Posts Tagged ‘Canon’s’

Looking back: Canon’s eye-controlled focus

11 May
The Canon EOS 5 (known as the EOS A2/A2E in the Americas) was the world’s first SLR camera with eye-controlled focus.

Over the past few years, we’ve become spoiled by a lot of great autofocus technologies like face detection, tap-to-focus, and subject tracking. But before we had those things, we had Canon’s eye-controlled focus, a technology that made its appearance in film SLRs, but which never quite made the jump to digital cameras.

For those unfamiliar with eye-controlled focus, let me provide a quick primer. The system made its debut way back in 1992 on the EOS A2E, and remained part of the Canon system until the EOS Elan 7NE in 2004. It promised ‘focus where you look’ functionality, meaning you could activate your AF point of choice just by looking at it.

As I recall, there were generally two sets of users when it came to this technology: those for whom it worked, and those for whom it absolutely didn’t. There weren’t many in between.

Even today, whenever we review a Canon camera, someone will post a comment expressing a desire for Canon to bring back eye-controlled focus. And I have to admit, I’m right there with them. I have great memories of it.

The Canon EOS Elan IIE, introduced in 1995, had a 3-point autofocus system with eye-controlled focus.

I got my first taste of eye-controlled focus on the EOS Elan II E, and instantly fell in love with it. In fact, I liked using it so much that I switched from a Nikon to a Canon system. The ability to focus by eye was just too much to resist.

I later upgraded to the EOS 3 – still one of my favorite cameras of all time – which had a much more advanced 45-point AF system. Eye control on the EOS 3 was more sophisticated than on the Elan II E: it had a calibration procedure that involved looking at selected AF points in a prescribed manner, allowing the camera to tailor its response to your eye. Supposedly, if you repeated the calibration process under different conditions, performance would improve over time.

The EOS 3 also had the ability to store three registers of calibration data. This was especially useful for glasses wearers because you could use one register to calibrate for your naked eye, and another to calibrate while wearing glasses or contact lenses.

Did it work? It depends on who you ask. Even around the DPReview office, you’ll find opposing views. In my experience, the system didn’t always land on the exact AF point that I wanted to use, but it usually landed close enough that it wasn’t an issue. At least that’s the way I remember it.

But as we all know, memories can be selective. I sometimes wonder if eye-controlled focus was as good as I remember it being, or if those memories are just a result of nostalgia for a bygone technology. To find out, I pulled those old Canon cameras out of a closet and put them to the test.

The Canon EOS 3, introduced in 1998, had an advanced 45-point autofocus system with eye-controlled focus.

The Elan II E worked just as well as I remembered it, performing at about 90% accuracy in my hands. However, it’s worth noting that this camera had a fairly rudimentary 3-point AF system, with well-isolated AF points. Basically, the camera just had to figure out which third of the viewfinder you were looking at to pick the correct AF point.

The EOS 3 was a bit of a different story. Its 45 AF points were crowded close together, requiring a higher degree of precision when reacting to eye movement. I could reliably get it to focus on the general region of the viewfinder I was looking at, but not with the degree of accuracy I remember.

With a bit of practice, I’m sure I could improve my success rate a bit, which is probably why I remember the system working better than it does in my hands today. Alternatively, it’s nostalgia. To be honest, I’m not sure which it is.

Unlike the Elan IIE, whose autofocus points were very far apart, the EOS 3’s 45 autofocus points were packed very close together. This made it more difficult to activate a single, specific AF point by eye. (Diagram from the EOS 3 Instruction Manual.)

So, would I exchange today’s modern AF systems for eye-controlled focus? Not a chance. Features like face detection (and even eye detection) actually solve the ‘where to focus’ problem in many cases, and features like subject tracking would be hard to give up.

However, I still love the idea of eye-control focus and believe it would have a useful place on today’s cameras. There are times when I’m moving focus points around with a joystick or D-pad and find myself thinking ‘I wish I could just look at my subject and focus.’

Technology has advanced a lot in the past couple decades. When eye-controlled focus was introduced in 1992, Microsoft was just launching Windows 3.1, and CERN was still rolling out this new thing called ‘ The World Wide Web.’ In that context, I’m sure a modern eye-controlled focus system could be much more effective, and work for a higher percentage of users, than one introduced during the film era.

So here’s my plea to Canon: Please consider bringing back eye-controlled focus!

I suspect that many of you reading this used eye-controlled focus at some point. How did it work for you? Would you like to see it added to modern AF systems? Or, am I completely off my rocker, chasing down a useless technology that should never see the light of day again? Let me know in the comments.

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Aurora Aperture launches 16-stop ND filter and rear filters for Canon’s super-wide lenses

28 Apr

US filter brand Aurora Aperture has announced a neutral density filter that it claims reduces exposure by 16 stops. The company has launched a new family of fixed factor ND filters called PowerND and is offering strengths of 6, 12 and 16 stops in screw-in and square formats.

The ND64, ND4000 and ND65000 filters will be available for threads of 37-95mm as well as a special 105mm version that will fit an adapter for the Nikkor AF-S 14-24mm F2.8G ED wide-angle zoom. Those preferring a filter system will be able to use the 100 x 100mm square filters. The 16-stop filter is designed for those wanting to make long exposures in daylight conditions and can knock a 1/1000sec shutter speed situation down to 1 minute.

Aurora Aperture has also introduces a series called Aurora CR with filters designed to fit over the rear mount of Canon super-wide lenses. The arch-window-shaped Gorilla Glass filters slide into a holder that screws on to the rear of the lens, and while aimed at users of the Canon EF 11-24mm F4 L USM the system will work with a range of the company’s wide-angle zoom lenses.

The filters are available via Kickstarter with delivery and general sales due to begin in August. Prices start from $ 34 for small screw-in filters of any of the strengths, to $ 117 for the 150mm circular filter. The CR kit including the holder and three filters is $ 165. For more information see the Aurora Aperture website and the company’s Kickstarter page.

Press release

Aurora Aperture Introduces PowerND Family and an Industry First Rear Mount Glass Filter for Canon EF 11-24mm F4L USM

Aurora Aperture Inc., a Southern California startup, today has introduced the PowerND family of high quality fixed neutral density (ND) filters.

The PowerND family consists of three ratings of light reduction capability: ND64 (6 stops),ND4000 (12 stops), and ND65000 (16 stops). Four different formats are available: circular filters from 37mm to 95mm, 100 x 100mm square filters compatible with popular square filter adapters, 150mm circular filters with an adapter for the Nikon AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED lens, and the Aurora CR format, an industry first, a rear mount glass filter for the Canon EF 11-24mm F4L USM lens.

The 6 stop filter is typically used in low light conditions such as during sunrise or sunset for sub-second shutter speed. The 12 stop filter can slow down shutter speed to minutes in dusk and dawn conditions. The 16 stop filter can do magic on a bright day, allowing photographers to expose up to several minutes or more.

The ND4000 and ND65000 have distinct advantages in having more stops than the typical ND1000 or ND32000. They allow users to avoid diffraction softening by enabling users to avoid very small aperture settings or alternatively allowing for longer exposures. In the case of the PowerND 4000 that means two more stops than the typical ND1000 and for the Power ND65000 there’s one additional stop.

“We introduced a variable ND family last year and it was embraced by photographers and videographers worldwide,” said Jinfu Chen, founder and CEO of Aurora Aperture Inc. “the fixed ND family we introduce today is much more powerful in terms of light reduction capability and offers even better optical performance, along with more formats for different camera lenses.”

A small rear mount filter using Gorilla® Glass for the Canon EF 11-24mm F4L USM is an industry first. Prior to this users would have to use extremely large filters with diameters up to 186mm with a bulky front lens shade adapter. The Aurora CR format filter mounts in the rear of the lens, making it much easier to carry and lower in cost. Other Canon lenses that Aurora CR format filter can be used in* are the EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye, EF 11-24mm F4L USM, EF 14mm f/2.8L US, EF 15mm f/2.8 Fisheye, EF 16-35mm f/2.8L USM, and EF 17-40mm f/4L USM.

