Thinking Out Loud: The Significance of NANO USM Technology

by Sean Setters
Back when the Canon EF 24-105mm f/3.5-5.6 IS STM was announced in September 2014, my immediate thought was – “Well, Canon obviously has a full-frame Dual Pixel sensor in the works. We’ll probably see more full-frame compatible STM lenses (in addition to the 40mm STM, that is).”
Then early 2015 rolled around and I was a little baffled when the EOS 5Ds/5Ds R were announced without a Dual Pixel sensor. It would take more than a year for Canon to announce a full-frame camera featuring a Dual Pixel sensor – the [still unavailable] EOS 1D X Mark II.
“Finally,” I thought, “we’ll start seeing more STM lenses designed for full-frame sensors.” As it turns out, I was wrong – what we’ll be getting is even better.
Canon’s new NANO USM combines the best of both worlds – the speed of Ring USM and the quietness/smoothness of STM. That’s a win/win and it’s hard to imagine Canon not implementing this technology in a slew of upcoming lenses.
So how much faster is NANO USM compared to a similar lens with STM? Check out the video below.

As you can see, the NANO USM version of the EF-S 18-135 IS locks focus very quickly (significantly faster than the equivalent STM lens).
But just how quiet is the new technology? While STM lenses were designed to be quiet with smooth focus transitions, the level of quietness varied substantially across the STM lineup (Hey 40mm pancake, I’m looking at you!). However, turn up the volume and listen to how well the EF-S 18-135 IS’s NANO USM performs during focus changes:

Did you hear it? The sound is there, but it’s very low considering the high gain recording. Throw in some ambient sound and the AF will likely be inaudible.
It seems to me that NANO USM (or another variant of it) will begin taking the place of standard Ring USM in the not-so-distant future. And this would be an important move if, for instance, the next iteration of the 5D-series featured a Dual Pixel sensor (a high probability, in my opinion). In a way, the introduction of NANO USM is laying the ground work for a much-more-widely-used-than-the-1D-X-II full-frame camera featuring a Dual Pixel sensor.
Assuming a 5D-iteration with a Dual Pixel sensor is on the horizon, which lenses might ultimately be introduced with a NANO USM upgrade? How about a EF 24-105mm f/4L NANO USM to serve as a kit lens for starters? Or possibly the EF 50mm f/1.4 and EF 85mm f/1.8?
Of course this is all simply conjecture, but it’s fun to imagine where this technological pathway is headed.
Want to know more about Canon’s NANO USM technology? Check out this special feature on the Canon Professional Network.

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