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The men behind the EOS-1 series SLRs: design & technology

The men behind the EOS-1 series SLRs: design & technology

© Canon

August 2014

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.

Tsunemasa Ohara has worked on the development of EOS System since 1984, including heading up the ‘EOS Digital Project’, the ‘EOS-1D X Project’ and the ‘EOS Professional Business Project’. CPN spoke to him about the history and development of EOS-1 series SLR technologies.

CPN: What was the original concept for the first EOS-1 series camera in 1989?

Tsunemasa Ohara (TO): “The EOS [system] was developed as an SLR camera system that enables fast and comfortable AF [autofocus]. The first EOS product was launched in 1987, and from the beginning of development we had the idea of developing the ‘EOS-1’ as the flagship camera for professionals in the EOS series.

The concept for the EOS-1 as the EOS flagship model is a camera that provides the ultimate in speed and comfort. The most important aspect of this was to ensure that photographers are able to shoot exactly the photo they have in mind. Because photos are recorded in a single instant, performance that makes it possible to capture that precious moment exactly as a photographer sees it is very important. In addition to pursuing the ultimate in speed and comfort, the central component of performance is high-speed response, and the factors that best represent that are AF and speed.”

CPN: Has your vision of the EOS-1 series and the EOS System remained true to its original ideas?

TO: “The original concept of ‘high-speed response’ for the EOS-1 has been carried through to today in the latest model, the EOS-1D X. The advancements made over the 25 years of the EOS-1 series have continued to proceed in the direction of creating the ultimate camera for speed and comfort. The latest model is the EOS-1D X, and its performance has advanced to the point where its 61 AF points use AF tracking in 12 frames each second for continuous shooting.”

© Canon

The full-frame Canon EOS-1D X is the current flagship EOS-1 series DSLR – it offers shooting at up to 14 frames per second.

CPN: Of all of the EOS-1 series cameras you have overseen the development of do you have a favourite? If so, which camera is it and why is it your favourite?

TO: “I feel the same about each and every EOS-1 camera. The latest EOS-1D X is the most advanced model, and because [the] jump in advancement was so large, it is a model that leaves a strong impression.”

CPN: What, in your view, has been the biggest advance in the EOS-1 series system over the past 25 years?

TO: “The biggest advancement in the EOS-1 series over 25 years has been the change to digital. The advancement to digital has enabled high sensitivity that was unthinkable during the film era. This has made it possible to shoot in a vastly wider variety of situations. I believe the latest EOS-1D X has achieved the greatest advancements in shooting functions in the series.”

CPN: How has Canon’s relationship with professional photographers who are working with EOS-1 cameras changed over the course of 25 years?

TO: “I believe that the EOS-1 was the first AF SLR camera to be evaluated by professional photographers as a camera where AF is actually useful. The EOS-1 system continued to advance over the next 25 years, and many professional photographers around the world have used it in that time. Canon also started the CPS [Canon Professional Services] programme to support professional photographers in countries around the world. This programme does not just offer technical support for camera equipment, but also shooting support as well. This programme has been helpful in gaining the trust of pro photographers and has also been a source of feedback from many pros. Feedback and requests from pro photographers have made it possible for the EOS-1 series to continue advancing.”

CPN: What requests have professional photographers made which have most influenced design and technology decisions for the EOS-1 series?

TO: “AF performance. In actual shooting situations, it is necessary to focus on a number of different subjects. For example, in dark shooting situations, shooting fast moving sports, subjects who move all of a sudden, etc. Even in scenes like these, pro photographers always request instant, high-precision focusing performance. Whether focus is high-precision or not has a significant impact on the photo.

The initial EOS-1 was equipped with a high-precision cross-type AF sensor compatible with [an] f/2.8, AI Servo system for focus tracking of moving subjects, and an AF-dedicated micro-processor for even faster AF operation. Later we received feedback from many pro photographers, which we used to continue to develop AF system technology and advance AF performance for high-precision and high-speed to meet their needs.”

© Canon

The original Canon EOS-1 film SLR was launched in 1989.

CPN: Have we now reached the absolute peak of AF performance within the EOS System or what improvements could possibly be made?

TO: “I believe we’ve achieved an extremely high level of advancement in AF performance with the EOS-1D X. However, AF performance will continue to advance in the future. The ideal AF performance for the EOS is to be able to focus anytime, on anything, exactly the way you imagine it. In other words, the ultimate AF performance would exceed the limits of human eyes. We will continue pursuing this ideal with development of technology from here on.”

CPN: Looking through the timeline of technologies for the EOS-1 series are there any technologies that didn’t work as well as you’d hoped?

