Why that Canon lens costs $5,500

Canon offers an online tour of its lens manufacturing and assembly plant, letting everyone appreciate just why those high-end lenses are so pricey.

Newcomers to the digital SLR camera realm have no shortage of opportunities for sticker shock. Take, for example, Canon's , a 15-inch, 8.5-pound telephoto.

A 500mm Canon lens under production Canon

It costs about $5,500.

That's more than five times what I got when I sold my not-too-shabby car a while back.

But there's a reason that sticker is so high besides Canon's desire to transfer my salary to its coffers. Those suckers are expensive to make. Or at least that's the impression I got from watching an artful online propaganda video from Canon: the Virtual Lens Plant tour.

The lens consists of 17 optical elements, two of them ultra-low-dispersion glass and one of them a fluorite crystal to reduce chromatic aberrations. On the video, you can watch a pile go through any number of stamping, grinding, polishing, testing and hand-assembly steps to become the lens.

When I saw the technology that goes into the lens and its construction--and inferred some of the research money already spent--it did make the price seem not quite so astronomical. Of course, I'm not going to stop wishing I could get one for one-tenth the price.

About the author

Stephen Shankland has been a reporter at CNET since 1998 and covers browsers, Web development, digital photography and new technology. In the past he has been CNET's beat reporter for Google, Yahoo, Linux, open-source software, servers and supercomputers. He has a soft spot in his heart for standards groups and I/O interfaces.

 

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