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​Yes, Canon's high-end lens price cuts are permanent

Pros and enthusiasts in the US can rejoice that many of Canon's SLR lenses are a notch less pricey now. Better exchange rates might deserve some of the credit.

Canon's EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM dropped in price by a full third, down $500 to $1,000.
Canon's EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM dropped in price by a full third, down $500 to $1,000 Canon USA

In case there's any confusion: Canon did indeed just permanently lop anywhere between $40 and $1,000 off the price of its high-end L series of SLR lenses.

The Japanese camera maker offers discounts every year on many of its products, but this week announced lower prices for a broader range of lenses. And the cuts aren't a limited-term incentive, spokeswoman Leigh Nofi confirmed. "The new prices are in honor of Canon's 100 Million EF lenses produced worldwide milestone," she said.

Two notable cuts for popular models were the $200 drop for the EF 24-70mm f/2.8 L II USM that's now $2,100 and the EF 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II USM that's now $2300.

Given that L glass costs hundreds or thousands of dollars, it's hard to imagine the price cuts making the products anything like mainstream. But for the significant market willing to spend big bucks for the best possible photos, not to mention film producers pleased with SLRs' new video abilities, the lower prices are definitely appealing.

The price cut wasn't across the board. For example, Canon didn't budge with the terrific and terrifically expensive $11,800 EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Extender 1.4X and the $1,200 ultrawide EF 16-35mm f/4L IS USM (stay tuned for CNET's review soon). Interestingly, though, another new lens, the EF 24-70mm f/4L IS USM, dropped a whopping $500 to $1,000, suggesting Canon realized it had bungled the initial pricing. This lens has image stabilization but with an f4 maximum aperture is slower than the pricier f2.8 model.

SLRs, perhaps the most traditional part of the camera market, have changed dramatically in the digital age as electronics brought superior low-light sensitivity, video modes, fast autofocus and virtually unlimited shooting. SLRs' high image quality have protected them better than compact cameras against the onslaught of mobile-phone photography. SLRs remain popular among photo enthusiasts, and many have shown themselves willing to spend lavishly on lenses.

Canon has an incentive to keep customers loyal: once a person invests in a camera and a lens or three, there's a strong incentive not to move to a different manufacturer whose lenses and cameras are incompatible.

Thank exchange rates for the change?

Canon didn't comment on the reasons for the price cuts -- it's difficult to imagine merely shipping 100 million lenses really changes their financial models -- but exchange rates could be involved. In 2007, one US dollar was worth well over 100 Japanese yen, but that slipped down to 75 by 2011. That means a lens sold in the US market would earn Canon about 25 percent less of the revenue it would in its home currency. It's no wonder newer lenses like the second-generation 24-70mm f/2.8L and 70-200mm f/2.8L IS arrived with price tags hundreds of dollars over their first-generation predecessors.

Since 2011, though, exchange rates have improved, climbing back into the 100-yen-per-dollar range. Perhaps Canon could afford to be more competitive -- though the market for lenses costing hundreds or thousands of dollars is limited.

Biggest cuts: superteles

The biggest cuts came for the supertelephoto models that make even well-funded photo enthusiasts blanch. The EF 300mm f/2.8L IS ll USM is down $700 to a mere $6,600. Canon pared $1,000 off its EF 400mm f/2.8L IS ll USM, now $10,500; the EF 500mm f/4L IS ll USM, now $9,500; the EF 600mm f/4L IS ll USM, now $12,000; and the EF 800mm f/5.6L IS USM, now $13,500. If you want to limp your way to a long lens with telephoto extenders, the third-generation 1.4x and 2.0x models are $50 cheaper at $450.

The other cuts are as follows:

  • EF 50mm f/1.2L USM, down $70 to $1,550.
  • EF 85mm f/1.2L ll USM, down $100 to $2,100.
  • EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM, down $100 to $950.
  • EF 180mm f/3.5L Macro USM, down $80 to $1,500.
  • TS-E 17mm f/4L, down $250 to $2,250.
  • TS-E 24mm f/3.5L ll, down $200 to $2,000.
  • EF 28-300mm f/3.5-5.6L IS USM, down $140 to $2,550.
  • EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM, down $50 to $1,300.
  • EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, down $150 to $1,550.
  • EF 135mm f/2L USM down $40 to $1,050.
  • EF 200mm f/2.8L ll USM, down $40 to $780

Canon also cut prices on two newer non-L-series telephoto zoom lenses by $50. The relatively new EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS STM is now $300, and the EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS ll is now $250.

Canon chose not to change prices for several L-series models, including the elderly $1,700 EF 100-400mm f/4-5.6L IS USM, $$1,500 EF 300mm f/4L IS USM, and EF 17-40mm f/4L USM. It also didn't budge on the newer $1,700 EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, $1,350 EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM, and $1,150 EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM.

Canon's lens families

Canon sells a variety of EF lenses. The original EF series debuted more than 25 years ago with the EOS line of single-lens reflex cameras that helped carry Canon past Nikon back in the film era, and the EF models work on either film SLRs or high-end digital SLRs whose image sensors are the size of a full frame of film. Some EF lenses, sporting a red ring around the rim, are members of the L family designed with higher image quality, durability and, these days, weatherproofing against water and dust.

The EF-S lenses emerged in the last decade along with Canon's lower-end digital SLRs that employ smaller, cheaper APS-C-sized sensors; those cameras can use EF lenses, but full-frame cameras can't use EF-S lenses.

The newest variety, EF-M, emerged in 2012 for use with Canon's "mirrorless" digital cameras, which forsake the reflex mirror used to direct light through the viewfinder in traditional SLR designs. Mirrorless models instead use the image sensor, with people composing shots on the camera screen or sometimes an electronic viewfinder.

EF and EF-S lenses can be used on EF-M cameras with a $130 adapter.