Canon could use Diffractive Optics tech to shrink a 1,000mm lens to half its size

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It’s not uncommon to see patented products never make it off paper. But if Canon’s latest lens patent is anything to go by, Canon could soon have one of the most impressive super-telephoto lenses on the market.

According to patent publication No. 2016-102852, Canon has developed the optical formula to create a massive EF 1000mm f/5.6 DO lens.

Originally filed back in November 2014, the patent (translated) was only published last week and gives us a look inside what would be Canon’s longest telephoto lens since its EF 1,200mm f/5.6 L USM lens that was designed specifically for the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles and the longest lens in the world with full autofocus capability.

A blown up diagram of Canon's thumbnail-sized optical design for the EF 1000mm f/5.6 DO
A blown up diagram of Canon’s thumbnail-sized optical design for the EF 1,000mm f/5.6 DO

The key to Canon’s latest patent is the little “DO” inside the naming scheme. “DO” is Canon’s acronym for Diffractive Optics, a lens technology that enables to focus light in such a way that Canon can create a longer equivalent focal length without the need to create a longer, heavier lens.

A visual example of how Canon utilizes a scallop element design to create a larger effective focal length
A visual example of how Canon utilizes a scallop element design to create a larger effective focal length

Take for example Canon’s EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM lens released early last year. Although its focal length is equivalent to 400mm (~15.75 inches), the lens itself is only 233mm (~9.2 inches) long. Likewise, compared to Canon’s 400mm ƒ/2.8L IS II lens, which weighs in at 8.5 pounds and doesn’t utilize the Diffractive Optics technology, the EF 400mm f/4 DO IS II USM weighs a mere 4.6 pounds, almost half as much.

An example from Canon showing how much Diffractive Optics can shrink down a telephoto lens
An example from Canon showing how much Diffractive Optics can shrink down a telephoto lens

Unsurprisingly, there’s a trade-off with using Diffractive Optics – image quality. While Canon’s ‘DO’ technology is impressive, Diffractive Optics will never offer the amount of sharpness and clarity of traditional optical designs. But considering the EF 1000mm f/5.6 DO lens could come in at half the size of a more traditional counterpart, the trade-off is worth it for many photographers who would take convenience over quality on special occasions.

Being Canon has used the Olympics as a one-off opportunity for a lens in the past, it’s not too far-fetched to imagine it’s potentially doing the same this time around. Who knows? Canon could be testing it now for all we know, as pointed out by Canon Watch.

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