By Roger Cicala Published August 24, 2020
Here I sit, the guy who gets poetic writing about tiny resolution differences in high-priced wide-aperture lenses, having just bought this lens. Its aperture is in the diffraction- softening range. The manufacturer’s (pronounced ‘better than reality’) MTF charts aren’t very good.
So why did I buy this pig? Because it could ﬁt a need, of course. Despite the religious fervor with which some worship certain lenses and brands, despite my complaints about this lens’ astigmatism or that lens’ corners, it always comes down to ‘does it do the job’.
I spend a week a month at a vacation home on a lagoon next to a wildlife refuge. Photography is not why I go. It’s downtime and I don’t take a bunch of gear. But sometimes I see really cool birds or reptiles and wish I could get a picture. The reptiles are often alligators, so I wish to take that picture from a distance. So if this lens can get me ‘internet acceptable’ images for $699 and 2 pounds, it would be worthwhile. (I rented the camera, I still haven’t committed to a mirrorless system yet. Commitment, well, it’s not my strength.)
Since the lens arrived the day before I left, Aaron suggested we should take it apart and see what’s in there. Besides air. At 2 pounds, there’s going to be a lot of air. I
was leaving in a few hours, but we do this all the time, so we were conﬁdent. We were, perhaps, even, a tiny bit arrogant, since the only R mount camera we had available was back at my house, packed for the drive. (This here is what we professional writer types call foreshadowing.)
A Quick “So How’d They Do That?”
It’s f/11 but it’s still 600mm in a 2 pound package, which is unheard of. They do it with diffraction optics. The same type as the 400mm f/4 IS DO, speciﬁcally, the newer ‘gapless’ diffraction optics. This basically is market speak for ‘instead of an air space between the DO elements, we invented some special glue’.
Compared to ‘gapped’ diffraction optics, the gapless design reduces longitudinal chromatic aberration, ring-shaped ﬂare, and improves contrast. Some. You can read about it here.
While I can’t ﬁnd the lens block diagram, Canon has a fairly recent patent for 600mm and 800mm f/11 lenses that seems right. We know there are 10 elements in 7 groups in the 600mm f/11, (compared to 17 in 13 for a 600mm f/4 IS; or 18 in 12 for the 400mm f/4 IS DO lens). The patent is one element short of that, but patents often differ from ﬁnal product a bit.
I have to say, the DO element being right up there at the front makes me a bit nervous from a scratch and chip standpoint. But, the construction should be fairly simple in there. We think. Those of you who follow our teardowns know things are usually not like we think they’re going to be.
Let’s Take Stuff Apart
From the outside, it’s pretty much a standard looking lens, except for the ring that locks-unlocks to extend the barrel. You have to unlock, extend, and relock before the camera will let you shoot with the lens (shown here with barrel extended). Lots of air in there, we said. Easy disassembly, we said. It’ll be fun, we said.
Narrator’s voice: But it was not easy, and it was not fun.
We removed the tripod mount ﬁrst; a lot of telephoto lenses give you some access underneath the tripod mount.
Lensrentals.com, 2020 The rear mount is pretty much standard.
The bayonet is held in place by 7 long, large screws. That’s more than most bayonet mounts, but the screws mount into plastic, not metal, inside so that seems like a good idea.
Then we pop out the plastic light bafﬂe. By the way, it says “made in Taiwan” on the inside of the bafﬂe. I only throw this out because someone’s going to pop out their light bafﬂe, read that, and then have a melt-down on the internet. Doesn’t matter where your lens is assembled, the parts inside it come from all over.
Then we take off the bayonet.
The spacer ring and rearmost barrel lift right off.
While this is not a weather-resistant lens, but there are some felt seals under various barrels, probably as friction pads.
We took out the PCB and then removed the screws holding the ‘adjust-lock’ barrel in place.
Which slides right off. This concludes the ‘just like we expected’ portion of this teardown.
You can see the circular tensioning spring right above the felt in the image above; there’s also a standard spring on the opposite side of this barrel.
There are a pair of large metal guides or posts that are involved in the locking / extension mechanism, and probably provide some barrel support. We think. Honestly, we’ve never seen anything quite like this mechanism, so we’re kind of hunting our way around here.
But they liked it where they were. Taking out the screws wasn’t quite enough to encourage them to leave their posts. So we took out the ring of screws at the top of the extending barrel.
With that off, we have enough room to take out the metal side braces, or guides, or whatever you want to call them. They’re certainly more than the inch-long guides we were expecting.
They’re quite solid pieces of metal, going almost the length of the lens, so I suspect the provide some structural rigidity.
If you’re getting the impression that this doesn’t look like your typical Canon lens, well, so were we. Those long guides went way down into the lens. So do several ﬂexes and the ﬂex layout is less direct than we usually see with Canon. Taking off the switch panel seemed like a good idea; it would hopefully let start tracing the ﬂexes.
We took off the inside of the lock-unlock barrel and its circular spring next, mostly because we could see how to do it.
We can see the lock / unlock switch now. You can see the amber colored plastic of a barrel guide in the upper left part of the image. There’s a pretty big ﬂex with about 20 traces diving straight down into the lens. That many traces probably means it’s going to split like tree branches, so tracing it out is going to be ultra important if we want this lens to work when we’re done.
