Cameras just record the light that fall on the film or sensor. They're covered in buttons and displays, but actually they're the less important part of the photographers kit bag. Lenses are the what actually shapers the light and creates the image for the camera, so for me, lenses are the what matters most.
The early photographic lenses were as much to do with art as engineering. Often a single lens, with imperfections and reflections, that would create an image based loosely upon the light passing through it, but seldom was it a faithful reproduction. Modern lenses, designed with the aid of computers and the latest high tech materials, produce a more accurate image, but with less personality. If the old masters faithfully reproduced their subjects, then surely from De Vinci to Picasso we would have the same sterile results, not the wonderful variations that their perceptions and skills actually painted.
Lenses also vary a great deal technically with aperture, focal length and construction. Whereas in the past a crisp, clear photograph was the industry's goal, today, shallow depth of field and well placed mystery produces more interesting work. Prices of lenses varies, and some of the most interesting lenses can be very expensive. However, unlike cameras where digital technology is advancing every 2-4 years, with lenses, an investment today will last you for decades.
In my case, I'm an absolute sucker for large aperture lenses. Those are the dinosaurs of the lens industry that sadly are becoming less popular with ever more sensitive digital sensors. In the case of large aperture telephoto lenses, like my monster 400mm f2.8, they produce an absurdly tight depth of field, but in so doing can create a strong separation of subject and background in your pictures.
Recently there have been more selective products such as the Lensbaby products that reproduce enigmatic effects by low-teching lenses. They're good, but often a bit extreme if you haven't got a clear idea on how you'll use them. Also, there's a lot of 50 year old glass out there, at bargain prices, from the original 35mm SLR film cameras now being given away in the rush to the era of low-cost digital cameras.
Below are some pictures that celebrate some of my 'big glass' moments. Enjoy shooting.