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How a Camera Lens is Made??

Have you ever wondered how a camera lens is made?  Why does it take them so long to get new lenses back in stock?  Well I was curious about this and found some pretty interesting resources that I thought I would share…

This link is to a website/blog that contains videos with detailed description on how the Canon 500mm lens is made.  Though I am a Nikon man myself, I am sure the process is very similar.


Here are the lens manufacturing steps mentioned in the videos at the link above on digitalphotographywriter.com:

  1.  Material blending
  2.  Pre-fusing
  3.  Melted glass allows to cool naturally
  4.  Cut the glass into pieces
  5.  Fusing
  6.  Mixing
  7.  Churning
  8.  Clarification
  9.  Homogenization
  10.  Shape the glass into sheets
  11.  Shaping and pressing process
  12.  Grinning processes
  13.  Heating the glass and form its shape by pressing (by hands or by automatic machines)
  14.  Annealing
  15.  Further polishing
  16.  Rough grinding that produces that curved surface of the lens
  17.  Fine grinding
  18.  Polishing and surface curvuture adjustment
  19.  Optical inspection
  20.  Clean with ultrasonic washing machines
  21.  Alignment
  22.  Coating
  23.  The Lens assembly process itself (done by hand for Canon L lenses)

Below is a link to another website with an overview of how a lens is made…


The comments below are from a dpreview forum in which the person posting was discussing why is takes so long for lenses to come back in stock (several months)…

Post: “Seriously, keep in mind these lenses are built by hand by a select few specialists at Nikons plant in Sendai, and that the manufacturing process for the bigger lens elements take something like the better part of a year. Big chunks of glass like the biggest lens elemenst in these beasts has to be left alone for long periods to see if there are any problems in them before you invest much work (and thus money) in processing them further.

So why do they have so few people building lenses like these?

Mainly because training new such specialists take many, many years. I was at the Jenoptik plant in Southern Germany a few years back. The specialists putting the finishing touches on their most high quality lenses (they make stuff for satellites among many other things) must have something like 25-30 years of experience before they were entrusted with their job. Making a 600/4 is probably not as demanding, but it is still a work that take years and years of training to qualify for. So stepping up the workforce for building stuff like this is not something you do quickly.

Well, one might then wonder why has Nikon been caught off guard with to little manufactureing capacity?

Think about Nikons recent history. As late as mid 2007 Nikon had poor sales of all their big lenses, mainly because something like 85% of the professionals (who buy the bulk of lenses like these) shot Canon back then. I remember at the press event for the Eos 1Ds Mark III (just a couple of days before Nikon presented the D3) Canon presented statistics from the worlds three largest image agencies – close to 90% (88% if I remember correctly) of the images being submitted to them at that time came from Canon cameras. Nikon was down and out in the pro market just three and a half years ago …

It was probably only somewhere in early 2008 it was clear to Nikon what a landslide success the D3 had become. Even if Nikon suddenly started a crash programme to increase their manufacturing capacity for high end gear, well, it still takes years and years to train people to build equipment like this. And they they also at the same time have to find enough skilled and experienced people to build all the D3, D3x and D3s cameras (who are also hand built) and all the other hand built big lenses like 400/2.8, the 500/4, and not least the 200-400/4 who was suddenly in such high demand.

In short: Nikon has in the last few years had a landslide success in the high end market. Inceasing manufacturing capacity for that kind demanding products is not easy to in a hurry (and probably not a good idea either – hurrying and quality rarely makes a happy couple).

But, I wholeheartedly agree that Nikon need to rethink their information strategy … Just keeping quiet when customers get irritated is never a good idea. Particularily customers looking to spend serious amounts of money.”

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