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Not Long Ago, Lenses Were Much Lighter

Recently, I started to wonder just how much heavier lenses have gotten on today’s market – both DSLR and mirrorless. The question started when Nikon and Canon’s mirrorless launches each included lenses that dwarfed the camera bodies, and it grew stronger when Sigma announced a 1.3 kilogram 40mm f/1.4 lens (significantly heavier than the Zeiss Otus). Eventually, I decided to map out the weights of all 733 lenses released in the 21st century to see how things have changed.

After sorting each lens by weight and date released, I grouped them into eight distinct categories. For each category, I created separate charts to track lens weight over the years:

  • All lenses
  • Nikon DSLR lenses
  • Canon DSLR lenses
  • Pentax DSLR lenses
  • All third-party DSLR lenses
  • Micro Four Thirds lenses
  • Fuji X mirrorless lenses
  • Sony full-frame mirrorless lenses

All these charts are included in the article below. Although there are plenty of categories that are not covered here, I believe that these are some of the biggest ones our readers will wonder about. And, if you’re interested in tracking how another type of lens has changed over the years, check the bottom of this article for a link to the complete spreadsheet of all 733 lenses to edit as you like.

Also, I’m not claiming that the list of lenses I gathered is a complete set of everything released on the market in the past two decades. I’m sure that several slipped my attention. However, I did follow a standard procedure for all of them – adding every single lens from the DPreview lens databasesince the year 2000, then filling in missing specifications using data from the Photography Life lens index. That totaled 733, which is a large enough sample to show good trends, and that was my goal anyway.

How did I pick which lenses to include or exclude? In general, I didn’t skip over anything at all if I could help it. That means the charts below include lenses from obscure brands like Kamlan and 7artisans, as well as “gimmick” lenses from companies like Lensbaby. The same is true for specialty companies like Leica and Hasselblad, as well as defunct lens formats like 4/3 DSLRs and Samsung mirrorless cameras. I chose to do so because all these lenses are part of the road to photography today, and the truly obscure ones are only a small fraction of the total. Almost all the lenses examined below are viable options on the market that many people still buy today.

I only included lenses for 4/3 sensors or larger, which means that Nikon 1, Samsung NX-M, and Pentax Q lenses were excluded. The only lens I excluded as an outlier is the Sigma 200-500mm f/2.8, which weighs 15.7 kilos (34.6 pounds), more than three times as much as the Nikon 800mm f/5.6. The dates associated with each lens below are announcement dates, not shipment dates.

Average vs Median Lens Weights

Before getting to the charts, here’s a quick explanation of why I presented the data below as I did. 

I’ve opted to show three different charts for each category below: individual lens weights, running average, and running median. I believe it is important to have both a running average and a running median chart, not just one or the other. For example, take a look at the following numbers:

  • 5, 11, 13, 17, 94
  • Average = 28
  • Median = 13

Which one – average or median – gives you a more useful sense of the five numbers above? Which one tells the more complete story? Neither, really. The answer depends on which information you value more, and how much you want to account for outliers like the number 94.

Lenses are a lot like the five numbers above. Most lenses weigh within a small range, easy to handhold and not too heavy. However, manufacturers sometimes release a massive 400mm f/2.8 or 600mm f/4 telephoto that weighs potentially 10x more than the rest of its lineup. Should those lenses be included in a fair analysis? There are good arguments either way.

Personally, I would rather the numbers not be skewed too strongly by mega telephoto lenses. I’m more interested in how ordinary, everyday lenses have changed over the years. So, I believe that the median is the most important number overall in this instance, since it isn’t affected as strongly by supertelephotos. Of course, your own preferences may differ.

That’s why I’ve included both a running average and a running median chart in each section of the article below. The “running” method is a good way to examine the state of lenses at a given point in time, because it only pays attention to the newest lenses on the market. If you aren’t familiar with running averages or medians, they answer a simple question: On a given date, how much did the 100 newest lenses weigh? (Or the newest 50, 25, 15, etc., lenses – chosen based on the “interval” specified.) That number is a good way to see trends buried in a large set of otherwise difficult data.

