#791. Open Letter to Canon

By Chris Stump | Opinion

Nov 27

There are two improvements I’d like to see from camera makers, and as a long-time Canon user I’ll ask them to take up the challenge.

The first is minor, and probably more specific to my way of shooting. The second is a major move that I see as a no-brainer. Both of these suggestions must have been considered by engineers already and the fact that these folks, who are much more knowledgable than I, have decided not to take these projects on must tell us something…but here goes…


Quito, Ecuador


1) I would very much like to see detents on zoom lenses at the ‘standard’ focal lengths. For instance, when zooming through the 24~105mm range of my kit lens, the zoom ring would click and be willing to stick at [like an aperture ring] 35mm, 50mm, and 85mm. I realize this feature would not be appreciated by videographers, so in addition to the engineering to enable it would be additional work to allow it to be disabled, so probably a non-starter. Too bad.

It’s long been recognized that most of us tend to use zooms at either end of the focal range most of the time….e.g. shooting a 24~70mm lens at either 24mm or 70mm. But I tend to use my zooms as ‘multi-focal length’ lenses….as if they were a few lenses in one, and I’d like an easier way to do just that…choose to shoot at 35mm or 50mm, and so on. Happy to say that my Leica D-Lux has an option which somewhat allows this. The zoom on this camera is ‘by wire’, meaning the zoom ring is not physically moving a series of cams or helicals but just sending an electrical signal saying that I’d like the lens to zoom. But, there is a firmware option to have the lens move to the next standard focal length every time the ring is nudged. I’m thrilled that Leica thought of it and it’s awesome, as far as it goes. [There’s also an option to have the camera return to the previous setting when the camera is turned back on which is equally delicious, but I digress.]


Quito, Ecuador


1a) In fact, I’d take it one step further…I’d love to see new zooms operate like the old Leica Tri-Elmars. These lenses were ‘multiple focal length’ lenses, not zooms. They were designed to be used at a few discrete focal lengths such as 16mm, 18mm, and 21mm for one of them…or 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm with another. If, and I don’t know if this is the case, but if this elimination of the intermediate focal lengths allowed designers to make a faster or wider zoom range lens in a smaller package what a win! For instance, if a 24/35/50/85mm f2.8 lens could be made that fit into a barrel similar to the current 24~105 f4 lens, wow. That may be asking too much of the physics, so how about a 24/35/50/85/105 f4 lens that was sharper at those specific angles of view, and maybe a bit more compact?

IDK, as I said I’m not a designer but I’d sure like to see a lens or two designed this way for the new Canon EOS R series. [You’ll notice I’ve intentionally not mentioned price point in this discussion. That’s because compromises such as this are usually three-dimensional. As we used to tell our color lab customers “Speed, Quality, and Price…you get to pick two.”]


Quito, Ecuador


2) And that brings us to the big ask…the R camera that I think is just screaming to be made. We all know that lenses project images in a circle…duh, it’s actually called an image circle. So the natural question is ‘why are our sensors rectangular?’. I get that prints are rectangular, and film was as well [yes, a square is a rectangle], but why digital sensors?

We’re in a digital age where multiple capture ratios are already de rigueur. Why don’t we take things a step further now that sensor chips are so much less expensive to manufacture, and build a new mirrorless R body around a 36mm diameter sensor? No huge mirror to flop around, no giant pentaprism the size of a doorstop. The benefits are so many I don’t know where to start. The ability to instantly switch from horizontal to vertical composition with the camera at eye level would be a boon to wedding photographers…remember the RB-67 with it’s rotating back? OMG. While we’re on that, how about verticals in a 4:3 ratio while horizontals remain at 3:2 to capture more action at the edges? No? Just me? OK. Let’s move on to a 36mm square format that rivals current sensors claiming to be ‘medium format’ in resolution? That’s a 1.5x increase in resolution…turning my 5Ds into a 75MP, Hassleblad-esq, giant killer. All this could be done with a 36mm square sensor, but oooh, oooh…how about in-body self leveling within a circular sensor? [Mind. Blown.]

