Why Would You Buy One of Canon's New f/11 Lenses?

Why Would You Buy One of Canon's New f/11 Lenses?

When Canon announced the RF mount for its new range of mirrorless full-frame cameras, we knew we might be in for a treat when it came to innovative lens designs. Fast zooms and razor-sharp primes have pushed boundaries, but the f/11 DO super telephoto glass revealed this week has come as a real surprise. What are these lenses for, and who is going to buy them?

Canon’s roadmap for its RF lenses for 2020 emerged recently, and among the six lenses expected to be announced are two that seem to have come out of nowhere: a 600mm and an 800mm f/11 DO IS STM. The words “budget” and “super-telephoto” don’t usually appear so close together, but is this what Canon has in mind?

Given that the RF lens lineup is still relatively limited, one would reasonably expect Canon to be focused on filling out the range with popular focal lengths. To a degree, this is what it has achieved, but there remain some noticeable gaps, such as a batch of fast, wide primes. Evidently, Canon is still happy to rely on the ease with which EF glass can be adapted, as it seems in no hurry when you consider that these two forthcoming DO lenses might be something of a niche.

For those not familiar with DO lenses — of which Canon has built three over the years — the construction allows for a much more compact design. The “diffractive optics” are able to bend the light to a greater degree, allowing for fewer optical elements to be used, and thus making lenses lighter and smaller. This does come with some disadvantages; however: manufacturing costs can be higher, and there are compromises with light-transmission efficiency and contrast.

For its DSLR cameras, Canon has one EF DO lens that’s still readily available: the 400mm f/4 DO IS II, a $7,000 monster that couples well with an extender for keen birders. f/4 at this focal length is still relatively fast, sitting nicely in between the EF 400mm f/5.6L that’s just over a grand and the EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III that’s a tasty $12,000. Birds for every budget.

Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens

The Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS III USM Lens. Yours for just $11,999.

So, what exactly is Canon doing with two DO lenses, especially when we have to assume f/11 will struggle to capture the action in anything but broad daylight? Perhaps the big clue is what comes after the DO: the “IS” and the “STM.” STM is Canon’s shorthand for “Stepper Motor,” which, historically, has largely been understood to mean that a lens will be affordable and geared towards consumers rather than professionals. IS means that the lens will be stabilized, which (I believe) has been the standard for Canon’s telephoto lenses since the late 90s, regardless of price and quality.

With this in mind, it seems that Canon is, in effect, doing a Tamron: creating something affordable by making some compromises. Canon News has suggested that these lenses might even be collapsible, which would be remarkable — lenses of this length are supposed to be massive, not convenient. In addition, affordable telephoto lenses for consumers might be one of the benefits offered by shifting over to mirrorless and something that would make a big bulky camera a significant advantage over a smartphone.

The question remains, however: what can you shoot at f/11 other than a lot of high-ISO noise? Fast action in anything other than blazing sunshine might be a struggle, but the high-ISO performance of the R5 and the R6 might be ready to offset the small aperture. If the R6, as suggested, has a 20-megapixel sensor, the low-light performance should be impressive. For hobbyists, telephoto lenses have always been out of reach, and this might suddenly open up new worlds for keen wildlife and sports photographers who don’t have seven grand and upwards to spend on a huge, heavy piece of glass and aren’t too worried if their images are a bit noisy.

Are you excited to see how Canon will be pricing these new lenses? Is f/11 too much of a compromise? Let us know your reaction in the comments below.

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40 Comments

Nitin Chandra's picture

Absolutely not! I have a Nikon :P

Indy Thomas's picture

Canon is not ignorant of the legions of people wanting to shoot ultra-telephoto who also criticize the price and bulk of the current lenses.
F11 means smaller (for all those smaller is best people) DO is more compact (ditto). And most likely cheap-ish.

Jon The Baptist's picture

F/11? Yikes. It’ll be extremely difficult to get Good shots out of that

Tom Reichner's picture

Really? I have a supertelephoto that is f5.6, and I used to have a 400mm f2.8. With both lenses, I took a lot of photos at f11 or f13, and thought the results were fantastic. If one can take so may excellent wildlife photos at f11 or smaller with those lenses, what makes you think that one will have such a difficult time taking photos at f11 with these rumored lenses?

