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Canon Lenses

Canon Lenses Nowadays Canon lenses and SLR cameras are absolute leaders on the photographic market!

There are many reasons for this: competent marketing policy, quick introduction of technological innovations and a wealth of experience in lens and camera production, but what is most important, Canon has never been afraid to experiment and make bold decisions.

Due to this Canon has often been a pioneer in introducing important mechanical and optical technologies, which then were adopted by other lens manufacturers. In this article I am going to discuss Canon lenses for  35mm SLR cameras,  Canon's core technologies and innovations starting from the present moment and going back through time.


Canon EF & EF-S Lenses

(since 1987, flange focal distance: 44 mm)

Today the most utilized lenses of this type are Canon auto focus lenses for EF electronic mounts (full frame film and DSLR cameras) and EF-S mounts (mounts for DSLR cameras with cropped APS-C sized image sensors with a crop-factor of 1.6). Furthermore, EF lenses can be used with cropped cameras, while the reverse is structurally impossible.

EF stands for Electro-Focus. The major lens controls are now handled electronically, including aperture change and focus (focus can be switched to manual mode, but that is rare in practice). There is only one manual operation left for the photographer: changing a zoom lens’s focal length. The mounts of modern Canon lenses have special contacts connecting the camera and the lens.

Example of a Canon EF bayonet mount

(Pic. 2. Example of a Canon EF bayonet mount: the Canon  EF 135mm f/2.8 SoftFocus)


The EF mount was announced in 1987 for the Canon EOS 650 film camera and succeeded the Canon FD mount. For the sake of new advanced technologies Canon even sacrificed the flange focal distance, making it 44 mm in the new system instead of the 42 mm boasted in the old FD/FL/R systems. Unfortunately, that made the use of wonderful old Canon lenses with new Canon cameras problematic.



All modern Canon lenses are divided into two series:

  1. The professional L-series lenses.These are optic devices with significantly improved consumer properties: high mechanical quality, high optical quality, high aperture ratio, the use of special lenses, dust and water resistance (not all), etc. Lenses of this series are marked with the red letter L and have a red ring on top of their rims. Cons: generally high price, as well as the rather heavy weight and large size of such lenses.
  2. The series of budget lenses.Despite its name, in this series you can find very good lenses with fixed focal length capable of competeing with L-series lenses in image quality, yet lenses with a variable focal length generate rather bad quality pictures throughout most of the range focal length range. The chief advantages of budget lenses over professional ones are lower price, lighter weight and smaller size.


The major breakthrough technologies used in Canon EF and EF-S lenses:

  1. Multilayer diffractive optical elements (abbreviated "DO")  allow to significantly reduce the weight and size  of telephoto lenses while maintaining the quality of generated images and solid correction of major aberrations.
  2. The ultrasonic focusing motor (abbreviated "USM") makes autofocusing quick, precise and almost silent. There are ring-type ultrasonic motors (USM) and micromotor USM. The former are substantially preferable given their properties, but such devices are generally more expensive.
  3. The image stabilizer(abbreviated “IS”) is the array of special movable optical elements and gyroscopes inside the lens. The image stabilizer allows shooting at lower shutter speeds without blurring (due to shaky hands or camera rest). This feature is especially important for telephoto lenses. Canon lenses currently use an IS at 4-5 exposure steps. Cons: the weight and size of the lens generally increase a little, while the microfocus of the resulting images slightly decreases.

I will give a more detailed description of the technologies used in modern Canon lenses in a future article.


Canon EF and EF-S lenses have beaten many records and have introduced many innovations that were in turn adopted by other manufacturers:

The Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L USM is the first lens with an ultra-sonic motor in the world (1987).

The Canon EF 50 f/1.0 remains the highest-aperture and autofocus lens for 35 mm SLR cameras (1989).

The Canon EF 35-350mm f/3.5-5.6 L USM is the world's first lens with a 10x zoom (1993).

The Canon EF 75-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM is the world's first lens with an image stabilizer for 35mm SLR cameras with interchangeable lenses (1995).

The Canon EF 400mm f / 4 DO IS USM is the first lens with a multi-layer diffractive optical element (DO) in the world (2001).


All Canon EF lenses in the database

All Canon EF-S lenses in the database


Canon FD & FDn Lenses

(1976-1987, flange focal distance: 42 mm)

Directly before Canon EF lenses were first introduced, Canon FD lenses had run the show for a long time.

The Canon FD mount was put on the market in 1971 with the 35 mm SRL Canon F-1 camera, replacing Canon's earlier FL mount.  On top of that, 14 FD lenses at once were released along with the camera.

Example of a Canon FD bayonet mount

(Pic. 3. Example of a Canon FD bayonet mount: the Canon FD 85mm f/1.8)


The introduction of this series ushered in the penetration of electronics into the depths of lenses, and auto-exposure (AE) mode has become possible. The system supported automatic setting of the aperture when the aperture control was switched to “A” mode. However, the focusing was manual.  Only at the very end of the age of FD lenses did Canon release several test autofocus lenses.

This system’s lenses are divided into the Canon FD mount (the lens is attached to the camera by means of a rotating mounting ring at the rear of the lens barrel without the lens body itself rotating for mounting) and the Canon FDn bayonet (the rear part is fixed, the lens is mounted by a pivot twist).

Canon FD lenses were the first to utilize multilayer antireflection coatings. They were abbreviated "S.C." for Spectra Coating and "S.S.C." for Super Spectra Coating. The latter is of much higher quality. Canon FDn lenses did not have such designations. They were all supposed to have S.S.C. multi-antireflection properties.

