Power Zoom vs manual zoom

Canon Cine Servo lenses and power zoom adapters give filmmakers the capability to create super-smooth zoom transitions. But what are the pros and cons of a power zoom compared to a manual zoom?

Motorised zooms are a familiar feature on Canon camcorders and compact digital cameras such as those in the Canon XF, XA, LEGRIA and PowerShot ranges. They provide smooth and consistent zoom control and are perfect for longer shoots, where frequent zooming through a wide range of focal lengths is required.

Interchangeable power zoom lenses are less common. Photographers who don't shoot video may be unwilling to trade the precision of a manual zoom for the convenience of a power zoom lens. For filmmakers, however – particularly those working in fast-moving environments, such as documentary, news and sport – a power zoom lens can be a distinct advantage.

But there is another option. Power zoom adapters such as the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 bring motorised zoom control to compatible manual zoom lenses. These accessories offer the best of both worlds for today's hybrid content creators working across video and stills.

So what exactly are the benefits of a power zoom versus a manual zoom – and which shooting situations suit each type of zoom control?

A user holds a Canon camera with a Canon RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z lens fitted with a Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2.

Power Zoom adapters such as the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 enhance video capture by allowing for smoother zooming actions and offering an adjustable zoom speed that can also be controlled remotely.

What is a power zoom lens?

A power zoom is a servo- or motor-assisted zoom that delivers a smooth and stable zooming speed. Unlike a manual zoom, where you physically rotate a ring on the lens barrel or push and pull a section of the lens to mechanically increase or decrease the focal length, a power zoom is activated electronically at the touch of a button – or a zoom rocker. Controls on the camera or on a servo unit attached to a lens provide fingertip control of the zoom, allowing the operator to effortlessly shift between wide and telephoto angle of view.

Power zooms are particularly beneficial for videography. The smooth zoom changes that can be achieved while recording reduce the risk of shaky footage. Zooms can be started and stopped smoothly, with the consistent zoom speed leading to less jarring, more professional results.

A significant advantage of a power zoom compared to a mechanical zoom is that the power zooms can be operated remotely using hardware or software controllers. This makes them the ideal choice for filmmakers working in situations that require quick, simple adjustments – such as live events and documentaries, where there might be limited access to the camera and a need to reframe shots at speed.

Some power zooms allow for pre-set zoom speeds and programmable zoom sequences, adding to their versatility. The Canon CR-N500 and CR-N700 pan, tilt and zoom (PTZ) cameras, for example, allow preset zoom settings to be registered ahead of a shoot and then recalled on the fly. These PTZ cameras are also compatible with Auto Loop Application RA-A001, which enables repeated pan, tilt and zoom movements to be programmed and executed without the intervention of a camera operator.

A user about to attach a Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 to a Canon RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z lens.

The compact and lightweight Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 attaches to the Canon RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z lens via thumbscrews, where it connects to the power zoom adapter contacts on the barrel of the lens.

A user about to attach the cable from a Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2B to the 20-pin socket on a Canon RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z lens.

The only difference between the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 and the PZ-E2B variant is that the latter has a 20-pin connector. This enables the use of optional zoom/focus demand or servo grip accessories which make the lens handle like a broadcast lens.

Power zoom adapters

External power zoom units such as the Canon Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 offer filmmakers even more flexibility. The Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 complements the hybrid Canon RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z lens, enabling creative professionals who regularly capture both photos and videos with this lens to easily switch from manual zoom when shooting stills to power zoom for video recording.

The Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 is designed with the needs of video production in mind, bringing ENG-style control and operation to an L-series manual zoom lens. For added convenience, it draws its power from the camera and is equipped with a variable speed dial that enables the zooming speed to be optimised for a shot.

The Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2B variant features a 20-pin connector, which enables compatible remote zoom/focus demand broadcast accessories – such as the Digital Servo Zoom Demand ZSD-300D and Digital Focus Servo Demand FPD-400D or the Canon Zoom Servo Grip ZSG-C10 – to be attached via a camera rig and cable. Originally designed for the Canon Compact Cine Servo lenses, the ZSG-C10 provides a comfortable and ergonomic way of controlling the zoom via a large rocker switch, as well as a start/stop record button and a one-shot autofocus button.

Both the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 and PZ-E2B have a USB-C port that enables an external power supply to be connected for extended shooting times. This can also be used to unlock High Speed mode on supported cameras with lower power batteries, which increases the maximum zoom speed.

A view from underneath of tripod holding a Canon camera with a Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2B attached to the Canon RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z lens.

Not only do the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 and PZ-E2B add servo zoom control to the RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z, they also enable the focal length to be changed remotely, using apps such as Canon Camera Connect, Canon EOS Utility and Canon Multi-Camera Control, as well as hardware controllers such as the Canon RC-IP100 and RC-IP1000.

A filming rig on a tripod including a Canon camera with a Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2B attached to the Canon RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z lens.

Maximising flexibility

Having the option to switch from manual zoom to power zoom enables the RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z to be adapted to different shooting styles. Without the power zoom in place, videographers can achieve the smallest and lightest configuration for mobile shooting. This may be the preferred option for photographers too, as shooting stills does not require servo zoom function.

With the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 or PZ-E2B attached, the RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z becomes a lightweight power zoom lens that covers the most commonly used focal lengths for video. The servo zoom control, combined with the bright maximum aperture and fast focusing, make it an agile option for handheld run-and-gun video. The Power Zoom Adapter's lens metadata output capability also allows for further integration with virtual production workflows.

Additionally, the zoom function can be assigned to the camera controls when the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 is used with the Canon EOS C70, EOS R5 C and EOS R5.

