One of the hallmarks of Canon cameras is Dual Pixel AF. First introduced on DSLRs at a time when Live View was often faltering autofocus, the technology turns each pixel into two focusing sensors. But, can Canon make the autofocus system that ranks among the best, if not the best, even better? A technology called Quad Pixel Autofocus could be Canon’s next big move. Recent patents have fueled rumors about the technology. But, just this week Canon shared that it was the only company to rank among the top five for the number of U.S. patents filed for 36 years in a row. With 3,022 patents filed in the U.S. last year, there are bound to be some ideas that never lead anywhere. Will Quad Pixel AF be one of them?
Canon Rumors recently spotted a patent spelling out additional details on Quad Pixel Autofocus. Instead of dividing each pixel into two separate sites to measure focus, the technology divides it into four. The patent documentation says that, in phase detection autofocus, the system performed best when the subtle differences measured are going in the same direction that the pixel is divided in. By having more divisions of that pixel, the technology could potentially improve autofocus speed and accuracy, the patent suggests.
Canon has published patents on Quad Pixel autofocus before, fueling rumors that such a system could launch on an R1 body. Of course, rumors are just rumors — and Canon Rumors was originally calling for Quad Pixel to arrive in 2021. The latest patent introduces additional technology to solve one of the issues Quad Pixel creates: the light gathered by each pixel varies. Having pixels that do not uniformly gather light would be bad for suppressing noise and could fuel other issues. The new patent works to solve that irregular sensitivity by “increasing the division direction.”
The patent also discusses using an RGBW color array over the sensor, modifying the traditional RGB pattern that allows a camera sensor to see color by adding a white square in the mix. This design, the patent language suggests, would help the Quad Pixel system increase accuracy when working in limited lighting.
Understanding the patent language, which is translated from Japanese, is difficult. When asked about the technology, Canon declined to discuss future products. It’s unclear when or even if a Quad Pixel AF system would make its way to an actual camera body. Similarly, there could be errors in understanding the translated documents. Photographers won’t get a full look at how the technology works until Canon makes an official product announcement.
Canon often sits at the top of the list of companies that publish the most patents per year. Just this week, Canon said it was third in the most published patents in the U.S., with more than 3,000 patents filed in 2021. Certainly, Canon has published ideas that have never made it beyond paper. So, the latest patent may not ever make it into a camera. But, with several patents already published on Quad Pixel AF, it shows where their innovation is focused.
I’ve long been impressed by Canon’s Dual Pixel Autofocus. I was blown away when I used autofocus on a jar of fireflies at dusk with the EOS R6, and impressed again when the R3 could find and focus on a bird in flight at a moment’s notice. While impressive, it’s good to see Canon isn’t resting smugly with the success of their latest mirrorless cameras. It’s always good to see companies that make the products that allow photographers to be creative be creative themselves. Whether or not the rumors fueled by the latest patents are correct, the patents are a sign that Canon hasn’t stagnated.