What Do You Think Is The Definition Of A Grail Lens (and how many do you own?)

Discussion in 'Casual Photo Conversations' started by gary_mayo|1, Sep 8, 2011.

  1. To me, a grail lens is something your wife does not think you need, but you have it anyway. lol
    My grails are 85mm f/1.4, 135mm f/2 DC, 200mm f/2, four different copies of 300mm f/2.8, 400mm f/2.8, Sigmonster, 1000mm f/11
    List your definition of a grail lens and the ones you have, or the ones you want.
  2. My Grail is the Nikon 17-55 f/2.8.
  3. I've never heard the term "grail lens" before, but I assume we're talking about something exceptional that many would wish to own. I have a 200 f/2 that I suspect most people wouldn't think I need; my 14-24 is probably hard to justify, too. I also have the 135 DC, but only because I've been meaning to get around to selling it for a year; its performance turned out to be a little too mythological. I'd love one of the latest 400 f/2.8s, but I certainly don't need one (I do have a 500 f/4 AI-P, though).

    Fortunately my other half is into diving and doesn't care about photography, although she occasionally raises an eyebrow when I come out with kit that she didn't know I had. She seems to accept that it keeps me relatively sane.

    The lenses that I tend to think of as truly special are things like the Nikkor 300 f/2 (Aperture in London had one), 6mm f/2.8 (Grey's in London have one) and the 1200-1700 zoom; Canon's 1200mm f/5.6 is also in that category. I might also include the 1100mm f/6.3 that was (is?) also in Aperture and the Sigma 200-500 f/2.8 "Sigzilla".

    Of the relatively accessible lenses that are special... the 14-24, the Zeiss 21mm, the DC lenses, any fast supertelephoto by Nikon or Canon, Canon's f/1.2 EF lenses, the Sony STF lens, the Voigtlander APO lenses, the noct-Nikkor and the better Noctilux lenses. There are some very good lenses that this list misses - the 90mm Leicas, the 135mm f/2 EF L, the 100mm EF macro L, most of Nikon's recent f/1.4 range, Canon and Nikon's 70-200 lenses, the Sigma 150mm macros... but I have to draw the line somewhere. My 28-200 f/3.5-5.6 is surprisingly good, as are recent Samyang f/1.4s; "grail" not so much.
  4. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    a grail lens is something your wife does not think you need,​
    That's a very narrow definition - only straight, married men can have one.
    Speaking for myself, my wife has no idea what lenses I have and wouldn't know which ones I needed or not, so I guess I don't have one.
  5. only straight, married men can have one.​
    ... or lesbian women... in some states ;-)
    I agonize over each lens I buy, and my partner realizes I struggle to afford what optics I do have, so I don't have any grail lenses either.
  6. I would say to be a true "grail" camera/lens item, it is more than something you want, only.
    I should think that a "quest" has to come in somehow. Something that is not merely expensive, but hard to find and acquire.
    It probably should also be guarded by a bunch of knights as well. ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7w17MamPY7A )
  7. Except for a couple of minutes once a year when we're renewing our insurance, my wife has no idea of what lenses I have.
    That's a very narrow definition - only straight, married men can have one.​
    Not quite true, several of our women friends have wives. Except for one couple, who married during a brief window of sanity in California, they live in civilized countries like Canada or Argentina.
  8. Why would a lens be a 'grail' object? It's a material thing; I can buy one if I want. You cannot buy the Holy Grail (even in Monty Python). Holy Grails, IMO, should be something like getting the cover of Vogue or National Geographic. Or having your book published and rising to Number 1 on Amazon. How about doing a nude shoot of Scarlett Johansson (or Brad Pitt/Johnny Depp)? Maybe photographing the Dalai Lama's triumphant return to Tibet.
  9. Les - some bits of technology are works of (the designer's) art, and can be hard to acquire, often because they're not appreciated or cost-effective at the time. I jumped through some hoops to get my 135 DC, although they're more common now. The exotic lenses I listed were only ever made in very small quantities and have exceptional abilities - you couldn't just throw money at someone and expect them to come up with the Nikkor 6mm fish eye lenses unless there was a real artist designing them.

    I feel the same about my T221 monitor (which was hard to source), or about some supercars (especially ones like the Veyron, which actively cost its manufacturer money to produce). Just because they're mass produced doesn't mean that they weren't made by the sweat and tears of some people with remarkable skill, and a labour of love.

