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Posts Tagged ‘Canon’s’

The Vertical ELPH: remembering Canon’s PowerShot TX1 hybrid camera

28 Jul

Buried among the February 2007 announcements of Canon’s PowerShot SD750 and SD1000 Digital ELPHs*, and the A560 and A570 IS was the PowerShot TX1. It took the main features of camcorders at the time, namely the vertical design, rotating display and long-ish lens and put them into a stylish body about the same size as your average Digital ELPH. Add in 720/30p video and it quickly became obvious that the TX1 was created to bridge the worlds of photo and video shooting.

* The SD750 was known as the IXUS 75 while the SD1000 was the IXUS 70 outside of North America.

Behind that metal door was an F3.5-5.6, 39-390mm equivalent lens.

The PowerShot TX1 was based around a 1/2.5″, 7.1MP CCD, which was paired with Canon’s DIGIC III processor. While the F3.5-5.6, 10X zoom lens was quite long for that day, it had a focal range of 39-390mm equivalent, so wide-angle work was out. The lens featured Canon’s excellent image stabilization system – a necessity when capturing video at long focal lengths. Keeping with the stylish look of the ELPH/IXUS lineup, the TX1’s lens hid itself behind a door when powered off.

The 1.8″, 114k-dot LCD could rotate a total of 270 degrees, fitting in perfectly with the TX1’s camcorder-like design.

Canon had to cram a lot of buttons into a small area on the diminutive TX1. The result was a camera with pretty lousy ergonomics. DPReview’s Simon Joinson sums up the TX1’s ergonomic issues nicely in this paragraph:

‘Sexy looks aside, in use the design is nothing short of a disaster, and has the unique ability to make you feel like you have too many fingers on your right hand. Once you’ve mastered not blocking the lens the challenge is to take a picture without jolting the camera, change settings without dropping it, or use it to take a vertically orientated picture at all. It’s better if you use two hands, but not a lot.’

Ouch. Something that came along with the small body was a small battery. The TX1’s CIPA rating of 160 shots per charge was probably the worst I’ve seen in almost 20 years of reviewing cameras.

The TX1 took SD and MMC cards, and you needed a big one to store more than a few minutes of video.

Ergonomics and battery life aside, the PowerShot TX1 took pretty nice photos. Its resolution was competitive with other 7MP cameras, distortion was relatively mild and its noise levels weren’t too bad at ISO 400 (going much higher than that on a compact was a bad idea). As with most compacts, the TX1 had some image quality shortcomings: clipped highlights, purple fringing and redeye were all problems, though the latter could be fixed in-camera.

For those hoping that the TX1 would be a camcorder replacement, it wasn’t. Its 1080/30p video is noticeably softer than what you’d get from an HD camcorder and the use of the Motion JPEG codec meant that each second of video took up 4.5MB on your memory card.

Photo courtesy of DCResource.com

The TX1 didn’t have an HDMI port (but what camera did then?) so if you wanted to hook into a nicer TV, it took a lot of cables. On the right in the photo above are component video cables, which take up one port on the camera. Naturally, you’d want to listen to the high quality stereo sound recorded by the TX1, which required a second cable: the composite one you see above-left. It ended up being quite the rat’s nest.

In the end, the Canon PowerShot TX1 generated a lengthy list of pros and cons and was the recipient of DPReview’s ‘Recommended (but only just)’ award.

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Did you actually have a PowerShot TX1 and want to share your memories? Leave ’em in the comments section below! As always, suggestions for future Throwback Thursdays can be left there, as well.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Behind the scenes at Canon’s new Burbank Technology and Support Center

24 Jul

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

A few days ago, Canon officially opened its newest Professional Technology and Support Center in Burbank, California, and DPReview was part of a select group of media invited to tour the facility prior to the grand opening.