Designed in California by Aurora Aperture, the Aurora PowerND filters employ up to 128 layers of double sided nano coating** in order to achieve color accuracy and powerful light reduction capability. Hydrophobic and oleophobic coating is applied to filter surface with PFPE coating. The end result is that water droplet on the filter surface can maintain a static contact angle of 110 degrees, one of the best in the industry.

Availability and Pricing
The Aurora PowerND family will be available through Kickstarter starting in April 2017 and to dealers and direct orders in August 2017. List price starts at US$ 42 and varies depending on filter format and size.
* As of April 21, 2017
** ND4000 and ND65000

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Canon’s PowerShot SX730 HS travel zoom offers 40x lens in a very small package

06 Apr

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Canon has announced its PowerShot SX730 HS, the follow-up to the SX720. The SX730 has a 20.3MP BSI CMOS sensor, stabilized 24-960mm equivalent lens, a 3″ (non-touch) LCD that flips upward 180 degrees, as well as Wi-Fi, NFC and Bluetooth.

The SX730 HS comes in silver and black and will ship in June for $ 399.

Press Release

Capture high-quality memories with the new Canon PowerShot SX730 HS digital camera

Latest PowerShot Digital Camera Provides Impressive Image Quality, Zoom Range and Tilting LCD screen in a Compact Size

MELVILLE, N.Y., April 6, 2017 – Ideal for families on vacation or parents at their kids’ sporting event looking for a convenient, easy-to- carry compact digital camera capable of producing high quality photos and videos at long distances, Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions, introduced today the new PowerShot SX730 HS digital camera. This new digital camera boasts a 20.3 Megapixel* CMOS imaging sensor and a powerful 40x Optical Zoom lens (equivalent to 24-960mm) in a form factor that easily fits in a pocket, making it an outstanding camera for budding photographers to capture gorgeous imagery no matter where they are.

With new features such as a convenient Self-Portrait and Smooth Skin mode, 3.0-inch LCD screen that rotates up 180 degrees and built-in connectivity capabilities like Wi-Fi®1, NFC2 and Bluetooth®3 technology, it’s now easier and more convenient than ever to use Canon digital cameras to share images and videos on the go, making the PowerShot SX730 HS digital camera a great transitional camera for those looking to use something other or move from a smartphone. 

“We live in a very connected world and want to give people the power to zoom in from far away to capture amazing scenes from a distance, while also being able to share those images in real time,” said Yuichi Ishizuka, president and COO, Canon U.S.A., Inc. “The new Canon PowerShot SX730 HS digital camera will help photographers effortlessly capture memories, even from great distances and conveniently share their fun with friends and family.”

As the successor to Canon’s PowerShot SX720 HS digital compact camera, the PowerShot SX730 HS digital camera also features: 

  • Powerful 40x Optical Zoom with Zoom Framing Assist
  • Sleek, Lightweight and Pocket-size Design
  • Built-in Wi-Fi®1, NFC2 and Bluetooth®3 technology
  • 3 Megapixel* CMOS sensor
  • DIGIC 6 Image Processor
  • 0-inch Tilt-type (180° up) LCD
  • 1080p Full HD Video at 60p
  • Self Portrait Mode
  • Story Highlights
  • Geotag4 & Date Stamp Options

Canon’s PowerShot SX730 HS digital camera is scheduled to be available in June 2017 for an estimated retail price of $ 399.99.

Canon PowerShot SX730 HS specifications

MSRP $ 399
Body type
Body type Ultracompact
Max resolution 5184 x 3888
Image ratio w:h 1:1, 4:3, 3:2, 16:9
Effective pixels 21 megapixels
Sensor photo detectors 20 megapixels
Sensor size 1/2.3" (6.17 x 4.55 mm)
Sensor type BSI-CMOS
Processor Digic 6
Color space sRGB
Color filter array Primary color filter
ISO Auto, ISO 80-1600
White balance presets 5
Custom white balance Yes
Image stabilization Optical
Uncompressed format No
JPEG quality levels Super fine, fine
File format
  • JPEG (Exif v2.3)
Optics & Focus
Focal length (equiv.) 24–960 mm
Optical zoom 40×
Maximum aperture F3.3–6.9
  • Contrast Detect (sensor)
  • Multi-area
  • Center
  • Tracking
  • Single
  • Continuous
  • Face Detection
  • Live View
Autofocus assist lamp Yes
Digital zoom Yes
Manual focus Yes
Normal focus range 2 cm (0.79)
Macro focus range 1 cm (0.39)
Screen / viewfinder
Articulated LCD Tilting
Screen size 3
Screen dots 922,000
Touch screen No
Screen type TFT LCD
Live view Yes
Viewfinder type None
Photography features
Minimum shutter speed 15 sec
Maximum shutter speed 1/3200 sec
Exposure modes
  • Program
  • Hybrid Auto
  • Auto
Scene modes
  • Creative Shot
  • Portrait
  • Smile
  • Wink Self-timer
  • Face Self-timer
  • High-speed Burst
  • Handheld Night Scene
  • Low Light
  • Fireworks
  • Long Shutter
Built-in flash Yes
Flash range 4.00 m (with Auto ISO)
External flash No
Flash modes Auto, on, slow synchro, off
Drive modes
  • Single
  • Continuous
Continuous drive 5.9 fps
Self-timer Yes (2 or 10 secs, self-timer)
Metering modes
  • Multi
  • Center-weighted
  • Spot
Exposure compensation ±2 (at 1/3 EV steps)
Videography features
Format MPEG-4, H.264
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 60p / 35 Mbps, MP4, H.264, AAC
  • 1920 x 1080 @ 30p / 24 Mbps, MP4, H.264, AAC
  • 1280 x 720 @ 30p / 8 Mbps, MP4, H.264, AAC
Microphone Stereo
Speaker Mono
Storage types SD/SDHC/SDXC card
USB USB 2.0 (480 Mbit/sec)
HDMI Yes (micro HDMI)
Microphone port No
Headphone port No
Wireless Built-In
Wireless notes 802.11b/g/n + NFC + Bluetooth
Remote control Yes (via smartphone)
Environmentally sealed No
Battery Battery Pack
Battery description NB-13L lithium-ion battery & charger
Battery Life (CIPA) 250
Weight (inc. batteries) 300 g (0.66 lb / 10.58 oz)
Dimensions 110 x 64 x 40 mm (4.33 x 2.52 x 1.57)
Other features
Orientation sensor Yes
GPS None

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Behind the scenes: An interview with the heads of Canon’s L lens factory

22 Mar
From left to right, Mr Hayakawa, Mr Okada and Mr Izuki, the three men in charge of development and keeping things running smoothly at Canon’s Utsunomiya lens plant. 

Following the CP+ 2017 show in Japan, we headed to Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory to take a tour (see what we found) and interview the gentlemen who oversee all operations and development. This included Kenichi Izuki, the Plant Manager, Masato Okada, Deputy Chief Executive of Image Communication and Products Operations and Shingo Hayakawa, Deputy Group Executive of Image Communication and Products Operations.

The Utsunomiya plant is where all Canon’s L series, cinema, and broadcast lenses are produced. It’s also where all Canon lenses are designed. Many of those designs can be attributed to the three men pictured above. In fact just before we started the interview Mr Izuki informed us that he had been lead designer of the EF 35mm F2 IS lens we’d chosen to document the factory tour. So there’s also a pretty good chance you have one of them to thank for your favorite Canon glass!

Please note that this interview was conducted through an interpreter, and has been edited slightly for clarity and flow.

The magic place where all Canon L lenses are born.