    But yes, there are some things that money can't buy. Perhaps "grail lens" is an odd term (I did say I'd not seen it before), but you can certainly go on a quest to be able to get some lenses. I'm lucky that I could afford to get a 200 f/2 - not that I've paid it off yet (it was buy it then or get the mk2 at twice the price) - but if I ever want a 400 f/2.8 then I'll be giving up other things to get it. For many people, a $1000 lens will be something they spend years saving up for.
  10. my definition: A lens which is exceptional in performance of its intended function and is built in quantities so limited as to make it practically unavailable or unaffordable to a normal person, exceep in those very rare cases where one buys a storage locker and finds a "grail" or goes to an estate sale and snags one as a bargin.
    Number I own: Zero.
  11. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    ... or lesbian women... in some states ;-)​
    I thought about that, especially living here in SF. However, it was really just the point that it's a narrow definition regardless of how one looks at it. And I agree completely with Les anyway. I'm much more motivated to take that last photo that I ever need to take than to own any particular piece of hardware.
  12. stp


    Four copies of the 300mm f/2.8 lens? I enjoy gear, but I just can't wrap my head around that one, grail or not.
  13. four different copies of 300mm f/2.8​
    Copies? You should get the real thing!
  14. I should sell a couple. lol
  15. One of a kind lenses are not grails, they are holy grails.
  16. four different copies of 300mm f/2.8​
    Copies? You should get the real thing!​
    I'm now imagining a Nikon mug the size of a (half) yard glass. It could catch on...

    Gary: I'm sure there's a story behind you owning four of these lenses, unless they're really expensive table legs. Care to share?

    I think I should revise my original answer: the 200 f/2 and 14-24 that I own are extremely good bits of kit, and far better and more expensive than I can really justify owning, so they meet Gary's original definition of a "grail lens" for me (and possibly so does the 135 DC). Their only justification is that retail therapy contributed to my tenuous sanity, and the pleasure I get from the image quality that they can produce (if I could learn to point them at anything worthy) is appreciated; as an amateur, they certainly don't earn me any money, just save me a lot of time in editing and improve some of my images. But they're certainly relatively common bits of kit that a lot of people own, so perhaps grailhood is overstating it.

    To those denying that a "grail lens" can exist, I can only state that I'm an odd mix of someone who can appreciate an impressive technical achievement in producing a very good lens, and someone who believes that these things are intended to be used to take the best photos I can. I don't believe in owning an exotic lens for the sake of it - for all my Nikon Acquisition Syndrome, I don't actually collect lenses. I have no interest in a "grail lens" in the sense of a "commonplace lens associated with something famous/extraordinary"; I've no idea what happened to the equipment used by Ansel Adams or HCB, or the camera used for the shot of Lee Harvey Oswald being shot (for example) and don't particularly care. I'd quite like to see the f/0.7 lens that Kubrick used, but only because it's an unusual optic, not because it made a film.
  17. For me it would have to be a CV Nokton.
  18. French Soldier: I told 'em we already got one.
  19. French soldier to King Arthur: Go, or we shall taunt you again, English pig-dog.
    However, it suddenly struck me. I DO have the grail lens -
    here it is, cost me about $5 from China, it's an EF 24-105mm IS L coffee mug, but I suppose in a pinch you could catch blood in it.
  20. One that does what it supposed to do in an exemplary fashion like ...
    Micro Nikkor AF 200
    Own 1
  21. I just use basic equipment. I am not a big shopper and I do not agonize over buying new equipment ever. Since my hobby is B/W film I just put a roll of film in the camera and go shoot. Anyway no Grail lenses and if I need to replace something then it has a low cost. A good F100 cost about $200.00 these days and sometimes you can get one for free. Of course buying Kodak film puts money in an American pocket if anyone cares about that. I use Kodak film, Domke camera bags, Tiffen filters. All US products. Sorry but I just watched the Presidents speech and got fired up. He is a very good speaker.
  22. I'd say my Nikon 17-35mm lens could have grail status. I remember when I got it 10 years ago - opening the box, then opening the useless but elegant hard leather case...
    Sometimes I'll bring just a 20mm lens to travel light, but I always end up missing those extra 3mm.
  23. It took saving and waiting, but I got a Tokina 11-16 last year when it was briefly for available at B&H.
  24. I have a friend who claims to own a Grail Lens, but she shows it to no-one...sadly.
  25. I'm just not 'getting' this. Lenses like the Nikon 85 f1.4 or 24-70 f2.8 are readily available. I could go out and buy one of each. I am NOT claiming to be rich; in fact, my business is lousy in this economy, but I could order them right now online. I'd be foolish, but it could be done. I know any number of collectors, but their Holy Grails tend to be incredibly rare, like a Type 57 Bugatti, or a letter signed by Button Gwinnett.
    I guess I just can't handle equipment-mania.
  26. Spearhead

