Eye-Detection Autofocus Is the First Advancement That’s Made Me Long for a New Camera in Years

Eye-Detection Autofocus Is the First Advancement That’s Made Me Long for a New Camera in Years

For years I’ve been rocking the same DSLR bodies as my main cameras — a Nikon D750 and a D700. They’ve never been wanting for anything I shoot. But recently I had the occasion to spend some time with the Canon EOS R and I discovered the one major advancement I’ve been missing out on as a DSLR shooter: Eye-Detection AF.

Some of you are welcoming me to five years ago, but it’s not like I haven’t used Eye AF before, I just haven’t experienced it ever work so well, for me at least. It’s been more of a novelty feature in cameras I used like the Fujifilm X-T30, where it worked well enough, but was limited in selecting eyes on the fly and I found myself going back to my tried-and-true manual focus point selection.

Canon added the ability to use Eye AF in AI Servo mode for its EOS R, and this for me was the game changer. I shoot portraits of my kids all the time, and I usually end up with hundreds of photos for each shoot, just to make sure I not only get the moment, but also have an in focus shot. With the squirrely nature of toddlers, I usually get a 75-80% hit rate on the autofocus, which I’ve considered to be pretty good. With the EOS R on the last shoot, the hit rate was almost at 100%. I could even choose which eye was in focus.

What’s more amazing is that I didn’t think about all of the other things I did to get the hit rate I did with DSLRs, such as adjusting the aperture to get a little more depth of field and sweating the plane of focus of my subject to make sure it lined up with the camera. The Canon EOS R kit I was using came with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS R which I took the liberty of hooking up to the wonderful Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM Lens. I shot the entire shoot wide open at f/1.4, something that would be a scary prospect before. Call it a leap of faith, one that worked:

Eye-Detection AF in the Canon EOS R's servo mode enabled almost every photo from this shoot to have perfect focus on the eyes.

It was quite the liberating edit to get the depth of field I wanted and the proper focus in almost every shot.

When I returned the camera, I realized something: Eye AF was the first thing in years that’s ever made me think about upgrading my cameras. The EVFs of mirrorless cameras haven’t swayed me (in fact, I still view them as a demerit,) and while things like dynamic range improvements and more megapixels are always welcome, real-world usability improvements like these are the kinds of changes camera manufacturers need to make to keep people buying real cameras.

What’s a real-world improvement that’s gotten you to think about upgrades? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

Wasim Ahmad's picture

Wasim Ahmad is an assistant teaching professor teaching journalism at Quinnipiac University. He's worked at newspapers in Minnesota, Florida and upstate New York, and has previously taught multimedia journalism at Stony Brook University and Syracuse University. He's also worked as a technical specialist at Canon USA for Still/Cinema EOS cameras.

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Even face detection is quite a nice upgrade. Having never used eye AF I would really like to in the future

We have to ask ourselves is this even enough. Sure, eye detection is fine, but what if we had pupil detect autofocus? I am tired of shots with blurry pupils because it put some blood vessel in focus.
P.S. if anyone can't tell, I'm joking.

It's sooooooo nice. I went from a cheap Canon to an old Sony, then to an A7iii... OMG (sorry to use that phrase) but it's almost like magic. I mean it's not the biggest deal to some, but coming from an A99, with about 3 AF points (only 1 of which was ever sharp) it completely changed the way I shoot, no more focus recompose. It's one less thing to worry about.

The tech gets lots of hype, and it's nice to have, but it's still a work in progress. Honestly I've never felt a need for it. As long as the AF has enough light, I can nail focus with AF-S.

It's the reason I switched from my d7100 to an A7III. The difference is night and day, no more tossing out shots because focus was off.

Hardly an advancement. I've got a 1992 EOS 5 with eye controlled AF.

That’s completely different and not what is being talked about here.Sorry just clicked that you are joking. ☺️

Honestly, the first time I heard the phrase "Eye AF" in relation to digital cameras I thought "jeez not this crap again." Took me a few weeks to figure out it was different than the 90s version.

