|The Canon EOS 5 (known as the EOS A2/A2E in the Americas) was the world's first SLR camera with eye-controlled focus.|
Over the past few years, we've become spoiled by a lot of great autofocus technologies like face detection, tap-to-focus, and subject tracking. But before we had those things, we had Canon’s eye-controlled focus, a technology that made its appearance in film SLRs, but which never quite made the jump to digital cameras.
For those unfamiliar with eye-controlled focus, let me provide a quick primer. The system made its debut way back in 1992 on the EOS A2E, and remained part of the Canon system until the EOS Elan 7NE in 2004. It promised ‘focus where you look’ functionality, meaning you could activate your AF point of choice just by looking at it.
As I recall, there were generally two sets of users when it came to this technology: those for whom it worked, and those for whom it absolutely didn't. There weren't many in between.
Even today, whenever we review a Canon camera, someone will post a comment expressing a desire for Canon to bring back eye-controlled focus. And I have to admit, I'm right there with them. I have great memories of it.
|The Canon EOS Elan IIE, introduced in 1995, had a 3-point autofocus system with eye-controlled focus.|
I got my first taste of eye-controlled focus on the EOS Elan II E, and instantly fell in love with it. In fact, I liked using it so much that I switched from a Nikon to a Canon system. The ability to focus by eye was just too much to resist.
I later upgraded to the EOS 3 – still one of my favorite cameras of all time – which had a much more advanced 45-point AF system. Eye control on the EOS 3 was more sophisticated than on the Elan II E: it had a calibration procedure that involved looking at selected AF points in a prescribed manner, allowing the camera to tailor its response to your eye. Supposedly, if you repeated the calibration process under different conditions, performance would improve over time.
The EOS 3 also had the ability to store three registers of calibration data. This was especially useful for glasses wearers because you could use one register to calibrate for your naked eye, and another to calibrate while wearing glasses or contact lenses.
Did it work? It depends on who you ask. Even around the DPReview office, you'll find opposing views. In my experience, the system didn’t always land on the exact AF point that I wanted to use, but it usually landed close enough that it wasn’t an issue. At least that’s the way I remember it.
But as we all know, memories can be selective. I sometimes wonder if eye-controlled focus was as good as I remember it being, or if those memories are just a result of nostalgia for a bygone technology. To find out, I pulled those old Canon cameras out of a closet and put them to the test.
|The Canon EOS 3, introduced in 1998, had an advanced 45-point autofocus system with eye-controlled focus.|
The Elan II E worked just as well as I remembered it, performing at about 90% accuracy in my hands. However, it’s worth noting that this camera had a fairly rudimentary 3-point AF system, with well-isolated AF points. Basically, the camera just had to figure out which third of the viewfinder you were looking at to pick the correct AF point.
The EOS 3 was a bit of a different story. Its 45 AF points were crowded close together, requiring a higher degree of precision when reacting to eye movement. I could reliably get it to focus on the general region of the viewfinder I was looking at, but not with the degree of accuracy I remember.
With a bit of practice, I'm sure I could improve my success rate a bit, which is probably why I remember the system working better than it does in my hands today. Alternatively, it's nostalgia. To be honest, I'm not sure which it is.
|Unlike the Elan IIE, whose autofocus points were very far apart, the EOS 3's 45 autofocus points were packed very close together. This made it more difficult to activate a single, specific AF point by eye. (Diagram from the EOS 3 Instruction Manual.)|
So, would I exchange today's modern AF systems for eye-controlled focus? Not a chance. Features like face detection (and even eye detection) actually solve the 'where to focus' problem in many cases, and features like subject tracking would be hard to give up.
However, I still love the idea of eye-control focus and believe it would have a useful place on today's cameras. There are times when I'm moving focus points around with a joystick or D-pad and find myself thinking 'I wish I could just look at my subject and focus.'
Technology has advanced a lot in the past couple decades. When eye-controlled focus was introduced in 1992, Microsoft was just launching Windows 3.1, and CERN was still rolling out this new thing called ' The World Wide Web.' In that context, I'm sure a modern eye-controlled focus system could be much more effective, and work for a higher percentage of users, than one introduced during the film era.
So here's my plea to Canon: Please consider bringing back eye-controlled focus!