    Spearhead Moderator

    I agree completely with Les again.
  27. Below see GrandPa Momary in the mid-east somewhere, holding his grail lens he bought as a factory 2nd.
    He said it used to glow in the presence of evil, terribly fogging most film. The family lost it somewhere in our basement catacombs a while back. Wish I knew a Templar to help me find it; it's spooky down there ... rats & snakes.
    Now the real response ... I've lusted & drooled over lots of stuff in catalogs and on Ebay. If only I had this gem or that grail ... OH the pics I could make! Turns out my 18-35 zoom and a nifty 50 seem to do great for 95% of what I want to do. But I still do lust ... every so often.
    GrandPa, we miss ya.
  28. People used to carry on about Kiron lenses a few years ago but nobody seems to bring them up any longer. Just to old now I guess. I never had one myself but I used to own a Vivatar Series 1 lens that I liked a lot but I lost it one year while camping along with my camera. Bad day all around.
  29. stemked

    stemked Moderator

    My Pentax 200mm f4 macro lens. Definitely Grail!
    My wife knows about it (I had it before we were married). Let's not talk about the Sigma 150-500 that she doesn't know that I've had for about a year now...
  30. OK, I'll show you mine...
  31. "To me, a grail lens is something your wife does not think you need, but you have it anyway. lol"​
    Sounds like you're trying to describe the smuggling of cult classics or personal favorites. A grail would be something of very limited production with few or no examples remaining, it's reputation enhanced by mythologizing.
    The term and concept of a cult classic lens has long been in use online, at least since the late 1990s. However, the original concept of a cult classic lens was also somewhat based on value - cult classics were originally considered to be excellent values in third party, even bargains, that rivaled the performance of much more expensive camera marque lenses.
    "List your definition of a grail lens..."​
    An affordable 58/1.2 Noct-Nikkor. But that would still be closer to a cult classic rather than a grail, because many copies of the lens exist... just not affordably.
    "...and the ones you have..."​
    The 105/2.5 AI Nikkor might qualify now. It's a bargain compared with more recent 105mm AF and AF-S Nikkors. My sample of the 70-210/2.8-4 Vivitar Series 1 would qualify. It's an excellent value at $100 or cheaper - I paid $60 about 10 years ago. It can't compare with the 80-200/2.8 AF/AF-S or 70-200/2.8 VR AF-S Nikkors. But those Nikkors aren't 20x better for 20x the price.
    "...or the ones you want."​
    It doesn't exist. But I'd like a stabilized 18-90mm f/2.8, smaller in size and weight for coverage with an APS or 4/3 sensor.
  32. Sometimes a grail, is just a little MORE than a close counterpart. 50mm F/1.8 is in some ways, every bit the equal in image quality, to what can be produced on the 50mm f/1.4. Other grails, are harder to come by, because of extreme cost, or availability.
    To me, a grail, is a lens that makes you feel good about photography.
  33. My favorite lens is my 45mm f/2.8 GN Nikkor. I have many other great lenses, like the 105mm f/2.5, but all the others seem a bit specialized to me. My definition of a holy grail lens would be one that I couldn't live without, or the only one I was allowed to own. Not married, never have been, and may never be... a girlfriend is good enough, and a wife would be too much.
  34. Every lens I own is potentially a grail lens. But....try as I might.....from the Island of Iona to Santiago de Compostella, via Roslyn Chapel, to Westminster Abbey, taking in Callanish standing stones on Lewis just in case (they're only cross-shaped stone monoliths I know of).....I simply cannot find the grail. I've even tried wearing a felt explorer's hat and carrying a whip, but all that led to was me almost being 'felt' .....but thats another story altogether. But one day....one day........
  35. For JDM's coffee mug, then:
    Sir Lancelot: Look, my liege!
    [trumpets play a fanfare as the camera cuts briefly to the sight of a majestic castle]
    King Arthur: [in awe] Camelot!
    Sir Galahad: [in awe] Camelot!
    Sir Lancelot: [in awe] Camelot!
    Patsy: [derisively] It's only a model!
    King Arthur: Shh!
  36. From the Indiana Jones perspective, a grail lens would make the subjects seem eternally young, yes?
  37. From the Indiana Jones perspective, a grail lens would make the subjects seem eternally young, yes?​
    Ohh. The Canon 135mm f/2.8 SF, then? I'm guessing every time someone claims a lens is too contrasty for portraiture (like the 70-200 f/2.8s) I should quote "he chose... poorly."

