Over the history of the camera, thousands and thousands of different lenses have been designed and manufactured. Some do not go beyond the prototype stage, some are only used by individuals and of course many are mass-produced. However, even when mass-produced, a lens barrel is still extremely rare.
A quick Google search for “rareest lenses” will bring up names like: Zeiss 1700mm, Zeiss 50mm f/0.7, Nikon 6mm f/2.8 Fisheye, Leica 1600mm and others. Basically, these are lenses that you will probably never see in your life.
Still, there are lenses that are very rare, but are actually available on the used market – lenses that you can actually buy. Many of these lenses appear only occasionally on eBay or in other auctions. They are all extremely rare lenses.
Contax Zeiss 55mm f/1.2 Planar T* MM 100 Jahre
In 1973, the Contax name was licensed to Yashica by Carl Zeiss to produce a line of high-quality, professional 35mm SLR lenses and cameras. In 1983, Kyocera acquired Yashica, continuing to manufacture the cameras and lenses that Zeiss and Yashica had built a decade earlier.
This lens is being sold for nearly 7000 USD on eBay
Professional cameras are sold under the Contax name while the more “pocket-friendly” models are stamped Yashica – both share the same Contax/Yashica (C/Y) mount. The best C/Y lenses were designed by Zeiss and to this day are some of the best vintage lenses you can buy – very few film-era lenses work well on modern sensors these days. but most Zeiss C/Y lenses have that capability. In fact, the optical design of many of these lenses was carried over directly to the Zeiss Classic series (ZF, ZF.2, ZE, ZK) and later to the Milvus series.
Some lenses, like the 50mm f/1.7 Planar, are quite affordable while others, like the 85mm f/1.4 Planar or the 28mm f/2 Distagon (also known as “Hollywood” loved by filmmakers) like to use), will fall into the range of several tens of thousands of dollars. Others, like the 85mm f/1.2 Planar or the 200mm f/2 Aposonnar, are quite rare and can cost as much as a car when they come to market from time to time.
It is unclear exactly how many were produced, but all were produced to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Zeiss Planar patent, hence the name “100 Jahre” (German for “100 years”).
Konica Hexanon 60mm f/1.2
Unlike many Konica Hexanon lenses – most of which were made for Konica’s AR mount – this lens was released in March 1999 for the Leica Screw Mount (aka Leica Thread Mount or “LTM”) ).
In 1996, Konica ordered a series of lenses in both the Leica M mount and the Leica Thread Mount. The latter was unusual for the time as most photometric cameras (Rangefinder) of that era switched to the Leica M mount long ago. One of these LTM lenses is the Hexanon 35mm f/2L, a replica of the highly regarded lens on Hexar autofocus compact cameras. While this lens is also highly sought after, there is no better lens than the Hexanon 60mm f/1.2, produced in a limited run of just 800 pieces.
The lens is intended for use on rangefinders and can be operated on modern M-mount bodies (film or digital) through the use of a simple adapter.
Konica M-Hexanon Dual 21-35mm f/3.4-4
Konica M-Hexanon Dual 21-35mm f/3.4-4 is on sale for $2680 on eBay
Konica’s entry into the M-mount arena is not sudden. In fact, Konica and Leica were already competitors in the 1990s. During the 90s, Konica released a lot of M-mount lenses, many of which can be easily found on the market already. used.
In 2000, Leica introduced the revolutionary Tri-Elmar 28-35-50mm f/4 to its M series of bodies. This is the first time that rangefinder users have had the ability to change focal lengths without swapping lenses. Two years later, in 2002, Konica returned with the 21-35/3.4-4 lens. “21-35” should not be read as most of us are used to, but in the same way as the 28-35-50 Tri-Elmar – it is not a zoom lens, but one that offers both focal lengths. 21mm and 35mm, just like the Tri-Elmar offers 28, 35 and 50mm.
Leica Tri-Elmar 28-35-50mm f/4
While the Konica offers less focal length, it actually surpasses the Tri-Elmar in a number of ways. Obviously, at 21mm, it’s much wider than the Tri-Elmar’s 28mm. But its design is also improved by implementing a variable aperture of f/3.4 at 21mm and f/4 at 35mm. Zoom and focus capabilities are also included, making lens operation noticeably smoother.
An estimated 800 pieces were produced, so you can patiently find them on the used market.
Leica Elcan 66mm f/2
Lots of highly prized and extremely desirable Leica lenses. Many of them – like the Noctilux – can even be considered legendary. But the Leica Elcan 66mm f/2 is both a legendary lens and a lens not often discussed.
