Focus rings on camera lenses could be a thing of the past, as Canon has designed a new lens that eschews it in favor of a touch-sensitive control panel.
However, it feels that using such a touch panel for focusing is just the tip of the iceberg; a lens with its own touch input could theoretically be used for anything from controlling autofocus points to navigating menus.
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In specific, though, this new lens design seems to relate strictly to controlling focus, and to replacing the traditional manual focus ring that has been a staple of lens design for decades.
Where a focus ring is usually turned clockwise or counterclockwise with your thumb and forefinger to rack focus, Canon's design proposes to achieve the same function with a small circular touch panel – and this will likewise recognize clockwise or counterclockwise movement by simply moving your left thumb, without having to move your entire hand.
In addition to direction of movement, this panel will also recognize speed of movement as well as single taps of constant drags, enabling all manner of functionality and command input.
The touch panel unit features its own processor to handle and calculate the inputs, and process commands to send to the camera body.
It's a fascinating idea, and one that could certainly have potential. In a world where autofocus is now so good that micro-adjustments with a manual focus ring are becoming rarer and rarer (with the exception of fields like macro and landscape), most people never even touch the focus ring.
In which case, having a simple and ergonomically well-positioned touch panel for occasional use would seem to make a lot of sense. Of course, as we all know from using touchscreens in cold or even humid conditions, they aren't foolproof – and you simply can't beat the granularity of a physical ring for precision control.
Still, it's a thought-provoking concept – even if, like so many of Canon's patents, it only exists as food for thought and never makes it to market.