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Canon Might Be Planning Super Cheap Super Telephoto Lenses

A newly published patent suggests that Canon might be trying to bring a catadioptric optical system back to its camera lens lineup. If the “mirror lens” designs do materialize, we would likely see super telephoto lenses that are much smaller and cheaper than equivalent Canon lenses currently on the market.

Northlight Images spotted a Canon patent (US Patent 20210141240) titled “Optical System and Optical Apparatus” that was filed in October 2020 and published on May 13th, 2021.

“An optical system includes a first optical element having a first reflective surface concave toward an object side, a second optical element having a second reflective surface convex toward an image side, and a lens unit disposed between the first optical element and the second optical element,” Canon writes in the patent’s abstract. “Light from an object travels to an image plane through the first reflective surface and the second reflective surface in this order. A movable unit configured to move during image stabilizing includes at least one of the second optical element and the lens unit.”

The patent goes on to describe and show the designs of at least 5 mirror lenses (AKA cat or reflex lenses): a 400mm f/3.6, 800mm f/5, 1200mm f/8, 1200mm f/10.5, and 2000mm f/15. What’s unusual is that they all have image stabilization built in.

A Canon 400mm f/3.6 IS mirror less design.
A Canon 1200mm f/8 IS mirror lens design.
A Canon 2000mm f/15 IS mirror lens design.

“Has Canon decided it’s time for some catadioptric long lenses for the RF system?” Northlight Images writes. “Expect a chorus of disapproval from those who’ve never owned a cat lens.”

The mirrors used to bounce light forward and backward in a catadioptric lens allow lenses to be much shorter than more traditional lens designs, in which light only travels through the length of the lens. The second convex mirror multiplies the focal length up to 4 or 5 times, allowing for super telephoto lenses that are relatively compact.

“In a nutshell, a mirror lens is a compact telescope,” B&H writes. “Mirror lenses contain a series of angled circular mirrors that gather the light and, rather than transmit a focused image directly to the camera sensor (or film plane), reflect the incoming light back and forth, each time reflecting a narrower portion of the image until a highly magnified portion of the original image reaches the camera’s imaging sensor.”

Drawbacks of mirror lenses have historically included fixed apertures (due to the center of the lens being obstructed), low contrast, and donut bokeh (caused by the way light enters the lens through a ring along the outside).

An example of the classic “donut bokeh” from a mirror lens that was used to capture two out-of-focus Christmas lights. Photo by Hustvedt and licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.

It’s possible that Canon has invented clever ways to overcome one or more of these historical weaknesses.

If these lenses are being designed for the Canon RF ecosystem, an advantage the mirrorless cameras would have is that their viewfinders would not be darkened by the small apertures like the optical viewfinders on DSLRs would be.

Canon and Nikon both historically offered catadioptric lenses. Canon mirror lenses have included a Reflex 500mm f/8, 800mm f/3.8, 2000mm f/11, and 5200mm f/14 (one of which was listed for $45,000 on eBay in 2010). Nikon’s mirror lenses have carried Mirror-Nikkor and Reflex-Nikkor labels over the years.

These days, a number of smaller brands such as Samyang/Rokinon and Tokina continue to offer 3rd party reflex lenses.

The Samyang/Rokinon Reflex 300mm f/6.3 ED UMC CS for Sony E (left) and the Tokina SZX 400mm f/8 Reflex for Nikon F (right) are two cat/reflex/mirror lenses currently on the market.

Canon Rumors writes that based on the Canon roadmap it has, these mirror lenses could possibly end up in the hands of photographers.

“Interestingly, a Canon RF 1200mm f/8 appears on my Canon RF lens roadmap, Canon Rumors states. “This patent may actually be part of future consumer products. However, I do have it reported as an L lens, so we’ll have to wait and see on that one.”

