Why Canon Will Make a 1000mm f/5.6 Lens
Canon recently filed a patent for an EF 1000mm f/5.6 DO IS lens, a native focal length that’s never been seen before in the world of 35mm cameras. In the last three years we have seen a consistent stream of DO (diffractive optics) patents from Canon, and I believe Canon is about to begin the process of replacing most of their super telephoto lenses with DO versions. I do not expect to see imminent simultaneous replacements across the lineup, but with so many DO patents in the last few years, there’s clearly several lenses on the horizon.
Diffractive optics lenses are physically smaller and lighter than their regular counterparts, but until quite recently there was a perceived drop in image quality from this kind of lens design. The original Canon 400mm DO IS, launched in 2001, was revolutionary at the time. There was no denying however, that images from it were a little softer than it’s f/2.8 counterpart, and it also displayed an odd circular pattern in the out-of-focus areas (bokeh). As a result, it wasn’t an altogether popular lens, though some wildlife photographers did adopt it when they really needed a lightweight solution.
Fast forward to 2014 and Canon introduced the Mark II version of the 400mm f/4 DO. It’s a huge step forwards in optical quality compared to the previous version, and shaves even more weight off the package. In 2015 Canon also displayed a prototype version of a 600mm f/DO BR IS lens at Canon Expo, something that doesn’t happen all too often. The patent for the lens formula had been unearthed before that, but it’s rare to see a working lens prototype in the wild before an official announcement. They did not confirm when an announcement would be made, but I would think it would be in 2017, with a possible “development announcement” at Photokina in September this year.
For me this raised an interesting question: What would be the point of both a 600mm f/4 AND a 600mm f/4 DO in the Canon lineup? None, really. At over $12,000 for the current 600mm, even if the DO formula did make it slightly more expensive, I can’t seen anyone not going for the considerably smaller and lighter version, even if there was a price premium to pay. With international air travel becoming harder and harder these days, any size and weight saving is welcomed, even if it comes at a price. You also have to remember that these are purchased by pros for the most part, and whilst a couple of thousand dollars seems like a lot of money to you and me, it might only be a small percentage of the lens’ overall cost. Whilst the 400mm DO sits on its own in the lineup since there is no f/4 non-DO lens, I think a DO variation of the 600mm would spell the end for its bigger brother.
Canon’s Odd Duck Tele
The 800mm f/5.6 L IS is a bit of an odd, and slightly unpopular lens in the Canon lineup. It came out at the end of the original IS super telephoto lens lineup, and it’s the only one that hasn’t seen an update to a Mark II version. The problem with this is that there’s very little point to it at all. If you take the 600mm f/4 IS II and put a 1.4x teleconverter on it, you get an 840mm f/5.6 lens that’s actually sharper than the native 800mm f/5.6. Not only that but it’s also cheaper, and more flexible because you get 600mm and 840mm options. You can also use a 2x extender with the 600mm to get a 1200mm f/8 lens which still maintains AF on many of Canon’s latest cameras. If you put a doubler on the 800mm, you lose AF, so the maximum you can do is put a 1.4x extender on it to get to 1120mm f/8.
This means the 600mm f/4 II has the 800mm beat in size, weight, price, image quality AND maximum available reach with AF.
The 800mm f/5.6 L IS is a pointless lens in the lineup, and has been ever since the Mark II version of the 600mm came out with its much improved performance when using extenders.
They’re Not Mad – It Makes Sense
Now you can begin to see why a 1000mm DO lens makes sense for Canon. With the regular optical formula of the current super tele lenses, such a lens would be too big and heavy, but DO technology opens new doors. I would expect a 1000mm f/5.6 DO IS lens to be roughly the same size as the current EF 600mm f/4 L IS II, so whilst it would be big, it’s not unmanageable. Since the optical patent formula is saying it would be an f/5.6 lens, that means it would offer a 1400mm f/8 setup with the 1.4x extender, and still maintain AF. This lens would offer benefits over the surely-soon-to-be-announced 600mm f/4 DO BR IS, and I can see wildlife photographers jumping at the chance to own something like this. On top of that, it’s yet another unique lens design that would trump Nikon’s offerings. Canon have been uniquely innovative in the last few years when it comes to lens designs. The built-in extender in the 200-400 f/4, and the crazy 11-24mm f/4 to name just two. Whilst a 1000mm lens is new territory in 35mm DSLR terms, don’t forget that last year they unveiled a 50-1000mm Cine lens. A lens that does actually have an EF mount and could be used on an APS-C DSLR, albeit without AF.
So when might we see it?
I do think it will come, but I’m sure we will see the 600mm version first. I’d be surprised if we saw it in the next 12 months, but the 800mm was released 8 years ago so it’s time for a replacement in one form or another.