Don't be too hasty in rejecting the EVF. Just take a peek through Panasonic's S1R viewfinder first.That high resolution 5.76M dot viewfinder is a real pleasure to use and includes all your settings. It's a step up on the Canon's EOS R and I love it. . .

I had a Panasonic GH3 (amongst many other Panasonic cameras and lenses) but after they completely and utterly left me hanging with their service when a dial broke on my GH3, I'd be super-reluctant to ever put my money into the company's cameras again, no matter how good the EVF is.

I also own the ubiquitous Panasonic LX100. It's been everywhere, done everything in rain, sleet and snow, dropped, banged and crashed and still going strong. . .

Same here: eye AF for a subject in motion with a wide open lens totally justified my upgrade to Sony. EVF was also a revolution for me: I could check my focus accuracy in the viewfinder, without needing to put my reading glasses to
check on the rear LCD.

That was all 2015. I never looked back.

EOS R Eye AF can not hold a candle to Eye AF on A7R IV. Of course A7RIV cost twice as much but it is well worth it.

This is not what our side-by-side testing showed. The EOS R with 85mm f/1.2 focused faster and with a significantly better hit rate than the a7R IV with the 85mm f/1.4. The Canon is MUCH better and choosing the closer eye. The Canon lens is better, too, though it's newer and costs more.

The reviews comparing mirrorless cameras are extraordinarily inconsistent. Jay P. Morgan compared the Z6 to the a7iii and found the Z6 to be superior. Jared Polin compared the EOS R, Z6, and a7iii and found the a7iii to be vastly superior to the other two (with the Z6 eye AF being very unreliable). Manny Ortiz's experience appears to be similar to Jared's. Your results appear to show that the EOS R is superior to a newer Sony. What gives?

Different photographers with different skills and experience with different cameras will come up with different results. I know that it took me a while to adapt to the Sony focus tech and settings and the results I got after a while were better than just out of the box.

Seat-of-my-pants testing with previous Sony models for me says otherwise, but if Sony wanted to loan me an A7R IV and compare, I'd give it a fair shake.

Red eye and face detection are two major problems I'm yet to fix in photography. Pretty bad for me though

Now you need to try the Sony real time tracking. ;-)

What "converted" me to mirrorless are two things. Real-time exposure preview (either backscreen or EVF), without looking for a meter and especially the dead-silent shooting. Eye-detect not so much, because I do not shoot a lot of portraits.

I like to hike and shoot landscapes while hiking. I generally carry around a D750 and often the 24-120 f/4 kit lens. After a few hours of hiking it does begin to feel like carrying around a boat anchor, but it takes fantastic pictures.

I recently went and held a Nikon Z50 with the kit lens at the camera store. Now I am seriously tempted to buy that as my hiking camera when I am not out with my tripod doing something more serious. The lens retracts to make the camera small and easy to put in a pocket. It very light and it still takes fantastic photos. Considering....

Elan 7E was my first Eye Focus, it sucked and it was 20 years ago...If you are hitting 100% focus with the R then it is probably time for me to jump ship and go mirrorless.

It was damn close to 100%

The Elan 7E had Eye Control focus, not Eye Detection, completely different technologies that aren't remotely similar.

Don't forget about on-sensor PDAF. This goes hand-in-hand with the eye AF when it comes to AF consistency. More importantly, it has eliminated the need to calibrate lenses. This is what has inspired me to switch.

Microadjustment is the bane of my photographic existence.

@Brookbrown did you happen to see Manny Ortiz take out the Canon EOS R with the firmware update and that same lens that Tony is talking about , out on the streets in low light situation and was completely and utterly blown away by it during/after the photoshoot?

How long ago was this?

Once the EVFs got good, and the AF was competitive, the thing that really sold me was the ability to mount any old lens and shoot with it at any focus point. Can't foul the mirror if there is no mirror.