WOW! Nikon's "monster of zooms" is the longest lens we've ever seen

Nikon 1200-1700mm
(Image credit: PCH Pro Shop)

One of Nikon's most famous lenses has resurfaced, attracting attention and amazement in equal parts. 

The rare Nikon Zoom-Nikkor 1200-1700mm f/5.6-8P IF-ED lens is an absolute monster, and like the one in Loch Ness, pops its head up occasionally to remind us of its existence. The Nikon lens, however, is very much real and is one of the largest full-frame zoom lenses ever developed, dwarfing the best telephoto lenses of the modern era. PCH Pro Shop in Belgium happened to get its hands on one, and the sheer size of the lens is unbelievable.

Released in 1994 at an eye-watering price of $60,000 (with inflation that's around $124,800 / £98,800 / AU$188,100 today), sightings of the lens are few and far between. So when PCH Pro Shop had a customer bring one to the shop, the photos started doing the rounds. 

The size of it is the crazy thing, with that being the feature that now defines it. It has a length just shy of 3ft (888mm) and a weight of over 35lbs (16kg) making it difficult for the shop employees to pose for a photo with it.

First used in 1990 at Japan's Koshien Stadium, the baseball ground at which the spring high school baseball tournament is staged, it wasn't until 1994 that it was made available to the general public – which at the time boasted the longest focal length of any zoom lens for 35mm cameras.

(Image credit: PCH Pro Shop)

At the same time, Canon was developing its own monster lens and created the Canon EF 1200mm f/5.6 L USM, which recently fetched $462,321 at auction. Nikon distinguished its lens from Canon's by featuring a zoom function, instead of Canon's switch teleconverter function, meaning the photographer was free to use the whole focal range between 1200-1700mm.

The lens found popularity with photojournalists and sports photographers due to its enormous focal length. It has been used in many notable historic events, such as the French Charlie Hebdo hostage situation in 2015 to capture photos from a safe distance, and a famous incident in 2013 where a photographer used it to capture a photograph of the then-new Pope.

The engineering and design of the lens are remarkable for the short time in which it was developed. The "monster of zooms" consists of 18 elements in 13 groups, including 3 extra-low dispersion (ED) lenses. With a minimum focusing distance of 32.8ft / 10m, it offers a variable maximum aperture of f/5.6-8, controlled by a 9-blade diaphragm.

Although now mainly fallen into disuse, Nikon says that, "the experience that the engineers of the 1200-1700mm gained in developing the lens has subsequently been put to good use in the development of contemporary super telephoto lenses."

Nikon is currently celebrating 90 years of Nikkor lenses, and this certainly counts as a standout!

You may also be interested in our guides to the best Nikon cameras along with the best Nikon lenses, and the best Nikon Z lenses for mirrorless cameras.

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Kalum Carter
Staff Writer

Kalum Carter is a UK-based photographer, writer, and photo editor. Kalum has been working as a freelance photographer for the best part of ten years, covering a wide range of assignments for well-known brands and publications in areas including portraiture, fashion, and documentary. 

Between commercial assignments, Kalum is currently working on a personal photography project exploring his connection to the Gower region of South Wales UK, as part of an MA in Photography from The University of West England.