Canon files patent for electronic tilt-shift lens

Canon in Japan has published a patent for an electronic tilt-shift lens. The details were shared online by the Japanese blog website Asobinet. The new patent was published by Canon on September 28.

What’s a tilt-shift lens?

As the name says, with a tilt-shift lens you can tilt or shift the lens’s optics in relation to your camera’s image sensor. The tilt feature alters the lens plane so that it stops being parallel to the sensor. As a result, you get a strip of deep focus from top to bottom or side to side in the center of the frame. Above and below, or to the left and right, of this strip, the image is out of focus. This effect can be used to make real landscapes look like miniature models. In addition, the shift feature means you can move the lens elements to correct for converging vertical lines. This is useful when shooting architecture, for example.

The new patent

Image courtesy: Asobinet

Historically, tilt-shift lenses have been fully manual. This is because autofocus systems require the focal plane to be parallel to the sensor to work. Canon’s new patent doesn’t include autofocus, but it does have a mechanism to control the tilt or shift features electronically. Instead of manual knobs to adjust the tilt or shift, the patent shows a four-way D-pad button, similar to a game controller. There is also a switch to choose between tilt or shift. In addition, there is a reset button to set the lens plane back parallel to the camera’s sensor.

What has Canon said?

In the patent, Canon said, “In recent years, situations in which tilt and shift shooting are used have increased, and there is an urgent need to reduce the labor and time of operations in such shooting. This patent describes an invention that provides a control device capable of reducing the labor and time of an operation and improving the convenience of tilt and shift photography.” Apart from publishing the patent, Canon hasn’t announced when, or even if, there will ever be a lens based on this patent.

What we think

The new patent from Canon is an interesting development. It doesn’t appear to include autofocus which would be useful with a tilt-shift lens. In addition, it’s not immediately obvious what benefits an electronic tilt-shift mechanism will deliver. Using these lenses requires fine adjustments which seem quicker and easier by hand, especially for users less familiar with a D-pad controller. However, it could be that this is the first step towards developing a tilt-shift lens with autofocus. It’s important also to remember that registering a patent is done to protect a technological design or development. It doesn’t always result in a product coming to market.

Pete Tomkies
Pete Tomkies
Pete Tomkies is a freelance cinematographer and camera operator from Manchester, UK. He also produces and directs short films as Duck66 Films. Pete's latest short Once Bitten... won 15 awards and was selected for 105 film festivals around the world.

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