80 Million and Counting?
Canon's current lens line-up including EF, EF-S, EF-M and EF Cinema lenses.
Andrew Fildes reflects on a new Canon milestone and explains why it's all down to a camera that was released way back in 2003.
Yesterday Canon announced the production of its 80-millionth EF lens. It took just under nine years for Canon to sell its first 10 million EF lenses and just under nine months to sell its last 10 million. They've gone from 20 million to 80 million sales since 2001 which makes you wonder what was happening around then?
Well, in 2003 they released the 300D (aka Digital Rebel) and suddenly the digital SLR became affordable. Film EOS cameras always sold well but that one event created a massive market for digital SLRs.
It was not only the cheapest DSLR on the market it had the best lens mount and exceptional high ISO performance, thanks to Canon's early adoption of a CMOS sensor. And it sold by the boatload. Canon developed a grip on the market that has lasted years. The 80 millionth EF mount lens (and that includes the EF-S versions) is a significant achievement but not so much because of the lenses themselves but because of what they represent – one of the great success stories of photography. The 300D should forever be included in any top ten list of significant cameras.
There have only been two basic lenses mounts for Canon cameras since 1958, the manual focus R/FL/FD which were mostly intercompatible and the EF autofocus mount which was a total change. FD lenses can't be used on an EOS, not even with an adapter unless you put an extra lens element in it. Nikon chose to stick with the F mount it also introduced in 1958 and I'd argue that they were wrong to do so. It's always been a difficult legacy and the list of incompatibility problems is long. In switching lens mounts when they moved to autofocus, Canon moved from a rather difficult and clumsy design to one of the most effective and flexible mounts. For instance, the choice of a wide throat and short register distance may have orphaned their manual lenses but it made the design of fast aperture lenses very much easier. Nikon could probably never make a good 50mm f1.0 in F mount. (I hate saying never, but…)
Soon we will see the new EOS-M compact mirrorless camera and, success or failure, it will be a milestone event for Canon. The EF-M will be the third mount. I understand that it will be much the same physically but the register - the distance from the sensor to the back of the lens, will be very much shorter. In no way will the lenses be compatible with present EOS cameras and EF or EF-S lenses will only be usable on the system with a large and complex adapter. Of course, thanks to the laws of physics, the 18-55mm EF-M lens isn't much smaller than the regular Canon kit lens and that rather compromises the compactness of the system – Sony has a similar problem with the NEX series. I can well understand why Canon is last into the mirrorless camera ranks – they're here because they had no choice. But it's a big step and I can't help but wonder if they should have learned from their own history and developed a completely new mount, one not potentially handicapped by mimicking their present type.
The camera that stared it all – released in 2003, the highly successful Canon EOS 300D was the first truly affordable DSLR.