We've pulled together some of the most extreme photographic lenses ever made. Sure, the military or other big corporations may have even crazier glass (NASA, we're looking at you), but we tried to stick with rangefinder, medium format and SLR compatible optics big-spending photographers could actually buy.
Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 1700mm, f/4
When it comes to lenses without mirrors, the Zeiss Apo Sonnar T* 1700mm, f/4 lens is a front-runner-at least among non-military lenses (we never did apply for Top Secret clearance). Announced and exhibited at the 2006 Photokina, this monster was designed and produced for a "customer with very high demands and a special interest in long distance wildlife photography." We haven't been able to find out who the customer was—or whether anyone else has ordered this lens—but the lens features Arabic lettering and an emblem of the State of Qatar, one of the Arab emirates.
Not surprisingly, the lens dwarfs the Hasselblad 203FE 6x6cm medium format camera it was designed to be paired with to such an extent that we didn't notice that the Hassy was attached in the photo.
The lens utilizes 15 optical elements in 13 groups, with some of the lens blanks weighing more than 55 pounds each, resulting in a gargantuan lens that tips the scales at a monstrous 564 pounds—not the kind of lens you want to move very often, if at all. Even more challenging is operating the lens, a challenge that Zeiss met by developing special servo-controlled aiming and focusing systems, sort of like those used for mega-telescopes. To top it off, the lens is quite beautiful in design.