    Gary: Regretting asking us to come up with our own definition of a grail lens, yet? :)

    Btw, Lex - thanks for that link. I now wonder whether my 28-200 is a grail lens after all.
  38. I lusted after a 150mm f2.8 "D" for my Mamiya AFD for over a year.
    I finally found one that, while used, was still outrageously expensive.
    But it's now my primary lens for my aerial photography business, and it's even better than I had hoped.
    So I have no regrets. (I also have no wife.)
  39. JDM, I want one of those mugs SO MUCH! Now, I'm not going to buy one for myself, and I'm not going to hint shamelessly about it. Someone is just going to have to figure out I would want one and buy it for me for a cheap Xmas gift. So I suppose that's a good grail lens (for me) as well. Probably won't happen, but I keep hoping. ;-)
    Another sort of grail lens that nobody has mentioned is a technical milestone lens. These may simply be grail lenses to the engineers, but they still qualify. Canon's DO lenses might be an example. I've owned two milestone "grail" lenses. The first was Canon's EF 75-300 IS (first image stabilized lens), which I recently sold and replaced with the better 70-300 IS (non-grail, non-milestone). The second grail lens I've owned (and still own) is the Sigma 12-24, the widest rectilinear full frame SLR lens ever made. (Voigtlander has a less amazing 12mm rangefinder prime.) Although it's not the sharpest lens in my collection, it's still a pretty amazing lens. With that lens, I can stand in the corner of a room and photograph all four walls. :)
  40. OK, here it is:
    A Canon EOS EF 50mm f/1.4 USM, similar in fashion to their super excellent EF 85 1.8 USM a real lens the works well in the system. For some reason Canon has not improved on their two junky 50's (the 1.8 and the current old 1.4).
    That wish of mine definitely qualifies as a grail lens since it doesn't exist and may never ever exist -- even though it would like sell for well under $500.
  41. Well, I don't have a wife, but I do have thirty-one cameras and two enlargers - which is probably why I do not have a wife. My last girlfriend could not understand why I need thirty-one cameras. I said, "If you have to ask the question, you will never understand the answer." We still speak occasionally.
  42. Ken - Canon would probably prefer you to buy the f/1.2. Perhaps we should ask why Nikon hasn't made any autofocus f/1.2 lenses yet...

