MELVILLE, NY, May 28, 2021 – Canon Inc. announced today that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the release of the FD55mm F1.2AL, the company’s first interchangeable lens for SLR cameras that featured an aspherical lens element. Today, aspherical lens elements are not only used in the company’s lenses for ILC cameras, but also broadcast lenses, semiconductor lithography systems, telescope mirrors and a wide variety of optical products.
Aspherical lenses possess a curvature that is ideal for gathering light at a single point. From the F2.8 L IS USM zoom lens series for professional and enthusiast users — the RF15-35mm F2.8 L IS USM (released in September 2019), RF24-70mm F2.8 L IS USM (released in September 2019) and RF70-200mm F2.8 L IS USM (released in November 2019) — to the RF28-70mm F2 L USM (released in December 2018) which features a fast f/2 aperture across the entire zoom range, Canon’s aspherical lenses help reduce various types of aberration and provide high image quality.
The inherent characteristics of spherical lenses result in the lens being unable to focus parallel rays of light in their complete form at a single common point. Due to the lens’ spherical-shaped surface, blurring of images — known as spherical aberration — and other optical aberrations tend to occur in the captured image. Before the advent of aspherical lens, in order to correct spherical aberration, multiple spherical lenses had to be placed in a specific configuration. However, thanks to their unique properties, the same results can be achieved using only a single aspherical lens. In 1963, Canon embarked upon a program of sophisticated lens research and development in order to develop this “dream lens” that could focus all incident light on a single point and create a consistent, clear image.
In order to mass-produce aspherical lenses, Canon needed processing technology that was precise to within less than 0.1 micrometers1, as well as high-precision measuring devices that could measure to within 0.01 micrometers. Through repeated cycles of design and processing methods, the company finally succeeded in creating the technology needed to mass-produce aspherical lenses. In March 1971, Canon’s first interchangeable-lens SLR camera employing an aspherical lens was released—the FD55mm F1.2AL. Then, in 1973, Canon further enhanced the precision of its lens processing technology with the development of the ALG-Z nanometer2 level ultra-high-precision aspherical lens grinder. The next leap forward happened in 1985, when the company successfully implemented the large-diameter glass mold (GMo) aspherical lens element into the new FD35-105mm F3.5-4.5 (released in December 1985), the world’s first interchangeable lens for SLR cameras to include a GMo aspherical lens. Since then, the technologies used to form and measure aspherical lenses have played a vital part in Canon’s efforts to realize high-performance lenses.
Canon’s technological portfolio includes four distinct aspherical lens processing technologies: Aspherical lens grinding and polishing, which employs diamond-tipped tools to grind and polish the lens glass; aspherical glass molding, in which the lens glass is pressed and formed using an aspherical mold; aspherical replica technology that uses an aspherical mold to form aspherical resin on the surface of spherical glass; and aspherical plastic molding, which injects and shapes resin inside an aspherical mold. Based on the properties of the aspherical lens element and its position in the lens’ optical configuration, Canon will utilize the appropriate technology in order to produce lenses that are able to serve the wide-ranging needs of our customers.
Canon develops its lens processing machinery independently in order to achieve the manufacturing of aspherical lenses with a high degree of precision. To illustrate just how accurate Canon’s technology is, only 0.1 micrometers’ discrepancy is allowed between the dimensions of a lens’ design schematic and the finished product. For a lens expanded to the size of the roof of the Tokyo Dome (diameter: approx. 244 m), this would mean a margin of error smaller than 0.5 mm, or the thickness of conventional mechanical pencil lead.
In addition, aspherical lens grinding and polishing technology — the most precise of the four technologies—is used not only in the production of SLR camera lenses, but also in the sciences. For example, the main camera optical correction system of the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s Subaru Telescope features aspherical lenses made by Canon, using the company’s high-precision measurement and processing technologies.
The Effects of Aspherical Lenses
An interchangeable lens comprising of only spherical lens elements, such as large-diameter or wide-angle lenses, results in the presence of spherical aberrations and distortions greatly increasing. Spherical aberration occurs when incident light parallel to the lens’ optical axis, the position of the formed image when light rays are nearer to the lens’ optical axis and images formed when light rays are further from the lens’ optical axis are misaligned, resulting in a blurred image. In addition, distortions occur when the subject and the image formed by the lens fail to form identical images, causing straight lines to become distorted in the resulting image.
Aspherical lenses are the solution to such problems caused by spherical lenses and help produce ideal images. Their curved surfaces, shaped differently than spherical lenses, help reduce a variety of aberrations. For example, in nighttime cityscapes where there might be multiple light sources, aspherical lenses can lessen the effect of “bleeding” effect of the light sources due to spherical aberration.
Into the future, Canon will continue to optimize its optical technologies in order to create products and technologies that help meet our customers’ wide-ranging needs.
About Canon U.S.A., Inc.
Canon U.S.A., Inc., is a leading provider of consumer, business-to-business, and industrial digital imaging solutions to the United States and to Latin America and the Caribbean markets. With approximately $30.4 billion in global revenue, its parent company, Canon Inc. (NYSE:CAJ), ranks third overall in U.S. patents granted in 2020† and is one of Fortune Magazine's World's Most Admired Companies in 2020. Canon U.S.A. is dedicated to its Kyosei philosophy of social and environmental responsibility. To keep apprised of the latest news from Canon U.S.A., sign up for the Company's RSS news feed by visiting www.usa.canon.com/rss and follow us on Twitter @CanonUSA.
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† Based on weekly patent counts issued by United States Patent and Trademark Office.
1 One micrometer (µm) is one millionth of a meter.
2 One nanometer (nm) is one billionth of a meter.