DSLRs continue to evolve. And, this evolution will continue. There’s no stopping it.
A few years ago, purists scoffed at chimping on the preview screen to see how exposures looked. Then, a loud minority (of probably the same purists) cried afoul when Live View displays began showing up on just about every DSLR released. The latest purist revolt has come as a result of the inclusion of video capture as a “must-have” feature in almost every DSLR released.
Just hop on about any photo gear forum and you’ll find plenty of critical comments concerning the latest bells and whistles attached to DSLRs. Many proclaim that they will not buy a given camera because it has a specific feature – again, the latest villain is video.
If you think the above examples of departure from a pure SLR camera are annoying, you may very well consider the addition of a touchscreen on a DSLR to be heresy. Chris posed the question of whether photographers want a DSLR with a touchscreen (among other features) back in July. The handful of well-reasoned comments brought up issues regarding interaction with the camera and accessibility to its features. One commenter noted, “Just because it’s possible doesn’t make it desirable. I have one DSLR that only displays the settings on the LCD on the back of the camera; it is bulky and time consuming to take my eye away from the camera, select the setting and walk through a menu to set it.”
While the above image appears to have been produced by my 7-year-old, I can assure you that is not the case. The image actually appears in US Patent Application No. 12/422,695, which was originally filed by Canon on April 13, 2009 and published by the United States Patent and Trademark Office on October 22, 2009.
The patent clearly exposes Canon’s implementation of a touchscreen DSLR.
Canon Touchscreen DSLR Details
So, what can we learn from the patent?
Well, the patent is only 13 pages long (that’s a bit short for most of Canon’s patents that I’ve read) and does not cover claims that are specific to the overall touchscreen interface. Instead, the patent primarily covers claims relating to accidentally touching parts of the touchscreen when bringing the camera to your eye in order to look through the viewfinder.
Specifically, the camera is supposed to allow users to register their dominant eye. The photographer will input whether it is the left or right eye. Then the camera will detect the registered eye when it is brought to the viewfinder. At that point, the camera will disable a portion of the touchscreen that would likely be touched by your face and, therefore, prevent any setting changes. Also, note that the patent covers the possibility that the camera may automatically detect which eye is brought to the viewfinder and disable the appropriate portion of the LCD.
The diagonal hatching lines in the above image show the portion of the screen that is disabled, depending on which eye is registered with the camera.
If this all sounds a little familiar, recall that a Canon patent application covers biological metadata based on the registration of the photographer’s iris within the camera via an Iris Registration Mode. In that patent application, the photographer’s identity is embedded into the file based on the iris looking through the lens at the time the image was captured. This applies even when there are multiple users on a given camera. The camera can store the iris metadata for the appropriate users, and embed it when they are shooting.
We hear the cliché often; however, these two pieces of tech could work together to truly let the photographer’s camera become an extension of his or her body.
The tech side of this patent is pretty cool, but what I’m more interested in is what we are supposed to do with a touchscreen on a DSLR.
Two simple and important adjustments that can be modified via the touchscreen are mentioned in the patent:
1. Sliding you finger across the panel in a vertical direction changes aperture values.
2. Sliding your finger across the panel in a horizontal direction changes shutter speed.
Other features contemplated by the patent that may be enabled by touch entry through the LCD include the following settings:
- Focus detection area
- Exposure correction value
- Flash adjustment correction value
- Photometry mode (i.e., metering mode)
- Drive mode
- ISO value
- Auto focus mode
- White balance mode
- Exposure correction value
Essentially, this list includes everything that you use scroll wheels and joysticks for now. If you think about what the info display on the back of a Canon DSLR looks like, this touchscreen idea starts to make a lot of sense.
Imagine if you could get to any of these settings just by tapping on the display in the respective boxes. I’ve grown fairly efficient with my scroll wheels and shortcut buttons on my Canon DSLRs over the years; however, the though of tapping to select some the these settings is intriguing at the very least.
In closing, please remember that this is a patent application, and not all patent applications mean that a product is coming or serve as a definitive indication as to the timeliness of a product or feature. I’ve covered plenty of patents for which the tech has yet to see the light of day. (e.g., Canon Iris Registration Mode, Canon Fuel Cell DSLR, Advanced Nikon Viewfinder, etc.)
That said, given the present market trends and competition levels, not to mention the widespread adoption of touchscreens in point and shoot cameras, I would consider a Canon Touchscreen DSLR to be a likely contender for release within the next generation or two of DSLRs. I won’t call it a sure thing for next year, but I wouldn’t be surprised either if the next Canon Rebel showed up a CES 2010 with a touchscreen.
While a touchscreen just seems like a feature we’d find in an entry-level DSLR, if it is executed well, it could be a nice touch on a flagship camera. The key, of course, is proper execution. If Canon will let users ease into the feature and keep our buttons on the camera, then we would have a safety valve if we decide to hate the feature.
Does the absence of other buttons and a scroll wheel on the back of the images from the patent application mean that we won’t have those? I don’t know. It could just be that they are irrelevant to the claims in the patent and Canon just left them off. Alternatively, it could be a signal that Canon is planning on dropping a near-buttonless DSLR on the consumer market (I’ll go out on a limb and say there’s no way Canon would drop such a camera in the pro or prosumer market).
So, what do you think?
Would you buy a touchscreen DSLR? Why or why not?
Any thoughts on the implementation of Canon’s design? What features would you want/need along with the touchscreen access?
Fire away in the comments below.