    Chris - I don't know whether to laugh or cry on your behalf, but I at least sympathise.
  43. I have two lenses which, at least for me, seem to fit the definition as outlined: my Zeiss 100mm f/2.0 Distagon - a
    mindblowingly good lens. Constantly amazes me just how sharp it is. And a Noctilux f/0.95 - more for the unique look
    it produces. Love 'em both!
  44. I found the holy grail years ago but it took me a long time to realize it. After I retired for the second time in 1997 was asked to work for a local newspaper. I had one of the early eos bodies, a 35-70 and 75 300 with an early IS. It wan't long before I was trying to do sports with the 75-300 and not doing well. I took a chance and spent then a lot of money for for a 70-200 2.8L lens. It immediately helped me with night time high school football, baseball, not so much B ball, and helped a lot with general news assigments. I sitll have the lens. It works just as well today as when I bought it. It looks new after being rained on, dropped on concrete, covered with mud, weddings, in my former studio for some portraits, and whatever it was handy for. Today I realize that I bought a real jewel of a tool for a myriad of photographic jobs. It paid for itself in the late niineties. I still regularly shoot indoor swimming with it. I think it will outlast me. Over time amortizing the initial expense has made it the least expensive I have bought.
  45. I don't want the 50 1.2L... not at all! Same with the 85 1.8 -- I prefer it over the large & "sluggish" 85 1.2L.
    I just want a REAL EF 50 1.4 USM (or 1.8, don't care). Jackrabbits over snails.
  46. <p>Still lookin for a 5000mm, f/1.8 lens !
  47. Rashed Ahmed wrote:
    "Still lookin for a 5000mm, f/1.8 lens !"
    Interesting concept. How, pray, would you carry it? For that matter, if you made a typo and want a 500/1.8, how would you carry it? I ask because I have a tiny little 200/2 S.F.O.M. lens of, relatively, nothing at all that weighs around 7 kg.
    If you want a fast 500, look in, probably, East Bloc countries for a 500/2.5 Uran-12 (27 kg), a 500/2.7 Uran-15 (19 kg), or a 500/3 Uran-24 (18.7 kg). FWIW I have a 100/2.5 Uran-25 that is actually usable. Not, though, that I use it because I have a perfectly ordinary 105/5.6 Plasmat type lens in shutter that's smaller, lighter, and at least as good from f/5.6 down. I typically shoot at f/11 or smaller, so my Uran-25's speed isn't worth much to me.
    Getting back on topic, one test of how "grail-like" lenses are is the prices they command.
    On that measure, Dallmeyer Super Sixes (various focal lengths, f/1.9 up to 6", f/2 at 8") are grails. I've had a 6"/1.9, it was worth much more to someone in Japan than it was to me.
    So are 4"/2.0 Taylor Hobson lenses, which were sold under a variety of names. The first was OPIC. Mine, ex-Vinten F95, is just badged Anastigmat. A fine lens but, like the Uran-25, no better at the apertures I normally use than a smaller lighter easier-to-use lens.
    And so, to my great amazement, are faster 6/4 double Gauss type Saphir Boyers (f/1.9, f/1.4). I've had a 60/1.4, someone in Hong Kong wanted it much more than I did.
    In large format lenses, some soft focus lenses (P&S, in particular) command ridiculous prices. So, sometimes, do lenses with large image circles.
    And then there's the late Charlie Barringer's 40/0.33 Super-Q Gigantar, a joke lens from Zeiss. It brought 90,000 euros plus the buyer's premium at a Westlicht auction this spring. I wonder how many others escaped from Oberkochen.
  48. Great responses from everyone.
    I do like my wife more than my lenses, but not a lot more. I started photography in 1978. I did not start her till 1983. Photography has a five year head start.
  49. Is the couch comfortable, Gary?
  50. This would be a grail, or a down payment on a million dollar house
    170683563165 (eBay number, but the software here does not allow direct eBay links)
    Couch? Na, but I do have a bed at work. Pull many an overnight-er.
  51. I'm not sure I buy the big reflex lenses as grails, even if they're uncommon. You can always hook the camera to a bigger telescope, and they obviously do nasty things to the bokeh. That said, I guess the difference between the 1200-1700 zoom and a big refractor scope is minimal (the Canon 1200mm at least has autofocus).

    Sadly, I sympathise with the work arrangements (which is why I keep posting here at 2am local time). I've not yet compared my other half to any camera kit in such a way that she actually wants me to stay away, though.
  52. I have a blast with my Nikkor Mirrors. There is a big difference between them and later knock offs like Vivitar. Mind you, these are manual focus lenses, but that is part of the fun and the charm. Like bow hunting, rather than using a shotgun. eBay always has some Nikkor 500mm reflex lenses for about $250 and up. If you get a nice clean copy that looks / acts new, I would most certainly categorize that as a grail. The 1000mm versions are really fun. You can do anything you want with the background in PP, so you need not be troubled by circles if you want to ex-nay them.
  53. After more than fifty years of photography I don't have a "holy grail", any equipment I haven't got already I don't need.
  54. In response to the original question, my grail lens would be the one I've just bought (although I haven't bought any in quite a while). She doesn't really understand how lenses work, and why I'd need different ones or more of them, so all she sees is the -$ in the checking account. Since I'm pretty happy with my current kit, I don't anticipate having to discuss it anytime soon...but if i see a great deal on CL and can't resist...
  55. It would be Minolta MD 24-105mm f/1.2 :)

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