoto lens over its f/2.8 counterpart, which was a significant savings, with the obvious drawbacks. The other is that I chose a Canon EF mount instead of a Sony FE, Canon EF-S or Canon M mount lens so that the EF lens could be used on all of the aforementioned mounts (with adaptors as needed). One lens to rule them all. All three of these approaches come with tradeoffs, as Adam mentioned below for the earlier version of lens approach. With a fat wallet of unlimited resources, native-mount newest-version lenses are the best case scenario. But if the objective is to focus on "affordability" and attainability of a mighty telephoto beast, I would and totally have gone the route of buying an earlier version of the lens.

Buying into a new system is rarely justified, but for someone with a passion for birds and wildlife, it's hard to beat Nikon's mirrorless offerings. The 800mm pf is a phenomenal value at $6500 for anyone who desires/needs this FL. You lose just 1/3 stop of brightness and no loss of IQ over older and competing 800mm primes. If you desire something shorter, there's the 400mm f/4.5 and the 500mm pf (a DSLR lens that needs to be adapted) that offer excellent IQ for just a small brightness penalty. The bonus is tremendous reductions in the weight you have to carry. Of course, the hidden cost is that you need a Z9 to get the best performance out of these gems, so there is an expensive entry cost.

I love my R5-- probably the best general-purpose, and all-around workhorse camera ever produced (definitely for less than $4000)--and I use it most of the time when I'm not birding. However, having access to the above lenses has allowed me to get shots without the weight penalty that would have required purchasing one of the high-price exotics from Canon or Sony.