The men behind the EOS-1 series SLRs: design & technology
Canon is celebrating the 25th anniversary of the EOS-1 series, the company’s flagship range of SLR cameras, which began with the launch of the EOS-1 film SLR in 1989. CPN recently got the unique opportunity to talk to two of the key men behind the development of the EOS-1 series and EOS System – Tsunemasa Ohara and Yoshiaki Sugiyama of Canon Inc. in Tokyo. In two exclusive interviews they reveal the secrets behind the historical development of the EOS-1 SLRs – please click on either the 'Design' or 'Technology' tabs below to read the interviews.
Yoshiaki Sugiyama has worked on the design of Canon SLR systems since 1978, including the T90 (1986), the EOS 650/620 (1987) and the EOS-1 (1989) cameras. CPN spoke to him about the history and development of EOS-1 series SLR designs.
CPN: Many say that the ‘grandfather’ of the current EOS-series design was the Canon T90. Would you agree and, if so, why?
Yoshiaki Sugiyama (YS): “Considering the following three points, I believe that is a reasonable opinion. First of all, the T90 was the first model to be equipped with the Main Dial. Next, the same ergonomics base as the later EOS series was visually represented. Lastly, the T90 was accepted by many professionals.”
CPN: How have ergonomics evolved as camera technology has improved?
YS: “Along with rapid advances in electronic technology with the EOS-1 in 1989, the main construction of the camera transitioned from a number of motors to mecha-electronics controlled by electronic circuits, and the freedom in core construction of traditional mechanisms rapidly increased. Additionally, along with the more compact and dense input/output parts positioned between the camera and photographer, there was more freedom in adjusting the layout of controls; making it possible to create the optimal layout for a person operating a camera.
As an example, the Quick Control Dial which was implemented on the EOS-1 (1989) that made it possible to instantly apply exposure compensation while looking through the viewfinder, and the control system that allowed identical controls in vertical and horizontal positions on the EOS-1V (2000) continues through to this day as the basic control schemes of the EOS-1 system.
Although not visible from the outside, another example of controls from the original EOS-1 is the mechanism that enables adjustment of the [shutter] release button stroke. The amount of press until the halfway press, the amount of press from a halfway press to a full press, and how far the release button protrudes can all be customised in service.”
CPN: When you design a camera, what user criteria do you take into account?
YS: “The base user for each category differs. The standard for the EOS-1 [series] is the professional photographer. These are people who have mastered functions and can intuitively handle the camera. In line with this, the weight balance is also thoroughly considered, taking into account telephoto lenses. Additionally, because the market in recent years also includes more women and beginners, designers are at the core of development, and we use user needs surveys to collect information that can be used in product development.”
CPN: Are photographers using cameras differently these days to, say, 20 years ago? Does this affect the way that you look at the design of cameras?
YS: “What can be clearly stated is that there is a wealth of options for pre-shooting functions. To achieve a good result, photographers must select the optimal option. Also, camera operations that were simple 20 years ago (in the film era) are now vastly different with the availability of functions for checking results after shooting and communication functions. Although the many control buttons and GUI [Graphical User Interface] elements on the current EOS series are necessary for these functions, these are also the cause of making people feel that cameras are now complicated devices. The job of the designer is to optimise the layout of controls while considering possible shooting situations, [to] create simplified and easy to understand information displays and, when necessary, add new control procedures and design styles.”
CPN: What are the most important considerations/key criteria when you begin the process of designing a camera?
YS: “To satisfy users in the areas of grip and controls, and to provide a look and feel that does not look like anything but an EOS model.”
CPN: How have materials – for example, plastic, magnesium alloy and rubber – and their use influenced the way you design a DSLR?
YS: “As designers, we focus more on functions that will satisfy users rather than materials. The EOS-1 category is heavily focused on functionality. We almost never choose components simply for cosmetic purposes. With regards to plastic and magnesium alloy, which make up the main construction of the camera exterior, recent advances in production methods allow for a virtually difference-free form for both. However, there are vastly more choices for exterior processing when plastic materials are involved.”
CPN: How much influence do end-users (photographers and filmmakers) have on the way you design an EOS camera?
YS: “Opinions of professional users are especially important for the EOS-1 category. It’s not all about specs; there is also a large influence on camera design. We endeavour to understand the inclinations of as many users as possible and reflect this in products. However, I believe that with the recent increase in movie functions [in DSLRs], the situation has become more complicated. Even for the same movie, the purpose in shooting makes demands for equipment appear completely opposite. To cope with changes from one new function to the next realistically results in a slight change to controls or additional GUI for function selection. However, just as with the advent of new categories such as the Cinema EOS [system] that comes from DSLRs, there is currently a trend toward advancing to optimal equipment.”
CPN: Do you design a camera with a particular lens in mind? Or are the designs of EF lenses and EOS cameras always kept separate?