What percentage of L lenses are manufactured in the Utsunomiya lens plant?

Because this is the ‘mother’ factory, 100% of L lenses are made here.

How many different lenses can be manufactured simultaneously in this plant?

Basically, we create all lenses every day [including L-series EF, Cinema EOS and broadcast]. The only exception is some of the broadcast lenses.

Which lenses in particular are the most difficult to manufacture and why?

Any large super telephoto lenses because of the size of the glass elements. In terms of skill required for lens assembly: the TV broadcast lenses are most difficult.

How many lenses are produced at this lens plant every year, both in terms of types of lenses and total units?

We do not disclose total production for this plant. That said, Canon has produced a total of 120 million lenses over the years. Of course, many of those are kit lenses, which are not produced here, but in our facility in Taiwan.

Mr Izuki, the plant manager, teaching us about the lens production process. 

Tell us a little bit about the history of the plant.

The facility as a whole has been here for forty years, however prior to 2005, we were located in an older building on the other side of the property. And the land where the current plant sits was initially owned by the Du Pont family. When they returned it to the prefecture, we bought it.

The current lens facility opened in 2005. When we moved in we completely revamped our lens-making machines and devices. Not all, but the majority. This helped to push [us] to a higher standard of quality.

Over the past 40 years, lenses have changed a lot, with autofocus introduced, aspherics, etc., what was the largest paradigm shift in lens technology?

We are reaching the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the EOS line. It was at that time, in 1987, that we moved into autofocus. When we did that, I believe we were the first ones to go fully-electronic mount autofocus. Because the motors were built into the lens we had a significant competitive edge.

As DSLR resolution increases, it can be a challenge to achieve precise focus because AF errors are more noticeable. How do you reduce this risk in the manufacturing and quality control process?

Overall precision is something customers are increasingly requiring. In this factory, we have increased the level of precision of our machines so that lenses have more accurate autofocus.

A lens going through QC testing. Information from the test will be saved on a chip in the lens.

During the tour it was mentioned that Canon lenses now store their quality control test data using on-board memory. Can that data be used to improve autofocus reliability?

We do store data from final lens testing on each unit. I won’t be able to speak in greater detail other than saying, yes, in theory, that data could be used to achieve higher autofocus performance [better AF precision] with a DSLR.

How long does it take a lens like the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L III USM to make its way from start to finish in the assembly line?

From raw material being polished, to the final tested product being boxed: about 24 hours of work, in theory. But the physical production would actually take longer. This is because we are producing parts in batches and there are machines that need to be fitted. These variables aside, if you take the actual time of labor, assembly and packaging, it is about 24 hours.

You mentioned you were looking to hit an 80% automation rate in this facility. What kind of efficiency gain does that represent?

It’s difficult to say in terms of time, but I can say it use to take about 70 people to make a lens like that prior to automation, now we need about 6 or 7.

As production becomes more automated will you require fewer skilled manual workers?

In one sense yes. But it’s not about firing the rest of these people, it’s about allowing them the time to build up their skills. This way they can face challenges and difficulties like increasing precision and performance. So we’ve essentially been able to allocate these workers to a different environment.

A lens in the final assembly process. It can take 25-30 years to become an Assembly Meister at Canon’s Utsunomiya plant. 

Typically how long does someone train before they attain the title of ‘Meister’?

In terms of the level of ‘Lens Meister,’ it would take 30-35 years. For ‘Assembly Meisters”, 25-30 years.

Now that the process for assembly, element polishing and quality control is so automated, we’re curious how many lenses pass QC the first time vs those that have to go back for re-calibration.

In terms of maintaining a level of quality before going into mass production, we do a lot of checking and scenario building [using a super computer] to make sure everything will go right. Once a lens goes into mass production we can safely say that we have seen no lenses returned for further calibration.

What impact did the 2011 have on this facility and how long did it take to recover?

A lot of the ceilings came down. We took a big hit in that regard. But, we were able to come back into operation within about 2 to 3 months.

While not the most exciting photo, if you look very carefully, you might see some minor impressions on the linoleum. This is (subtle) evidence of the 2011 earthquake, which caused some ceilings to collapse. The yellow tape line is used by computerized robots in the factory.

Did you implement any changes as a result of the earthquake?

We have fortified the building, so that it is more earthquake-proof. And the assembly tools we use are put together in such as way that they are shake-proof.

Are there major differences in how you QC test broadcast and cinema lenses vs EF lenses?

The concept for testing is basically the same. But, in terms of broadcast/cinema lenses there are some unique customizations that we offer depending on the particular cameraman or filmmaker. If they want to zoom by hand, for instance, we can accommodate the pressure of the mechanism to their requirements.

A lot of your users use EF lenses for video creation. Has that changed the way you design some EF lenses?

In terms of stills shooter, when it comes to autofocus, the faster the better. On the other hand, videographers tend to require a variance in autofocus speed. Sometimes they want a slow effect. So we had to create a motor that could actually do both fast and slow focus. This is why we introduced Nano-USM. It’s in both the 18-135mm F3.5-5.6 IS USM and the 70-300mm F4-5.6 IS II USM.

Will that kind of autofocus be used more in the future as video becomes more of a requirement for users?


At any given time, how many new lenses are in development at this facility?

I can not give you a number, unfortunately. But I can say that new lenses are in development as we speak. So I hope you look forward to them.

Results of a QC test.

Editors note (by Dan Bracaglia):

Let me begin by saying how grateful I was to be given access to Canon’s lens factory and what an honor and privilege it was to sit down and interview the creators of some of Canon’s most legendary glass. In my six and a half years writing about photography, this was one of my most memorable and rewarding experiences. 

As you might expect, there were nearly endless points of fascination. Some of which are covered in this interview, others in our factory tour slideshow. Something that particularly interested me is the fact that all the information from a lens’ final calibration and quality control check is saved on a chip within the lens itself. The idea here is this information can been used, in theory, when a lens comes back in for cleaning or recalibration. It also means that at some point, perhaps camera bodies will be able to access this information, which could lead to better AF precision. This is solid forward thinking on Canon’s part. 

I was also intrigued to find that Canon manufactures every L lens in the same factory. Not only that but every current lens in the L series is being made every day. As you might imagine, security at the facility is very tight. 

“Canon, it seems, recognizes just how important pushing lens development is”

Also hearing Canon put a concrete number on their automation goals (80%) was interesting. Of course you could read that as Canon displacing workers with machines, but throughout the tour and the interview, our guides made it clear that automation wasn’t about replacing workers, rather dedicating more workers to research and development. Canon, it seems, recognizes just how important pushing lens development is, all while maintaining a high level of quality control. Automation offers just this. 

And I’m not ordinarily one to be starstruck, but when Mr. Izuki told me he designed the Canon EF 35mm F2 IS, my jaw dropped a little. There’s nothing quite like standing of front of the creator of one of your favorite lenses. Speaking of favorites, we also asked Mr. Hayakawa, Mr Okada and Mr Izuki which Canon lens they’ve designed/worked on over the years they are most proud of. We got some great answers. We’ll be posting those in a separate article soon, so stay tuned!

Barney, just prior to entering the factory floor. We also went through a room that blasted us with air. Dust is the enemy in a lens factory. 


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The home of the L-series: We tour Canon’s Utsunomiya factory

20 Mar

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Recently, following the CP+ 2017 show in Yokohama, we were granted the enormous honor of a guided tour through Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory. Canon has been making lenses in Utsunomiya since 1977, and we were the first journalists ever to be allowed to see the L-series assembly line.

Utunsomiya (indicated with the dropped pin) is the capital and largest city of Tochigi Prefecture, in the northern Kant? region of Japan – about 80 miles north of Tokyo.