Super telephoto Canon lenses have historically been large, heavy, and ultra expensive products geared toward photographers and businesses with very deep pockets. The Canon EF 800mm f/5.6L IS currently costs $13,000, and a used Canon 1200mm f/5.6L was listed for a whopping $180,000 back in 2015.

The releases of mirror lenses could allow the photography masses to try out ultra-long focal lengths — albeit with significantly more limitations — without breaking the bank.

As with any patent, though, there’s no guarantee that the things described will ever show up in the real world, but this is definitely an interesting development from Canon that some photographers will be hoping and watching for.

Mirrorless cameras are overrated… by a lot!

I strongly believe that there is way too much hype around mirrorless cameras. While they seem to be a marketing success, they are also way too overhyped. With YouTubers switching to mirrorless for seemingly no reason, it sometimes is hard to understand the motive of buying mirrorless beyond just owning a newer model. I’m writing […]

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5D Mark II vs 5D Mark IV: Comparing Two Legendary Canon DSLRs

I recently wrote a review of the Canon 5D Mark IV. In it, I mentioned that before buying it, I used the 5D Mark II. The Mark II has been nothing but good to me.

I love the camera and can’t recommend it enough to anyone who is starting out. Perhaps I would say to start off with a used 5D Mark II. The full-frame sensor is better than any cropped sensor. A medium format sensor, even from 2009, generally beats anything full-frame. It’s just how the physics of sensors is. But what would happen if I was to put two 5D models side-to-side?

Interestingly, I don’t use a 5D Mark II for my work now, as I go with a 5D Mark IV. So could it be that me recommending the 5D Mark II is hypocritical and I should really ignore Mark II? I don’t think so. The reason, as I outlined in my review of the 5D Mark IV, is simply that it gives me more resolution, which is critical for crops and large prints that inevitably most fashion photographers deal with. A few more things like the improved autofocus and better sensor made the transition more necessary.

That said, could I still do a shoot on a 5D Mark II? Absolutely! But how different would it be? That’s the question I want to answer in this article.

I took a 5D Mark II and 5D Mark IV to a test shoot and tested them in two situations: beauty and fashion. To do both cameras justice, I will examine raw files that were not retouched. While retouching is where much of the magic happens, I feel it is only fair to show what the camera can do, not what a post-processing software can.

Ergonomics

Holding two cameras in the same hand for hours shows the 7 years of development between them. The Mark IV is better in this regard, it’s more stable to hold in your hand. When it comes to the Mark II, I am often worried about it slipping because the card slot cover is bare plastic that lacks grip. Otherwise, the cameras are essentially the same in terms of weight, dimensions, and size.

A big edge the Mark IV holds is its locking mode dial. I’d often accidentally switch the mode on the Mark II, and it got so bad I taped the dial at one point.

Sensor and Image Quality

Here is where the biggest difference is, but it is important to put that difference into perspective. Having had them side by side, the difference is noticeable, but not day and night.

The biggest for me is resolution. I crop to fit different print purposes often, so the extra ~10 megapixels (21MP vs 30.4MP) make a difference. That said, if you like to get everything perfect in-camera good, for you. My shooting style is quite quick, as most of the time, I am working with a strict timeline.

Model: Hadisha Sovetova @hadishasovetova Hair & Makeup: Karina Jemelyjanova @karinajemelyjanova

For ISO, I rarely used the 5D Mark II on anything beyond ISO 3200. Fashion work shot on a Mark II anything above ISO 800 isn’t usable, but it is rare to go that high. With a Mark IV, ISO 1250 is usable to some degree. As with all cameras, old or new, detail and contrast are lost.

Sometimes a high ISO is needed when the strobe doesn’t have enough power or the location dictates it. The 5D Mark IV is noticeably better in that sense too. The sensor has a better dynamic range as well as color depth. Both sensors have similar color reproduction which is second to none. Yes, both cameras tend to shift the red to orange while giving blue a more cyan shift, but that’s just how Canon’s color science works. I found the Mark IV and II to be identical in terms of color reproduction.