‘Canon Burbank’ is primarily focused on meeting the needs of filmmakers and the Hollywood film production industry, and includes post-production facilities that could be used to produce a blockbuster film. However, as I discovered during my visit, Canon wants this space to attract more than just the filmmaking elite.

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

According to Elliot Peck, Canon Imaging and Technologies’ Executive Vice President, the project to build this new center started about a year ago when Canon realized that it was effectively out of space at its old Hollywood location. Canon designed a completely new facility from the ground up and took the opportunity to move to Burbank, at the heart of the filmmaking industry.

Although it’s officially called a ‘Technology Support and Service Center,’ the description I kept hearing from many staff was ‘Integration Center.’ Canon recognizes that it’s still relatively new to the cinema market, and almost every part of this facility is designed to show how seamlessly Canon products can integrate into an existing production workflow.

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

While there’s a natural focus on Hollywood, Tim Smith, Canon’s Senior Advisor for Film and TV Production, told me that he wants all types of content creators to utilize this facility, particularly people like emerging filmmakers, some of whom may even be using equipment like DSLRs, and who aren’t on Hollywood’s radar yet.

“That was us six years ago,” he said, drawing a parallel to Canon’s own rise in the motion picture business. “In a sense, we’ve spent the last several years figuring out how to go from DSLRs to cinema. This facility is the culmination of all of that work.”

Smith says he wants people early in their careers, who have the desire but not the established name, to come to the facility to network and learn. Canon plans to do seminars and classes for filmmakers at all levels, including topics such as writing or lighting that don’t have a direct relationship to Canon products. Best of all, most of these classes will be free.

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

The new service facility has double the space of Canon’s former Hollywood location, as well as an improved workflow for processing repairs. Canon’s goal is to achieve a one-day turnaround time for customers.

While the service center will see a lot of motion picture products given its location, it provides full support for all Canon camera products, including Cinema EOS, EOS DSLRs, EF and EF-S lenses, and EOS cinema lenses. In addition to repairs, the center has loan equipment available for CPS members.

(If you happen to live in Southern California, the center is open for walk-in visits from 9-5 Monday-Friday.)

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

Part of the service facility is the lens room, where technicians can test and verify lens performance after repair. The room might be better described as a very wide hallway, stretching about 65 ft. (20m) in length. The extra distance allows technicians to mount lenses up to 600mm on a master body to check for optical alignment and resolution, meaning that all but a couple very specialized Canon lenses can be tested here.

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

The broadcast TV projection room is designed to test 4K cinema lenses, which need to deliver sharp performance from corner to corner at every aperture and focal length. Appropriately, the design of this room is all about precision.

Although you can’t see it in the dark, the testing hardware is mounted on a rail system that is precisely aligned to the projection wall. In fact, Canon told us that its engineers, along with the construction firm, spent over a week just building the projection wall to ensure that it was perfectly vertical and without imperfections.

Targets projected through a lens allow technicians to celebrate for sharpness, color, flare, and uneven focus. The target in this photo is a generic pattern to demonstrate the equipment; Canon assures us that it has proprietary targets that are used when calibrating lenses.

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

At first glance, what Canon refers to as the ‘workflow area’ appears to be a standard editing suite, but the main purpose of this room is to to help filmmakers figure out how to integrate Canon cameras and lenses into their production workflows.

Canon acknowledges that filmmakers can be a finicky group of people who like to do things their own way. That poses a challenge for a company that’s still somewhat new to the cinema market. Canon created the workflow area so that filmmakers could test their full post-production workflow, using their tools of choice, while introducing Canon cameras and lenses into the mix.

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

Whatever a filmmaker’s post-production workflow looks like, chances are pretty good they can replicate it here. The facility supports all major editing suites (Avid, DaVinci, Adobe, and Apple), and even includes both Mac and Windows systems so visitors can work on whatever system is most comfortable for them.