On February 27th, we made our way from Yokohama to Utsunomiya in the company of several representatives from Canon Inc., and our friends Dave Etchells and William Brawley from Imaging Resource. Click through this slideshow to see what we found.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Plant Manager Kenichi Izuki introduces his team. Of the six ‘Master Craftsmen’ within Canon, two of them work at the Utsunomiya plant. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Mr Izuki explains what the Utsunomiya plant does. As you can see, several different families of products are manufactured in Utsunomiya, from high-end broadcast and EF lenses to components for office equipment.

The 2-story plant itself employs around 1,700 people and covers an area of almost 80,000 square meters (roughly 20 acres). 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Painted yellow lines snake through the corridors of the Utsunomiya factory. These are ‘read’ by robotic carts that carry components to various parts of the plant on pre-programmed routes.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Why, here’s one of them now!

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

One of the two ‘Master Craftsmen’ at the Utsunomiya factory, Mr Saito explains the incredibly fine tolerances involved in the creation of 4/8K broadcast lenses. Canon claims a tolerance of +/-30 nanometers. As such, if one of the finished elements were scaled up to the size of an Olympic stadium, the surface variation would be no thicker than a plastic grocery bag. 

Yes, you read that correctly.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

To make these lenses, first you must make the tools which shape them. In the foreground, on the left you’ll see a steel ‘prototype standard’. Every element in a broadcast lens was born here, from a prototype standard – effectively a ‘master’, rather like a shoemaker’s last, from which the element takes it essential shape. Canon stores thousands of them.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

On the left is the diamond plate, which takes its shape precisely from the prototype standard. This is used to make the lens polishing tool. Each grey disk on the plate is a diamond grindstone. On the right is the polishing tool itself, with its array of polyurethane pads, which is used to polish a single side of each glass element.

Each surface of every element takes roughly 90 minutes to polish, and this is done by hand.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

The grinding and polishing process of broadcast lens elements explained. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

A replica prototype standard, with a measurement tool on the right. The tool is incredibly accurate, and is used to check for surface inaccuracies. Even a divergence of 0.1 microns (1/10,000th of a millimeter) from design parameters would be considered unacceptable.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Mr Saito demonstrates how a diamond plate is shaped by hand, using a large (and very heavy) carborundum disk. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

With decades’ of experience, Master Craftsmen (or ‘Takumi’) can tell when to apply more or less pressure by feel alone. Some processes, like this one, are considered so critical that they must be performed by hand.

It typically takes between 25-30 years before a lens polishing technician attains the status of ‘Meister’, and their experience is essential to the production line. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here, an element is being smoothed. Afterwards it will be centered, and then polished. Every day, the manufacturing process uses 400 tonnes of water, which is purified and re-used continually in a ‘closed loop’ system.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Not everything is done by hand. When it comes to EF lenses, Canon is expanding its automated manufacturing capabilities. We were extremely privileged to be shown this lens element polishing machine, which processes glass elements from a raw ‘cake’ of glass right through to final polishing, without any human intervention. 

During our tour, this particular machine was processing elements for the new Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM. From a raw cake of unpolished glass to a finished element the process of grinding, polishing and centering takes about 30 minutes. If this were done in the traditional (non-automated) manner it would take about 3 days per element. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here’s a single element from the Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM at the beginning of its life, as a cake of raw glass. This is what gets fed into the polishing machine. A finished element emerges from the machine every two minutes, and we’re told that all of the non-aspherical elements in the new Canon EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM are processed in this way. 

Aspherical elements are produced using a separate high-precision molding process, which happens elsewhere in the facility, behind closed doors. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Canon is at pains to point out that machines like this can only be created as a result of the Master Craftsmen’s decades of experience. The machines themselves are made in-house too, by Canon’s Production Engineering Headquarters. 

Although there has been a factory on this site since 1977, Canon opened the current building in 2005. According to Masato Okada, Deputy Chief Executive of Image Communication Products Operations, this move provided an opportunity for Canon to completely revamp its lens production methodology.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

After watching elements being polished, the next stage of the tour is lens assembly. Before we set foot in this area of the facility, we need to don coveralls and take a cool, refreshing ‘air shower’ to make sure we don’t accidentally contaminate the production line. Here’s Barney, trying not to brush against the (sticky) walls of the decontamination room. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

This area of the factory is where Canon’s high-end L-series lenses are assembled. Like the broadcast lenses, much of the assembly process for fast prime telephotos is still done by hand. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here, a Canon assembly line Meister (her badge tells us she’s been a Meister for 17 years) works on the front assembly of a telephoto prime lens. 

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

A finished EF 300mm f/2.8L IS II USM is checked by computer before its final housing is put on.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

‘OK’ – this one passed! You can read up on Zernicke Polynomials here, if you like that sort of thing.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

This finished lens is being checked on a computerized test rig, which measures the lens’s optical characteristics in three positions, across 48 points of a proprietary test chart (which we’re not allowed to show, sorry). The camera is a modified EOS 5D Mark III. We don’t know exactly how it’s been modified, but our guide mentioned some firmware and hardware differences compared to a stock model. 

Interestingly, information about the lens’s optical characteristics is saved to a chip inside the lens itself. This data can be read and updated by Canon if and when the lens comes back for service. This allows information to be gathered about the durability of certain components over time and allows Canon to learn about long-term wear patterns.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Although rarely-used now, some lenses are still occasionally tested partly by using the traditional ‘projection’ method. Here, in a darkened room off to one side of the assembly line a technician (just visible in the background, under the image of the chart) is inspecting the image projected through a telephoto prime lens.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Increasingly, Canon uses automated assembly processes for its L-series zooms, which have a comparably higher sales volume than telephoto primes and broadcast lenses.

Again, the new EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM is at the forefront of developments in automation. Roughly 50% of the assembly process of this lens is automated and Canon tells us that, they’re aiming for 80% automation within a year.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Because the non-aspherical elements in the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM are polished automatically, and 50% of the assembly process is done by machines, the amount of people involved in the manufacture of the new EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM is relatively small. Roughly 10% of the manpower required if it were manufactured entirely by hand, we’re told.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here, the view from a tiny camera inside the assembly machine shows a technician what’s happening. A EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM’s focus positioning brush switch is being installed – a highly delicate procedure which requires extremely precise positioning.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

Here’s another one of those modified EOS 5D Mark III lens checking cameras, this time hooked up to a finished EF 16-35mm F2.8L III USM.

The home of the L-series: Inside Canon’s Utsunomiya lens factory

It passed! We get the impression that very few lenses don’t. From start to finish, it takes roughly 24 (non-continuous) hours to manufacture each 16-35mm.

Editors’ note:

It’s impossible to come away from Canon’s Utsunomiya plant without an appreciation for the vast amount of expertise employed by Canon in the manufacturing of its high-end lenses. One striking aspect of the assembly process of broadcast lenses is how many steps are deemed so critical that they must be accomplished by hand. In the broadcast lenses assembly line we were told repeatedly that ‘this process is too complex to be performed by a machine’.

One of the reasons that Canon’s broadcast lenses are so costly is that as we saw, each element is hand-polished – often by someone with a minimum of 30 years’ experience. Internally, assembling one of Canon’s high-end broadcast lenses is considered among the most difficult jobs in its entire production line.

Manufacturing high-volume EF lenses in this way would be impractical (the wait-times for new models would likely stretch into decades…) but even so, when it comes to fast telephoto primes, much of the process is still performed by hand.

‘anyone that fetishizes the words ‘made by hand’ should try shooting with the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III sometime.’

Perhaps most impressive though is the automation. Canon has clearly invested a lot of time and energy (not to mention money) in automated lens polishing and assembly. We’ve been lucky enough to visit several factories, run by several manufacturers, and Canon’s Utsunomiya plant is definitely the most advanced that we’ve seen. Automation of critical lens polishing and assembly processes makes perfect sense for mass-produced products, and anyone that still blindly fetishizes the words ‘made by hand’ should try shooting with the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III sometime.