Lastly, note that I kept the scale on the vertical axis identical for each of the three chart types. This makes some of the later charts look a bit sparse, but it provides a better way to compare the overall weight of each lens system, which I believe is worth the tradeoff.

All Lenses Since 2000

Lens Weight Chart

When we look at every single lens released since the year 2000, all 733 of them, a few takeaways are quite clear. First, more lenses were simply announced recently than at the beginning of the 2000s, which is no surprise given that the number of camera and lens companies has only increased over the years (and camera sensor formats, too).

Second, lens manufacturers in the early 2000s had no qualms about producing unwieldy telephoto lenses. Four of the five heaviest lenses in this chart were announced in 2007 or earlier. Starting in about 2003, it’s easy to find lenses that weigh well over the 2 kg mark.

On the other hand, “medium heavy” lenses, in the range from 750-1000 g, weren’t really popular until about 2012. In 2015 and beyond, those lenses really exploded in popularity, similar (for the first time) to lenses in the 500-750 g range.

Now take a look at the running average and running median charts for every lens released since the year 2000:

Running Average All Lenses
Running Median All Lenses

(The charts above start in 2006 rather than 2000 because they are a running total of the 100 newest lenses, and the 100th lens wasn’t released until 2006.)

These charts show one thing quite clearly: After gradually decreasing in weight over the early 2000s, lenses have started to get significantly heavier in recent years.

The difference is surprisingly large. Today (January 2019), the 100 newest lenses on the market weigh an average of 797 grams. Six years ago (January 2013), the 100 newest lenses weighed just 531 grams on average. This trend is even clearer in the running median numbers, which aren’t skewed by telephotos as much. Specifically, the 100 newest lenses on the market today weigh a median of 650 grams. In January 2013, that number was just 320 grams. That’s less than half. In fact, by this standard, today’s lenses are the heaviest they’ve ever been, at least in the digital age.

However, another takeaway from the chart is that older lenses were plenty heavy as well. According to the Average chart, lenses in 2008 were heavier, slightly, than lenses today. That fact is partly due to the large number of supertelephotos released in the early 2000s, though it isn’t the only reason.

But enough about that. You can look at these charts and form your own impressions. Instead, I’d like to show the specific charts of smaller categories of lenses, which is more relevant anyway. After all, the charts above include every lens, regardless of format or brand; they’re too broad to give much information on your particular company or type of camera. So, here are some more specific divisions:

Nikon DSLR Lenses

First up are Nikon DSLR lenses, not including third party lenses that fit Nikon cameras. That totals 86 lenses since the year 2000. In this case, lens weights have remained quite steady over the past two decades, even decreasing slightly in that time. Take a look at the following charts:

Nikon DSLR Lens Weight
Running Average Weight Nikon DSLR Lenses
Running Median Nikon DSLR

That last little jump in the median chart isn’t really significant, unless it keeps going up for the next few years. Overall, Nikon has remained very constant in its lens weights – one of the few manufacturers to do so.

(Note that the charts for running average and running median include a lower number of recent lenses – 25, not 100. This cuts off minimal data from the beginning of the chart, although the tradeoff is that the chart is not as smooth from point to point. However, an interval as large as 100 would have been impossible, given that there are only 86 lenses total.)

Canon DSLR Lenses

Canon has kept pace with Nikon over the years, with 76 DSLR lenses released since the year 2000. Overall, lens weights have also remained relatively steady. Although there was a bit of a dip in weight from 2012 to 2016, and a bit of growth since then, the difference is not very large:

Canon DSLR Lens Weight
Running Average Weight Canon DSLR Lenses
Running Median Canon DSLR Lenses

These charts are quite steady overall, similar to Nikon.

Pentax DSLR Lenses

Since 2000, there have been 46 new Pentax DSLR lenses, mostly for full frame and APS-C sensors (though two for medium format DSLRs). Since the sample size is smaller, it is not possible to draw conclusions that are as strong as other categories of lenses, but here are the tables nevertheless:

Pentax Lens Weight Chart
Running Average Weight Pentax Lenses
Running Median Weight Pentax Lenses

Based on these tables, the weight of Pentax lenses has remained relatively constant over time, similar to Nikon and Canon, perhaps increasing marginally in recent years (though remember that the sample size is relatively small).