This would have been impossible in the 35mm film era, but I think it’s how digital cameras might have been engineered from scratch without film’s influence. Yes, the camera body needs to be a bit taller, but the current lens mount, and most importantly current LENSES, remain perfectly compatible. Well, that’s not completely true. Some lenses have rear flare baffles that cut off the heretofore unused portions of the image circle. But new lenses wouldn’t, and maybe a factory modification could be made available [more income Canon!]


Quito, Ecuador


So there are my two [or three] suggestions. What do you think? Would you buy into this? Do you have any friends at a major camera manufacturer? If so, first to market with this is going to win. Pass it on!


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  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    With the sheer number of lenses that Canon make anyway, I scarcely think your first suggestion is “unreasonable”. Some customers might like it, others might hate it and prefer a different lens.
    It seems to me that there are way too many examples of things like this, that photographers would ike – but the camera companies are listening or aren’t interested. That’s rather silly – imagine how many cars you’d sell, if everyone needed right hand drive and you only wanted to make left hand drive cars!
    I must admit, I was surprised to read that most ‘togs use either the shortest or the longest setting on their zoom lenses. I certainly don’t – I use whatever suits the shot. It’s all very well to be urged to “walk” to a more suitable location and “not be lazy” by letting the zoom do your walking – but I’m not quite sure how to do that, in mid-air. πŸ™‚
    As for your other suggestion, I think it’s brilliant. I hate being told that the only images I can create a a set pre-determined unalterable size, and always horizontal. Lenses are round- the image circle is circular because of that – you suggestion makes perfect good sense. And the cameras could have a feature allowing us to choose whatever format we want. At my age, being told what I can or can’t have is presumptuous behaviour.
    I particularly like it, because it overcomes the problem of tying yourself up in knots, trying to revolve the camera from a horizontal to a vertical format. Gosh – no more L-plates to anchor our cams to tripods – no more fancy gear that actually allows you to revolve your camera into the desired position – less likelihood of dropping the camera, if it’s handheld and the lens is a heavy one, while you wrestle with it, to “go vertical” – less risk of camera shake, if it’s a handheld shot.
    And it’s a perfectly simple, sensible, practical solution to these problems.
    The idea is so good that it’ll probably have them crawling around, looking under the bed or the sofa, trying to find the hidden flaw in your idea – when of course there isn’t one! πŸ™‚

    • Chris Stump says:

      Thanks Pete!

      I’d like to think my suggestions aren’t complete nonsense, and sounds like they resonate with at least you as well.

      You are correct to take issue with my wildly general statement that we all use zooms at one end of the zoom range or the other most of the time. I think I read it somewhere in some review of a zoom. Not exactly a peer-reviewed study, to be sure.

      That said, I did find myself testing the theory. When generally shooting I found it to be not so true for me…I tended to choose the zoom in my bag that best contained the desired focal length…shooting as you do, as if a zoom were a collection of primes.

      Which is exactly why I want suggestion #1.

      However, when traveling with one do-it-all zoom, indeed, I did exactly what the reviewer had suggested…very often choosing the longest or shortest focal length [and wishing I had even more range on either end] due to my inability to walk on air and zoom with my feet.

      So, I think there’s a grain of truth in there somewhere.

      As you commented, the rational for the 36mm round sensor is practically unimpeachable…if perhaps impractical in the minds of manufacturers. Don’t know, and I’d love to hear their thoughts.

      Thanks for yours,
      –Chris Stump

      • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

        I suppose cost would be a consideration – a circular sensor capable of fitting various formats like 2×3, 3×2, 4×4, 5×4, 4×5, 5×7 etc would cost more – room, as you say Chris, is scarcely likely to be a “real issue”, especially in a mirrorless.
        But that’s not their decision to take – it’s ours!
        And in any case, I already had to buy an expensive L-bracket for my FF, so it doesn’t hang over the edge of a cliff on top of the tripod, with a lens worth over $5 grand.
        And the zoom I just bought has built into it a ring so that once the camera is on the tripod, with camera attached, you can revolve the zoom in the ring (OMG – YES! – it has CLICK STOPS!), 360 degrees. I presume that must be part of the cost of the zoom, and more spend – unlikely to have been my gift from Santa this year!
        Doing it in the sensor makes a HELL of a lot of sense, gauge against that background.
        Anyway, it’s been annoying me for ages before you wrote this article, that I can’t choose any of the common formats when I’m trying to compose my shot.
        I noticed Pascal’s suggestion (below) – maybe we could tweak that into having a square screen at the back, to accommodate the various image shapes it would produce! Or would they put that to one side for inclusion in a later “innovative” model?

