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[Part 3] The Transition and Enhancement Era – Lenses for High-resolution Cameras

In April 2014, the cumulative production of Canon's "EF lenses" broke the 100 million record. How did the new mount system win the trust of photographers with mechanical control completely eliminated from the traditional FD mount? Part 3 of the series tells you more about the history of the evolution.(Reported by: Kazunori Kawada)

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Phase 3: The Transition and Enhancement Era - Lenses for High-resolution Cameras

Canon collaborated with Kodak to release a DSLR camera in 1995 with Canon's EOS body as the base. This accelerated the transition from film cameras, which were still the mainstream back then, into digital ones. Though the proportion of digital EOS models has been growing, compatibility with EF lenses for film cameras did not cause any major issue, perhaps due to the relatively low pixel count at the beginning. However, digital cameras, unlike their film counterparts, have an image sensor with a completely flat surface, which was susceptible to internal reflections within the lens. To tackle this problem, the new lenses were applied with a more effective layer of anti-reflection coating. At the same time, it was also an era that saw a rapid increase in the pixel count each time there was a model changeover. Anticipating the advent of a high-resolution era, Canon began to adopt an EF lens design with a much higher level of resolution performance than that in the film age. In 2004, the EF-S lens series was launched with the aim to achieve a compact and lightweight design ideal for use with the APS-C format cameras, which was the mainstream at that time.

EF Lens Feature 1 - SWC

  1. Incident Light
  2. Air
  3. SWC
  4. Glass

SWC (Subwavelength Structure Coating) is a technology that creates wedge-shaped nanostructures smaller than the wavelength of light on the lens surface to prevent reflection from occurring. It is capable of tackling light with a large incident angle, and is thus effective for preventing light reflection in wide-angle lenses, which have a large curvature.

The Image Stabilizer (IS) feature, which was first introduced in 1995, has also evolved together with digital cameras, as camera shake became a more serious issue with the higher resolution of digital cameras compared to their film counterparts. The corrective effect, which was equivalent to two shutter-speed stops at first, increased rapidly with subsequent breakthroughs. By the time the "EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM" was released in 2009, a new "Hybrid IS" was introduced, which was capable of correcting shift shake in addition to angular shake. Earlier Image Stabilizer features were almost powerless when it came to close-up shots. However, macro photography was able to benefit from the new Hybrid IS, as it helped to widen significantly the potential of handheld photos containing subjects such as insects, for which the use of tripod was difficult.
As mentioned earlier, the resolution performance of newly-released lenses was enhanced to cater to the higher pixel count, but doing so in general would result in a bulkier and heavier lens. To resolve this issue, Canon succeeded in developing a design with a considerably lighter weight by adopting magnesium alloy, a light and robust material, for its super telephoto lenses with a focal length longer than 300mm. This helped to garner favourable reviews from sports photographers, who needed to make frequent use of telephoto lenses from this class. Besides the high quality of the photos, yet another reason that contributed to the continuous breakthroughs of the EF lenses is the meticulous attention paid to take the user's stance into consideration.

EF Lens Feature 2 - Hybrid IS

Hybrid IS corrects both angular and shift shakes.

Hybrid IS is capable of correcting shift shake as well, and can therefore be effectively applied to macro photography, which is highly susceptible to shift shake.

EF Lens Feature 3 - Stepping Motor (STM)

Gear Type

Lead-screw Type

Stepping motors have an excellent start and stop response, and operate silently thanks to the simple mechanism. They come in extremely handy at scenes where the AF drive sound is unwelcome, such as during movie shooting. Two types of stepping motors, the gear type and the lead-screw type, are available, each of which suits lenses of different sizes and characteristics.

Historic EF Lens - EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

Built in with a 1.4x extender, it can also be used as a 280-560mm f/5.6 lens. All of Canon's lens technologies are employed in the development of this lens, including fluorite and UD lens elements, the Image Stabilizer, USM, SWC, and fluorine coating. It is also the 100 millionth EF lens that Canon has produced in total.

Timeline of EF Lenses - Part 3 [March 2006 to June 2014]

Mar 2006

Releases the "EF85mm f/1.2L II USM", which employs an EMD (electromagnetic diaphragm), and a coating and structure that are designed optimally to reduce aberrations

May 2006

Releases the "EF-S17-55mm f/2.8 IS USM", which achieves both high image quality and large lens diameter with the use of aspherical and UD lens elements

Nov 2006

Releases the "EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM", which boasts both high image quality and the convenient IS feature

Jan 2007

Releases the "EF50mm f/1.2L USM", a super fast lens that employs a high-precision and large-diameter aspherical lens element to reduce the different aberrations

Mar 2007

Releases the "EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM", a new design that employs three high-precision aspherical and two UD lens elements

Sep 2007

Releases the "EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS", the basic standard zoom EF-S lens that is built in with the IS feature, and the "EF14mm f/2.8L II USM" super wide-angle L lens, which corrects distortions with the glass-moulded aspherical lens element and corrects chromatic aberrations of magnification with the UD lens element

