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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.

Vazen 50mm T2.1 1.8X Anamorphic Lens

Vazen has launched its new 50mm T2.1 1.8X Anamorphic Lens for full frame cameras. The lens is available in an interchangeable PL and EF mount. The lens is designed to cover large format cinema cameras like the RED Monstro, ARRI ALEXA LF, Kinefinity Mavo LF, and the Z-CAM E2-F8. Vazen will also be introducing a … Continued

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Meike 85mm T2.1 Full Frame Cine Lens Review

The Meike 85mm T2.1 Full Frame Cine Lens covers full-frame and larger sized sensors. It is available in either PL, Canon EF, Canon R, Sony E, and Panasonic L mounts. This is Meike’s third full-frame cine lens and it now joins the 50mm T2.1 and 35mm T2.1. Concept The lens is being touted as an … Continued

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Laowa Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO Announced

Laowa has announced the Argus 33mm f/0.95 CF APO, the first lens in its new ‘Argus’ line‘. The name Argus comes from Greek mythology and is the name of a vigilant guardian with a hundred eyes and an all-seeing sight. Laowa is no stranger to making interesting and unique lenses, and the ‘Argus’ line looks … Continued

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How Creative Use of Optics Can Make The Familiar into the Extraordinary

Photographer Michael Shainblum is has shared multiple videos and tutorials about landscape photography and in two recent uploads, he juxtaposes what can be done with two different perspectives — wide-angle versus telephoto — in a very familiar environment.

In the first video above, Shainblum wanted to first and foremost encourage photographers to explore their local environments and be creative instead of worrying about going to dramatic places. The series of images below he captured entirely within Golden Gate Park, an easily accessible area in San Francisco that, before the pandemic, plays host to 24 million visitors a year.

“I’ve been spending a lot of time scouting around here because there is such a great variety of different trees,” he says. “There are a lot of opportunities not only wide-angle scenes but also some pretty cool macro opportunities with different textures.”

Clearly, this location is not exotic, would not normally be seen as exciting, and is certainly not unexplored. But that’s the point, according to Shainblum. You can see some of the results from his shoot below:

In a second video, Shainblum shows the kinds of images he captured when he switched to a 70-200mm lens.

Looking at the photos below, it is clear that even in a very familiar environment, with the right kind of creative eye, you can make compelling images in places that would normally not be seen as particularly high on adventurers’ lists.

The contrast of these two sets of images is impressive given his shooting location.

“I think sometimes in landscape photography there is such a heavy emphasis put onto location,” Shainblum says. “And while don’t get me wrong, I love visiting the craggy mountains of the Dolomites or the sea cliffs of the Faroe Islands, I don’t think it’s necessary to travel to these places to create interesting photographs. Maybe dramatic photography, but even in a place like this, you can find some really interesting stuff. I guess I would encourage you to do that locally.”

For more from Michael Shainblum, make sure you subscribe to his YouTube Channel or follow him on Instagram.


Image credits: Photos by Michael Shainblum and used with permission.

Large format cinematography in a small package: Tokina Vista lenses on Fujifilm GFX100

The production limitations of COVID-19 have inspired us all to think way outside the box. Recently cinematographer Jake Polonsky BSC has married a Fujifilm GFX 100 with Tokina Vista One lenses in a way that has many filmmakers rethinking what is possible with large format cinematography.

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Laowa 1.33x Rear Anamorphic Adapter Review

The Laowa 1.33x Rear Anamorphic Adapter has only recently made it to market. It was first showcased way back in September 2019 and it has taken a long time to start shipping. Above you can see our interview with Laowa about the 1.33x Rear Anamorphic adapter from IBC 2019. So what is it and what … Continued

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