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Nature cameramen go wild for the new Canon 50-1000mm cinema lens

Friday, October 24, 2014 12:00 AM

WTS’ Production Specialist – and experienced sports cameraman – Patrick van Weeren was at the Wildscreen Festival in Bristol this week, where he spotted a new leader of the pack when it comes to telephoto zoom lenses.

Canon CN 20x50 IAS H 50-1000mm zoom lens

Wildlife cameramen are used to capturing incredible footage of vast herds ritually congregating in one place. But at this week’s Wildscreen Festival in Bristol, it was the cameramen who were flocking to the CN20x50 IAS H, Canon’s new 50-1000mm telephoto lens.

It’s an amazing zoom lens, with a reach that until now has not been available in a cinema-style 4K/PL/EF version. The need for long lenses in S35-size sensor cameras has been great not just in wildlife cinematography, but in sports coverage and OB setups too.

One of the key obstacles in a 4K sports production has been the requirement for a PL-to-B4-mount convertor, to allow the ubiquitous 2/3-inch mount “box” lens to be used on large sensor cameras. The Brazil World Cup was a major case in point where the imperfections in the lenses made zooming any more than around 65% of the actual zoom length of the lens unacceptable. And adding an adaptor also adds an extra point of weakness, as well as losing you at least a stop.

CINE-SERVO 50-1000mm T5.0-8.9 Lens from Canon Pro on Vimeo.

Using still lenses as work-arounds

Another option to enable cameramen to get the reach they wanted was to use the longest glass from still-photography, such as the 800mm prime, or my personal favourite, the Stills-lens from Canon 200-400mm with extender (plus a cheeky doubler).

You had to be lucky enough to own a Zeiss Apo Sonnar 1700mm f/4 or Canon’s own EF 1200mm f5.6 if you wanted to go beyond the magical 800mm reach without the need of doublers and extenders, and even then they used to be prime photography lens types only.

Although the glass is great, the limitations of using a stills lens for filming, especially the lack of backfocus, has always bothered me. By contrast, Canon’s cinema EOS zoom lenses enable you to zoom and stay in focus throughout the move – definitely a plus. It speeds up your work, even if you don’t intend to use the zoom effect in the film or broadcast.

The CN20x50 has the classic characteristics of an ENG-style zoom adapted by the cinema market, like the Fujinon Cabrio and Canon’s shorter Cine-Servo lenses.

Canon CN 20x 50 50-1000mm lens

Incredible ease of use

A backfocus lock, macro release and motorised zoom and control box that look similar to the ones we know from the 33x and 40x, mean that ease of use is guaranteed. It even has an ENG-style built-in 1.5x extender (75-1500mm) with optical performance that will maintain an image quality that is still usable in a reasonable amount of shooting situations. The minimum focus distance is 3.5m, but with the macro release, you can get that extra precision when you need it.

The lens weighs 6.6kg (16lb 8oz) and is 405mm (16in) long – just about manageable for carrying around with you in a documentary set-up.

Canon CN 20x50 lens top view


The lens can be used in EF mount with EOS lens data communication but happily Canon also uses Cooke/i lens technology (just like Angenieux and other manufacturers have accepted Cooke’s lens technology). Apart from these interfaces, the lens still has the classic 12-pin interface connector that we know from Canon’s broadcast lenses. Not only does this give you the ability to use the classic zoom and focus controllers, it is also great in 4K Outside Broadcast setups, where lens data is used for virtual advertising, special FX etc.


Canon CN 20 x 50 zoom lens bokeh comparison

The lens is rated at T5-T8.9. According to Canon the drop-off is non-linear – that is to say, the loss will start later but drop faster towards the end of the lens.

At first I was worried about the T5 but to be honest, with today’s sensors and long telephoto lenses, you might not want to work at 2.8, anyway.  Don’t get me wrong, I've worked with an open aperture for most of my life, but for telephoto work in sports, nature and wildlife filming, your main concern is to keep the car/leopard/centre forward in focus. Nice bokeh on these long lenses is visible due to the telephoto characteristics anyway, so opening up the aperture for an out-of-focus background to isolate the subject for storytelling reasons isn’t always as effective when using a lens above 300mm.  If I had a single wish for this lens it wouldn’t be for a better aperture but for an image stabilizer – one of the technologies that Canon excels in.

So what can we hope for when the lens is released in March 2015? Well, an 11-blade aperture will give the lens a different ‘look’ than any of the existing 2/3-inch long lenses and with that, better bokeh and colour rendition too. More than anything though, it specifically answers a need for a previously unavailable reach in S35 sensor cameras – and in doing so makes telephoto filming in 4K a great deal easier.

Roll on March!

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