Jorge Andrés Miraglia's picture

Seriously comparing a couple of fantastic lenses at their sharpest apertures with a theoretical budget lens wide open? Doesn´t seem fair...

David Small's picture

Really. The difference with your options is, that a 2.8 lens will autofocus at f/2.8 even if your image is shot at f/11. These new lenses will actually AF at f/11.... it'll be much slower AF in comparable conditions, and the resulting focus point will be far less accurate.

Added fact is that you normally stop a lens down for added sharpness, but from f/11 on you already lose sharpness due to dispersion around the aperture blades.

It sounds like good marketing for the enthousiast, who will soon find out that you get what you pay for.

Cart Shay's picture

At the end, it's mentioned that the R5 and R6 could have the ISO-performance to offset the small aperture, but photographers on a budget aren't buying those two cameras. Photographers willing to drop a few thousand on a camera likely will also buy a few thousand dollar lens.
I see this lens being used by serious cross-country sports-people, people who can't afford better, and people who don't fundamentally understand camera technology. If they released the f/11s last year, all the newfound birders from quarantine would have bought one of them as their first lens.
The lenses definitely have a place and a right to exist.

Rayann Elzein's picture

People who can afford a few thousand for the R6 can't necessarily afford 12,000 for the 600 f/4...

Michael Clark's picture

Do you have any confirmed information about the MSRP of the R6? Officially Canon has not even acknowledged the camera exists. It's shaping up to be more of a budget model than many folks initially thought.

Will it be Rebel priced? No. Will it be priced similar to, say, a 7D upon introduction? Very likely. A 500 f/5.6 on APS-C performs similarly to an 800f/8 on FF. Lots of 80D/90D/7D Mark II shooters use 150-600mm f/4.5-6.3 lenses. These lenses will push those folks towards the RF system much more quickly than otherwise if they need to spend $8K-10K-12K to get the same reach (at uncropped image size) instead of less than $2K.

Deleted Account's picture

I'm guessing that they're calculating that high-ISO sensor capabilities will make up the difference. Either way, it's an interesting offering.

Malcolm Wright's picture

The canon RP has AF sensitivity at F11 (according to DXOMARK), so whatever the author of the article thinks, these lenses should work fine with the entry level camera to the Canon R series. So the 'more refined' offerings should also work well.

Michael Tiemann's picture

I worry that "Diffractive Optics" is going to send the wrong message. The idea of D.I. as a way to mitigate chromatic aberration is way cool. But the 35mm format, especially APS-C, suffers from diffraction-limited resolution way before medium and large formats do. The f11 aperture will result in many wasted megapixels due to diffraction limits. Birders will discover that the Sparrow (distance) fights back!

Ryan Luna's picture

These lenses will probably be great for shooting the Moon against the night sky. long focal landscapes shot on a tripod at golden hour could probably be viable as well...as long as F/11 is ultra sharp and not some cheap glass shit.

Jason Flynn's picture

f/11 may sound more limiting and worse than it really is. The Sunny 16 Rule says in daylight f/16 will let you shoot at a shutter speed as high as your ISO. In other words on a sunny day you can shoot up to a 400th of a second if you’re at ISO 400 and f/16. f/11 gives you double that being one stop brighter than f16, so you could get a 1/1,000th second exposure with ISO 500.

And at 600mm I cant imagine this thing being used much indoors anyways.

And of course it has IS for low light nature stuff.

Deleted Account's picture

IS would only be useful if nature was standing still, though.

Jason Flynn's picture

Nature doesn’t always move at a 600th of a second or faster

Wasim Ahmad's picture

I loved my Canon 70-300 DO lens, one of the ones I regret selling the most, even with it's small-ish variable aperture. It was always a perfect, high-quality travel lens. That said, f/11 is a different thing entirely, not sure what I'd realistically be able to do with that, even if it was very small.

Jürgen Rockmann's picture

I think this affordable lenses are really interesting for deep sky shooting, cause there is no need for an f2.8 or f4 lens.