There are also three reference displays for use while editing and grading: a 30-inch Canon DP-V3010 4K reference display and a 24-inch Canon DP-V2420 1000NIT HDR reference display (both of which cost around $ 30K), and also a ‘consumer confidence’ display that’s representative of what would be found in a nice home theater. This gives a colorist a rough idea of what the image will look like on a consumer device.

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

The prep room is a facility where cameras can be mounted and fully rigged for production, making it possible to design and test a setup before taking it into the field. Both podiums are wired into the rest of the building so that camera output can be instantly analyzed somewhere else, like the workflow area or the 4K screening room.

Canon wants cinematographers and 1st ACs (1st assistant camera operators) to come in and experiment with their Canon equipment, configure it the way they would for a production, to see how it performs and verify that it meets their needs. Additionally, Canon plans to use this space for other purposes, such as education. For example, it could offer classes for new ACs on how to rig a camera for a shoot.

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

Going one step further, Canon invites filmmakers to bring in its competitors’ cameras to set up side-by-side with its own cameras for comparative testing. According to Smith, “We want to go head to head, with whoever we need to go up against, to convince filmmakers that we have the right product for their project.”

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

The 4K screening room is just what it sounds like. At its heart is a Barco DP4K-P 4K projector, the same projector used by post production facilities such as technicolor. Canon wants filmmakers to have confidence that any work they do in the facility will be up to Hollywood standards.

There are a few seats up front, but most of the action takes place in back where there’s a full edit suite, including 7.1 surround sound and a 2000NIT display for doing HDR grades.

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

In my conversation with Tim Smith, he expressed a strong desire for Canon Burbank to be much more than just a technology and service center. He wants it to be a location where people in the filmmaking community, from DSLR shooters to Hollywood pros, can come together to meet and network.

“In this industry you have to network to find a job,” he says. “Even if you’re the best in the world, you need to network. The more circles you build, the better. One of our visions for this facility is for a cinematographer to use our space to pitch a film to a producer, who then decides to move forward with the project.”

Photo courtesy of Canon

Behind the scenes: Canon Burbank

It’s clear that Canon wants its Burbank facility to be a resource for everyone from beginners to Hollywood pros, and I sensed a genuine desire to engage with and support the filmmaking community.

For all its history, Canon is still the new kid on the block in the cinema business, but the company is confident in its products and isn’t afraid to go head to head with the established players. However, to paraphrase Tim Smith, Canon needs to build circles and create its own networks within this community to be successful long term. Canon Burbank certainly seems to be a step in that direction.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Canon’s new imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 printer can make 60-inch prints

22 Jul

Canon has announced the upcoming launch of its new imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 inkjet printer for fine art photographers and digital artists. The PRO-6000 is capable of printing anywhere from 17in/43cm to 60in/152cm fine art prints, according to Canon, making it the largest 12-ink printer currently on the market.

Canon anticipates the imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 will be available this upcoming August for a whopping $ 12,000 USD.

Press Release

Professional Fine Art Photographers Prepare to Obsess as Canon U.S.A. Announces New Large-Format imagePROGRAF Inkjet Printer

MELVILLE, N.Y., July 20, 2017 – For professionals who want sharp, brilliant and obsessively beautiful prints that they can share with the world, Canon U.S.A., Inc., a leader in digital imaging solutions, today announced its latest professional large-format inkjet printer – the imagePROGRAF PRO-6000. At 60-inches wide, the imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 printer is the largest 12-ink printer on the market today.

The PRO-6000 expands the PRO Series models offered from 17-inches to 60-inches wide, giving users the ability to own multiple sized printers all with the same print head, ink and image processor, helping to ensure the same high quality across the line. As with previous models, the PRO-6000 device’s sleek design emphasizes the link with Canon’s EOS digital cameras and red-line “L-series lens.” Highlights that set this model apart from the crowd include its 60-inch print width, the ability to feed from the only standard Multifunction Roll System in its class and a 12-channel system including Chroma Optimizer that offers spectacular image quality for the fine art and photographic markets.

