Canon have today announced a new version of their entry level 18-135mm zoom lens. The new EF-S18-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM has the option to attach the new Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1. Specifically designed for video this is a zoom servo that has 10 different levels of zoom speed control. It can be controlled via switches on the lens, or via the Canon Camera Connect app on a tablet or PC.
The zoom unit is actually detachable and has contacts and a motorised gear that mates with dedicated contacts on the 18-135mm lens. This means that sadly it won’t work with other existing zoom lenses, but it does mean that the same adapter could conceivably be used on future Canon stills zooms. I expect the zoom on the new Canon to function much like Sony’s power zoom hybrid consumer lenses like the 18-200 and 18-105 PZ. Power to the servo comes via four regular AAA type batteries.
The EF-S 18-135mm f3.5-5.6 IS USM is also equipped with a new type of drive motor called Nano USM. It answers one of the criticisms of the previous 18-135mm STM lens, namely that it had slow focussing in stills mode. Nano USM offers the smoother autofocus of the STM (stepping motor) technology for video, with the ring USM technology for moving stills subjects.
This is a move from Canon that is clearly aimed at consumers who want to shoot video on their DSLRs. For professional use it is limited in practicality due to the variable aperture of the lens, ramping as it does from f3.5 to f5.6. Although it is unlikely that you would zoom all the way from one end to the other in the same shot, the change in lens aperture might not be so noticeable for small, slow push ins during interviews etc. Perhaps more interesting for multimedia shooters and solo video journalists is the remote control. Combined with Dual-Pixel CMOS AF on the latest Canons you could potentially adjust both zoom and focus remotely while filming an interview. It might also be useful for single shooters trying to do two person interviews with two or three cameras.
The earlier 18-135mm STM is also used by some Canon C100 and 300 owners for run-and-gun. The power zoom feature should also work on this lens, but this is unconfirmed. It seems unlikely that the app-controlled power zooming would work without a firmware and software update from Canon.
At a price of $149.99 for the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1 and $599.99 for the new 18-135mm lens this kit is not really aimed at pros, but it’s interesting to see how this technology is coming into Canon’s stills lenses. Maybe we can hope for power zoomable versions of the popular f2.8 L lenses like the 24-70mm at some point in the future.