  • Pascal says:

    Been hoping for a square sensor since ages,,, 64 Mpix; 8 by 8,,, 8K with no binning as a bonus,
    Hate turning my cameras for portrait πŸ™‚

  • Jack says:

    I love the idea of the round sensor. being able to switch ratios and portrait to landscape is a great idea.

    However, i frequently us a 20-70 but adjust to fit the crop I want. I really don’t care all that much about the focal length as I am shooting street on mirrorless and see pretty quickly the impact on bokeh, DOF, etc.

    When in do shoot landscape I tend to revert to prime lenses on my 5D4 on a tripod.

    Great to see thoughts like this. Thanks,

  • Giuseppe says:

    Hi, the idea of ​​the round sensor is a good idea, but I doubt it can be picked up by the companies; the space left empty by the filling of the round sensors, penalizes the performance of the silicon ‘slice’. Then a 36×36 square sensor is better; but the costs would be much greater. I apologize for the imperfect English.

    • Chris Stump says:

      Hi Giuseppe, your English is fine. Thanks for your observation. I really don’t know what the economics vs engineering trade-offs would be, but if we are willing to pay the price I have to believe it could be done!

  • Kristian Wannebo says:

    Circular sensor, GREAT!
    But so long as pixels come in grids and not in a more random distribution (which would eliminate moirΓ©), I think a hexagonal sensor with a beehive pixel pattern would be technically more sensible.
    ( Even that would require new less simple ways of organising readout.)
    And cutting such sensors out of circular wafer ought to give less waste than with rectangular sensors.

    • Chris Stump says:

      Hi Kristian,
      Yes, my recollection was that traditional semiconductor manufacturing starts out with round wafers, which are then cut into smaller rectangles and the ones with defects tossed out. So does that mean that our 36mm round sensors could be easily manufactured to size, or would they still be cut out of larger circular wafers resulting in even more waste? IDK. Love the beehive idea too.

    • Kristian Wannebo says:

      Come to think of it,
      it’s probably much easier to cut a rectangular grid of sensors from a wafer.

      ( And … the bigger the company, the larger the risk of NIH syndrome – ahem, not invented here..)

      But, who knows – the future never is what it used to be.
      Photographers, make your voices heard: “We want …”

  • Justin Honold says:

    The upcoming PanaLeica MFT 10-25 behaves like a Tri-Elmar: 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, 50mm clicks. Perfect πŸ™‚

    • Chris Stump says:

      Thanks Justin, but I just can’t quite get there with you on this…

      I see this quote from the press release: “Since image quality of each focal length is [as] strictly controlled as prime lenses, this lens can be seen as equivalent to five prime lenses: 20mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm, and 50mm,”

      I can see how someone could parse this a couple of ways. Yes, you could say that it means what you say, and I’ve seen others do it.

      But, nowhere in any official release do I see language that clearly says “it is five focal lengths only”, much less any reference to Leica’s own Tri-Elmars, which as owners of the name I certainly think they would.

      What I do see prominently displayed is the word ‘Zoom’. Zoom doesn’t mean pan-focal, or multiple focal length lens…it means a zoom.

      I think they just mean that the lens covers those typical prime lengths, at a constant prime-fast aperture, and is superbly corrected across the full range.. *all of which adds up to being able to leave your primes at home.*

      I also see ‘click-less aperture for video users’…I sure can’t imagine that going along with a ‘click-positive’ zoom ring. πŸ˜‰

      Again, I’ve see a review and some comments wanting this to be a son-of-tri-elmar, but I really doubt it.

      Hope I’m wrong. We’ll see!

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