The famous L-series lenses also emerged in the age of the Canon FD. It was in 1979 when high quality products came to be labeled with the red letter L. Many lenses of that series already had aspherical and fluorite elements in their optical design.


Records and innovations attribute to Canon FD lenses:

The Canon FD 55mm f/1.2 AL is the first 50 mm lens for SLR cameras with such an aperture, aspherical lens element and aperture auto control (1971).

The Canon TS 35mm f/2.8 SSC is the world's first lens with tilt and shift of the optical axis (Tilt & Shift) for 35mm cameras (1973).

The Canon FD 400mm f/4.5 SSC is the world's first lens with a rear focusing system (1975).

The Canon FDn 14mm f/2.8L is the first ultra-wide angle lens with quality distortion correction (1982).


All Canon FD lenses in the database

All Canon FDn lenses in the database


Canon FL Lenses

(1964 – 1971, flange focal distance: 42 mm)

Let's go on. Before the introduction of the Canon FD system, Canon FL lenses had been in use for 7 years. By the way, they retain reverse compatibility. Canon FL lenses can be mounted on Canon FD cameras.

The Canon FL lens mount was put on the market in 1964 with the Canon FX camera and replaced the previous generation Canon R mount. Canon R lenses can be used on cameras with the Canon FL lens mount.

 Example of a Canon FL bayonet mount

(Pic. 4. Example of a Canon FL bayonet mount: the Canon FL 85mm f/1.8)


The Canon FL mount was designed to make mounting the lens on the camera faster and more convenient. Two pins at the rear of the lens barrel (on Canon R lenses) were replaced by one.


Records and innovations attributed to Canon FL lenses:

The Canon FL 19mm f/3.5 had the world's widest viewing angle lens for SLR cameras at the time (1964). Interestingly, this lens came with an external viewfinder for composition, and it required a mirror lock-up as its rear projected far into the mirror box on an SLR.

Canon FL F 300mm f/5.6 is the world's first lens for 35 mm SLR cameras with a fluorite element. The use of fluorite made it possible to virtually eliminate chromatic aberration and to design more compact lenses.


Canon FL lenses in the database


Canon R Lenses

(1959 – 1964, flange focal distance: 42 mm)

Canon R lenses became the first lenses for 35 mm SRL cameras produced by Canon. Prior to that the company only produced lenses for rangefinder cameras.

Canon R bayonet mount

(Pic. 5. Canon R bayonet mount)


The Canon R mount and the first lenses were introduced in 1959 with the SLR Canonflex camera. Funnily enough, Canon's long-time rival Nikon announced its first 35 mm SLR Nikon F a month later the same year: Canon in May, and Nikon in June. Since then Canon has gone through four systems, and Nikon has been producing the Nikon F bayonet preserving compatibility and the possibility of using old lenses with modern DSLR cameras (except low-end cameras).

The Canon R system had an automatic aperture drive.

The lenses of this series had no identification symbols such as "R" in the title. The lenses were simply called, for instance, Canon 50mm f/1.8.


Records and innovations attributed to Canon R lenses:

The Canon 50mm f/0.95 is still the world's highest-aperture lens for 35 mm SLR cameras. The brightness of this lens is higher than that of the human eye.


The Story Doesn’t End Here

As you can see, the history of Canon lenses for SLR cameras currently spans 53 years. These were years of rapid growth, bold decisions and convincing victories! The range of Canon lenses amazes. The range of EF and EF-S lenses includes more than 150 lenses produced previously or current in production. There is a something for everyone and for every genre of photography. And contrary to popular belief, the Canon EF series is not limited to "very sharp, news report style lenses", but also features soft and plastic lenses fit for portrait shooting such as the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8, Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L, Canon EF 135mm f/2L, and the Canon EF 135mm f/2.8 SoftFocus.

A new revolution is taking place with the introduction of Canon DO series lenses to the market. Moreover, Canon has a lot of other "aces in the hole", and I am sure that the near future will bring a variety of new interesting optical, electronic and mechanical technologies, which will undoubtedly be pioneered by Canon!

Author: Sergei Borodin 30.12.2012 23:57:14

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Radovan :: 12.01.2013 13:23:38
Croatia, Zagreb
Lvl. 4 (Lens-Pro)


Really nice short history of Canon lenses!!!

It is shame that you did not mention that lot of people convert their old FD nFD lenses to EF mount and that it is possible but not easy or cheap. Conversion can be done at home with some basic tools, time and patience by complete replacement of lens mount and construction of aperture coupler. I personally managed to successfully convert three nFD lenses to EF mount and I love them on my EOS 7D.

I was always wondering if there is place here for such converted MF lenses and where to put them. They are no longer FD mount but they are not native EF lenses.

I converted following lenses to EF mount with focus confirmation:

FD 200mm F2.8  Mount No.U501 (1980 May)
FD 85mm F1.8 Mount No.V303 (1981 March)
FD 35mm F2.8 Mount No.U607 (1980 June)

I'm the first owner of these lenses and I wasn't willing to part wit them.
They were stored for about 15 years (from introduction of digital photography and malfunction of my last film body)
After conversion all three of them focus from their minimum distance to infinity and F stops are functioning as intended (manually).
If I'll stumble in future on FD 50 1.4 or even 55 1.2 I'm willing to document conversion process and post it here.
Best regards

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