YS: “Design is not carried out with a specific lens in mind, however, the EOS-1 category must be designed so that controls are comfortable, even when 'non-typical' lenses such as telephoto and TS-E lenses are used with the camera body. However, on the other hand, it is extremely difficult to ensure perfect strength and operation when a lens such as the EF600mm is attached to a low-end [EOS] model that is designed for maximum compactness and a lightweight form. Because lenses and cameras only function when they are combined, although a functional design is imperative, when colour and texture are considered, the body must be designed to match the lens, considering that the basic black camera body is a given.”
CPN: What has been the most difficult design challenge in the history of the EOS series in terms of making sure all of the aspects of the camera’s specifications/technologies are fitted into a relatively compact body?
YS: “Many transformations were required during the change from film to digital. It was necessary to add components to traditional cameras that are necessary for digital cameras, such as a large LCD panel and controls, operation procedures for setting and playback, and design for screen displays (GUI). A new field of design became necessary for GUI. Even now in this area, each time new specs are added, it is very difficult to make changes without causing new problems.”
CPN: One of the design and functionality aspects of EOS cameras that has found favour with many photographers is the ability to customise buttons. Can you explain how this was achieved?
YS: “The predecessor to button customisation was likely the Custom Function included on the EOS-1 in 1989. This enabled eight different functions to be set individually, and switching of control functions was also included among these. There are various opinions on camera use, even among professional photographers. Our basic stance remains that as long as it is in the realm of technical possibility, we want to continue to adopt as many requests as possible. The Custom Function and button customisations are limited by ideas only. Because current cameras are almost entirely electronically controlled, nearly anything is possible with switches and GUI settings. Therefore, the only problem for designers is how many potential requests from photographers to incorporate.”
CPN: Is there an optimum size for a camera when it is designed bearing in mind the differing size of peoples’ hands?
YS: “There is no ‘better too big than too small’ proverb in the camera world. This is my own personal opinion, but I believe that the best results come from people with comparatively small hands designing for people with larger hands. I believe that the optimum size among Canon cameras is the AL-1.”
CPN: Many photographers comment that EOS DSLRs are comparatively lightweight and easy to use – does the need to keep the weight of a camera as low as possible affect design decisions? If so, in what way?
YS: “I don’t believe it is necessary to go to extremes so that something has to be sacrificed to keep a camera lightweight, and this does not have a large influence on design. This point is shared perfectly between engineers and designers. A more lightweight form must be achieved by a balance between both the lens and body.”
CPN: How do you measure or know how to design a control dial, button or menu that is intuitive to use? Is it via user feedback or are the designs of controls driven by the features of the cameras?
YS: “Because design of controls for new functions does not take user feedback into consideration, design is carried out in consideration of how the camera will be used. When designing a new model we always consider user feedback and incorporate it into the design after it is verified.”
CPN: Which camera made the biggest leap in terms of changing design from the previous model in the EOS series and why was this design changed so much?
YS: “I believe the largest conceptual change occurred in the EOS 50E. Up to that point all settings on all models (except for low-end models) were carried out using the function button and Main Dial. From the EOS 50E [onwards] shooting modes, AF, drive and various metering function options could be set on separate dials and levers. This change was implemented from the viewpoint of enabling easier to understand controls for users, and the shooting mode dial has been continued on every [EOS camera] category except for the EOS-1 [series].”
CPN: How much synergy is there between the designs (and designers) of the EOS DSLRs and the designs of Cinema EOS cameras such as the EOS C500 and EOS C300?
YS: “Cinema EOS was developed as a movie camera for professional users. Before Cinema EOS, cinematic cameras had large housings and were designed for use by several crew members. However, the design concept behind Cinema EOS was mobility, and the desire for a compact, lightweight, one-man controlled camera in movie production circles. The expertise and knowledge accumulated over many years in the EOS SLR series was put together to make Cinema EOS possible. The Canon logo is found on the upper part of the lens mount, which is rare on cinematic cameras, but expresses the Canon identity.”
CPN: What do you see as the future for EOS camera design encompassing? For example, can cameras get smaller and even easier to use? If so, how might this be achieved?
YS: “I previously said that I believe the optimum size among Canon cameras is the AL-1. I believe that the trend towards compact, lightweight equipment is a certainty among categories encompassed by advanced amateurs, and even professional equipment, [so] the entire [EOS] system will move toward a more lightweight form.
The technical challenges are: lighter, stronger materials; glass materials with a high refractive index and high permeability; improvement in low power consumption design and compact, high-capacity battery; electronic parts with a higher degree of integration.”
Biography: Yoshiaki Sugiyama
Yoshiaki Sugiyama joined Canon Inc. in 1978 after graduating from Musashino Art University, Tokyo. In his first year at Canon he worked as a designer of SLRs, lenses and accessories of SLR products in the Camera R&D Centre. His main products included the AL-1 (1982), the new F-1HS (1984), the T80 (1985), the T90 (1986), the EOS 650/620 (1987) and the EOS-1 (1989). He says "I was honoured to work as a designer especially when creating the new generation Interface and developing Canon's Original Design during the transition point when the main constituents of the cameras were changing from mechanical to electronical”. After that, he joined the design R&D of camcorders (including the XL1), and during his career has successively held various posts in Office Imaging Products Operations, Inkjet Products Operations, the Medical Equipment Group and has supervised the Design Centre.