Orquid "Phoenix"

Orquid "Phoenix"

by ceinmart

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I can see the benefit of designing and manufacturing a wide-angle lens specifically for APS-C sized sensors instead of full-frame sensors: you will get smaller, lighter, and cheaper lenses.

But is it really useful only for wide-angle lenses? For example, the Wikipedia page on Canon EF-S lenses writes:

The proximity of the rear element to the image sensor greatly enhances the possibilities for wide angle and very wide angle lenses, enabling them to be made smaller, lighter (containing less glass), faster (larger aperture) and less expensive. Most current Canon EF-S lenses are wide angle.

Hence the question: does the size of the sensor matter that much with fast telephoto prime lenses?

For instance, if there was a Canon EF-S 200mm f/2.8 lens, would it be much smaller, lighter, and cheaper than Canon EF 200mm f/2.8?

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Just curious — would this question generalize to all APS-C/crop-sensor formats, regardless of brand? –  mattdm Apr 13 '11 at 18:30
    
@mattdm: Yes, Canon EF vs. EF-S is just an example here. –  Jukka Suomela Apr 13 '11 at 18:59
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FWIW, the recent long-focal-length Pentax DA* lenses (300/4, 200/2.8, 60-250/4) are marketed as APS-C lenses, but are reported to actually cover full-frame (for which Pentax has no DSLR bodies). FF coverage is a lot closer to "free" for telephoto lenses than wide angle. pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/… –  coneslayer Apr 13 '11 at 19:09
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3 Answers

It would be smaller, lighter and cheaper. A smaller image circle requires less glass, less glass will get by with a weaker (lighter, cheaper) AF system. Fewer materials reduce weight and price. Compare a 80mm f/2.8 medium format lens (Hasselblad, Pentacon Six) to a 80mm f/1.8 35mm SLR lens, the size difference is noticeable.

And that's why it probably won't get made.

This is a common problem a lot of people who discuss cameras on the internet fall into: they want cheap, premium-quality accessories for lower-level gear. Canon has it's market pretty well divided: cheaper cameras for people who are willing to go with a 1.6x crop and more expensive, higher-end cameras for people willing to pay the non-crop premium (the 7D being an exception to this). I will say this plainly: if you didn't bother to buy a high-end body, you will probably never buy an expensive lens. Most crop sensor camera buyers never spend more on lenses than they do on bodies.

EF-S/DX lenses only really make sense when a) dealing with focal lengths that are unwieldy on full frame and b) creating cheap kit lenses that have to be small and cheap. Great examples of a) are the 17/18mm-50/55mm 'kit' lenses made by pretty much every crop sensor manufacturer. A 17mm lens on full frame is extremely wide and requires a lot of glass to get anything close to a high quality image. Compare the size of a 17-40 f/4L to a 18-55 kit lens. A good example of b) would be the 55-250mm. It's a tiny, cheap lens. Compare it to the 100-400 f/3.5-5.6L - a tremendous difference.

The thing with the 200mm f/2.8 is this - by creating an EF-S model, Canon would likely sell a few more lenses than just by having an EF model. The problem is, it would cannibalize sales of the more expensive, higher margin EF lens. Most people who want a 200mm f/2.8 prime will just buy the EF, the number of people who'll forgo getting it just because it's not an EF-S lens is incredibly small. To create an EF-S version Canon would have to lay out money for R&D, promotion, etc. They would create a lens that many people would avoid, thinking "if I ever upgrade to full frame, I'll never be able to use this lens."

Generally speaking, Canon telephotos are excellent, expensive pro lenses. You need to be serious about your photography if you're willing to drop 5 grand on a 300mm f/2.8L. I doubt there are many people - and I'm sure Canon will agree with me here - who look at a $5000 lens and say, "if this was only $4000, I'd buy it in a heartbeat".

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Exactly. It's very unlikely that Canon would jeopardize their highly profitable professional "L" series by producing equivalents that were smaller, lighter and cheaper. It's not just Canon, but every other manufacturer does this. Low end low margin bodies to get people into the system with the hope that some will eventually migrate over to the high end high margin products. –  CadentOrange Apr 13 '11 at 18:58
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Why would an EF-S 200mm f/2.8 lens be smaller, lighter, and cheaper? That's the essence of the question, and it's not obvious to me that it would be (at least not by much). You don't have the same engineering tradeoffs in a long focal length lens as you do with wide-angle retrofocus lenses. –  coneslayer Apr 13 '11 at 18:58
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Maybe I'm an exception, but I have at least 2 lenses and a flash that cost more than my camera body, and my camera body is a crop sensor. –  PearsonArtPhoto Apr 13 '11 at 19:06
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I disagree that that answers the question. A 200mm f/2.8 lens has to have a 72mm entrance pupil, no matter what format it covers. You don't automatically get much glass savings from covering a smaller format. –  coneslayer Apr 13 '11 at 19:06
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@Jędrek I'm in a similar situation to @Pearson, but maybe we're exceptions. Nevertheless, everything you say makes sense. That raises the question: what is the basis for your assertions about what "most crop sensor camera buyers" and "many people" do? Or is your reply primarily a personal take--speculation, really? –  whuber Apr 13 '11 at 20:08
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My guess is that the question of making sense is a complex one. First, you have to ask yourself for who?

It is probably certain that a lens can be designed smaller and lighter for a smaller sensor. The cost per lens is likely to be cheaper.

Now if you assume you already have a lens of the same specifications for a larger sensor, you have to take into account the incremental cost of adding a second assembly line and all other resources that must be added to build a second version.

It is probably the case that for wide-angle lenses, the savings of designing and manufacturing small-sensor versions are significant, while for telephoto they are not. The expected volume is certainly a factor here too.

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I think this answers the title but not the actual question. –  koiyu Apr 13 '11 at 19:55
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Pentax does not make full frame cameras, so most of their lenses in production are for APS-C.

Let's take Pentax DA* 300mm f/4, a reasonably fast telephoto prime made for APS-C sensors. It seems fair to compare it with Nikon 300mm AF-S and Canon EF 300mm f/4 USM (both full-frame).

  • Pentax: 1.07kg, 83 x 184 mm, $1400
  • Nikon: 1.44kg, 90 x 220 mm, $1199
  • Canon: 1.2kg, 90 x 215 mm, $1389 (non-IS is 0.1kg heavier)

From here, it seems to me that a lens with similar focal length and aperture is indeed lighter and smaller when made for APS-C, but not necessarily cheaper. However, if we consider each lens on its optimal body, the crop factor implies you'll only need a 200mm f/2.8 lens to achieve similar field and depth of field on APS-C as 300mm f/4 on FF; that would be even smaller and lighter, but still not much cheaper:

  • Pentax DA* 200mm f/2.8 is 825g, 83 x 134mm, $1200

Prices quotes were taken from Adorama (not affiliated).

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But since the Pentax DA* 300/4 actually covers the full 35mm frame, and Pentax's patent filing suggests that it was designed as a FF lens, I would hesitate to attribute the size/weight savings to an APS-C design. (The higher cost of Pentax is probably because it is produced in much smaller quantity than Canon/Nikon). pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/… pentaxforums.com/forums/pentax-slr-lens-discussion/… –  coneslayer Apr 14 '11 at 19:12
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