Canon’s self-calibrating lens polishing machines (designed and manufactured in-house) are capable of incredible precision, and the data gathered by automated testing and eventual servicing can be used in any number of different ways, to improve quality control over time.

After watching the entire assembly process from lens element polishing to final QC checks, we’re most excited by the possibilities which emerge from Canon’s inclusion of a chip inside each recent lens, which saves data about its own specific optical characteristics.

‘This could allow for… a bespoke ‘lens profile’ to be applied automatically’

As well as data-gathering and long-term quality control improvement, this also opens up the possibility that at some point a lens’s specific optical characteristics might be made available to the camera to which it is attached. This could allow for automatic AF fine-tuning, or potentially even for a bespoke ‘lens profile’ to be applied automatically to correct for optical characteristics unique to that one lens. This isn’t possible right now, but we’re told that Canon is working on making it a reality.

What did you make of this tour through Canon’s Utsunomiya factory? Let us know in the comments. 

You might also like…

Behind the scenes at Fujifim’s Sendai factory (2016)

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Extremely dramatic video touts Canon’s CMOS technology

16 Feb

No doubt, Canon’s CMOS sensors are capable of capturing some amazing low light video footage. And it’s true that Canon cameras can create usable footage in literal darkness. But this new video from Canon… maybe takes it all a bit too seriously. Here’s a glance at what the script (probably) looks like:

[Title: Moonbow / a rainbow born of moonlight]

[Scene opens with a dramatic time-lapse sunset over a mountain. Cue the strings.]

[Narrator, in very Movie Trailer Guy voice]: Have you ever seen a rainbow… in the light of the moon?

That’s just the first ten seconds. Do yourself a favor and watch the full 4+ minutes to enjoy the full effect of the soaring music, dramatic CGI models and lines like ‘By uncovering an unseen world, Canon CMOS sensors contribute to the creation of a prosperous society.’

In all seriousness, the CMOS technology Canon references does push the envelop for extreme low light shooters. Take a look at how one filmmaker uses the ME20F-SH to record video of a meteor shower.

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Opinion: The EOS M5 is Canon’s best ever mirrorless camera, and a big disappointment

18 Sep
Canon’s EOS M5 is a small, lightweight but powerful APS-C format mirrorless camera, which uses the same sensor and on-sensor phase-detection autofocus system as the EOS 80D.

By Barnaby Britton, Editor –

What a long, strange trip it’s been. Eight years have passed since Panasonic unveiled the Lumix DMC-G1, the world’s first DSLR-style mirrorless camera, and for much of the intervening time, Canon has appeared content to let its competitors lead the charge away from traditional DSLRs. In that time, mirrorless cameras have gotten faster, their sensors have gotten bigger and the introduction of 4K video has created a new class of genuine ‘hybrid’ products that have carved out a distinct technical niche compared to their DSLR forebears. 

Then-Chief Executive Masaya Maeda of Canon – pictured at the Photokina tradeshow in Germany, in September 2014. Mr Maeda has since been promoted to President and Chief Operating Officer at Canon Inc. 

In 2014, Canon’s then-Chief Executive Masaya Maeda promised us a serious mirrorless offering ‘in the very near future’, but until now, the closest Canon has come to delivering on this promise was the EOS M3. Canon has never seemed to know how to market the EOS M series*, and insisted at launch that the M3 would not be available in the USA even as Maeda claimed he was telling the his global divisions to “sell it!” Six months later, they finally decided that perhaps they should.

Now, a year after the EOS M3 belatedly entered the US market, we have the EOS M5 – the ‘4’ having being skipped over, possibly in deference to a rather inconsistently applied Japanese superstition. The EOS M5 is a fine product, and one that I think arguably represents Canon’s most sure-footed move in the non-professional space for years. But it is also a massive disappointment.

All Dual Pixel, all the time

Let’s start with the positives. The EOS M5 basically takes the still and video imaging pipeline from the EOS 80D, and puts all of that hardware into a smaller, lighter body with full-time live view. The 80D’s sensor is good – it’s not market leading, but it’s better in some respects than the sensors used in the 70D and 7D II – and despite the equal pixel count, better also than the 24MP sensor that found its way into the EOS M3.

I called out ‘full-time live view’ as a positive because perversely, one of the highlights of the EOS 80D’s handling experience is its behavior in live view mode, when on-sensor Dual Pixel autofocus comes into play. With the EOS M5, it’s all Dual Pixel, all the time, but without having to hold the camera out at arm’s length. All of this, plus the full-time touch-screen adds up to a really, really nice handling experience.

A schematic of Canon’s Dual Pixel CMOS AF sensor structure. The top layer illustrates the light-gathering micro-lenses and conventional Bayer-type color filter array. The lower layer shows how each pixel is split into two photo-diodes, left and right, which are colored blue and red respectively.

So why is the M5 such a letdown? Because this is the camera that Canon should have released at least two years ago, when Dual Pixel AF was first introduced in the EOS 7D II, and when the company still had a chance to really ring the changes in the mirrorless market.

We know that Dual Pixel autofocus is a serious differentiator, and if you’ve been paying attention to our coverage of Canon’s various high-end DSLRs for the past couple of years, you do too. And the M5’s touch interface is lovely. But unless they’ve held and used the EOS M5 (and with more chance of finding a Lapras** on the streets of your town than a dedicated brick and mortar camera store, a lot of people’s first experience of holding a new camera is taking it out of the box), DPAF isn’t the kind of function that’s necessarily going to grab the attention of a potential buyer. Like – say – 4K video might. Or a super high frame-rate mode, or slow-motion movie capture. 

This is the camera that Canon should have released two years ago

The EOS M5’s spec sheet suddenly becomes a lot more impressive if you comb through your memories of the APS-C market segment for the past couple of years, and mentally delete all of the entries under ‘Sony’***

Of course as we all know, specs aren’t the whole story. Luckily for Canon, handling and performance go a long way. The M5 probably shoots fast enough and well enough for most photographers, its 1080p video probably looks basically fine,**** and it’s very nice to use. Although recent Sony cameras have been loaded with an almost unbelievable amount of technology, shooting with one, whether it be an Alpha or a Cyber-shot can sometimes feel unpleasantly like playing chess against a supermarket self-checkout machine*****. Canon at least knows how to make cameras pleasant and uncomplicated to use, while many Sonys still feel like they were designed by the same user interface team responsible for this. If you don’t remember Sony’s late-to-market iPod competitor, don’t feel bad – nobody else does either.

In fact, despite its comparatively pedestrian feature set, given the choice, I’d take an EOS M5 out with me over a Sony Alpha any day of the week. But I really believe that this shouldn’t be an either / or thing.

I don’t think that photographers should be required to choose between a sensible, well-designed but feature-limited camera or a cutting edge, highly advanced but annoyingly fiddly one. For videographers who started out on EOS DSLRs this is a particularly irksome choice.

The Samsung NX1 was ahead of its time when it was released in late 2014, and even now, its spec sheet is remarkably competitive. One of our favorite cameras of the past decade, the NX1 was quietly killed off by Samsung, along with the rest of the NX lineup, late last year. 

Behind my nagging feeling of anticlimax with the M5 is a principle, which is this: Companies that take risks, and deliver new technology to as many people as possible should be given credit. And companies that do not should be held to account. Take the Samsung NX1 – an APS-C format camera so far ahead of its time that even now it has arguably yet to be bettered. In short, it was a vastly more capable camera than it probably needed to be. As such, the NX1 (which benefitted from an aggressive and effective series of firmware updates) encapsulated the best qualities of the company that made it, just as its premature discontinuation, along with the rest of the NX line, could be said to reflect the worst.