Third-Party DSLR Lenses

There were an impressive 160 third-party DSLR lenses released in the past couple decades, making it easy to draw conclusions from the data below. In short, third-party lenses have gotten significantly heavier in recent years, a steady increase from about 600 grams (median) to 885 today. 

As an interesting aside, you’ll notice in the first chart that five heavy lenses were announced on exactly the same day in 2005 (February 14 specifically). All of them are Sigma’s. That day alone shifted the overall lens averages more than any other so far this century.

Third Party DSLR Lens Weight Chart
Running Average Weight Third Party Lenses
Running Median Weight Third Party DSLR Lenses

Micro Four Thirds Lenses

There have been an impressive 81 dedicated Micro Four Thirds lenses released since the first one in September 2008. Over that time, they have grown in weight at a steady pace, as you can see below.

This section only includes lens made exclusively for Micro Four Thirds cameras, not APS-C lenses or full-frame lenses also sold in a Micro Four Thirds mount. Most of them are Panasonic and Olympus lenses, but a handful of third-party lenses from companies like Sigma and Tamron are M4/3 only, and they are included in the charts below.

Micro Four Thirds Lens Weight Chart
Running Average Weight Micro Four Thirds Lens
Running Median Weight Micro 43 Lenses

Fuji X Series Mirrorless Lenses

There are just 29 Fuji X series mirrorless lenses so far, which is not enough to gather a great sample on how they have changed in weight over time. However, I have still included all three charts below. Although it appears as though they, too, have increased in weight, the small amount of data involved means it is not a good idea to jump to conclusions:

Fuji X Lens Weight Chart
Running Average Weight Fuji X Lenses
Running Median Weight Fuji Lenses

Sony Full Frame Mirrorless Lenses

After entering the full-frame mirrorless market, Sony released lenses at a rapid pace. However, the first of those lenses didn’t arrive until October 2013, so they had a lot of work to do. Thanks to some third-party lenses from companies like Zeiss and Rokinon, the total number of dedicated lenses for Sony FE cameras (full frame mirrorless) is 48. That still isn’t enough data to draw especially strong conclusions, but it does provide a bit more room than Fuji:

Sony Full Frame Mirrorless Lens Weight Chart
Running Average Weight Sony Full Frame Lenses
Running Median Weight Sony Full Frame Mirrorless Lenses

And, like Fuji, the overall lens weights appear to be increasing – but it might just be a fluke of the smaller data set.

Conclusion

Personally, my biggest takeaway is that lenses today are some of the heaviest we have ever had – maybe the heaviest, period. However, not all categories have increased in weight equally, or even increased at all. Nikon lenses are arguably trending slightly lighter than before, and companies like Canon and Pentax have been fairly steady over time.

Instead, most of the weight gains over the past 6-7 years come from third-party lenses and, interestingly, mirrorless lenses (regardless of brand). This is despite the impression that we are entering a “lightweight mirrorless era” today. Although the charts clearly show that mirrorless lenses overall are still lighter than DSLR lenses, they have been getting heavier more quickly than their DSLR counterparts. As a result, it is no surprise that today’s lenses are trending upward in weight so noticeably.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Lenses today are also sharper than ever before, with wider apertures and unorthodox designs like f/2 zooms that we haven’t seen until recently. Although manufacturers might be trending away from lightweight lenses, it seems like photographers are doing the same – and even if you’re not among them, there are still a large number of lenses available today to fit your needs. And within certain classes of lenses where weight really counts, such as supertelephotos, there has been an undeniable trend of lighter lenses in recent years, thanks to technological developments like fluorite lens elements and phase fresnel glass.

If you want to study the original data yourself, here is a Google Sheets document with all 733 lenses, ready to copy and paste into Excel or your other preferred software. If you find the data from this spreadsheet useful for a project of your own, I’d appreciate a link back to Photography Life:

Hopefully you found this article to be interesting! It took some serious effort to put together all this data for hundreds of lenses, and the project isn’t over yet. Share this article if you thought it was a good read, and let me know in the comments if there is anything in particular you want me to look at for part two.

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