“With the introduction of our largest model, the imagePROGRAF PRO-6000, we round out our full line of high quality PRO Series printers,” said Toyotsugu Kuwamura, executive vice president and general manager, Business Imaging Solutions Group, Canon U.S.A., Inc. “Our PRO Series now offers an expansive lineup of large-format inkjet solutions and sizes for a broad range of applications in the photo, fine art, proofing and graphics market segments.”

Designed to meet the needs of photo professionals and graphic artists, the imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 printer provides users with Canon’s input-to-output photo printing support, known as Crystal-fidelity. This solution allows users to obtain a print quality that accurately expresses the structure, clarity and texture of photos shot using Canon EOS DSLR cameras. Fine art professionals and graphic artists will welcome the versatility that the PRO-6000 offers, including the ability to print on various media types, such as glossy paper, matte paper and fine art textured paper.

“I prefer Canon large-format printers because of their amazing quality, as well as their outstanding reliability. With the new PRO-6000 printer, the singular print head further improves the quality of nozzle alignment for cleaner, sharper images. I can launch an entire roll’s worth of prints and be confident that I won’t find banding half way through the batch – a huge advantage over the competition,” said Cody Ranaldo, Technical Director for Griffin Editions NYC, a full-service fine art photographic printing, imaging and mounting studio. “The dual-roll loading system greatly reduces the amount of handling damage incurred when switching back and forth between rolls. Finally, there is an aqueous inkjet printer designed for a true production environment.”

“One of our best clients has been waiting to offer her work in 60-by-60 inches and is excited to now be able to offer fine art prints to a new client base,” said Eric Luden, founder and owner of Digital Silver Imaging, based in Belmont, Massachusetts. “Commercial clients are especially excited to see the larger scale prints for their lobbies and conference rooms. Our new Canon PRO-6000, which includes all the improvements that we’ve come to enjoy on our Canon PRO-4000, will open up new opportunities and markets for our business.”

High-level Precision

As with previous models in the imagePROGRAF PRO line, the imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 model features the LUCIA PRO 11-color plus Chroma Optimizer ink system to provide exceptional image quality. The printer maintains this high print quality with a multi-sensor that calibrates the printer, helping to ensure color consistency from the first print to the last and across multiple PRO Series printers. It also features a high-precision mechanical platform, providing a uniform, rigid frame to reduce vibrations during printing and more accurate ink ejection as well as effortless media feeding capabilities, allowing users to no longer have to worry about blemished prints due to fingerprints.

Extraordinary Productivity

The imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 printer features the L-COA PRO processing engine for high-precision image reproduction and high-speed processing of high resolution data. The Sub-Ink Tank feature valued by users of the imagePROGRAF Series has been carried over to this model, helping to reduce downtime and minimize costs by automatically enabling ink tank replacement during printing. With both black ink types active at the same time, there is no need to waste time or ink by swapping out tanks when printing between matte and glossy paper. Right out of the box users will be able to print more as the imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 model comes with 330 ml starter ink tanks.

Media Handling

Typically an option for smaller sized models, a Multifunction Roll System (MFR) comes standard with this 60-inch model to allow for increased versatility. When used as a second roll, the MFR system enables users to load glossy media in one roll and matte media in the other to seamlessly print to both rolls without needing to manually switch media. The Multifunction Roll unit will intelligently switch to the correct media, automating the process and providing increased ease of use. The roll can also act as a take-up unit with bi-directional rewind, ideal for long, uninterrupted print runs.

User-Friendly Software

Included with this new imagePROGRAF PRO printer to help enhance user experience is Print Studio Pro, a plug-in for Adobe® Photoshop®, Adobe Lightroom®1 and Canon Digital Photo Professional software. The Accounting Manager utility is included to help photographers keep track of consumable costs, such as ink and media, to help users determine their overall printing expenses. Also included is Device Management Console, an administrative tool which provides users with the means to manage up to 50 imagePROGRAF PRO Series printers, all from one location.

