Because of the precision needed to manufacture them, the more money you’re willing to spend on a camera lens, the better the product and photographic results you’re going to get. For at least one photographer, no amount of money is too much money to spend on high-quality glass, as an extremely rare Canon lens recently sold at auction for well over half-a-million dollars.
According to the listing by Wetzlar Camera Auctions, when this monstrous EF 1200mm f/5.6L USM super-telephoto prime lens (meaning it offered no zoom capabilities) was introduced in 1993, Canon described it as “The world’s largest interchangeable SLR-AF lens, both in terms of focal length and maximum aperture” which is why, even back in the ‘90s, it sold for a staggering $90,000.
Targeted at sports photographers and even bird watchers with deep pockets to fund their hobby, the lens paired amazing telephoto capabilities with the ability for photographers to use a relatively fast shutter to freeze the action they were capturing from afar. But it was available only as a special order product because it took Canon over a year to build each lens at an average production rate of about two lenses every year. (You can safely assume the deposit was fairly hefty.) Canon has never officially shared how many of the 1200mm lenses it produced, but while it was definitely less than 100, many believe that number is actually closer to just 20 based on how many have been spotted in the wild.
Over the past few decades very few of the lenses have come up for sale, although B&H Photography sold one in 2009 for $120,000, and another in 2015 for $180,000, twice the original selling price. Canon has long since stopped producing the lens, and their scarcity is almost certainly what sparked a bidding war between two parties for this particular unit which was still in exceptional, almost new condition. The final selling price was €500,000, or a little over $576,000 in US funds, which Wetzlar Camera Auctions claims is the highest price a camera lens at auction has ever sold for.