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Technical

Ken-ichi Shimbori of Canon Inc. on the
EOS System

August 2012

With thousands of professional photographers shooting with Canon DSLRs and EF lenses every day their thoughts and experiences about shooting with Canon equipment are of great importance. Canon regularly takes time to talk to photographers about EOS DSLRs, Canon EF lenses and any other issues they have. A Canon Inc. delegation from Japan including Ken-ichi Shimbori (Advisory Director, Group Executive, Photo Products Group) and Kazuyuki Suzuki (General Manager, Lens Products Marketing Management Division, Lens Products Group) visited Europe recently – CPN Editor-in-Chief Steve Fairclough met up with them to talk about the current EOS System.

For this CPN interview Kazuyuki Suzuki very kindly acted as the interpreter, from Japanese to English, and all of the answers are from Ken-ichi Shimbori (who is referred to as ‘KS’ throughout). Here is how the discussion went…

© Cécile Mella

Ken-ichi Shimbori, Advisory Director, Group Executive, Photo Products Group for Canon Inc. based in Japan.

CPN: How important is it for Canon to listen to feedback from professional photographers and how does this sometimes influence the way in which Canon develops products?

Ken-ichi Shimbori (KS): “The first point is that through the strong demand of professionals for still images we can develop our products as far as possible to satisfy their strong demands. Then we can make progress with our products. We regard that as a role of professionals. Very recently, for movies and stills, a lot of different demands have been coming from professionals but we have also learned a lot from them. So if, thanks to professional photographers, we can develop our products to meet demand then that’s also to our benefit.

When it comes to professional photographers there isn’t only one demand – quite a diversity of demands exists. For example, for photographers who are taking pictures to document wars their requirement is high ISO in dark places to take a photo discreetly, while a sports photographer needs to take photographs at 10 frames per second using very high shutter speeds. There are varying demands but when we introduce a product we have to introduce a product that meets all those priority demands. This is quite challenging for Canon but we have been doing this for professionals – that is our task at Canon.

At Canon we like to contribute to the culture of photography, for example at Visa pour l’Image we see thousands of images on walls and at screenings and we recognise, once again, how important a moment is taken by an SLR which cannot be taken by a camera phone. That moment is quite valuable and we are very impressed at the power that is created by those photographers with SLRs and lenses. We appreciate that those photographs will remain as a record of history.

In March 1987 the EOS 650 became the first ever SLR in Canon’s EOS System.

Therefore we have two points that we always keep in mind for professional photographers – Canon contributes to photo culture and also Canon develops products. Those are the two roles Canon has.

After the 2011 [Japan] earthquake we lost people, houses, cars and whatever but the people who survived were looking for photographs, which have the memories of their lives. But, unfortunately, the photographs got dirty and damaged by water. In Japan we have a special project – not only Canon but also other companies as well – to recover the old photographs. So, Canon is also supporting how to recover damaged photographs and to give to people who survived the life memories of some who they might have lost but who are still in photographs.”

CPN: The year 2012 sees 25 years since the introduction of the EOS System – is there any particular technological development that has been the most important step forward in the history of EOS?

KS: “The demand for analogue SLRs in 1981 was seven million units; in 2011 it was 17 million, so that’s more than double. So a lot of people are coming to be first [time] users of SLRs and are stepping up to SLRs. After recognising this demand Canon would like to meet this new demand with new technologies.”

CPN: The EOS 5D Mark II surprised a lot of people in terms of the take-off and acceptance of its video functions – in what direction do you think video facilities might go in within DSLRs and how do you view that market?

KS: “For digital movies we have Canon camcorders; we still believe the camcorder is the best option to take movie recordings. When we launched the [EOS] 5D Mark II the movie function was still an extra function, not the main function, so the 5D Mark II is still really viewed as a stills camera and the movie function is extra. Of course we’ve tried to develop the movie function of the 5D Mark II but when it comes to movies the camcorder is still the best option; the best choice to make.”

The EF400mmm f/2.8L IS II USM lens was one of several Canon super telephoto lenses that were re-engineered to be lighter and durable, whilst offering superb optical performance.

CPN: A lot of Canon photographers who are now using the EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens and, in particular, the EF400mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto lens with the EF2x and EF1.4x Mark III extenders have remarked on how sharp their results are, even with the extenders. Can you explain how this sharpness was achieved?

KS: “After [the earlier versions of] those lenses were originally introduced, some years ago, we heard the requests of photographers who were asking ‘please reduce the weight’. The original quality [of the lenses] was good but the weight was quite heavy, so that was the first request we received.