Model: Hadisha Sovetova @hadishasovetova Hair & Makeup: Karina Jemelyjanova @karinajemelyjanova

Features

The 5D Mark IV is packed with different features that make it a lot better than the 5D Mark II.

The Mark IV has a touchscreen that makes navigating a lot faster and more intuitive. For photographers interested in time-lapsing, the Mark IV has a built-in intervalometer that I used to make this time-lapse of some clouds:

The two game-changing features for me are the dual card slots and USB 3.0 connectivity. I shoot tethered most of the time, so the improved transfer speeds are always welcome. When I cant tether for some reason, I find myself using the dual slots all the time. It gives me peace of mind that my images are likely not going anywhere. With Mark II, that was a constant worry. When tethered, the Mark II is a solid camera with okay transfer speeds. It can certainly work and do a good job at it.

Autofocus

A Mark II has only one usable autofocus point. You can disregard the rest because they simply miss too much. The Mark IV solves that problem, which makes shooting a lot easier. I noticed that the 5D Mark IV nails the focus a lot better. Having programmed the AF-ON button to switch to continuous focus when pressed makes the Mark IV ever so much better. Sometimes images I shoot are quite dynamic, and the AI-servo really helps in that situation.

Price

Price is a key factor in any camera, regardless of its features. I am proud to say that I’ve never bought a new camera. For that reason, I will give average street prices. A 5D Mark II in good condition will be around $400-$450. A Canon 5D Mark IV will be around $1,500. These prices vary dramatically from location to location. If you’re starting out, a Mark II is a great budget-friendly investment. If I were to start again now, I’d go for the Mark II and buy a decent lens with it.

Closing Thoughts

Does the 5D Mark IV improve over the Mark II? Yes, it does, and I’d be silly to say that they’re equal. But at the same time, I can’t say that the Mark II is so bad it’s not usable anymore. For people shooting on later models, it is a great backup camera, and for ones looking to switch to full-frame from APS-C, the Mark II is a fantastic budget-friendly option.


About the author: Illya Ovchar is a fashion photographer based in Budapest, Hungary. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can find more of Ovchar’s work on his website.

Canon reported to bring autofocus tilt-shift lenses to RF mount this year

If there’s one thing that’s been distinctly lacking from mirrorless cameras – of all brands – it’s tilt-shift lenses. Sure, they’re not exactly mainstream and pretty much all of Nikon and Canon’s tilt-shift lenses for F and EF mounts can be used on mirrorless cameras with adapters, so it’s understandable that they’ve been on the […]

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The Canon EOS R3 stacked sensor is “designed” by Canon but probably not made by them

Well, this is an interesting one. One of the big highlights of the Canon EOS R3 was that out of the various Canon “firsts” it was celebrating, one of them was a brand new Canon BSI stacked CMOS sensor. All of the promotional material from Canon UK even said “designed and manufactured by Canon”. This […]

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Canon patents reveal some info about eye-controlled AF coming in the EOS R3

Made famous with 35mm SLR cameras like the EOS 3 and EOS 5 (A2/A2e in the USA), Canon’s eye-controlled autofocus system has been sorely missed by some over the last couple of decades. It never made it into any of their DSLRs, but it seems it will be making a comeback in the recently announced […]

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I Use a 70-200mm From 2001 and I’m Not Upgrading Anytime Soon

  How do old lenses fair against new lenses? The question is often easy to answer: new is better. How about Pro lenses? With most brands releasing mirrorless glass, it’s easy to dismiss the older pro lenses as bad. For me, a fashion and portrait photographer, the old 70-200 is as good as the new […]

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This is how Canon’s Spherical Aberration dial works on the new RF 100mm f/2.8 macro

Last week, Canon rehoused a couple of its old EF lenses into RF cases, but also released something brand new. A macro lens that wasn’t just an old design with an EF to RF adapter bolted on the end, but a whole new design. That lens is the Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM […]

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