Nov 2007

Releases the "EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS", a basic EF-S lens with the IS feature built in

Apr 2008

Releases the "EF200mm f/2L IS USM", which is built in with an IS feature with an effect equivalent to about five shutter-speed stops, and achieves high image quality with the fluorite and UD lens elements

Total production of EF lenses hits the 40 million mark
(EF200mm f/2L IS USM)

EF200mm f/2L IS USM

Releases the "EF28mm f/1.8 USM", which uses a replica aspherical lens element

May 2008

Releases the "EF800mm f/5.6L IS USM" super telephoto lens, which has an IS effect equivalent to about four shutter-speed stops and boasts professional-level durability

Sep 2008

Releases the "EF-S18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 IS", which has an IS effect equivalent to about four shutter-speed stops, and achieves high image quality with the UD and high-precision glass-moulded aspherical lens elements

Dec 2008

«World's First»
Releases the "EF24mm f/1.4L II USM", which minimises flare and ghosting with the newly-developed special coating, SWC

EF24mm f/1.4L II USM

Jun 2009

Releases the "TS-E17mm f/4L" and the "TS-E24mm f/3.5L II", both tilt-shift lenses that are applied with SWC and employ a TS revolving and a tilt-lock mechanism

Oct 2009

Releases the "EF-S15-85mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM" and the "EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS", which employ a UD and a glass-moulded aspherical lens element

«World's First»
Releases the "EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM", the first lens to be equipped with a "Hybrid IS" for correcting both angular and shift shake

EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

Dec 2009

Total production of EF lenses hits the 50 million mark
(EF100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM)

Mar 2010

Releases the "EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM" with an enhanced IS effect

Nov 2010

Releases the "EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM", which boasts a wide zoom range

Jan 2011

Total production of EF lenses hits the 60 million mark
(EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM)

EF70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM

Mar 2011

Releases the "EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II", which adopts a more elegant appearance

May 2011

Releases the "EF500mm f/4L IS II USM", which comes in a lightweight design, and enhanced image quality with a new lens design that uses two fluorite lens elements

Jul 2011

«World's First»
Releases the "EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM", the first lens for 35mm-format cameras that covers a circular angle of view and a diagonal angle of view of 180°

EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM

Releases the "EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS II", which comes with an enhanced appearance and design

Aug 2011

Releases the "EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM" and the "EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM", both applied with SWC and are equipped with three IS modes

Oct 2011

Total production of EF lenses hits the 70 million mark
(EF8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM)

May 2012

Releases the "EF600mm f/4L IS II USM", with enhancements made to the image quality and lightweight design

May 2012

Releases the "EF600mm f/4L IS II USM", with enhancements made to the image quality and lightweight design

Jun 2012

Releases the "EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM", which employs a stepping motor (STM) with enhanced AF performance during movie shooting, and the "EF40mm f/2.8 STM" pancake lens, which is the slimmest and lightest EF lens

«World's First»
Releases the "EF24mm f/2.8 IS USM" and the "EF28mm f/2.8 IS USM", which is the first wide-angle prime lens to be equipped with the IS feature

EF24mm f/2.8 IS USM

EF28mm f/2.8 IS USM

Jan 2011

Total production of EF lenses hits the 80 million mark
(EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM)

EF-S18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM

Sep 2012

Releases the "EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM", which employs a fluorine coating with enhanced oil- and water-repellent performance, and the "EF-M22mm f/2 STM" and the "EF-M18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM", which are lenses designed for use with the mirrorless EOS M

Dec 2012

Releases the "EF24-70mm f/4L IS USM", which is built in with the Hybrid IS feature for professional macro photography, and the "EF35mm f/2 IS USM", which boasts enhanced image quality with the use of an aspherical lens element, and an IS effect equivalent to about four shutter-speed stops

Apr 2013

Releases the "EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM", a basic EF-S lens with enhanced AF performance during movie shooting

May 2013

Total production of EF lenses hits the 90 million mark
(EF24-70mm f/2.8 II USM)

EF24-70mm f/2.8 II USM

«World's First»
Releases the "EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x", a telephoto zoom lens that is built in with a 1.4x extender

EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x

Jul 2013

Releases the "EF-M11-22mm f/4-5.6 IS STM", a wide-angle zoom lens for the EOS M

Sep 2013

Releases the "EF-S55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM", which is equipped with an STM ideal for movie shooting

Apr 2014

Total production of EF lenses hits the 100 million mark
(EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X)

Jun 2014

Releases the "EF-S10-18mm f/4.5-5.6 IS STM", a compact and lightweight wide-angle zoom lens and also the first EF-S member to come with the IS feature

Release of the "EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM", the first wide-angle zoom lens in the EF lens lineup to be equipped with the IS feature

Kazunori Kawada

Born in Kanagawa Prefecture in 1961. After working four years as an assistant to photographer Koichi Saito, Kawada became a freelance photographer in 1997. Currently, his works centre on shoots and review writing for camera magazines and other publications.

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