AsiaWorks reviews Canon’s new 17-120mm ENG style servo lens

Canon have announced a new 17-120mm ENG style servo lens for large sensor cameras and it’s sparked off a lot of discussion among the DPs in all of our offices. Is it worth the US$33,000 price, though? Let’s find out.

new canon 17-120mm ENG style back view

The Facts

  • Designed for ENG, documentary, and narratives
  • An impressive range of 17-120mm, at a bright T2.95
  • weighs 2.9kg
  • optics designed for 4k
  • an 11-blade iris
  • projects an image size with a diameter of 31.7mm
  • lens mount interchangeable between L and EOS (but see ‘The Drawbacks’ below for a caveat with this)
  • LCD display-equipped digital drive unit that allows operators to access functions like pre-programming zoom speed and focus

The Drawbacks

  • A major drawback is that the interchangeable lens mount can only be changed at an authorised Canon service centre, not by the user
  • the other major drawback is that Canon’s own C300 and C500 don’t have the Cooke i-technology required to communicate with the mount, so lens data, aperture and zoom length don’t show up in the viewfinder for these cameras
  • the lens also requires external power for it to function properly on Canon Cinema EOS cameras, Sony PMW F3 and Red

new canon 17-120mm ENG style side view

So what does this really mean for shooters? Is it worth it? Let’s ask a couple of our DPs:

Yaw, one of our Singapore DPs, says:

To me the way to think about the non-constant maximum aperture would be to look at it as an f4 lens, so you’ll shoot at f4 most of the time and save yourself the hassle of adjusting every time you zoom in and out. Since most large sensor cameras have high sensitivities it’s possible to just bring up the ISO without much noise, and being large sensor cameras the DOF will still be shallow enough at f4. The f2.95 at 17mm can then be seen as the back seat of a sports coupe. It’s there just in case you need to take your mother-in-law along sometimes.We may also draw comparison with photography lenses, eg the 24-70. It has neither constant focus nor aperture. Despite being read as 2.8 by the camera, the lens is definitely darker at the tele end.  At least Canon doesn’t pretend this new lens has constant aperture. And presumably there’s no back focus problem either?What the camera makers should do is to use a higher resolution sensor, eg 4k, and zooms with centre crop when shooting 2k or 1080, just like F5. Curious why C500 doesn’t have the firmware that allows this. Even the tiny GH3 can do it.Would love to see a day when somebody overcomes the limits of optics and comes up with a small and fast zoom lens for large sensor cameras.

Mikael, one of our Bangkok DPs, says:
Regarding the lens I think it’s great that manufacturers are starting to make these types of lenses. We really need them for fast paced large sensor type work!This lens looks great to me with the exception that it’s not 2.95 throughout the zoom range! It really bugs me when I zoom in and the aperture changes. The article suggests that Canon opted for longer zoom in favour of constant aperture. Personally, I wish they’d done the opposite. But this is a very minor thing.Also it is a bit weird that you don’t get the lens data and you need an external power source using the C300. I’m assuming that whatever camera will replace the C300 will have these functions.If I had the choice between this lens and the Fujinon Cabrio 19-90, I’d take the Cabrio. Then again, the Cabrio is US$6,000 more!But despite the minor issues I have with the lens, I’d still of course love to shoot with it! It really looks great and I also can’t wait for other manufacturers to put out more lenses of this type. Maybe more affordable ones?