Quick Look: Canon 50-1000mm Close Focus Performance

In this post, we’re going to take a quick look at the Canon 50-1000mm Cine-Servo – a lens that some may consider impractical or unnecessary. I disagree! A few weeks back I had a client that was considering adding Canon’s new super zoom to his kit. He does a lot of wildlife and nature documentary work but didn’t think that 1,000mm was a reasonable range. If you asked me that same question six months ago I probably would have agreed. However, after some hands-on time with the lens here in the shop, I’ve definitely found the silver lining.
Yes, it’s a hefty lens. Yes, it’s somewhat pricey. Yes, there are no standard zoom or iris gears. But once I had this lens on the projector and was able to really see the resolving power of this lens – the pros begin to outweigh the cons. As it is with all lenses, physics are limiting and compromises must be made. In the case of the 50-1000mm, yes – you get 1,000mm. But at the expense of maximum aperture and size/weight. Speaking of maximum aperture… At the wide end of the zoom range, you have a rather sluggish T5. You’ll maintain a maximum of T5 all the way through the zoom until you creep up on 560mm. Beyond 5oomm, the maximum aperture drops to T8.9. While you would think that a minimum focus of 11.5′ is not very impressive for a 50mm focal length, it is respectable for a 1,000mm focal length. And this doesn’t even include the lens’ built in Macro mode.

This brings me to today’s quick look: close focus image quality. Normally I would evaluate image quality on our test projector which accommodates a focus distance of up to 200′. But I really wanted to show the practical effects of ultra telephoto lenses and how focal length and field of view relate as well as how accurate Canon’s flagship Cine-Servo is, even with a 2X extender attached. The Canon 50-1000mm has it’s own built-in 1.5x extender which brings the maximum focal length of this lens to 1,500mm. I then attached one of our new prototype 2X tele-extenders giving me a focal length of 3,000mm. The test was shot on a Super 35 format camera with a relatively high ISO setting so that I could maintain exposure even with the light loss from the 1.5x dropping the max aperture to about T13, and the 2X taking the lot down to approximately T22. I know… It’s not at all practical, but let’s take a look.


I intentionally left out the IQ samples between 400mm and 2,000mm simply because there really ins’t much to see. It’s the super tele end that I was intrigued by. Again, this was shot about 12 feet away from our aggressive alien big game friend here. I re-adjusted the focus just a hair once I was zoomed all the way in to 3,000mm – which, by the way, was extremely accurate with absolutely no lost motion to speak of in the focus barrel. There’s no cropping at all in these samples, other than the horizontal split to fit all four scenes into one. Take a look at the difference between 100mm and 400mm. Not an uncommon focal length these days and there’s quite a drastic difference in the field of view. However, once we get to the longer end of zoom here, in the 2,000mm to 3,000mm range, that’s a difference of 1,000mm! And yet, there’s very little difference in the field of view. Here’s a good visual representation of how field of view and focal length relate to each other:



As with all “lens tests” on the web, take this with a grain of salt. There are infinite variables to consider and this is by no means a definitive test of the 50-1000mm Canon Cine-Servo. However, it does illustrate the versatility of this lens even with a 2x extender. If you can get over the size, weight, price, speed, and other cons – you may have a use for this lens which is definitely not lacking in the image quality department.

7 thoughts on “Quick Look: Canon 50-1000mm Close Focus Performance

  1. I used this lens recently on a month-long wildlife shoot in Tanzania – it is a cracking lens, but needs heavy-weight support. If shooting from a blind then any material touching the lens / sticks will result in shake in even a slightest breeze. As for shooting from a vehicle, I think it would be very difficult to use the full range – even if the vehicle had hydraulic stabilisers.

    1. Without a stabilizer this lens is really limited at 1000mm, even for indoor use. Just tripod handling vibration can be an issue and as are Mark’s points on wind. I think this lens was not made for cine use as much as the sports market (who would in theory buy far more units than cine users to replace B4 mount lenses).

      In the race for bigger sensors to pack more resolution and thinner DOF (Looking at you Arri 65) the 2/3″ sensor has been somewhat abandoned but in my opinion that sensor size is a better match for long lens/ high zoom ratio work if a good performing 4K sensor can be jammed into that size and the glass can be made to perform. Would love to know your thoughts on the possibility of that Matt.

      The new 4K 2/3″ cameras coming out of Japan point to that as the future of nature/ sports work and hopefully a 4K 42X B4 mount stabilized lens won’t be far behind. Who the hell wants thin DOF at 1000mm anyways…

      1. Ian, I agree with you. The new 4k cams in the near future are going to breathe life back into a LOT of broadcast B4 mount lenses. Grab a set of DigiPrimes on the cheap quick, while you still can 😉

    2. Mark, I did experience this quite a bit. Even touching the camera to adjust ISO while shooting resulted in some pretty devastating camera shake. I did have it on a pretty wimpy setup, but yes – heavy duty support is absolutely necessary at 1,000mm.

  2. I am not surprised the quality holds up to using the 1.5x and a 2x in concert because Canon have alluded that the lens is capable of 4k and beyond. (ie 8k)
    Great news that your 2x is well matched, put me down for one!

    I use the lens with a Ronford Baker 2004 head and carbon fiber legs without too many vibration issues. For field use I am aming for a camera/lens/head/tripod combo that weights 500mm depth of field is only a few meters so anyone claiming they need T2 at 500-1000 mm must be shooting a flat subject!

    For tracking work the lens has been used in a Shotover gimbal, making it an incredible shot gathering and creative combination.

    I am developing a sturdy backpack for it for surfing gigs, I guess you can tell I own one:)

    Mike Brennan

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