Companies that take risks, and deliver new technology to the market should be given credit

The EOS M5 is undoubtedly Canon’s best mirrorless camera yet, and at least in terms of core stills photography it should prove competitive against cameras like the Sony a6300. But as a former Canon user and a long-time Canon watcher, I can’t help feeling let down.

The Canon T90 from 1986 (left) and 1992’s EOS 5 (A2E in the USA). Both incredibly innovative, game-changing SLRs in different ways. And both released a very long time ago.

Canon, after all, is the company that first put a microprocessor into an SLR. It cemented autofocus as a professional feature, not a gimmick, and later created the first multi-point AF systems. Canon introduced optically stabilized SLR lenses, too. It was Canon that gave us the first large-format CMOS imaging sensor, the first sub-$ 1000 DSLR, and the first practical full-frame digital camera******. Hell, arguably the first practical digital cameraCanon is the company that created the still-gorgeous T90. And Eye-Control autofocus, for heavens’ sake, which – granted – didn’t always work, but still feels like science fiction******* even today.

How many of those innovations date from within the past ten years? Not one.

Before you jump to the comments section and start flaming me, I’m not saying that Canon has stopped doing cool things. That’s a common refrain of habitual Canon brand-bashers on DPReview, and one that I don’t agree with. Apart from anything else, it’s perfectly logical that in a maturing market, paradigm shifts will occur with less frequency. And let’s be fair here – Canon can, and does, innovate. If you take a look at Canon’s camera and lens lineup from PowerShot to Cinema EOS, it’s clear that the company is capable of formidable technical achievement.

For all that, many of Canon’s biggest contributions to the consumer digital imaging market in recent years have taken the form of iterative refinement, not wholesale reinvention. And in my personal opinion, this is a shame. Because reinvention used to be what Canon did better than anyone else.

* It’s a Pokemon thing. Ask your kids, assuming you can locate them. 

** Early press briefings on the EOS M were memorable for the unwavering insistence on the part of Canon’s PR team that the M was being marketed primarily to women and smartphone camera upgraders.

*** I write this in the full knowledge that there are some of you who do exactly that.

**** We shot an entire video with the EOS 80D earlier this year. It’s fine.

***** Try it. The machine will persist in maintaining that you didn’t make your last move, when you definitely did, and after going back and forth a few times making you pick up your piece and put it down again it summons a teenager to assist you. 

****** No, I’m not counting either the Kodak DCS-14n or Contax N Digital.

******* Eye Control AF was introduced in the EOS 5, in 1992, almost a quarter of a century ago. I like to think that if Canon had persisted with development we could be shooting with mind-controlled cameras by now. 

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Take a closer look inside Canon’s impressive EF 200-400mm F4L IS

11 Jun

Canon has posted a video showing its massive EF 200-400mm F4L IS USM Extender 1.4 X reduced to its component parts.

The Canon 200-400mm is an impressive lens. This hefty telephoto uses no fewer than 33 elements arranged in 24 groups, including Fluorite and Ultra-Low Dispersion glass, and features a built-in 1.4X teleconverter. Canon’s stop-motion video is rather charming, and makes a nice change from the computer-generated exploded imagery that we’re used to seeing. 

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Good sport: a closer look at Canon’s EOS-1D X Mark II

02 Feb


The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is the company’s latest pro-level DSLR, now built around a 20.2MP CMOS sensor with Dual Pixel AF technology. It uses a body that’s the most subtle possible evolution of the classic 1D design, which makes sense, given how many of its long-standing professional users will need to find it familiar the moment they use it. Inside, though, almost every aspect of the camera’s feature set has been overhauled – from the autofocus system to the video capability, the ISO range to the card format it uses. Let us talk you through the biggest changes.

Autofocus improvements

The EOS-1D X II features a similar AF module to that found on the previous flagship 1D X, as well as on the 5D Mark III and 5DS/R, but comes with some notable improvements. For a start, the coverage is larger, with the central region expanding vertically by 8% and the 20 points on the left and right flanks extending vertically 24% more than before.

All 61 points can now focus at F8, which will be very useful when shooting telephoto lenses with 1.4x and 2x teleconverters. 41 of those points are cross-type, having both horizontal and vertical line sensitivity. 5 central points are dual cross-type and have wider baselines that offer high precision focusing for F2.8 and faster lenses. The center point works down to -3EV in One-Shot AF. It’s not available in AI Servo because it requires a longer sampling interval, which would slow down AI Servo.

Also improved is AF point illumination, based particularly on feedback from wedding and event photographers. Points can now remain lit red when focusing, which helps you keep your AF point over your subject in dim situations. Additionally, two brightness levels are available so you can fine tune brightness based on your preference.

You can read more specifics about the very similar previous 61-point module in our EOS 5DS coverage here.

Metering Sensor

The 1D X Mark II gets a new metering module. It’s now a 360,000 pixel sensor that is used both for metering and to provide scene awareness to Canon’s ‘Intelligent Tracking and Recognition’ (iTR) autofocus system.

The sensor itself is a two-layer CMOS chip, with red, green and blue information captured by the top layer and infrared detected further down into the silicon.

Touchscreen LCD

The LCD screen on the back of the camera has received a significant upgrade. It’s now 1.62 million-dot, up from 1.04 million-dot. This represents a move from 720 x 480 to 900 x 600 pixels and the increase in resolution is noticeable. Images look crisp and clear on the back, thanks especially to Canon’s ‘Clear View’ technology that uses optical coatings to reduce reflections.

The LCD is also touch-enabled, but you can only use touch to select a focus point in Live View, either for stills shooting, or to refocus on subjects during movie shooting. It cannot be used to operate menus, nor (annoyingly) is it enabled in playback.


The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II ships with a new battery, which allows for 1210 shots on one charge. The nice thing is, the battery compartment remains backwards compatible with the older 1D X battery. However, if you use the older battery, frame rates will drop to 1D X levels (12 fps with AF, 14 fps in live view or with the mirror locked up). Heartbreakingly slow, we think you’ll agree. 

Dual Pixel AF

Dual Pixel AF makes its debut on a full-frame sensor with the 1D X II. Every pixel on the sensor is split into two separate photodiodes, one left-looking and one right-looking. Comparing the phase difference between strips of left-looking vs. right-looking pixels essentially allows the camera to determine exactly how much to move the focus element to acquire focus, much as the dedicated phase-detect module in DSLRs do. Approximately 80% of the frame is available for focus using Dual Pixel AF, and the technology is particularly useful not just for this extensive coverage, but for the inherently accurate focus it provides – because focus is performed at the imaging plane, there’s little possibility for mis-focus and the inaccuracy issues dedicate phase-detect sensors in DSLRs display.

Perplexingly, Dual Pixel AF can only be used in One-Shot AF in Live View, meaning it can’t be used to continuously focus (though it can for movies). We weren’t given any reasons as to this limitation, and given that continuous focus is certainly possible – as it works during movie shooting – it seems an odd omission.

Read our original coverage of Dual Pixel AF, with an in-depth look at how it works, here.

Canon embraces CFast (and Compact Flash)

Canon has decided to adopt the CFast standard while also providing a CompactFlash slot for backwards compatibility. The logic of this move is to ‘futureproof’ the camera. For now, Canon has provided the option for super high-speed data rates without alienating its existing audience, who most likely have a large collection of CF cards.

Should you own a CFast card, you’ll be able to capture 170 Raw files in a burst: just a fraction below the 180 JPEGs that its predecessor could manage (the Mark II will shoot JPEGs continuously until you run out of card space). CFast is also required for 4K video recording.

Video capabilities

On paper, the EOS-1D X Mark II has very impressive video specifications – moving far beyond what its predecessor was capable of and incorporating most of what the more niche EOS-1D C offered. The standout spec is the ability to shoot DCI 4K footage (4096 x 2160 pixels) at up to 60 frames per second. This capability is the same as the 1D C, though the X II doesn’t include that camera’s Log Gamma option.