TO: “In the development of the EOS-1 series, I believe we have used the best technology available at that point in time to create the best possible camera. On the other hand, if we determine that the degree of completion or reliability of that technology is insufficient for the EOS-1, we will not include it on the camera. Technology included on the EOS-1 series products used by professional photographers must be at a high level of completion.

There are a number of technologies that were not included on past EOS-1 series products because the level of completion at the time of development was insufficient. However, there have been cases where, even when a function was not included on a specific model, development was continued, and after that function was completed it was included on later models.”

CPN: For the EOS-1 series critical areas of performance have always been AF and speed related. Why is this?

TO: “Just as I explained in the beginning, AF and speed are important factors in creating a camera that can capture images exactly as the photographer envisions them. No matter how good an image sensor or lens is in terms of image quality, if the focus is 'off', even a little bit for a decisive moment, the sharpness of an image will drop. High-speed, high-precision AF that provides stable focus tracking in various shooting situations is required.”

CPN: How can sensor and signal processing technology improve in the future?

TO: “There are significant advances in image sensor and image processor technology. Amazing advances – such as high-sensitivity, low-noise images – that were unthinkable in the film era and beginning of the switch to digital are now possible, and these co-exist with high-speed sequential shooting performance at 12 frames per second. However, this is not the pinnacle, and I believe there is still [some] room for advancement in the future. As long as there is a demand, we will continue to develop technology so that even further high-resolution, low-noise images are possible.”

© Canon

Every part of the interior of the CMOS sensor of the EOS-1D X DSLR is designed to be closely linked with the camera’s imaging processors to deliver excellent image quality and high-speed performance. Canon develops and manufactures its own CMOS sensors in-house and pioneered the use of CMOS sensors in DSLR cameras due to the performance advantages they offer in terms of speed and low power consumption.

CPN: Many of the latest technical advances in digital photography are amazing; which single technology do you think has been most important for the Canon EOS System?

TO: “I believe the technology that makes excellent image quality and high-speed performance possible is the most important. It’s impossible to separate the two technologies of the CMOS sensor and imaging engine that processes signals to convert into images. Every part of the interior of the CMOS sensor is designed to be closely linked with the imaging processor, making excellent image quality and high-speed performance possible. Because all of these components are developed within Canon, it is possible to create a high-performance product. This technology developed for the latest EOS-1 series is applied to all [of the] EOS series, achieving comfortable, fast, high image quality cameras.”

CPN: The EOS-1D X has enjoyed a fantastic life at the top as THE pro DSLR of choice. What do you think has contributed most to this?

TO: “I believe this is due to the EOS-1D X’s AF performance and high-sensitivity image quality. I also believe that the reason such a high level of performance and reliability has been achieved is through the support of professional photographers. Additionally, although the design of the control system has remained unchanged from the original EOS-1 for items such as the electronic dials (Main Dial and Quick Control Dial) that make intuitive controls possible, and the shape of the grip and the release button, I believe this means that the design is easy to use, responds to the demands of photographers as a photographic tool and has received high praise by professional photographers.”

CPN: What do you think a potential successor to the EOS-1D X will have to deliver in terms of features and improvements? For example, maximum frame rate, ISO, metering and AF performance.

TO: “Although I can’t talk about which features will be improved for the EOS-1D X successor, we will develop a camera that responds to user needs.”

CPN: Where do you see the future development of EOS-1 series cameras going?

TO: “We hope to meet expectations by further advancing the speed, comfort, and high image quality of the EOS-1 for an ideal camera that captures photos exactly the way photographers want.”

Biography: Tsunemasa Ohara

Tsunemasa Ohara

Tsunemasa Ohara joined Canon Inc. in 1979 after graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering degree from university. In his first years at Canon he worked as an engineer on the development and design of an electric driving system for SLR cameras. In 1984, at the start of the development of EOS System, he took charge of the design of the AF system, which is the basis of today’s EOS System. He joined the development of all EOS-1 series cameras, ‘EOS for Pros’, which led to the establishment of AF SLR technology for ‘Pro Equipment’, including the AF system, reliability and easy operation. In 1999 he was named as the chief of the ‘EOS Digital Project’, which led to the development of key technologies for digital SLRs. His efforts to combine the traditional EOS technology with the new digital technology brought the success of EOS-1D series; delivering reliability, high image quality and quick response to satisfy the needs of professional photographers. He has also been Chief of the ‘EOS-1D X Project’ and Chief of the ‘EOS Professional Business Project’.


Canon EOS-1 series design sketch showing front, top plate and controls.