Canon’s J16ax8B WRSD Standard Broadcast Lens

One unintended consequence of DTV with its 16:9 imaging area is confusion over which lenses can and can’t be used for 16:9 production, and conversely whether the same lenses can be used for shooting in 4:3.

Fast FactsApplications: ENG and EFP

Key features: 16:9/4:3 switchable; digital drive

Price: Starts at $13,500

Contact: Canon Broadcast 201-816-2900 The good news is that the lens you are currently using for 2/3-inch CCDs can also be used for 16:9 shooting and even boosts telephoto power by 20 percent. The bad news is that you’ll lose 20 percent of your 4:3 field of view at the wide end with most switchable cameras. While the 4:3 imaging area in a standard camera has a diameter of 11mm, in a switchable camera it is only 9mm (in 4:3), as the sides are cropped off the 16:9 image to achieve the 4:3 aspect ratio.


Not surprisingly, lens manufacturers have solved these problems in the new generation of DTV-ready lenses. Canon now has internal and external solutions for aspect ratio switching for all its new professional lenses, while also offering enhanced lens quality, performance and ergonomics. One such lens is the Canon J16ax8B WRSD.

For starters, virtually all new Canon professional lenses utilize internal focusing, which eliminates rotation of the elements. This helps reduce friction and improves the lens’ robustness. It also simplifies using a matte box or attachments like the cross, half ND and polarizing filters that change value as they rotate.

The newest development in Canon pro video lenses is digital drive. In general, digital drive makes it easy to customize basic lens operations like zooming, focus and framing according to user preferences. Principal digital drive features include shuttle shot, frame preset, zoom speed pre-set, and the ability to reassign or interchange the function of any control on the lens with that of any other. A great feature of the Canon lenses is that these custom settings are retained in the lens’ memory until reset.

Canon’s new standard broadcast ENG lens is the 16x8 with digital drive. Besides offering internal focusing, excellent optics and toughness, it weighs barely 3 pounds, including a 2x extender.

Although digital drive clearly brings important new features to the current generation of Canon broadcast lenses, the 16x8 retains some useful analog features as well. One notable one is the momentary manual iris override switch. This topmounted button makes it easy to compare current manual and auto exposure levels, and make desired adjustments before returning to the manual iris mode.

Another recent analog holdover is the zoom "volume control." The knob, placed next to the manual/servo switch on the underside of the lens, lets you limit the maximum zoom speed.

A complementary feature of digital drive lenses is the ability to repeat a pre-selected zoom speed precisely and repeatedly. This is done much like setting the cruise control in an automobile – get it up to the desired speed, then hit the memory switch. Minimum zoom speed on the 16x8 is a fast 0.7 second, but it can take more than a minute to zoom the entire range, depending on the maximum zoom speed set with the control knob. This feature is especially helpful for executing long zooms where maintaining constant speed throughout the zoom is a challenge for the camera operator.


Though lighter in weight than the 15x8 lens that it replaces, Canon’s 16x8, 2/3-inch lens is no optical lightweight with internal focusing, superb optics and improved ergonomics.

This lens features "shuttle shot," which let me shuttle quickly between two shots by pressing the switch. I found it particularly handy for checking focus while shooting. At the touch of the switch it zooms in for a quick focus check and adjustment, then pulls back to the previous position when released. This made it extremely convenient to check and adjust focus without having to reframe a shot afterward. The result was more usable shots and better quality overall, especially when shooting rapid-fire news or restless wildlife.

A variation on the shuttle shot concept, frame preset, takes you from any starting point to a preset focal length and stays there when you release the trigger, rather than returning to the previous position. I used it to quickly grab establishing shots after becoming preoccupied with medium and close shots of animal and human behavior.

The frame-preset trigger is a bit small and tough to pinpoint and operate, especially when wearing winter gloves, as was the case when shooting outdoors in a snowy upstate New York landscape. Feeling my way to the tiny recessed trigger after my fingers numbed up in the cold proved challenging, whereas this was not the case with shuttle shot. No doubt frame preset could prove quite handy when not under the influence of biting cold.

One feature of digital drive that could solve the problem of trigger placement is the ability to reassign the function of any trigger to that of any other switch on the lens. However, this entails adjusting tiny DIPswitches with a fine-tipped screwdriver, a well-lit bench and some experimentation. But it could prove invaluable to shooters like myself, who seldom have the luxury of seeing where we’re putting our fingers while shooting.

Lest I be accused of dwelling only the bells and whistles peculiar to digital drive lenses, at the expense of optics, let me be clear: the glass of the broadcast 16x8 lens is impressive.

I tested the Canon 16x8 lens with Sony’s DXC-D35 camera head and the Sony DSR-135 camcorder. The lens produced crisp images with rich natural colors and surprising detail, whether it was thick winter coats of white-tailed deer, the fluffed feathers of tiny chickadees and sparrows, or the taut faces of people battling wind, cold and snow.

In general, the footage was as fine as any I’d viewed before, including footage shot with pricier cameras and 4:2:2 tape formats – but without the benefit of Canon’s latest broadcast lenses. Although I looked in earnest, examples of chromatic aberration and visual distortion were hard to come by, despite shooting with harsh side and back lighting, in low light and other adverse conditions. To my delight, virtually all the footage shot with the digital drive 16x8 lens came out looking crisp, rich and error-free, despite the often-challenging conditions.

Canon’s internal converter worked as advertised since I saw no distortion, even at the far edges, when shooting with the DXC-D35 switchable camera in the 4:3 aspect ratio. Furthermore, with this ƒ2.0 lens and the ultrasensitive D35 CCDs, I was able to get broadcastable footage of animals and snowy landscapes after sunset, even with overcast skies.

I even shot in the twilight without the benefit of digital drive or other electronic features one cold evening. After a 2-hour hike through the woods with the temperature below 15º F, most electronic features shut down, though imaging and manual functions were unimpaired. This was surprising, as I had subjected the lens to colder, more blustery conditions (although for not as long) without incident. Luckily, the 16x8’s optics and basic imaging were not affected and I got the shots by operating the lens manually – with barely a foot-candle of light! After a night indoors, the lens was fully operational, still making exceptional images.


I can hardly blame the Canon J16ax8B WRSD for balking at the bitter cold in the woods near Buffalo, N.Y., this exceptionally harsh winter. Most of my friends and neighbors had the good sense to head to Florida for a few weeks, while I went out looking for bad weather. All the lens’ electronic functions returned to normal after a night’s rest indoors.

That was good news because I was getting used to the checking focus with shuttle shot and maintaining framing with frame preset – even with gloves on. Optically, the Canon J16ax8B delivers clean, error-free images (even in very low light and freezing temperatures!) and is particularly well-matched with an ultrasensitive camera such as the Sony DSC-D35.