Now we can see the set of screws that are obviously holding the mid barrel, so those come out next and the mid barrel should slide right off.
Well, the screws came right out, but the barrel went nowhere. We thought that taking out the set of guides (nice and sturdy, but a type of plastic we’ve not seen before) might help.
Taking those out let us extend the barrel fully, but did nothing else. It did expose a set of screws that looked like it held the extending barrel to the front barrel. The barrel-to- barrel junction is plastic to plastic, but numerous double screws hold it together, so it looks pretty sturdy.
By the way, all the ﬂexes are enthusiastically taped to the extending barrel. If you intend to enter this temple yourself, we suggest making heavy offerings of alcohol and heat to the Flex Gods or you’re gonna tear something you don’t want to tear.
After taking out the junction screws, we offered up some 4-letter prayer words to the high priests of Canon engineering, because, well, nothing was coming apart, ﬂexes dipped down into places we couldn’t reach and everything was at a standstill. So we put the screws back in and decided we’d try going in from the front.
The makeup ring, like the ﬂexes, took a fair amount of time to spungy off. Canon seems to have upped their adhesive game a notch. We weren’t playing anymore. After alcohol we got out the heat gun and told the makeup ring, “you can come off or you can melt; your choice.” The makeup ring decided this wasn’t the hill to die on and eventually gave way.
Which let us take off the ﬁlter ring. (Note: this means ﬁlter ring replacement is quick, simple, and probably cheap if you bust it.)
Now we can see two sets of screws. The inner set seems to hold the front group in place, the outer set seems (I say seems because by this point we’ve lost trust in how anything seems) to hold on the focusing barrel.
Taking those screws out let us ﬁnally accomplish something; the entire external barrel comes off as one piece. Wish we’d known this two hours ago.
A look inside shows us what was keeping the mid barrel from coming off and take the appropriate actions.
And that there are some internal posts that prevented disassembling the outer barrel piece-by-piece. So next time we’ll know you have to remove the whole outer barrel before you start disassembling it.
We also found that what looked like weird, random ﬂex runs were because the ﬂexes ran in a weird random way. They go all the way from the bayonet mount to the front of the lens, some of them turning around and going back down. It’s ﬂex anarchy up in there. There’s probably some reason for it, but right now, 3 hours into an expected 1 hour disassembly, I think the reasoning took place after the engineers drank a lot of sake.
Below you see the SLAGI connector. As in “Seems Like A Good Idea” to run the ﬂex all the way from the bayonet to the front of the lens, then connect it to another ﬂex to run back down the lens.
There are some very Nikon-like right angle bends, tape holding stuff down, and even (GASP!!) a bit of ﬂex solder. That 20-something trace ﬂex split into about half-dozen different traces that took about 3 right angle turns each.
While the electronics don’t look like the usual Canon lens, the optics do. We can also see there are several robust eccentric adjustment colors on some of the mid-area lens groups. You can see one to the right of the white tape above; there’s another shown down below.
With all this disassembled, we went back and ﬁnally took out the screws that seemed to hold the extending barrel in place and took them out.
And then could slide it off.
We can look down and see the IS unit now, still fairly far forward in the barrel.
We examined the screws holding the front element in place; it’s neither shimmed for tilt, nor a centering adjustment (full disclosure: we have no desire to try centering a DO element), so we took those out.
You can see the front group is a cemented pair now, just like the patent diagram suggests. If you look into the slots below the element, you can see (OK, we could see) that it was cemented in place. We had zero interest in breaking up that cement just to look down the barrel.
That’s All Folks
At this point, we were over 3 hours into disassembling this beast, and I had to leave in another hour or two. The front group was cemented in place, we weren’t going to uncement it. Further barrel disassembly was going to start with a LOT of ﬂex tracing and unhooking and we just weren’t up for that today.
We’d found the electronic construction was complex for a Canon lens, or at least very different. The optical construction in the core has a very Canon look, with numerous optical adjustments/compensations using their new, large eccentric collars. I remain convinced this is because Canon is doing automated optical adjustment of subgroups during assembly. Nobody else is adjusting to this degree or in this manner.
So Aaron put the lens back together and I went off to vacation and to take some pictures to see if it reached my ‘acceptable for internet’ level of low expectations. Except, as I so clearly foreshadowed, the damn lens didn’t work. During reassembly, we buggered up the ‘barrel extended’ switch so the camera wouldn’t recognize the lens was ready to shoot.
Pride goeth before the fall, as they say. For the ﬁrst time in our long history, we didn’t test the lens after reassembly, because ‘we got this’. So a week later, Aaron’s going to have to take this lens apart again so we can ﬁgure out what we buggered up.
So we got an AFLE on this one; Another Frigging Learning Experience. And what did we learn? That we don’t want to work on this lens. Life’s too short. When these break, they’re going to Canon service center. Except for this one, cause those Canon techs would enjoy ﬁxing what we broke far too much; we’re never gonna tell them this happened.
Roger Cicala and Aaron Closz Lensrentals.com
Author: Roger Cicala
I’m Roger and I am the founder of Lensrentals.com. Hailed as one of the optic nerds here, I enjoy shooting collimated light through 30X microscope objectives in my spare time. When I do take real pictures I like using something different: a Medium format, or Pentax K1, or a Sony RX1R.
Article and Images published with permission