New Lenses + Micro Four Thirds Group

Canon.   Take a deep breath and let your imagination run wild for just a second…and then try to wrap you mind around this lens title:  EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x.  That’s what Canon has just announced, along with several other items to be shown at the CP+ show in Japan later this week.  In a nutshell this will be a top-level lens generally similar in specifications to the vaunted Nikon 200-400mm, but it will contain a built-in selectable 1.4x extender which, when in place, will yield a 280-560 focal length range at f/5.6.  Canon shooters have lusted after just such a lens for years, though the question may well be whether anyone will be able to afford it when it arrives (if you haven’t looked at the prices of big lenses in the last month or so you’re in for a shock).  Nor will we know for a while all the specs (like minimum focusing distance) or how it really performs in the field, but I expect this lens to cause more excitement than we’ve seen in the Canon camp for a long time.

Also now “launched” are the new lightweight 500mm and 600mm f/4L lenses that were announced at Photokina in September 2010, plus two new Rebels (the T3i and T3), two small flashes, and a number of point & shoot models.  Looks like Canon is finally picking up the pace a bit.  You can read more at DP Review and Rob Galbraith.  The Super Telephotos are the big news.  According to the specs they will not only offer higher optical quality than previous models, but lighter weight, closer focusing distances, and better ergonomics.  When combined with the latest Canon Extenders, they promise to set new standards for versatility in the field.

Convergence of Another Kind.   It’s very interesting to watch the coalescing of thought and consensus on technology offerings.  Not all new ideas catch hold (nor do many that become popular have staying power), but others seem to find the right mix for a given time and set of circumstances.  At the moment that appears to be Micro Four Thirds.  If you’re not familiar with what this concept and consortium of companies is all about, see a pretty good rundown here and visit the official organizational site here.

Not everyone is enthusiastic about the concept behind this system or the current offerings.  But there’s a momentum building, a little bit like the momentum Leica and other 35mm “miniature” cameras gained in the 1920s, ‘30s, and ‘40s, especially with photojournalists, and for some of the same reasons.  While few would dispute the incredible capability and durability of a Canon 1D Mark IV, Nikon D3s, or similar top-end professional body, the sheer weight, bulk, and expense is prohibitive and or simply undesirable for many.  And as sensor technology continues to improve, the quality produced by somewhat smaller sensors is rapidly reaching acceptable standards for a great many publication uses.

The original Four Thirds concept was launched by Olympus, then joined by Panasonic.  In 2008 the Micro Four Thirds standard was added as a means toward smaller mirrorless bodies, and since that time numerous additional parties have joined the cause.  Two of the latest to sign on are Schneider-Kreuznach and Zeiss, both famous for very high quality lenses.  Cosina and Leica are also members (and several others—see a full list here), and there seems to be a growing momentum for some exciting additions to the equipment lineup soon.

It’s too early to know if Micro Four Thirds is a lasting trend or not.  Sometimes the whole subject seems scattered; for example there isn’t even an official abbreviation or acronym, so you see M43, MFT, m4/3, µ4/3, and many more conglomerations used with abandon.  Tom Hogan suggests more attention needs to be paid to the sensor itself for the format to gain serious traction (see his Feb. 7 m4/3 comments).  In the meantime, it’s almost impossible to find a Panasonic GH2 available anywhere, and the next couple of months are ripe for even more announcements of new stuff, so time will tell.

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