Exclusive: Prototype Canon 400mm f/2 legacy lens review
This is the mysterious and incredible canon 400 millimeter, f2 thats right f2. This is the brightest aperture, 400 millimeter lens ever produced and for all i know this might be the only copy ever made serial number eight triple o one at some point in history. It was modified to have a canon ef mount, although its a totally manual lens. I hired this behemoth for a couple of weeks from london based cinematographer and legacy lens enthusiast, joel honeywell. You should check out his website in the description below hes, got a fabulous portfolio of video work and stills photography. Thank you, joel theres, no information about this thing online at all, but it is the real deal you can see from its dimensions and i could easily tell when testing its performance, that it really is a 400 millimeter lens with an aperture as bright as f2. That front glass element, this giant thing is 20 centimeters wide. It was bought from a reputable dealer in japan for a large sum of money with the dealer claiming that it was a special order lens that canon made back in the 1970s, probably for shooting photo finishes at horse races and thats, not an unlikely story. Canon are also known to have made a 300 millimeter f2 lens for the same purpose, but its also feasible that this could have been a special order lens for military or scientific work. Another possibility is that this is the prototype that a lens that canon were thinking of putting to market, but for whatever reason, they changed their minds and decided to sell the only copy on to recoup some of the development costs.
Maybe it was just too big and unwieldy to be popular on the market. Well, whatever the story is theres no good reason to believe its, not a genuine canon lens. Only a major optics company would realistically be able to put a lens like this together and if another company have made it, then surely they would have put their own name to it. With a bit of pride, ive contacted canon to ask them if they can shed any light on this lens, but the likelihood is that any engineers old enough to have worked on it are long since retired or even passed away ill. Keep you updated, though, in the description below, as you can see in these pictures, this lens can achieve highly compressed and deeply out of focus backgrounds like no other available, while offering you very snappy. Shutter speeds at f2, even in darker situations, the quality of its autofocus backgrounds is beautiful, incredibly soft, with lots of character, although, as you can see here, the lens does suffer from longitudinal chromatic, aberration lending, some other strong green highlights to outer focus areas at f2. Even when theyre quite strongly out of focus still, there are simply no other camera lenses. I know to be in existence which can give you this level of background separation. The lens itself is obviously enormous and at 11 kilograms, very heavy and difficult to use with anything. Other than a very strong tripod – and you can absolutely forget about hand holding this thing, particularly as it does not have auto focus, the lens is extremely front.
Heavy not surprising, considering that gigantic front element and its metal body, and so the simple 3 8 of an inch tripod mount is necessarily built into the front end of the lens. The aperture ring turns smoothly between f2 and f22, with 10 iris blades. The manual focus ring situated at the rear, pushes your camera forwards and backwards away from the lens. The entire mechanism can also be adjusted to allow for different flange distances from different camera systems. My only comment here is that i did have trouble focusing the lens to infinity when adapting it onto my canon eos r5. Although it almost got there, the lens came with a giant slip on cap that fits on relatively securely. Obviously, you can forget about using filters with this beast. Joel honeywell is considering sending the lens away to an engineer for refitting to make it easier to use for filmmaking id love to see the end results of that, but as it is now, this is one big, ugly and difficult to use monster of a lens, but Admittedly, theres nothing like gazing into the vast shimmering and seemingly infinite expanse of that gigantic front glass element lets check out its image quality now as a prototype lens from the 70s or 80s. With such extreme parameters, we cant expect too much from it really, but i decided to do my standard test on a 45 megapixel canon eos r5. There are obviously no in camera corrections available here at the maximum aperture of f2.
We see a typical example of a lens with an okay level of resolution, but which struggles with very low contrast and some ghosting and color fringing still behind it. All there is some sharpness there in the middle, the corners look worse, strong, lateral, chromatic aberration is the problem here: stop down to f 2.8 for a very small improvement in the corners, but back in the middle contrast has greatly improved and sharpness is acceptable. Stop down to f4 and sharpness and contrast are very good now in the middle. The corners are still looking very weak, though stop down to f 5.6 in the corner, see notably more sharpness and contrast, although that does rather emphasize the color fringing. The image quality stays the same as you stop down to f11 stop down any further than this, and your images will just begin to get softer again due to the effects of diffraction overall, its, not good news for the technical image quality here at all. But, as i mentioned before, considering the kind of extreme lens were looking at and its age thats, no less than you could realistically expect lets, take a look at distortion and vignetting. Now the lens projects almost no distortion at all. The further good news is that the vignetting at f2 is surprisingly mild. Those image corners, dont, look too dark, and if you stop down to f 2.8, then they brighten up a bit. When it comes to the lenses minimum focus distance, i could get it to focus down to about three and a half meters give or take the image quality is a bit softer close up than at normal distances.
Now lets see how the lens works against bright light. Considering its age and its parameters, i was expecting this to be an unmitigated disaster, but actually, apart from one particularly bright flaring spot, the lens doesnt really lose much contrast here at all and so thats a pleasant surprise. That could be an indicator that the lens has a very simple optical formula, with few glass elements inside. That was also a thought i had when i first felt how front heavy the lens was and the quality of this lenses poker. Well, as i already mentioned its incredible really lovely and soft, although, as i also mentioned the lens, does struggle with strong longitudinal chromatic aberration, leaving you with some green, highlighting after the plane of focus and pink before and well thats it. I would offer you a recommendation on whether or not to buy this lens, but unfortunately you cant its a one of a kind, although it is possible that canon perhaps made a couple more at the time who knows, but joel has mentioned that once hes had the Lens rehoused, he might make it available for hire ill. Keep you updated in the description below. For me, though, i do love the incredible images. This lens can get you even if theyre not very sharp, they certainly have character and a lot of wow factor testing out this monster was great fun and an enormous challenge. But ultimately, for me the most exciting thing was to discover one more of the most incredible lenses that have been produced over the years, which is still pottering around out in the wild just waiting to be discovered thanks for watching.
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