Is Canon About to Bring Eye-Controlled Autofocus Back From the Dead?

Is Canon About to Bring Eye-Controlled Autofocus Back From the Dead?

Sony may have changed the game with the introduction of eye autofocus but Canon might be about to resurrect a feature that’s not been seen since the Canon EOS-3 and EOS 7 were released around twenty years ago: eye-controlled autofocus.

Forget eye detect, face detect, tap to focus or subject tracking. Released in 1998, what made the EOS 3 special was that the camera would automatically choose one of its 45 autofocus points according to where the user’s eye was pointed. In effect, looking at your subject would prompt the camera to bring it into focus. A recently-discovered patent suggests that Canon is in the process of bringing this feature back from the dead for its forthcoming mirrorless cameras.

The patent has been translated by Canon News and shows how technology is being developed that include “light sources for illuminating the photographer’s eyeball […] for detecting the direction of the line of sight.”

Canon eye-controlled autofocus patent

Patent diagram via

Canon News does add that this is merely a patent with no suggestion as yet that Canon has any immediate plans to implement it. Regardless, it will make many Canon fans happy as this has been a much-missed feature with many wondering why Canon decided to drop it.

Did you use eye-controlled autofocus in one of your old Canon bodies? Is it something that you’d like to see Canon bring back? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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Rob Mitchell's picture

I have always wondered my the dropped this in the first place.
The very non politically correct would suggest that the focus was too often put on the wrong assets of a shoot. If you get my drift.

I had an Elan II-e back in the day. From what I remember the eye tracking feature worked fine. When I came to digital many years later I wondered why that feature wasn't still around.

Scott Hussey's picture

I loved that feature on both my Elan 7 and EOS 3 bodies. It was fast and fairly accurate - awesome for use when shooting live events. Unfortunately the build qaulity on those camera models left much to be desired. The film door latch on the Elan 7 had a propensity to snap off, ruining your roll of film. And the plastic mode knob on the EOS 3 broke if you even looked at it sternly.

But the eye focus worked really well! :)

Andrew Morse's picture

I think the most interesting thing about this is how it could be implemented for mirrorless cameras when combined with modern focusing systems. For instance, could you essentially use your eyes as the joystick and have the AI determine what you're trying to look at and then lock focus on that - i.e. looking at one face among many would let the AI know you're trying to take face detection on that face and not the others. That would be really interesting from my perspective.

Jaleel King's picture

I honestly hope this is true. I still have Elan II-e and the eye focus works reasonably well. I always wondered why they never refined it. I can only imagine how much better it could be with the advances in tech since it was last used. I would also think it would be far better than that touch bar on the R.

Jacques Cornell's picture

About freaking time!

Richard Twigg's picture

Like many have said I loved my Elan IIe, and wondered why they discontinued the feature.

Robert Nurse's picture

I tried this on my EOS 3 back in the day and it did actually work. Though it was too slow for action shots. But, other than that, it was great! I'm sure with today's tech, they could easily speed things up.

I too used this on the EOS-3, but I didn't own the EOS 3 for very long as I switched to the EOS-1H. I do remember though getting an amazing action shot of a flying Red-Tailed Hawk with the EOS-3 and eye-AF. I can't remember though having issues with it shooting action, just that it did work for that one particular image. You're right though that with all of the advancements in technology Canon should be able to really make this an amazing feature and if it works I would switch from Nikon back to Canon.

Seems like the only thing Canon can do lately is patent-troll decades-old technology (recently applied for patent on lens cap/hood design).

Hopefully they make it work this time... This never worked on the EOS 3 no matter how many times I tried calibrating it.

I still have my EOS 3 and love this feature! It's the $40 total cost per developed film roll that prevents me from using it more, but 100% yes to seeing it on a new camera! I definitely thought it was weird how it just died after the Elan 7E and EOS 3.

I had the eos-3 in 1999 and this was the coolest feature on the block even though it didn't really always work properly. I had fun playing around with it until my eos-3 crapped out. I shoot Sony and the problem with eye-af and face detection is it completely falls apart when there are a couple of people in the frame. It would be great if you can look at a subject, hit a button on the Canon, and it will track that subject without having to touch back screen like on sony.

Absolutely awesome I loved it when I had it on my film eos! I wish my 5D4 had it. I think about it often.

Vr DUBIFONK's picture

My first reflex was an ELAN 7/EOS 30. I've bought it especially for this feature, over the Nikon F80 (with a LCD grid in the viewfinder), and I really enjoyed it. Of course, it wasn't perfect (anything isn't really...) but most of the time, it was performing quite well with or without glasses in front of my eyes (a calibration was needed before, once and for all). I sold it 9 years ago with a broken heart. Since then, I always asked why Canon never put this wonderful feature on a DSLR. I would buy it instantly ! For events, portraits, reportage and still life, it was so easy to use. Even now, I'd rather use the modest 9 points AF system with eye Control over the numerous AF points of my 5D4 (and I really know how to use it properly). Sometimes it couldn't perform properly because the central point was the only crosstype sensor. But my heart will drop a tear everytime I remember this camera.

Ahmet Ergun Doğan's picture

I had eos5 and this featurewas amazing. I always wondered why they didn't keep using this

Michael Bernier's picture

I have an A2E (the U.S. version of the EOS-5) and the eye control focus (the feature's official name) works so-so for me. One of the reasons it didn't catch on is because it would get confused if the photographer was wearing eyeglasses; reflections off the eyeglass lens would sometimes cause an unintended focus point to be selected. If they've worked out a solutuon for that, then it could be a very useful feature for sports/action photography.