Availability

The imagePROGRAF PRO-6000 printer is expected to be available in August 2017 with an MSRP of $ 11,995.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Meet the EOS 6D Mark II – Canon’s entry-level full-frame DSLR

29 Jun

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Meet the new 6D – it looks a heck of a lot like the old 6D, but before you jump to the comments to complain about how nothing exciting ever happens in the camera industry anymore, read this article first.

Because appearances are deceptive…

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

One of the most notable upgrades compared to the original 6D is an entirely new 26.2MP full-frame CMOS sensor, with a native ISO sensitivity span of 100-40,000.

We haven’t been able to conduct any lab testing yet, but from our initial shooting it appears (unsurprisingly) to deliver better image quality than the 20MP sensor inside the 6D. The bump in resolution from 20 to 26 Megapixel won’t make as much difference to maximum print sizes as the bare number might suggest, but as a general rule, more pixels = better image quality.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Ergonomically, the 6D Mark II is exactly what you’d expect. Button layout is virtually identical to the original EOS 6D, and anyone with experience of a recent EOS-series DSLR will be able to find their way around without any trouble at all.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

It’s the same story on the back of the Mark II, with one very obvious difference. The LCD is now touch-sensitive, and fully articulating.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Like so. Operationally, this makes the 6D Mark II behave very much like the APS-C format EOS 80D. It even shares the same 45-point phase detection autofocus system, with the same Dual Pixel AF implementation in live view and movie modes too, covering 80% of the frame both vertically and horizontally.

Speaking of movie mode, the EOS 6D Mark II offers a fairly standard (ahem – standard for Canon) video feature, with a maximum resolution of 1080/60p. If you want 4K, you’ll have to save up for an EOS 5D Mark IV, I’m afraid.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Spot the difference – externally, the 6D Mark II (on the left) is extremely similar to its predecessor. It’s basically the same weight, too – 685g (1.5 lb) compared to 680g.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

And aside from the redesigned screen, it’s pretty much identical from the back, too. Which is fine – the 6D was a pleasant, intuitive camera, and aside from some very minor styling differences (the card access lamp is now above the memory card door, not below – tell all your friends!) the Mark II barely alters the basic recipe.

While the simultaneously announced EOS Rebel SL2 features a dedicated Wi-Fi button, setting up the 6D’s wireless system is all done through the camera’s menu system. The 6D II supports NFC for easy pairing with Android devices as well as Bluetooth for maintaining a constant connection with your mobile device. Like its predecessor, the EOS 6D Mark II also offers a built-in GPS for image geotagging.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Note the raised collar around the hotshoe. This forms a weatherproof seal when the 6D Mark II is used with one of Canon’s high-end flashguns.

As usual, Canon is coy when it comes to the extent of the EOS 6D Mark II’s weather-sealing, but I am in the unusual position of having been able to test a pre-production unit in moderately heavy rain. You’ll be reassured to know that while I got quite soggy, the camera didn’t stop working, explode or fall apart in my hands.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

For almost 30 years, non-pro Canon SLRs have sported the same distinctive exposure mode dial. This is where you’ll find the standard PASM shooting modes, as well as auto exposure modes, including full-auto, custom shooting settings and scene modes (‘SCN’). The 6D Mark II’s main power switch is just below.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Some readers might be disappointed with the 6D Mark II’s single SD card slot (and lack of UHS-II support,) but a lot of enthusiasts and advanced amateurs probably won’t care. With card capacities of 64GB+ and built-in Wi-Fi, some 6D II users might find themselves swapping cards very rarely.

