May 6, 2023

Introduction to USM in Camera Lenses

As a photography enthusiast, you may have come across the term USM while browsing through camera lenses. In this article, we will explore what USM means, how it impacts the performance of a camera lens, and why it is an essential feature for photographers.

Breaking Down the Acronym: USM

USM stands for "Ultrasonic Motor." It refers to the autofocus (AF) motor system used in some camera lenses, specifically those manufactured by Canon. This technology uses ultrasonic vibrations to drive the focus mechanism in the lens, resulting in fast, quiet, and accurate autofocus performance.

How USM Technology Works

The ultrasonic motor consists of a stator, a rotor, and a set of piezoelectric ceramic elements. These elements convert electrical energy into ultrasonic vibrations, which cause the rotor to move in a circular motion. This movement is then translated into linear motion, driving the focus mechanism in the lens. The USM motor is able to provide quick and precise autofocus performance without making much noise, making it ideal for both photography and videography applications.

Types of USM Motors

There are two main types of USM motors found in Canon lenses: Ring-type USM and Micro USM. Let's take a closer look at each type:

Ring-type USM

Ring-type USM motors are considered to be the superior version due to their faster and more accurate autofocus performance. They are called "ring-type" because the motor itself is shaped like a ring that encircles the lens barrel. This design allows for full-time manual focus override, which means that photographers can manually adjust the focus even when the lens is set to autofocus mode. Ring-type USM motors are typically found in Canon's higher-end lenses, such as their L-series.

Micro USM

Micro USM motors are smaller and less expensive than ring-type motors, making them more common in Canon's lower-priced lenses. While they still offer quiet and reasonably fast autofocus performance, they may not be as accurate or as quick as ring-type USM motors. Additionally, lenses with micro USM motors generally do not have full-time manual focus override, which can be a disadvantage for some photographers.

Benefits of USM Technology

There are several benefits to using a camera lens with USM technology:

  1. Fast Autofocus: USM motors provide quick and precise autofocus performance, allowing photographers to capture sharp images of moving subjects.
  2. Quiet Operation: The ultrasonic vibrations used in USM motors are nearly silent, making them ideal for situations where noise may be distracting, such as during video recording or wildlife photography.
  3. Full-time Manual Focus Override: With ring-type USM motors, photographers can manually adjust the focus even when the lens is set to autofocus mode, providing greater control and flexibility.

How to Identify a USM Lens

Canon typically denotes their lenses with USM technology by including the term "USM" in the lens name. For example, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM is a popular professional zoom lens that features a ring-type USM motor. It's important to note that not all Canon lenses have USM motors, so be sure to check the lens specifications if you are looking for a lens with this feature.

Choosing the Right Lens: Is USM Essential?

When deciding whether or not you need a lens with USM technology, consider your photographic needs and preferences. If you frequently shoot fast-moving subjects, such as sports or wildlife, a USM lens might be a significant advantage. Likewise, if you record videos with your camera, the quiet autofocus of a USM lens can be invaluable.

However, if your photography primarily involves stationary subjects or you don't mind using manual focus, a non-USM lens may be sufficient for your needs. Ultimately, the decision will come down to your personal preferences and shooting style.

Conclusion: The Impact of USM on Camera Lenses

In conclusion, USM technology is an essential feature for many photographers, offering fast, quiet, and accurate autofocus performance. With both ring-type and micro USM motors available, Canon offers a range of lenses that cater to different budgets and requirements. By understanding the benefits and limitations of USM, you can make an informed decision when selecting your next camera lens.