Bob Locher's picture

Though I am not a Canon user I am glad to see their innovative ideas. Not everyone needs fast glass, especially mirrorless users. Glad to see Canon breaking away from the DLSR mentality and its limitations.

Austin Drawhorn's picture

Love having more options, love smaller lenses.

Honestly wishing best of luck to the folks that buy these and try to shoot birds & wildlife in mornings/evenings or sports under lights/at sunset. This stuff's hard enough at f/5.6 or even f/4 sometimes.

Michael Dougherty's picture

I can understand F8 as I still use a Sigma 300-800 F8. It is a very big and heavy lens but is awesome for capturing surfing.

Tom Reichner's picture

Michael,

Sigma never made a 300-800mm f8 lens. Nor did anybody else, as far as I know.

Sigma made a 300-800mm f5.6. I own one and use it on an everyday basis.

Is that the lens you are talking about?

Tom Reichner's picture

I don't think I would buy an f11 lens, but if I did, it would be for situational shooting. The kind of shooting where the background is so distant that it can be nicely blurred even at small apertures like f11.

I am posting some example images:

The first one, of a Red-naped Sapsucker, is exactly the kind of image I would shoot with an f11 lens. This is because the background is so distant, relative to the Sapsucker, that I have no trouble blurring it out completely, even at f10. I'm sure f11 or even f13 would yield a similarly satisfactory result.

The second image, of a Common Yellowthroat, is one in which the background is already a nightmare, even at just f8. For this type of image, where the background is close to the subject, an f11 lens would give horrid results, and one would have to "fake it" by using Photoshop to blur (or replace) the background, if one wanted a pretty or professional-looking picture.

Iori Suzuk's picture

Tom,

Can you please explain why the first image should be shot at f/11? Were you trying to get both the tree and the bird in focus?

Perhaps its my poor eyesight or my monitor, but the focus of the birds' eyes and the feather details in both photos seem somewhat soft, so could that be from camera shake, i.e., a shutter speed that was too slow, or was this shot on a tripod?

Because of concerns over camera shake, I typically shoot my telephoto lenses wide open unless it was high noon on a very bright, sunny day.

Regards,

IORI

Tom Reichner's picture

Iori,

I did not say that the first image SHOULD be shot at f11. I said it COULD be shot at f11. I said that because there is nothing in the image that becomes distracting when depth of field is increased. But yes, I do prefer that the tree trunk be in good focus. To me, it is very ugly and bothersome when images like that have a tee trunk that is very soft and out of focus.

As far as the images appearing soft, that is probably just because I uploaded tiny little 900 pixel versions for ease and speed of uploading to this site. The original 6720 pixel versions are tack sharp and feature exquisitely resolved fine feather detail.

I was just trying to show examples of images that could be shot if someone had an f11 lens, and those that wouldn't be any good at f11.

Pieter Batenburg's picture

Well, I have an old Tamron 7-300/5,6 and even with that lens it is a struggle to get a decent shot of something moving at high speed. In order to get the proper shutter speed, I need to crank up the ISO.
Admittedly, this is an aps-c lens but still.,

Deleted Account's picture

No I wouldn't. Manly because I don't use a Canon camera.
And if I had, it would greatly depend on the price. If this is going to be a €500 bargain it will sell a lot I guess.

Don Risi's picture

I think Canon missed the mark on these telephoto lenses. My Nikon 500mm PF is f/5.6, and light enough to be easily hand holdable. Add a 1.4X converter and now you're up to 700mm, at f/8 -- still a stop under that native f/11 of the new Canons And is is tack sharp.

Jon The Baptist's picture

Agreed. Who would want to use an f/11 lens?

Gavin James's picture

So, interestingly, after I bought my EOS R, I discovered one interesting benefit: I can now use autofocus with my 100mm to 400mm F4.0 to 5.6 IS lens combined with my 2x extender. Previously, any lens mounted on a EOS EF mount camera had to be I had, in ignorance, purchased a 2x Extender many years ago, but I didn't have any F2.8 lenses that made any difference. Essentially, I now have an 800mm lens, albeit at a minimum of F11. However, the images are reasonably sharp. It was an added bonus, meaning I didn't have to buy yet another lens. ;)

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