The home of the L-series: Inside Canon's Utsunomiya lens factory
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The home of the L-series: Inside Canon's Utsunomiya lens factory

It passed! We get the impression that very few lenses don't. From start to finish, it takes roughly 24 (non-continuous) hours to manufacture each 16-35mm.


Editors' note:

It's impossible to come away from Canon's Utsunomiya plant without an appreciation for the vast amount of expertise employed by Canon in the manufacturing of its high-end lenses. One striking aspect of the assembly process of broadcast lenses is how many steps are deemed so critical that they must be accomplished by hand. In the broadcast lenses assembly line we were told repeatedly that 'this process is too complex to be performed by a machine'.

One of the reasons that Canon's broadcast lenses are so costly is that as we saw, each element is hand-polished - often by someone with a minimum of 30 years' experience. Internally, assembling one of Canon's high-end broadcast lenses is considered among the most difficult jobs in its entire production line.

Manufacturing high-volume EF lenses in this way would be impractical (the wait-times for new models would likely stretch into decades...) but even so, when it comes to fast telephoto primes, much of the process is still performed by hand.

'anyone that fetishizes the words 'made by hand' should try shooting with the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III sometime.'

Perhaps most impressive though is the automation. Canon has clearly invested a lot of time and energy (not to mention money) in automated lens polishing and assembly. We've been lucky enough to visit several factories, run by several manufacturers, and Canon's Utsunomiya plant is definitely the most advanced that we've seen. Automation of critical lens polishing and assembly processes makes perfect sense for mass-produced products, and anyone that still blindly fetishizes the words 'made by hand' should try shooting with the EF 16-35mm F2.8L III sometime.

Canon's self-calibrating lens polishing machines (designed and manufactured in-house) are capable of incredible precision, and the data gathered by automated testing and eventual servicing can be used in any number of different ways, to improve quality control over time.

After watching the entire assembly process from lens element polishing to final QC checks, we're most excited by the possibilities which emerge from Canon's inclusion of a chip inside each recent lens, which saves data about its own specific optical characteristics.

'This could allow for... a bespoke 'lens profile' to be applied automatically'

As well as data-gathering and long-term quality control improvement, this also opens up the possibility that at some point a lens's specific optical characteristics might be made available to the camera to which it is attached. This could allow for automatic AF fine-tuning, or potentially even for a bespoke 'lens profile' to be applied automatically to correct for optical characteristics unique to that one lens. This isn't possible right now, but we're told that Canon is working on making it a reality.

What did you make of this tour through Canon's Utsunomiya factory? Let us know in the comments. 

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