Do you have a Canon 400mm 2.8L? What would happen if you put ten of them together, other than remortgaging your house?

The reason I first wanted a Hassleblad was because I knew that’s what NASA had deemed to be the cameras they were sending with their best and brightest into space. The reason I wanted to be American was first and foremost to be able to fly pointy-nosed tactical fighters and land them on a boat with the US Navy, and maybe have a shot of going to space. Part of the reason I still shoot Nikon is because the ISS is littered not with grey L lenses, but black Nikkor ones. But some of those grey L lenses are being put to use to search parts of the solar system and universe that are literally light years further from where the ISS sits and sees, and it’s making me want one…or ten.


It’s called the Dragonfly Telephoto Array and it’s a robotic imaging system at the University Of Toronto that’s meant and optimized to detect extended ultra-low surface brightness structures. Basically, it’s among the smallest professional astronomical telescopes in existence and it’s used to detect distant galaxies. It looks to the outer edges of the universe to find galaxies that may not even exist anymore – so it’s looking to the future to discover the past.

When you hear about something like this, you may imagine something from the Starship Enterprise, but, in fact, it’s more like something you’d see in a display case at B&H. Currently, the Dragonfly is made up of 10, commercially available Canon 400mm F/2.8L IS IIs.


Each one of those lenses will crater your bank account to the tune of $10k, so this set up is $100,000 worth in Canon L lenses.

However, it only began with 3 in 2013, and has steadily grown since then, likely due to its success, and even at 100k, that’s relatively inexpensive. In addition, it’s claimed that this multi-lens array does things much larger, much more expensive scopes can’t, largely due to the lens coatings,

Dragonfly is designed to reveal the faint structure by greatly reducing scattered light and internal reflections within its optics. It achieves this using ten, commercially available Canon 400mm lenses with unprecedented nano-fabricated coatings with sub-wavelength structure on optical glasses.Also, Dragonfly images a galaxy through multiple lenses simultaneously—akin to a dragonfly’s compound eye—enabling further removal of unwanted light. The result is an image in which extremely faint galaxy structure is visible.


[REWIND: Challenges & Rewards of Astronaut Photography With Don Pettit & NASA]

All this together makes Dragonfly at least 10x as efficient than its closest rival. Well done, Canon. Well done.

Sources: University Of Toronto, Images courtesy of U of T and Yale Universtiy, DIY Photography