The dangers of AF: camera mistakes ref's bald head for soccer ball in live game!

The dangers of AF: camera mistakes ref's bald head for soccer ball in live game!

The dangers of relying on AI-driven autofocus systems became very apparent during a recent professional soccer match, where the hard camera's tracking system kept mistaking a linesman's bald head for the game ball.

Autofocus and tracking systems are increasingly big selling points of modern cameras, whether it's the animal AF in cameras like the Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R6, the face and eye tracking of the likes of the Sony A7R IV, or the head detect autofocus of the Canon EOS-1D X Mark III – which would have come in handy for this match! 

The game in question took place in the Scottish Professional Football League on 24 October, between teams Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC and Ayr United FC. 

As you can see in the video below, the camera repeatedly pans away from the on-ball action and instead frames the image based on the bald-headed sideline official, which it mistook for the game ball. 

According to Gizmodo, Inverness Caledonian Thistle FC began live-streaming its home games to season ticket holders (and also on demand via pay-per-view) as part of the ongoing social distancing efforts to protect fans, players and technicians when matches take place.

The same initiative saw the club opt not to use human camera operators, but instead to use an automated AI-driven camera system by Pixellot – a company that proclaims "AI-automated video and data will keep sports running!" 

Pixellot promises "a revolution in sports broadcasting" and boasts that its AI system means "no production team required". However, it's clear from this footage that a production team would have come in very useful. 

Ultimately, no autofocus system is infallible. Canon's Deep Learning AF system, iFR ATX, seen in the 1D X Mark III and the Canon EOS C70, has never once let us down while filming sport thanks to its otherworldly head tracking capability. However, we've all had those shots spoiled when the AF mistakes something for your subject and focuses in the wrong place. 

At the end of the day, no computer can ever replace the human eye!

Read more: 

Canon EOS R5 review
Canon EOS R6 review
Sony A7R IV review
Canon EOS-1D X Mark III review
Canon EOS C70 review

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James Artaius

The editor of Digital Camera World, James has 21 years experience as a journalist and started working in the photographic industry in 2014 (as an assistant to Damian McGillicuddy, who succeeded David Bailey as Principal Photographer for Olympus). In this time he shot for clients like Aston Martin Racing, Elinchrom and L'Oréal, in addition to shooting campaigns and product testing for Olympus, and providing training for professionals. This has led him to being a go-to expert for camera and lens reviews, photo and lighting tutorials, as well as industry news, rumors and analysis for publications like Digital Camera MagazinePhotoPlus: The Canon MagazineN-Photo: The Nikon MagazineDigital Photographer and Professional Imagemaker, as well as hosting workshops and talks at The Photography Show. He also serves as a judge for the Red Bull Illume Photo Contest. An Olympus and Canon shooter, he has a wealth of knowledge on cameras of all makes – and a fondness for vintage lenses and instant cameras.