Extreme lenses for extreme pictures.

Lens Zeiss Jena 400mm f/1.5
From WW2, this extreme lens is a Zeiss Jena 400mm f/1.5

Today it's the St Patrice day (Saint Patrick if you prefer, but my first name is Patrice, don't be picky).

So i decided to invite you to a journey's dream with some of the most extreme lenses, and discover what would be done or what was already done with some lenses manufacturers.


If you are proud about your 50mm which can be opened with an aperture as big as f/1.2, or you are proud about your 600mm f/4 or your 800mm f/5.6, you might rethink about it,  and eventually, you can go back to play in the sandbox with your lenses, because today i will speak about optically very extreme lenses, which will made yours look like a 2 years old kid's toy.


You can tell me that those lenses cannot be mount on a DSLR, in fact most of these lenses can be mounted on a Reflex camera, with an adapter. For sure, because of their Out of Bound capabilities those extreme lenses can suffer from some issues, like chromatic aberrations, sharpness, vignetting, distortion, etc ...

As you can see on the picture above, the journey in this extreme lenses is full of promises, but let's start slowly by the more "common lenses" to finish this travel dream by some such unbelievable monsters that they might frighten you.

Picture of an extrem wide angle lens, the Nikkor 6mm f/2.8 fisheye
Picture of an extrem wide angle lens, the Nikkor 6mm f/2.8 fisheye

Let start slowly with this Nikkor 6mm f/2.8 fisheye. This lens was made for scientific purpose like weather studies and was introduced in 1972 by Nikon. This lens weigh 5.2Kg and have a field of view of 220º! meaning it can see behind itself. The angle of view is so huge that even the original user manual is warning you (page 6) : "Be careful in the picture not to include unwanted objects such as legs of the tripod or the hands or feet of the photographer."

You want more ?

Picture of the Canon 5200mm f/14
Picture of the unique model of the Canon EF/FD 5200mm f/14

Ok, let's get in a long focal length with the Canon 5200mm f/14, said in another word it's a 5.2 meters of focal length (17 feet!). This lens was made during the cold war certainly for spying, it's weigh is more than 100Kg, and it's optical elements are a mixed catadioptric system and glass elements, and it can open "only" at f/14, yes only f/14, you will see later why i am not so impressed.


Until now, we saw some extreme focal lengths, with some quite nice apertures, let us go  for few lines with more reasonable focal lengths, but this time with some crazy huge  apertures.

Photograph of the extreme aperture Lens Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7
Photograph of the extreme aperture Lens Zeiss Planar 50mm f/0.7

What do you think about a 50mm lens at f/0.7?


The Planar 50mm f/0.7. was made in 1966 by Carl Zeiss ordered by the NASA and went on Apollo 8 to journey around the moon end of December 1968.

In fact this lens is more well-known, because Stanley Kubrick use 3 of the 10 lenses ever made for his movie Barry Lyndon in 1975.


He needed this huge aperture to be able to shoot a scene where there was only just few candles with no additional light. A friend of him made a special adapter to fit the camera.


Picture of the Leitz - IR 150mm f/0.85
Leitz - IR 150mm f/0.85, incredible!

To stay in the German side, Leitz did a Leitz-IR 150mm f/0.85 during WW2  in 1944 for aiming night system for the Wehrmacht. As you can see on the side of the lens, it is not written in millimeters, but in centimeters.


At the end of the WW2, the USA got plenty of Zeiss lenses, like the Zeiss Jena 90mm f/1 and the Zeiss Jena 250mm f/1, they got also an enormous crazy Zeiss Jena 400mm f/1.5 (the first picture).

Super Schmidt telescope  510mm f/0.96
Super Schmidt telescope 510mm f/0.96

But let us going back on the catadioptric lenses for a moment.


In 1929 Bernhard Schmidt got an idea which is called the Schmidt telescope, in 1957 James J. baker and Joseph Nunn improved the Schmidt telescope to follow Sputnik on the orbital space, this new telescope was called the Super Schmidt and it's still in use nowadays.


It have a focal length of 510mm but an aperture of f/0.96 ! Yes a 510mm f/0.96, it's enormous, more than 4 stops faster than a 500mm f/4! but we are just starting with huge Aperture.


Picture of an example of a Solid Schmidt or Schmidt monobloc
Picture of an example of a Solid Schmidt or Schmidt monobloc

Now finish to laugh with those very tiny apertures. Derived from the Schmidt optics, i introduce you the Schmidt Monobloc, also known as Solid Schmidt.


Ernst Abbe demonstrated that there is a limit, called the  Abbe sinus, which sets to 1:0.5 (f/0.5) the maximum aperture of a "glass" lens. But this limit exist only in the air or in the vacuum, the Solid Schmidt, is like it's name is saying, made in one bloc/piece, meaning without any air between the lenses/glasses.

Carved in a one solid diamond this kind of lens would be able to reach an aperture of f/0.02, which is 11 stops faster than f/1 or in another words, the same difference of aperture between f/1 and f/45 !


After this little journey to these extreme apertures, i would like to finish by the extreme of the extreme focal lengths.

The NASA's engineers built their own big lens and for 2.5 billion dollars they sent it in the space, the NASA's toy is called Hubble, from an astrophysicist's name who discover the universe expansion. The Hubble telescope has a mirror of a 2.4 meters with a focal length of 57.6 meters, giving it an aperture of f/24, in another words this lens is a huge 57600mm f/24 at $ 2,500,000,000.00 the unit price.


Is Hubble telescope the most biggest focal length in the world ? Not even near ... at all.

Aerial photograph of the VLT
Aerial photograph of the VLT

In the Atacama desert in the north of Chili, the Europeans have installed the most powerful lens in the world, it's called the VLT "Very Large Telescope".

Yes, i do agree, they wasn't very inspired for the name ...


I do not know how much it has cost to built it, but i do know how much it cost per year, € 50 millions.

It is made with 4 main reflectors of 8.2 meters for a focal length of 120 meters, which make this telescope the biggest lens ever made as big as ... 120,000mm f/7.3 at 50,000,000.00 euros/year ! And this ... thing is not only able to photograph all the visible light, but also the waves length that you are not even thinking they can exist.


So next time that some one is snubbing you with their "long" focal and "wide" aperture lens, just laugh at.



*This article was inspired from the youtube video of Arnaud Thiry, and the website of Dominique Guebey.

*All photographs or draws belong to Wikipedia, or their owners, depending the license of the picture.

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