The most challenging part is how to reduce weight without losing the optical performance – that is quite a tough task for Canon. So, how to do it? We started using more fluorite and we also re-engineered the lens body without losing durability and toughness. It’s quite a contradiction as to keep toughness the weight should be heavier. Unfortunately, that’s not good, so we reviewed each single part used and changed it to reduce weight. For example, we used carbon fibre, not metal, and fluorite is much lighter than normal glass.”

CPN: What has been the biggest challenge in developing the EOS System?

KS: “It’s quite a difficult question to reply to. But the basic concept of EOS is fast, high quality and also [being] comfortable to use. As long as the product has the name of EOS that product has to have this concept. To achieve this there are many technologies behind it, for example the autofocus system, autoexposure system, drive system, processing system, sensor, mirror driving system and, after the picture has been taken, the cameras have to process those images as fast as possible. Those are the kind of technologies behind EOS, and it’s very difficult as to which one should be prioritised. But, when it comes to EOS as a product, we have to have balance everything depending on what the target audience is.”

The Dual DIGIC 5+ processors in the Canon EOS-1D X DSLR offer a number of benefits including fast image processing to deliver 18.1 Megapixel images at up to 12fps as standard.

CPN: Is it tougher to develop cameras for professional photographers compared to amateur photographers or is the developmental process just the same?

KS: “Actually to develop products, both for professionals and for amateurs, is difficult. We have to, for example, increase the level of toughness and water resistance. For each level, we would set the toughness and water resistance and this is also difficult [to decide]. Compared with entry class the highly skilled amateur is not satisfied with the same level [of camera] as entry class so we have to increase the high quality, but the features that can satisfy high quality [demands] are also difficult to determine.”

CPN: In what areas can technology improve within the EOS System? How far can certain technologies go?

KS: “We wish to develop every point of technology, not any particular point. Still, we believe that technology has room to be developed; for example ISO, pixels, frames per second, or size or the light weight [of DSLRs]. Every single area could be developed further.

When we determine product concepts we then have to prioritise some [areas], but that technology cannot develop by itself – it needs to work together with another technology. With all technology we have developed we think we shouldn’t define that a technology is ‘there’ already, we have to keep challenging it.”

The Canon EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x zoom lens includes an integrated focal length extender, via a locking switch on the lens barrel, to take its zoom range range to 280-560mm.

CPN: Can you explain the development of the EF200-400mm f/4L IS USM EXTENDER 1.4x lens and why that lens was developed?

KS: “We started by recognising the needs of photographers who use extenders, but we also have a reason. When extenders are attached and combined with a lens then dust or water can be inside – that is not good at all. Once [this lens is] already attached photographers don’t need to worry about any dust or water inside, and also it’s quicker to just fit a lens. But, actually, we already have had this concept in broadcast lenses, so it’s not new for Canon. We studied this and thought ‘why not install it?’

After the announcement of this product many photographers appreciated that this was a very good idea because they can have a problem when changing extenders. So, that was the initial development idea.”

CPN: EOS technology sometimes ‘trickles down’ from higher spec cameras into other products, even digital compacts, and even sometimes ‘trickles up’. Can you explain how that process of sharing technology across different products works?

KS: “Currently we belong to an imaging communications group and that means the broadcast group, camcorder group, digital compact group, EOS group and the lens group. We have a framework to communicate with each other to work out how to optimise each technology and, wherever possible or necessary, we share this technology to develop products. For example, for the lens with the built-in extender it’s from the broadcast group to the lens group, so that’s something that we have a framework for to exchange ideas or extend technologies wherever possible.

What we can say is that at the moment IS [Image Stabilizer] is a maximum of four stops and both the compact group and the EOS group, including lenses, are trying to increase this a stop more, and we are studying how to do this.”

The EOS-1D X includes technology that allows it to shoot at up to 14fps with the ‘Super high speed continuous’ setting.

CPN: Do you have a dream EOS camera that you’d like to develop and have in the EOS range, or is there something that the EOS System has achieved that you are most proud of?

KS: “My personal dream to develop EOS would be that EOS can do more than what a human eye can do. Just for example, at high ISO the human eye cannot sense lightness or darkness, so actually EOS with high sensitivity can recognise the subject and can shoot – that is one example.

For example, in the film ‘Blade Runner’ a picture is enlarged and enlarged with no reduction in the high quality, so even when it’s enlarged, enlarged and enlarged again the detail still remains. That is also a dream – high pixel count technology.”

CPN: Thank you for your time – is there anything else that you think is important to mention?

KS: “As Canon we have a mission – the mission is we want to promote photo culture as much as possible and for as long as possible in the future. We want to expand photo culture all over the world, not only Europe but also the emerging markets – that is our mission. There could be some changes in expanding markets and Canon would like to take leadership of those changes to meet demands. Also, as a leader, we can change as well.”