To give faster access to video shooting there’s a Video/Live View switch around the live view button just to the right of the viewfinder. In addition, the camera gains a headphone socket for audio monitoring during recording.

Full HD options

In terms of 1080 video, the camera can record at up to 120 or 100 frames per second (without audio) or at 60, 50, 30, 25, and 24 frames per second, depending on whether you’ve got the camera set to PAL or NTSC mode. Interestingly there’s also the option to capture true 24p footage, as well as the 23.98p approximation offered in NTSC mode.

The camera can output a ‘clean’ signal across its HDMI port, for use with an external recorder or monitor (which could be used to provide focus peaking and zebra warnings, if needed), but this stream is 1080 only, not 4K.

Touch-to-focus video

The other video-friendly hardware change on the 1D X II is the addition of touch sensitivity to the rear LCD. This is only used for a very limited number of features but one of these is to position and re-position with autofocus point during video recording. Combined with the camera’s Dual Pixel AF sensor design, this should make it easy to adjust focus in video without the risk of the lens over-shooting or adding distracting focus wobble to video clips, as can happen with contrast detection autofocus.

Touch to focus can also be used for One-Shot AF in stills Live View shooting. 

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X-Factor: We examine Canon’s EOS-1D X Mark II

02 Feb


The Canon EOS-1D X Mark II is the company’s latest flagship camera. Its lineage and price tag make clear that it’s aimed at professionals, but what does that really mean? We’ve had our hands on a prototype, so click through this slideshow for a closer look the all-new Canon EOS-1D X Mark II. 


The first thing to notice is how similar the body layout and design is to previous models. More so than any other part of the market, pro-level cameras need to be consistent with their predecessors. Working professionals need to be able to pick up the new camera and use it perfectly, the first time they take it out. This may not mean using it to its full potential but, at the very least, it needs to perform as well as the camera they’ve been using.

To give some idea of how familiar pro shooters become with their cameras, our team photojournalist Jordan Stead’s first response upon picking up the camera was: ‘I noticed the AF selection joysticks have changed. They’re larger and less pointy.’ Indeed, the AF selection joysticks are considerably larger, gaining 5D-series-style crenelations around the edges, while maintaining the portcullis-like surface pattern.  


Unfortunately, leaving everything the same isn’t always a good thing, as it can mean the camera’s behavior doesn’t keep pace with its evolving feature set.

The EOS-1D X II lets you use Auto ISO in manual exposure mode and allows the use of exposure compensation to set the target brightness. However, the +/- exposure compensation button on the top plate doesn’t work in M mode: instead you need to customize a different button to set exposure compensation, or remove your eye from the viewfinder and use the Q menu. This makes little sense when you have a dedicated exposure compensation button.

A gripe, and a like

There’s also no quick way to switch between having the camera automatically select a starting AF point vs manually selecting one in continuous AF tracking (AI Servo with iTR). Instead you have to dig through the menus to specify this. We believe some photographers will want to manually choose their subject by selecting an AF point and initiating focus with it, but it would be nice to quickly switch to an auto mode – where the camera selects the nearest target – to respond to a quickly changing scenario.

While we’re on the subject of quickly switching AF modes, though, it’s worth highlighting one of our favorite custom controls: OneShot<–>AI Servo and AF<–>. Assigning a button to these features allows you to quickly swap between single and continuous AF, and between two AF area modes commonly used (e.g. single point vs. all 61 points). This allows a photographer to quickly adapt to changing scenarios. 

Making a class-leading AF module better

By now Canon shooters should be very familiar with the 61-point AF system that debuted in the 1D X, and a version of which can also be found in the 5D Mark III and 5DS/R cameras. This module has been updated for the better in the 1D X II. It offers 24% more vertical coverage, by moving focus points further apart, which also increases the central AF area by 8%. The center AF point is now sensitive down to -3EV in One-Shot AF, which will be a boon for low light – and we think particularly wedding and event – photographers.

Speaking of wedding and event photographers – one consistent complaint leveled at the 1D X was the lack of continuous AF point illumination. This could make it difficult to, for example, follow a dark subject on a wedding dance floor with your center AF point long enough for it to lock focus. In these situations, we’d often find ourselves activating the AF grid (which lights up all points red) on a 5D Mark III just to get a glimpse of where our selected AF point was in relation to the subject. 

With the 1D X II, you can choose to have AF points constantly illuminated, with your selected AF point indicated by red-lit square brackets, while every other AF point is indicated by red dots. Two levels of brightness that are user-selectable control how bright red points appear. In AI Servo mode, you can have your selected AF point lit red as long as the subject is in focus, but we’ll withhold judgement on the exact implementation until we’ve been able to use a production camera. 

Intelligent AF with a 360k-pixel RGB+IR metering sensor

The metering sensor on the 1D X II has experienced a significant increase in resolution. With 360,000 RGB+IR pixels, it’s the highest resolution metering sensor we’ve ever seen. This should lead to accurate metering, and also enables the camera’s anti-flicker shooting feature, which delays the shutter firing so that it syncs-up with the brightest moments of the fluctuations that occur with some artificial lighting. 

But the implications of a high resolution metering sensor are most exciting for autofocus. Why? Think of the metering sensor as a low resolution image sensor that can be used to find faces and recognize objects so it can tell the AF system which points to use to follow them (something Canon refers to iTR, and we generally refer to as subject tracking). The main image sensors of DSLRs can’t be used to do this (as they can on mirrorless cameras), because they are blocked by the reflex mirror between exposures. However, the metering sensor, embedded in the viewfinder hump, can see the scene in front of the lens whenever the mirror is down. This has prompted the use of increasingly high resolution sensors to provide the cameras with scene and subject awareness. For example, Nikon announced a 180,000-pixel RGB metering sensor in their recent D5/500 announcements (we analyzed its implications here).

So how does it work? Our initial impressions are that subject tracking remains a bit erratic and highly dependent on your shooting scenario – in other words, on the face of it, not as versatile as Nikon’s class-leading 3D tracking. While we’d expect it to remain very good at following subjects well-isolated in depth (typically distant subjects shot with telephoto lenses, such as birds), it doesn’t appear to be quite accurate enough to track, say, the eye of a face.

We were somewhat surprised by this, given the pinpoint precision Nikon 3D tracking is capable of with a far lower resolution 91,000-pixel RGB metering sensor, and given the accuracy with which the 1D X II itself tended to focus on eyes of faces in One-Shot AF (with 61-point Auto AF). Our guess is that when it comes to iTR, Canon continues to rely heavily on distance information to subject track, which may serve it well for birds-in-flight, distant wildlife, and sports photography, but is known to have its limitations.

In other words, it’s not just about how many pixels your metering sensor has, but how you use them. It should be noted though that these impressions are based on limited use of a pre-production camera, so we’re not drawing any definitive conclusions at this stage.

Face detection in viewfinder shooting

Face detection in OVF shooting is nothing new: cameras like the original 1D X, 5DS, 7D Mark II, and most full-frame Nikon cameras also have this ability. But with the 360,000 RGB+IR pixel sensor, the 1D X has the potential to recognize faces better. Does it?

