Hands-on at Canon’s new “Experience Center” in Southern California

by Dave Etchells

posted Monday, November 10, 2014 at 10:28 PM EST


Have you ever wondered what the view was like through a $14,000 800mm f/5.6 super-telephoto? How about a $45,000 30-300mm Cinema lens? If you're anywhere near Costa Mesa, CA, now's your chance to find out!

We recently toured Canon's new "Experience Center" in Southern California, and came away drooling over the gear on display, and impressed (again) with Canon's service operation.

Canon U.S.A President and Chief Operating Officer Mr. Yuichi Ishizuka cuts the ribbon, officially opening the new Canon Experience Center in Costa Mesa, CA.

As a gear geek, the "lens tree" is what first caught my eye; a display case containing every lens Canon currently manufactures, including their full line of Cine lenses. These are all available for trying-out in-house, paired with whatever body you'd like to use them with. They can't be taken off-premises, but if you want to get a sense for the build quality and handling of a Canon lens, or check out how good its IS is, this is the place for it.

This "Lens Tree" holds every lens Canon currently makes, from a fisheye wide angle to 800mm telephoto, and the full range of Canon's Cinema lenses as well. These are all available for trying-out, paired with whatever body you'd like to use them with.
Canon's Leigh Nofi lends a hand (and bicep) to show off the 600mm f/4 super-tele, mounted on a spanking-new EOS 7D Mark II body. Leigh's saying "hurry up and take the picture, Dave!" but we both found it to be lighter than we were expecting. (I sure wouldn't want to try hand-holding it for a day's shooting, though!)
Watch the birdie! For those wanting to check out some of Canon's really long lenses, they set up a test subject diagonally across the main show room, a distance I'd guesstimate at 40-50 feet. The shot above on the left was taken at 18mm, the one in the middle 135mm, and the one on the right captured with Canon's massive 600mm f/4. These shots were taken on a 7D Mark II, so the effective focal length here is about 960mm. The 600mm's image stabilization was pretty good; I captured this at 1/80 second, a long ways down from the old one-over-the-focal-length guideline of 1/960 second as a minimum. (Click image for a larger size.)
A two-sided diorama provides subjects to shoot with the array of cameras present. The counters on this side of the display hold various consumer- through prosumer-level cameras; the other side has pro SLRs and EOS Cinema cameras on offer.

While the gear geek in me lusted after the incredible hardware on display and available for hands-on fiddling, the service operation here is arguably more important to current Canon owners. Canon's always been proud of their strong customer-service orientation, with all phone support and repair for the U.S. market being handled within U.S. borders. (You can read about my earlier tour of their main service and support facility in Newport News, VA, for a look inside that facility.) When you call Canon's service and support number in the US, the person on the other end of the line will be a fellow American. It turns out they'll often end up being a photographer themselves: Canon execs noted that a lot of photographers enjoy the steady income and benefits that come with their customer-service jobs, as a nice base while they're building their photography careers. And of course, who better to help other photographers than people who are photographers themselves?

This is a shot of the lens-testing darkroom at Canon Virginia. The setup in Costa Mesa was pretty much identical, just with one "lane" instead of 3 or 4.

We unfortunately weren't allowed to take any photos inside the facility, but it was pretty impressive. I'd been expecting it to be some sort of a "service lite" setup, but the only difference between this location and the main facility in Newport News, VA was scale: The technicians in Costa Mesa are capable of adjusting and repairing any of Canon's photo products entirely in-house.

The Experience Center also offers walk-up/drop-off service. We don't have any stats on industry-average service turnaround, but Canon's numbers seemed pretty impressive.

The Costa Mesa facility currently handles 70-100 repairs per day, with 17 technicians, slated to expand to a staff of 36 techs plus 6 supervisors. Canon makes a big point of their turnaround for repairs, and justifiably so. In-house turnaround for repairs averages about two days, while the the average time from receiving an item for repair and shipping it back out again is 4.5 days. (The extra 2.5 days accounts for the average time required to contact customers with estimates and receive authorization back.)

Throwback Wednesday (the day we were there): Once upon a time, more than 40 years ago, Eliott Peck pretty much was the service department for Canon Inc. These days, he's the Senior Vice President of Canon's Imaging Technologies and Communications Group. Canon's come a long ways since those early days: So far this year, just this one service branch has performed about 19,000 repairs. (16% under warrantee, 84% of older products)
Canon goes out of their way to cater to subscribers to the Canon Professional Services program. The Experience Center includes a lounge where pros can wait for their gear to be repaired, or meet with clients.
If you're a photo geek like us and located anywhere in the Southern California area, the new Canon Experience Center is well worth a visit.