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Eye-controlled focus a thing of the past?

Eye controlled focus a thing of the past?

The Canon EOS-5/A2(E) was produced between 1992 and 2000.

After hearing about this I started to wonder if Canon or other camera companies had plans to include their eye-controlled auto focus function on newer digital SLR cameras.

Canon created their EOS-5 camera with a pretty unique feature in the world of photography. For those not familiar with the conventional SLR, a user basically employs autofocus by choosing a selected sensor point (depending on the camera make and model) within the viewfinder and then depressing the shutter button halfway, activating the auto focus and sharpening the lens to that selected point. Typically, there are various auto focus “points” to choose from, and these are often broken into a grid that spans the general scene. Using a control on the back of the SLR, a shooter manually selects the point of focus. But Canon created their EOS-5 with eye control in mind, probably utilizing technology from high end geometrical surveying equipment. The photographer looks at one of five auto focus sensor point in the viewfinder. The camera, using infrared tracking with the eye, focuses on the selected point.

Eye controlled focus a thing of the past?

The view from inside the viewfinder.

This cut out a few manual steps in the focusing process in an effort to save time, making for intuitive and lightning quick focus so you wouldn’t miss the shot.

Seems like a pretty good idea, right?

There were some problems with the tech — for one, the camera required calibration with the user’s eye, and there were only 5 calibration settings. So it couldn’t work for all people, all the time. But with further developments in eye tracking technology into the 21st century, it seems like a step around this problem now wouldn’t be too difficult.

For whatever reason, Canon has yet to add this feature to their latest digital SLR cameras. A quick google search for Canon’s eye-controlled focus will yield plenty of photo-themed message boards lighting up with questions for Canon and speculation about why it’s not yet been featured. But with so many people using cameras these days, it might be worth looking at again…

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  • Arjuna Subanandan

    It’s surprising. The last Canon camera to feature this was the Canon EOS 3 I think. It had something like 11 eye selectable focusing points out of a total of 45 dotted around the centre of the frame.

    I had a Canon EOS 50 film camera with eye controlled focus but never used it and it never featured on the EOS 1n which is one of Canon’s pro series film cameras.

    I can only guess it didn’t feature in the digital cameras because it either wasn’t useful or wasn’t able to be squeezed into the design of modern DSLRs. It sounds like it should be pretty useful but switching between selecting focus point using the eye and concentrating on the scene itself might have been too much for photographers. There’s a lot of other things which they’re thinking about and using their eyes for. Current designs use a thumb operated joystick or wheel to select points. This is 100% reliable and that’s what pros want from their equipment. It also leaves the eye free to see.

    It’s a guess of course. I remember the novelty factor of the eye controlled focus of the EOS 5 and I’m surprised that hasn’t been enough to keep the system. Other innovations such as optical stabilisation using high sensitivity gyroscopes have moved from being available on their premium products to prosumer equipment. The current Canon 5D MkII offers face detection but only with Live View and not through the viewfinder.

    The reliability of focus is really important. I shoot using only the centre autofocus point. If I’m taking a portrait I’ll aim it at the subject’s eyes and lock the focus then quickly recompose. Sometimes I don’t have time to recompose, for example to shoot a runner using a setting with a shallow depth of field, so I’ll manually set the right focusing point and hope for the best rather than leave it to the camera’s logic to decide.

    I learned during the days when autoexposure systems were getting pretty advanced. Photographers who are older than me might stick with the most basic metering even on the very latest equipment because they can reliably judge the exposure and compensate better than the camera, for example they’ll be able to correctly manually compensate for a snow scene (which typically comes out grey even on all but the very best autoexposure systems) based on the predictable old metering systems whereas they can’t predict what an individual camera’s autoexposure logic will decide.

  • Asdf

    I really miss the eye-controlled focus on my old EOS-30. It was not perfect, but it was very useful for moving objects where you didn’t have time to freeze the focus and move the camera.

  • kevin freels

    I REALLY miss it. And as the number of AF points continues to increase, manual switching of AF points is becoming more difficult. I would give an extra $100 for this in a heartbeat. 61AF points with eye control and the multi-function button held down to set it would just be awesome!

    • Davor Vukovic

      I had (actually still have but do not use it often) Canon 50. ECF worked perfectly all the times. Surely one of the most useful new feature in camera development. I cannot stop wondering why they discontinued it so quickly and cannot find the satisfying answer on the net. It must be some missing patent or some other legal issue. I cannot think of anything else. It was so more intuitive, quicker and still reliable even in an amateur camera like 50.