That said, with a maximum shooting rate of 6.5 fps, the 6D Mark II will rip through card space quicker than its predecessor (which maxed-out at 4.5 fps) especially in Raw mode.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

The LP-E6N battery is compatible with most high-end Canon DSLRs, which is great news for anyone considering a 6D Mark II as a second camera alongside an original 6D or recent 5D-series body. Battery life is quoted as 1200 shots in viewfinder shooting mode, dropping to ~400 in live view.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Like the 5D and 1D-series bodies, the 6D Mark II is compatible with Canon’s Remote Switch RS-80N3, and the programmable TC-80N3. The remote switch socket is positioned at the front of the camera, safely out of the way of the handgrip.

Hands-on with Canon EOS 6D Mark II

Standard HDMI and USB I/O ports can be found on the side of the 6D Mark II, alongside a mic socket. We’re pleased to see that the mic socket is offset, which means that it shouldn’t snag the articulating screen during movie shooting.

You can read more about using the EOS 6D Mark II in my shooting experience.


What do you make of the EOS 6D Mark II? Let us know in the comments below.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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Undercooked: Canon’s first CMOS-based compact, PowerShot SX1 IS

15 Jun

Canon was producing some impressive superzoom cameras back in 2008. Its PowerShot S5 IS had solid image quality, a capable autofocus system, pleasing color and respectable image quality.

In September of that year, the company split its superzoom line in two. Both the PowerShot SX1 and cheaper SX10 IS had 20X, 28-560mm lenses, 10MP sensors, fully articulating LCDs and decent electronic viewfinders. What differentiated the two – in a major way – was the type of sensor used. The S10 IS went with a traditional 1/2.3″ CCD, Canon made the SX1 its first compact with a CMOS sensor, which was both a blessing and a curse.

Canon had been marketing the PowerShot S-series as ‘hybrid’ cameras since their inception, and the SX1 continued that tradition. Canon used a USM (ultrasonic motor) in that 20X lens, which allowed for quiet focusing that is required when capturing video. The zoom was also capable of zooming slowly, like a camcorder. The SX1 had a prominent movie record button, flip-out widescreen LCD and HDMI output. Heck, even the EVF had a 16:9 aspect ratio, though its resolution was considerably lower than that of its cheaper sibling.

The use of a CMOS sensor rather than a CCD brought an immediate benefit to video-shooters. Unlike previous Canon superzooms, which topped out at VGA resolution, the SX1 could capture 1080/30p video. In 2008 this was a very big deal.

Another benefit of the switch to CMOS was that SX1 could shoot bursts at 4 fps, compared to 0.7 fps on the SX10. While we can’t draw firm conclusions about this, the addition of Raw capture could be due to the faster readout speed of the CMOS sensor, though it could also be a marketing decision.

The PowerShot SX1 was considerably noisier than the lower-end, CCD-based PowerShot SX10 that shared the same design. Old studio scene taken at ISO 400.

So what was the downside? Images were quite noisy as soon as the SX1 left its base ISO of 80, and by the time you got to around ISO 200-400, the CCD-based PowerShot SX10 produced images with less noise and more detail. Compared to its peers from Sony and Panasonic, the PowerShot SX1 was the noisiest.

It’s telling that Canon didn’t release another CMOS-based superzoom for three years. The SX20 and SX30 were both CCD-based, until the arrival of the SX40 HS in 2001, which used a BSI-CMOS sensor.

Were you a PowerShot SX1 owner? Share your memories in the comments below. That’s also the place for leaving suggestions for future TBTs!

Read our PowerShot SX1 IS review


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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.

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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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.
http://www.aurora-aperture.com
info@aurora-aperture.com
* As of April 21, 2017
** ND4000 and ND65000

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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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

Price
MSRP $ 399
Body type
Body type Ultracompact
Sensor
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
Image
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
Autofocus
  • 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
Modes
  • 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
Storage types SD/SDHC/SDXC card
Connectivity
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)
Physical
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

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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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?

Yes. 

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. 

 

Articles: Digital Photography Review (dpreview.com)

 
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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. 

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