There's no denying that Canon's L-grade lenses are a dominant force in the photography industry. Just scan the sidelines of any major sports event and you'll see Canon's trademark white-toned L-series lenses documenting every play.
For a look back at the history of L-series lenses, Canon Europe has a special site which documents several L-series acheivements in design and manufacturing, many of them world's firsts.
Here are a few of the lenses and achievements highlighted on the site.
1982: FD 14mm f/2.8L – Ultra wide-angle generated by original design tool
Ultra wide-angle lenses require complex designs and sophisticated manufacturing techniques. The FD 14mm f/2.8L was developed using an in-house design tool with an aspheric lens element to eliminate distortion, and produce the widest rectilinear prime lens in the FD range.
1989: EF 50mm f/1.0L USM – Standard lens boasting the world's largest aperture
Fast prime lenses are not a modern invention! In 1989, this lens offered the world's widest aperture for a 35mm single lens reflex camera. It was achieved using a sophisticated optical design that included two ground aspherical lenses and four high-refractive index glass lenses to produce high contrast and low lens flare even wide open at f/1.0. A floating lens construction was used to ensure image quality even at short focus distances, and the USM (UltraSonic Motor) autofocus motor offered high-speed, silent autofocus with full-time manual override.
1993: EF 35-350mm f/3.5-5.6L USM – World's first 10x zoom
This was the first 10x zoom lens for an interchangeable lens SLR and proved a powerful and versatile lens for sports photography, where speed and manoeuvrability are paramount. Designed with a six-group configuration, this lens used the fifth group for zooming, and achieved both a high zoom ratio and a compact design. Two UD (Ultra-low Dispersion) lenses provided good correction of chromatic aberration, high resolution and high contrast, and it came with an easily adjusted tripod foot.
1997: EF 300mm f/4L IS USM – First L lens with image stabiliser
Handheld telephoto photography is always a risky business for sports and wildlife photographers because of the potential for camera shake, but when Canon introduced its IS (Image Stabilisation) system for the first time on a professional lens, it offered effective shake compensation of two stops. This made handheld photography possible in situations where a tripod might otherwise have been needed, and offered photographers much more mobility. The IS unit offered two modes: Mode 1 for stationary subjects and Mode 2 for panning/tracking shots. Chromatic aberration was suppressed with two UD lenses and the lens was developed for high resolution and contrast
2009: EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM – World's first Hybrid IS
Macro photography poses special problems for image stabilisation systems because it introduces a second type of potential camera movement parallel to the camera position. The solution was the EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS, and the first use of a new Hybrid IS system, designed to compensate for this ‘shift’ blur. In addition to a regular angular shake sensor, this lens introduced an additional acceleration sensor for movement parallel to the image plane. Data generated by the two sensors was used to drive the optical correction unit using specially-developed algorithms, and brought improved shake correction for macro photography.
2013: EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4x – First super-telephoto lens with a built-in extender
Teleconverters, – often known as 'extenders' – are widely used by sports and wildlife photographers to extend the reach of telephoto lenses. The gain in focal length is offset by a loss in maximum aperture, so they work best with a lens that has a wide maximum aperture to start with. The EF 200-400mm f/4L is the first super-telephoto to take this to its logical extreme and have a 1.4x converter built in. This extends its focal range to 280-560mm with a maximum aperture of f/5.6. Not only that, it can also be used with a regular EF 1.4x III extender to produce a further reach advantage up to 780mm, with an aperture of f/8 – still within the autofocus limits of cameras like the EOS-1D X II.
2015: EF 11-24mm f/4L USM – World's widest angle ultra-wide zoom
One of Canon's most spectacular ultra wide-angle lenses, the EF 11-24mm f/4L USM boasts the widest angle of view of any rectilinear (non-fisheye) lens, including primes. It makes use of some of Canon's key imaging and manufacturing technologies – including a ground aspherical lens, UD and super-UD lenses for chromatic aberration suppression, and both SWC and ASC anti-reflection lens coatings.
Check out The History of Canon's L-series Lenses at Canon Europe for more information, or find out more about Canon's current lineup here.