A Canon video camera with a Canon CN10X25 IAS S Cine Servo lens attached.

The Canon Cine Servo range of lenses offer cinema-style 4K image quality with the option of broadcast-style shoulder-mounted shooting, thanks to their servo drive units.

A Canon video camera with a Canon CN8X15 IAS S E1/P1 Cine Servo lens attached, on a filming rig.

These servo drive units can be easily removed, allowing the lenses to be operated like classic cine zooms, and just as easily re-installed.

The Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 and PZ-E2B also unlock the opportunity to operate the RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z remotely, in a single-camera or a multi-cam setup.

When used for a single-camera remote operation, the zoom and focus, along with other camera settings, can be adjusted over a Wi-Fi connection via the Browser Remote function of compatible cameras, or the Canon EOS Utility computer software, or the Canon Camera Connect and Multi-Camera Control mobile apps.

The Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 and PZ-E2B can also be controlled as part of a professional multi-cam IP studio setup via a professional hardware controller, such as the Canon RC-IP100 or RC-IP1000. To enable this function, the power zoom lens needs to be attached to a compatible camera that supports Canon's XC protocol, such as the Canon EOS C70.

A user operating a Canon RC-IP100 hardware controller on a desk in front of a monitor showing the feed from multiple cameras.

A Canon hardware controller such as the RC-IP100 can be used to remotely operate a compatible camera and power zoom via Canon's XC protocol. This includes cameras in the Canon PTZ range, the Canon XF605 professional camcorder and the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 when used in conjunction with cameras such as the Canon EOS C70.

Power zoom vs manual zoom

One of the benefits of using a Canon power zoom adapter rather than a power zoom lens that has the function built-in is that it is easy to revert the lens to completely manual zoom when required.

A manual zoom provides the fine, tactile control that is often needed for quick and quiet framing when shooting stills. This is a particularly important consideration for wildlife, wedding and candid street photography, for example.

When precise and intricate adjustments to the zoom setting are required, going manual can be a better option. In macro and architectural photography, for example, small changes in focal length can alter the composition in significant ways. The subtle shifts in framing that may be required are easy to achieve with a fingertip nudge of the zoom ring.

If you are a solo video shooter who rarely zooms when filming, then you may well prefer to use a manual zoom lens to save on weight and the additional power requirements of a power zoom.

An in-shot zoom shouldn't be discounted, though. In a cinematic production, zooms can be used as a storytelling device. Whether you want to use a slow push into a character in a scene or a harder crash zoom, the smoothness of a power zoom is going to make that movement appear more controlled than can be achieved using a manual zoom. If the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 is mounted on the RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z and used on a jib, then it is possible for the camera operator to adjust the power zoom remotely, whether for an in-shot zoom or simply to reframe the scene between takes.

A Canon EOS C200 with a Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S Compact Cine Servo lens attached.

Some lenses, including the Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S (shown here on an EOS C200 camera) and CN-E70-200mm T4.4 L IS Compact Cine Servo lenses, have a built-in servo control. Their relatively compact size and light weight means they are well-suited to handheld or shoulder-mounted shooting.

Canon power zoom lenses

The Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 and PZ-E2B are not the first Canon Power Zoom adapters available. Canon Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E1 was introduced alongside the EF-S 18-135mm f/3.5-5.6 IS USM lens in 2016. This accessory attaches to the bottom of the lens and provides 10 different levels of motorised zoom speed. Like the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2, it also enables the zoom to be controlled over Wi-Fi via the Canon Camera Connect app.

These compact and portable Power Zoom adapters bring servo-zoom functionality to compatible lenses that were originally manual, broadening the potential applications and offering a level of professional control ideal for news and documentary filmmaking.

So why not simply choose a lens which is equipped with internal power zoom technology? After all, a lens that comes with servo zoom functionality built in, rather than supplied via an adapter, may work out as a more streamlined and affordable package.

A videographer using a Canon camera with external monitor, RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z lens and Canon Zoom Grip ZSG-C10 attached.

The Canon Zoom Servo Grip ZSG-C10 (the accessory alongside the camera operator's right hand here) provides comfortable control of zoom servo in the Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2B and Canon RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z lens. Because it is electronically coupled to the power zoom via a 20-pin cable rather than driving the zoom mechanically, it can be mounted either to the side of the lens for broadcast-style shooting, or operated handheld when the camera is mounted to a video tripod.

Indeed, if you mainly shoot video, then a Canon Compact Cine Servo lens such as the Canon CN-E18-80mm T4.4 L IS KAS S (coupled with a compatible dedicated Cinema EOS video camera) makes a lot of sense. Offering a 4.4x optical zoom, both servo zoom and servo focus control, and a drone-friendly weight of just 1.2kg, this Canon power zoom lens covers commonly used focal lengths in a compact package. It is also compatible with the optional Canon ZSG-C10 detachable servo grip, which can be mounted on the barrel to allow the zoom to be comfortably operated during shoulder-mounted shooting for news or live events, or detached and used handheld.

The potential drawback to all-in-one power zoom lenses is that their maximum apertures are typically smaller than the equivalent manual zoom lenses or those that support an external power zoom. This makes them potentially more challenging to work with in low light or in situations where a very shallow depth of field is required.

For hybrid shooters, however, the combination of the Canon Power Zoom Adapter PZ-E2 and RF 24-105mm F2.8L IS USM Z on a mirrorless camera offers perhaps more practical benefits, enabling the lens to be optimised for shooting video or stills as required, while enjoying the benefits of each type of zoom control.

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