Random Thoughts on Canon’s Announcements

There were more announcements from Canon today of more new equipment than I ever remember seeing from them before. If Canon was making computers, there’d be enough meat here for a MacWorld keynote. I hope they keep up this pace in the future. Previously, they’ve been rather lackadaisical about releasing new professional grade equipment. Some of their lens models are almost 20 years old at this point. Let’s hope this is a precursor of more cool things to come. And now on to the specifics.

Canon 60D

The 60D was decidedly underwhelming. In some ways, it’s a downgrade from the 50D, especially if you don’t want to shoot video. It is slightly lighter, which is nice, and the controls it removed are controls I’ve never used anyway. Perhaps I’d find a use for the articulating screen. However I was really hoping for something that would be an improvement on the 7D, not merely a slight upgrade over a Rebel. Features I was looking for included better high ISO performance, waterproof, 45 point autofocus, better autofocus, ring of fire, and the ability to autofocus at f/8. Just maybe this camera has less noise at medium and high ISO than the 50D does. Once again, we’ll have to wait for reviews to find out. However it failed to meet all the other desiderata. At $1099 (body only) it is reasonably priced, but unless you want to shoot video you might well prefer the slightly cheaper 50D.

Two New Teleconverters

Canon released new “Mark III” models of both their well-regarded 1.4x tele-converter and their not so well-regarded 2X tele-converter. It’s not immediately clear what, if anything, is really new about these two pieces. Personally, I’d love to see a 1.4x tele-converter that works with any lens, not just the longer lenses. I’d also love to see a 1.4x tele-converter that didn’t lose a stop of light. Almost as good would be a 2X tele-converter that only lost one stop of light, or even simply that didn’t suck. We’ll have to wait for the reviews to see just how good or bad these are. If they’re just a slightly improved version of the Mark II teleconverters, I doubt I’ll buy either one, especially at $500 apiece.

70-300 mm L series zoom

At first glance, this lens really impressed me, and I was getting out my credit card, but then I realized I had misread the specs. I thought it was f/4 at the long end, but in fact it’s f/5.6. That makes it a lot less attractive since it can’t take a tele-converter while still autofocusing. The 1.2m minimum focusing distance is still very impressive though. I can’t wait to see what the maximum magnification is. This could turn out to be a really nice lens for butterflies, dragonflies, wasps, and other large flying insects. However, without the tele-converter, I suspect it probably won’t be as nice as the 300mm prime, no matter how good the optics are. Still, I’m willing to be surprised. If the magnification factor is actually in the ballpark of .4x or so, it could be a real contender, especially at only $1500, comparable to the 100-400mm zoom and the 300mm f/4 and 400mm f/5.6L primes.

The new 400 F/2.8L IS 2

My friend Steve Nanz has shot with the predecessor to this lens for years, with great results, but I’ve never considered it. For a lens that heavy and expensive, I want a lot more reach. Still, one nice new feature of this lens is that it’s a full 1.5 kg lighter. That’s a big improvement. Update, first price is $11,000! For that much money you could buy the 800mm.

EF 8-15mm f/4 L USM fisheye zoom lens

So far from what I shoot, it’s completely irrelevant to me. I’d rather have the 10-22mm EFS anyway.

The new 500 F/4L IS 2 and 600 F/4L IS II series lenses

It’s about time that Canon showed nature photographers some love. Depending on price point, these could be very nice upgrades for photographers who don’t want to go all the way to the 800 mm f/5.6L lens.

The 300 mm f/2.8 IS II

This is perhaps the most interesting announcement in the batch. Since it will take a 2X tele-converter and autofocus even on a non-pro body, this should be some real competition for the 400mm f/4 DO lens that’s been the handheld choice of most professional bird photographers for the last few years. Close focus is a respectable 2m; not macro range but a reasonable 20% improvement over the model it replaces. If it’s not too incredibly expensive — say under $3000 — I might even have to buy myself one, especially if the new 2X tele-converter performs as well as the old 1.4 X. teleconverter did. However that’s unlikely. The old model costs $4500 or so, and one thing Canon hasn’t learned from computer manufacturers is the art of releasing better models for less money. Likely this one will cost at least several hundred dollars more than the previous model. Update: looks like it’s about $7000, way more than the 400mm f/4 DO. For that price, I’ll stick with the 300mm f/4L IS or the 400mm f/5.6L.

What was missing?

I’m most disappointed that the rumored 200 mm f/4L macro lens was not released. I don’t know if this was ever more than a rumor, or if maybe we’ll see one at some point in the future. However, Canon’s 180 mm macro lens is way behind the curve and could use a serious upgrade.

I had also heard rumors of a 100 to 400 mm zoom that maintained f/4 throughout its range. That was also missing, though perhaps the rumor passers were thinking of the 70-300 mm L series zoom. Still, that lens has too large aperture and/or too short a long end to be really attractive.

There is a point at which physics gets in the way of some of the lenses I would like to see. However, camera technology advances a lot faster than lens technology these days. I’m still hopeful that someone is going to release a reasonably priced SLR body that has much better autofocus than we’ve seen so far, and can autofocus it f/8 or even slower. The one area where cameras do seem to be making really significant advances is a noise reduction at higher ISOs. It’s now routine to shoot at ISO 400, and if you need more speed even ISO 1200 is completely reasonable. One thing it would be easy for cameras to do, but which can it really hasn’t figured out yet, is a shooting mode in which the ISO is shifted rather than the aperture or shutter speed. Or perhaps a shooting mode in which both ISO and shutter speed and aperture are shifted but in a certain sequence within a certain range. For instance, I’d like to be able to program my camera for a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second, an ISO between 400 and 1200, and an aperture from f/5.6 to f/16. That is, the camera would fix the shutter speed, and then figure out the best combination of ISO and aperture to match that shutter speed, and if it still had light to spare, then maybe increase the shutter speed. That would actually be fairly easy to do, especially compared to some of the physics tricks that have to be played to improve the actual optics. This is a simple matter of software. In essence, I like to be able to download a simple algorithm for choosing the levels for birds and another for choosing the levels for bugs to my camera and map them to the custom function buttons that I otherwise mostly don’t use. Nikon has a piece of this, as do some point and shoots, though none of them support quite this much. I’m not sure why the Canon professional cameras haven’t caught up here.

One Response to “Random Thoughts on Canon’s Announcements”

  1. Dolan Halbrook Says:

    You’re right that physics will be the limiting factor in a teleconverter not losing a stop of light.

    Regarding the shooting mode you described (set ISO and shutter speed, variable aperture), Pentax has had something like that for quite a while (Sv), but it hasn’t seemed to have caught on in the other camps.

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