Telecentric Lens Design - Did Canon RF and Nikon Z Adopt Similar Approach as Micro Four Thirds?

I was excited to find out that finally both giants Canon and Nikon stepped into the mirrorless game seriously this time, releasing their new full frame mirrorless cameras in 2018. Nikon launched their Z6 and Z7 with a new Z Mount, while Canon released the EOS-R with a new RF Mount. Taking a closer look to the mount design, both companies adopt very similar approach - and I cannot help but find many similarities and be reminded of what Four Thirds promised and delivered in 2003 when Olympus DSLR E-1 was launched - a more optimized telecentric lens design.

Since I am still in the video frenzy mode, I thought why not do one, just me rambling on about this topic?


Important disclaimer before diving too deep - the intention of the above video and this blog entry is not to make comparisons between different camera systems and lens designs, that has never been the objective of this site, and I see no benefit in doing so. I gain nothing from praising one system from the other, thus this article is made strictly out of my keen observation on how the imaging products have evolved over time. I believe there are no bad cameras these days.Furthermore, it is crucial for us photographers to understand our gear better to allow us better operate it, and make full use of the strengths while at the same time workaround the weaknesses to accomplish our photography goal.

Frankly, I was very happy to hear the full frame mirrorless announcements from both Canon and Nikon in 2018, that only solidified my belief and the fact that mirrorless is the future. I was only a little frustrated that Nikon and Canon did not take the plunge earlier, allowing Sony a full 6 years gap to be the sole manufacturer of full frame mirrorless cameras, in which they have become dominant. Late is better than never, I guess, so it is interesting to see what these big boys are doing with their new full frame mirrorless system, being so late entering the game.




Both Nikon and Canon took the advantage to introduce new mount. Nikon made 2 changes: 1) increase the lens mount throat diameter opening from 47mm to 55mm and 2) reduce the flange back focal distance from 46.5mm to 16mm. Similarly, Canon, maintaining their already large lens mount opening of 54mm (just 1mm shy of Nikon's new Z mount opening), decreased their flange back focal distance from 44mm to 20mm. Both companies advertised these changes aggressively, highlighting that having large lens mount opening in relation to sensor size and also having shorter flange focal distance can dramatically improve optical design and resulting image output.

It makes perfect sense, because having larger glass element to fully envelope the image sensor area allows light to hit the sensor more perpendicularly, and bringing the rear end glass element from the lens closer to the image sensor minimizes light strays and bending. The obvious benefits in terms of technical image quality? Minimized aberrations (chromatic, spherical, etc), improved corner./edge sharpness, and better per pixel optimized light capture overall.

This actually refers to telecentric lens design, meaning having the optics designed in a way that the light will hit the sensor more linearly without too much straying off, and this was already adopted by Four Thirds system lens mount in 2003! Yes, Olympus and Panasonic that started the Four Thirds DSLR system, with Olympus releasing their first DSLR Olympus E-1 in 2003 alongside their first fully realized telecentric design lens, Zuiko Digital 14-54mm F2.8-3.5. These technical concerns and approach to optimize lens mount and subsequent optical design have been fully implemented by Olympus and Panasonic's Four Thirds system 16 years ago. 16!

Canon improving their telecentricity in optics using RF Mount


Nikon and Canon adopting same approach, minimizing light straying/bending, and using new mounts to ensure light hits sensor more linearly, achieving better telecentric design. 



Olympus adopted telecentric optical design with their Four Thirds mount, and this lens, 14-54mm F2.8-3. was released in 2003. 


Olympus Zuiko Digital 14-54mm F2.8-3.5

In 2008, Panasonic introduced the world's first Micro Four Thirds system camera, the Panasonic Lumix G1. Then in 2009, Olympus released their Micro Four Thirds camera, the Olympus PEN E-P1. Both G1 and E-P1 used the brand new Micro Four Thirds mount, a new mount created as both Panasonic and Olympus take the bold move, the first in the world, to enter the mirrorless game. They made one significant change in the mount design for Micro Four Thirds, making the move from DSLR to mirrorless cameras. Now there is no mirrorbox/pentaprism mechanism in the camera anymore, hence they were able to move the lens much closer to the image sensor. The flange focal distance was reduced from 38.67mm to 19.25mm. Yeap, Micro Four Thirds did this in 2008, about a decade ago. The full Micro Four Thirds system, with many subsequent lenses released, all inherit the original DNA from Four Thirds system, having optimized telecntric lens design, and both companies have put in much effort to improve their lenses over the decade. 

So why am I bringing all this up now? What am I trying to do?

I was actually happy to see that everyone else is doing their best to improve the lens design now. Both Canon and Nikon, big boys in the industry, adopting similar approach, just validated the fact that Micro Four Thirds alliance knew what they were doing, at least when it comes to the lens design approach. We know that we cannot just look at the camera from what the camera can do alone, the lens optimization and design play an important part as we look at the system as a whole. 

The fact that I have been shooting with Micro Four Thirds cameras and lenses for so many years, I am happy to have enjoyed the superior lenses, especially all the Olympus M.Zuiko lenses. If you have ever used any of those fantastic tiny little lenses, you would know what I mean. The lenses were all super sharp, performing incredibly well even at wide open apertures and all technical flaw was very well controlled. Yet these lenses come in compact and light weight forms. It was truly a joy to shoot with small yet very optimized lenses. 

What are your experiences with your lenses and camera system? Do let me know!

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4 comments:

  1. Great article and video Robin.
    I like playing with lenses and different designs. I found that the more I can create (adapt) a lens that fully surrounds the film or sensor, having an image circle that is larger (at times much larger) than the film or sensor area seems to have the best result whether imaging for precise inspections, industrial photography, or having fun with a film or digital camera out on the trail.
    The MFT lenses though, never cease to amaze me at the great way they work with such small optics. I've got to give one of the new Nikons a try.

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