Could Canon release a smaller, lighter 600mm f/4 monster? Recent patents suggest they’re mulling the idea.

by Felix Esser

posted Tuesday, March 4, 2014 at 5:16 PM EST

While your typical street photographer may be perfectly happy with a couple primes, avid fans of sports and wildlife photography need to go big. Very big. Enter the world of super telephoto lenses.

Canon users enjoy quite a selection of super telephoto primes and zooms, which, for wildlife photographers, are invaluable tools to capture often-skittish animals from afar. One of the more drool-worthy lenses is the hefty Canon 600mm f/4L IS II. Weighing in at over 8.6 lbs., this 'big white' lens is not only hefty on the scale, but hefty on the wallet at a list price of US$12,999.

Canon Rumors has now uncovered a couple new Canon patents from Egami detailing two updated 600mm lenses. The first -- and least interesting -- is a more traditional 600mm optic. We don't see the lens likely to be released anytime soon, as the current Mark II version was released only back in 2011. For context, the original 600 f/4L IS made its debut over a decade before that, in 1999. 

Canon 600mm f/4 lens design patent #1

The more intriguing of the two patents is the second one, which lists the use of a 'diffractive optical element.' Currently, these lenses are a rare breed as there are only two DO lenses in Canon's expansive EF lens lineup: the 70–300mm f/4.5–5.6 DO IS and 400mm f/4 DO IS. These 'green-ringed' lenses use specially-designed elements with diffractive coatings that allow Canon to significantly shrink their size and weight, albeit at a small cost to image quality. From what we can gather, this new patent indicates DO optics are being employed in conjunction with the fluorite glass already present in the current version of the lens. We suspect the inclusion of this pricy glass is being considered in order to minimize the chromatic aberration and flare that can dog DO lenses.

Canon DO lenses: EF 400mm f/4 DO IS (left) & 70-300mm f/4.5-5.6 DO IS (right) - Note: NOT to scale.
Canon 600mm f/4 lens design patent #2

Given the massive size of 600mm glass and the many hours a wildlife photographer can spend trekking to that perfect spot, a much smaller and lighter diffractive optics version of Canon's 600mm super telephoto offerings would be a welcome option. Of course, these are just patents, and there's no definitive word on when -- or if -- these lenses will see the light of day, but we sure would love to get our greedy hands on them!

(via CanonRumors. Additional reporting from William Brawley.)