I suspect that many of you reading this used eye-controlled focus at some point. How did it work for you? Would you like to see it added to modern AF systems? Or, am I completely off my rocker, chasing down a useless technology that should never see the light of day again? Let me know in the comments.
SmugMug Films has shared its latest film, Streets in Mind, which takes a look at the life and work of London-based street photographer Adam Schaller.
We were in Japan earlier this month for the annual CP+ show in Yokohama, where we sat down with senior executives from several camera and lens manufacturers, among them Nikon.
Sony has released firmware version 5.0 for its flagship mirrorless camera, the a9. The update brings AI-driven autofocus modes, an improved menu structure and other updates.
Night Sight, Portrait Mode and (surprisingly) wide-angle selfie mode are features that we're currently loving about the Pixel 3's camera.
The Auschwitz Museum has asked visitors to be more respectful after an upsurge of pictures posted on social media showing people posing on the train tracks that lead to the main gate.
This week Chris and Jordan take the new Leica Q2 for a spin, and while most of us in the Northern Hemisphere are welcoming spring, they head even farther north than usual to visit ice castles. Because #Canada.
Harvard is facing a lawsuit over profiting from 19th century daguerreotypes that captured the portrait of a slave and his daughter on a South Carolina plantation.
From the detailed textures in rural landscapes to the incredible lighting inside futuristic buildings, the photorealism of Unreal Engine 4 is blurring the lines between fiction and reality...you know...aside from the spaceship.
According to a report from The Informant, a number of Instagram users' passwords were shared as plaintext in URLs used to download their data.
We've added Panasonic's new Lumix S1 and S1R full-frame mirrorless cameras to three of our buying guides. If you're looking for a quick summary of each model, then have a read.
YouTube channel Photoshop Cafe has shared a video detailing ten tips and tricks you can do to both fix and speed up Photoshop when it's running slow and sluggish.
It's not going to be the banger of the year, but it'll get a few laughs.
DJI has confirmed its drones won't be affected by the GPS 2019 week rollover.
Dogfish Head Craft Brewery has teamed up with Kodak to release a beer that's capable of doubling as a film developer.
The Diana Instant Square is a retro-inspired camera with manual controls that's fun to shoot in good light, but largely unpredictable in its operation.
Residents of a Paris street plagued by Instagrammers, selfie takers and music video crews are asking the city government for a weekend and evening ban to give them some peace.
The adapter plugs into the Osmo Pocket's USB Type-C port and features a 3.5mm TRS jack to plug in various external microphones.
Checkout allows Instagram users to select products for purchase and make payments directly in the app.
GauGAN as it's known, can create photorealistic images from basic drawings using the power of artificial intelligence.
The EOS RP is Canon's latest full-frame mirrorless camera, with diminutive dimensions and a diminutive price. Find out how it stacks up and get our thoughts in our early review.
Montana judge Dana L. Christensen has ruled the Republican National Committee did not infringe upon the copyright of photographer Erika Peterman after they took a photo from a Democratic candidate's Facebook page without permission and altered it to use in a derogatory promotional mailer.
Nikon has launched updates for three of its programs to address various bugs and glitches that could cause crashes and unwanted results.
LEE Filters has launched the LEE100, its next-generation filter holder that improves the design and looks in all the right places.
With the arrival of some much-needed sunshine and final production firmware for the Panasonic S1, we've been able to get outside and really start putting the camera through its paces.
Importing, culling and tagging photos is about to get a whole lot faster and look a whole lot better with the impending arrival of Photo Mechanic 6.
On its own, the FTZ adapter retails for $250 and when bundled it dropped the cost to just $150. Now, Nikon is offering it for free with all Z6, Z7 purchases in the United States.
Profoto said it spoke with Godox back at Photokina 2018 and continues to contact Godox in an effort to stop it from marketing its V1 light.
Product renders in Italian publication Notebook Italia show an unusual design that conceals all cameras with the help of a slider mechanism.
Canon says its new EF 400mm F2.8L IS III and EF 600mm F4L IS III lenses can suffer from an intermittent flickering when shooting video in M or Av modes with certain cameras.
Leica recently announced the Q2, a digital rangefinder with a fixed 28mm F1.7 lens. It's a heck of a lot of fun to shoot with, but is it right for you? Based on our time with the camera, and its specifications, we've examined how well-suited it is for common photography use-cases.