In our brief time with the EOS-1D X Mark II, face detection indeed appeared to work very well. When the camera is set to iTR (Face Priority), and 61-point mode with Auto selection, in single AF (One-Shot) mode the camera is really good at finding the nearest face and focusing on it – and it even appears from our initial testing to prioritize eyes or the plane of a person’s cheeks. Traditionally, we’ve found face detection in OVF shooting on Canon cameras like the 7D Mark II and 5DS to focus on the nose – possibly due to the low resolution of the metering sensor and the camera ostensibly just telling the PDAF system to focus in the general vicinity of the face (dedicated PDAF systems tend to prioritize the nearest object – like noses). With the spatial resolution of a 360,000-pixel RGB+IR sensor, though, we expect the eyes to be distinguishable features, and we found the majority of shots shot with ‘Auto’ AF area with face priority to be focused on or near the eyes, less so the nose. The system was also good at not getting confused by objects obstructing parts of faces – impressive

That said, results were less impressive in continuous AF mode (AI Servo), where iTR kicks in and can lead to erratic results. In Servo 61-point AF with iTR, we found the camera to start on or near the eye of a detected face, but then wander off to a nose, or the subject’s hair. This is consistent with our previous experiences – we’ve found iTR to be somewhat inaccurate at sticking to your initial subject (e.g. the eye of a face), potentially due to its heavy reliance on distance information over pattern recognition for subject tracking. However, we would’ve expected the 360,000-pixel RGB+IR sensor to significantly increase the accuracy of iTR for subjects such as faces and facial features, and nearer objects in general. Yet our initial impressions are that if it does, it’s not obvious (as yet).

Please note, though, again, that our initial assessment is based on use of a pre-production EOS-1D X Mark II.

Backwards compatibility

As well as offering familiar ergonomics, the camera offers a good degree of backwards compatibility. For example, the Mark II uses a new battery, the LP-E19 but is still able to make use of the LP-E4 batteries used by its predecessor. 

This means that any professionals who’ve built up a collection of LP-E4 batteries with their previous cameras. However, the difference between the two isn’t simply a matter of capacity: reverting to the older packs will see the maximum continuous shooting rate from from 14 fps (with 16 fps in live view) back to the 12/14 fps rate offered by the original 1D X. The new battery also offers an impressive figure of 1210 shots on one charge, according to CIPA standards.

CFast / Compact Flash

This attempt to maintain backwards compatibility risks adding complications, though. For existing users, the camera includes a CompactFlash socket but to cope with greater data throughput, the main slot uses the outwardly similar but physically incompatible CFast format.

We have concerns about the wisdom of using two such similar cards alongside one another in the high-pressure circumstances the 1D X II will be used in. It’s a concern echoed by pro shooter Jordan Stead:

‘I’ll probably stick with [CompactFlash] for now: there don’t seem to be enough advantages to CFast if you’re not shooting 4K,’ he says. ‘Also, I’d worry about whether you can accidentally try to mash the wrong card into the wrong slot, because they’re so similar. If you’re on the sidelines, dealing with runners [running cards back from the camera to a laptop], they’re not going to know the difference – I’d worry about them breaking my card reader or bringing me the wrong card.’

Speed benefits

With a CFast card, the camera can shoot nearly as many Raw files in a burst as the original 1D X could manage with JPEGs (170 vs 180), meaning that beyond the increase in storage required, there’s effectively no performance cost to shooting Raw.

The significance of this may not so much be a question of having such a large buffer, but in the fact that it essentially removes one of the key limitations to shooting Raw.

‘For the shooting I do, [a 12 second buffer] is unnecessary,’ says Stead. ‘I can’t remember ever shooting more than 3 or so seconds in a burst, but it’s good to know that you’re never going to hit its limit.’

What is it?

And several other upgrades have also been made that reduce any impact of the larger file sizes that Raw brings. The speed of the Ethernet port has been increased from 100Mbps to 330Mbps while the new WFT-E8A Wi-Fi accessory now supports the substantially faster 802.11ac standard. There’s also a USB 3.0 connector, giving plenty of high-speed options for file transfer.

All of these make it easier to transfer large files off the camera quickly, however you’re delivering your images.

On the go

On top of this, the camera’s post-shot in-camera Raw processing has been improved, and it’s now possible to apply all the digital lens corrections previously offered by Canon’s Digital Photo Professional software in the camera as a post-processing option. This allows lens-specific distortion, vignetting, chromatic aberration and color blur to be corrected. The camera’s JPEG engine also gains a diffraction optimizing function that tries to correct for diffraction if you shoot using small apertures.

The 1D X II also features built-in GPS. ‘GPS is cool, too – it’s another thing that the camera is embedding for you, meaning that you don’t need to stop and add that information yourself,’ highlights Stead.

Video capabilities

Looking closely at the EOS-1D X II’s video capabilities tells an interesting story. The camera still lacks the focus peaking and zebra warnings offered on the Cinema EOS cameras the company makes for professional video work. And, for that matter, the Log Gamma option that appeared on the 1D C (so it’s not clear whether this camera eliminates the need for a 1D C II). The camera can also only output 1080 footage over HDMI, which suggests Canon doesn’t expect (or want) it to take the place of one of its more video-focused models.

Video for non-videographers

Saying that the 1D X II doesn’t appear to be designed for professional video doesn’t mean it can’t offer video for professionals; it merely depends on which profession. With its touchscreen-operated Dual Pixel AF system, the 1D X II should be one of the easiest cameras to capture footage with if you’re not an experienced videographer. The autofocus should be able to refocus without distracting focus wobble simply by tapping the screen. What’s more, tracking sensitivity and AF speeds can be adjusted for movie recording, allowing videographers to optimize continuous focus for their particular application. 

We’re a little perplexed, though as to why this Dual Pixel AF isn’t available for continuous AF in stills shooting. Clearly, continuous Dual Pixel AF is possible (Movie Servo AF), yet it’s simply disabled for stills.

The only thing we’re surprised to see is that it doesn’t appear to be possible to use Auto ISO and exposure compensation when manually exposing in video. Setting the shutter speed and aperture, then leaving the camera to use ISO to maintain a pre-specified brightness is one of the easiest ways to shoot.

But what about 4K?

The biggest upgrade in the camera’s video spec is the addition of 4K shooting but, interestingly, this can only be captured using the Motion JPEG format and the wider-than-16:9 DCI 4K aspect ratio (4096 x 2160 pixels). Both of these choices seem odd: the All-I H.264 compression the camera uses for its 1080 footage would be a more efficient choice of codec and the 16:9 UHD flavor of 4K is better suited to certain applications.

However, along with 4K capture, the 1D X II includes tools to grab 8.8MP frames from its 4K files: at which point the decision to save every frame as an individual JPEG makes slightly more sense. Wedding shooters might even use this feature to document receptions in complete silence: despite the 1D X II gaining a continuous silent drive mode like the 5DS/R, it’s not all that silent. 

The 1D X II also gains a headphone jack, important for monitoring sound levels during video recording.

First impressions

Overall, the EOS-1D X II looks pretty much exactly as we thought it would look. It’s a solid, high-performance DSLR that works in basically the same way as its predecessors. It improves on them in several respects, but does not represent a major paradigm shift in either Canon’s state-of-the-art, or the digital camera market as a whole. This isn’t a criticism – this is what progress looks like at the very top of the market, where letting working professionals get the shot they need matters a lot more than piling on fancy features.

That said, there are two main ways in which we think the camera may prove particularly significant, once it gets into the hands of pro photographers.

The first is autofocus performance. Canon has been developing its iTR autofocus tracking for some time and there’s still a chance it’ll shine when put to use in the field (despite our initial impressions). And in the EOS-1D X Mark II, Dual Pixel AF makes its debut in full-frame format. This not only offers fast, precise, and decisive AF in video, but also accurate and quick AF in Live View for stills shooting, albeit of static subjects, without the need for lens-specific calibration, ever.

The second area in which the EOS-1D X Mark II could raise the bar is workflow. The 1D X II features a series of improvements that could make Raw shooting much easier to incorporate into a high-speed press photography workflow. Equally if it helps stills-focused photojournalists to shoot effective video clips, it could prove to be much more of a breakthrough than it initially seems.

It’s this second aspect that caught Stead’s eye: ‘Everything seems designed to help get the images out of the camera and onto the wires as quickly as possible, without the need for a computer – whether you’re a JPEG or Raw shooter. It looks like the perfect sports/wire service camera.’

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