In the early 50s, Elcan (Ernst Leitz Canada) was established in Midland, Ontario to serve the North American market. The company was also tasked with developing its own lenses under the direction of Dr. Walter Mandler, who initially planned to work with Elcan only for a short time. But Mandler stayed in Canada for more than fifty years, eventually becoming a citizen.
Mandler is one of the most celebrated optical engineers in history. Renowned for pushing boundaries and accomplishing the seemingly impossible, Mandler became responsible for countless vintage Leica lenses: 35/2.8 Summaron, 35/2 Summicron, 3/1.4 Summilux, 50 /1.4 Summilux, 50/2 Summicron, 50/1.0 Noctilux, 75/1.4 Summilux, 21/2.8 Elmarit, 180/3.4 APO-Telyt, all Leica R lenses and dozens more.
Part of Leitz Canada’s business is focused on the development and production of military cameras and lenses – such lenses have received the designation “Elcan”. Many of these lenses were used by NATO during the Cold War, were said to be “spy” lenses, and were not made available to the public. One such lens is the Elcan 66mm f/2, purpose-built for the US Navy with the goal of achieving optimum resolution.
It looks like Leitz Canada has succeeded in that regard, as the Elcan 66mm is arguably an incredible lens, even on today’s modern digital cameras. Unfortunately, only about 200 pieces were ever made, so they are rarely on the market and have a high price tag.
Leica Elcan 90mm f/1.0
Elcan has produced a number of lenses for the military, including the aforementioned 50mm f/2 and 66mm, but perhaps none of them is as likely to cause your “want to buy back syndrome”. this lens. With the Elcan 90mm f/1.0, Mandler forever cements his legacy as a pioneering optical engineer. This is the fastest over 60mm lens ever made, excluding X-Ray and other non-photographic lenses.
Built for the US Air Force specifically for night photography, the Elcan 90mm is a giant monster. With a wider front diameter than the Leica 560mm Telyt, it is funny to say that you attach the camera to this lens, not the lens to the camera.
However, don’t get too excited about taking super shallow depth of field portraits with it. Since the huge size blocks the entire viewfinder, this lens does not have a standard focus ring. Since it’s designed for nighttime aerial photography, the lens instead has three focus rings to swap between: one for infinity, one for 100 meters, and one for 50 meters.
With an estimate of only ten ever made, it’s unlikely you’ll ever see one for sale, but the chance is still there.
Minolta G-Rokkor 28mm f/3.5
In the mid-’90s, Minolta joined the luxury-compact camera craze. The Minolta TC-1 is one of my favorite compact 35mm cameras – and one of the most expensive – mainly due to its petite design and outstanding G-Rokkor 28mm f/3.5 lens. Many of the luxury point and shoot cameras of that era were known for their excellent optics and the Minolta TC-1 was at the top.
As part of its 70th anniversary, Minolta has released the G-Rokkor 28mm lens from the TC-1 with Leica Thread Mount in a limited edition run of just 2,000 pieces. This makes it a bit more popular than some of the other names on this list and is the most affordable.
Nikon Nikkor 13mm f/5.6
The Nikkor 13mm f/5.6 is considered one of the “Holy Grails” of Nikon lenses and vintage lenses in general.
The Nikkor 13mm, produced between 1976 and 1998, is an ultra-wide-angle Rectilinear lens and its famous point is its extremely low distortion. In fact, it’s been the widest non-fisheye lens on the market for a very long time. Most other lenses in the 16mm and below era were fisheye lenses (and often performed quite poorly). This lens has a back-focus of about 3.5 times its focal length – a feat extremely difficult to overcome, even today. It is very difficult to produce extreme retrofocus lenses and in 1976, this never happened. The 13mm Nikkor is another story.
With a front diameter of 115mm, this lens features a 118-degree field of view and retrofocus design with 16 elements. A dedicated floating design helps to minimize aberrations at close focusing distances.
Even today, this lens is of remarkable quality. It’s not perfect, but very few 13mm full-frame lenses, especially SLRs, can be called perfect. Sharpness remained excellent across 95% of the frame, with only the extreme periphery showing signs of distortion and axial aberrations. At f/8, the edge blur effect is noticeably improved. By f/11, its resolution is extremely uniform across the entire frame.
This lens represents one of the most remarkable technological achievements in the history of photography. There are very few SLR lenses that demonstrate this level of performance, even including modern designs. That is…