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Tecnología

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August 2010

When Canon is developing and improving its professional photographic products it is crucially important to listen to the thoughts of professional photographers who use Canon DSLRs and lenses every day. The 2010 World Cup in South Africa was an ideal opportunity for Canon to talk to many photographers about the EOS-1D Mark IV DSLR, Canon lenses and any other issues they had. The Canon Inc. delegation from Japan included Tsunemasa Ohara (Senior General Manager, Photo Products Group) and Kazuhiko Noguchi (General Manager, Photo Products Planning Division), so CPN editor Steve Fairclough took the opportunity to meet up with them, just outside of Johannesburg, to talk about the development of the EOS-1D Mark IV and other Canon EOS system technologies.

Tsunemasa Ohara, Senior General Manager of the Photo Products Group for Canon Inc. based in Japan.

For this CPN interview Kazuhiko Noguchi very kindly acted as the interpreter, from Japanese to English, and all answers are from Tsunemasa Ohara (who is named as 'TO' throughout). Here is how the conversation went...

CPN: What did you want to achieve with the EOS-1D Mark IV when it was in development?

Tsunemasa Ohara (TO): "First of all, the EOS-1D Mark IV was developed as the latest model of the EOS-1D series. Originally the EOS-1D series was developed as an SLR focused on the highest reliability, durability and specifications in order to meet the demands of professionals.

The main points of the EOS-1D Mark IV are high picture quality with 16 megapixels, high ISO sensitivity, and also autofocus - higher precision autofocus compared to the previous model. Also having 10 frames per second continuous shooting and good durability. Of course, there's a movie function as well. These are the main features we achieved in the EOS-1D Mark IV."

CPN: How were the reliability of the autofocus and AF tracking capabilities achieved on the EOS-1D Mark IV?

TO: "There are two main points surrounding the improvement in autofocus. The first one is that we developed a brand new autofocus sensor in order to achieve high precision autofocus. With this sensor we achieved a 39-point cross sensor among all 45 AF points - this makes the autofocus detection more secure.

The second point is that the AF algorithm, especially for autofocus tracking, has been improved. With autofocus the main points are quick response and stability. These two major points have been well balanced in the new algorithm - that's a major improvement."

CPN: How has the AF tracking been made so reliable?

TO: "For AF tracking, with algorithms normally there are quite a few calculations going on. A simple calculation will not achieve such high precision autofocus. So, there's not only the calculation but also, depending on the situation, this algorithm can judge what kind of situation (it's shooting). It's not only capable of calculating the movement of the subject but it is also capable of predicting the movement, so that's a difference compared with other autofocus systems. It's a big difference. The major point is the balance between the response time and the stability."

The EOS-1D Mark IV's APS-H format CMOS sensor offers a 1.3x format.

CPN: In terms of the EOS DSLR family is there still some room for improvement of the autofocus system?

TO: "We believe we have certainly achieved a good level (of autofocus capability), but there's still some room for improvement, because autofocus is not always 100%."

CPN: How important for product development is it to meet photographers and hear what they have to say. How much of that feedback do you take away and use?

TO: "First of all, reflecting the demands from the professionals is very important. Because this model, the EOS-1D Mark IV, is for professionals a lot of feedback, especially about autofocus, came not only to us but also to lots of R&D people, business management people who hear directly from professionals, Canon Professional Services staff, call centres, pro rep activities - they are always collecting good feedback from the professionals. That's reflected in the final Canon Inc. product development of professional products."

CPN: How have the very high ISO capabilities in recent EOS cameras been achieved, and how far can the barriers of ISO be pushed for shooting in very low light?

TO: "High ISO sensitivity can be achieved with the CMOS sensor itself and also in conjunction with the DIGIC image processing sensor. That combination is very important.

The EOS-1D Mark IV DSLR has very high ISO sensitivity with an ISO range of between 50 and 102,400.

As you know Canon has independently developed the CMOS sensor over the years. So, in order to achieve high ISO sensitivity, and a high number of pixel count, when each pixel can get more light from the subject that's a point of improvement. For example, compared to the EOS-1D Mark III, the EOS-1D Mark IV increased the number of the pixel count but pixel-by-pixel the aperture, the opening of the edge of the light, is the same size. We kept this the same size - because of the development and the production technology we could achieve that.

Another point is the DIGIC image processor. At Canon we also developed and produced this solely by ourselves. I can't tell you the details but our original algorithm achieved the noise reduction and high resolution. In this algorithm a huge volume of calculation needs to be done. We achieved this image processing engine hardware performance and kept the high performance, without any stress, in the (EOS-1D Mark IV) camera body.

So, with both the CMOS sensor and the DIGIC image processing 'engine' we achieved a combination of software and hardware in order to achieve both high resolution and high ISO sensitivity."

CPN: Some of the photographers CPN has talked to are almost shooting in the dark...

TO: "Yes, that's right."

CPN: Is there still a possibility to push this high ISO technology further?

TO: "From a technological point of view there is still some room."

CPN: Was it important to achieve a 10 frames per second shooting rate on the EOS-1D Mark IV? What was the process and was it felt it had to be achieved for a particular type of photographer?

The processing power of the two "DIGIC 4" image processors in the EOS-1D Mark IV helps various features of the camera including 10fps shooting speed, reduction of image noise at higher ISOs with no loss of burst speed, and HD movie shooting amongst others.

TO: "In order to achieve the 10 frames per second there are two points. One is a combination of the CMOS sensor and the DIGIC processor - the speed of the image processing. The second is that the shutter or mirror controls the speed in the hardware - that's also important.

First of all, the image processing speed achieved by the CMOS sensor - we can read from the CMOS sensor with a multi-channel (eight channel). In combination with CMOS what the image processor can achieve with Canon's combination technology stays with us (the technology is ours), so we are able to develop this combination technology all together in order to read, write and record at high speed.

There is not only CMOS and DIGIC but also the hardware. The combination of the technology of the EOS, even the motor actuator, was also developed and produced by ourselves in order to move very quickly, at a fast speed, in the EOS system, as well as utilising energy very efficiently in this hardware to control the high speed.

In order to control the whole sequence in the EOS-1D Mark IV we used Dual DIGIC 4 processors. Also in order to make the main sequence control (the speed) we put the IC exclusively for that, and also for autofocus an exclusive processor is featured. All of these - IC and sensor and DIGIC - all work together to achieve high image quality and high speed."

CPN: What about the metering system on the EOS-1D Mark IV?

TO: "The 63-zone metering is actually a 'carry over' from the EOS-1D Mark III, but the metering sites are designed in combination with the autofocus points; the layout of the autofocus points. This is specially designed and divided with 63 points in order to match with the autofocus points of the layout. The combination with autofocus and autoexposure is also very important in order to achieve the autofocus and exposure correctly."

CPN: Is there one aspect of the technology in the EOS-1D Mark IV that was the biggest technological leap, or barrier to get over, in comparison with previous EOS-1 series cameras?

The metering sensor of the EOS-1D Mark IV.

TO: "The major point is high ISO sensitivity. Of course, as I've already explained, the CMOS sensor was developed with a completely new structure. Another thing is, of course, the DIGIC imaging engine. The algorithms needed were very complicated, and there were lots of barriers, but there was a breakthrough to achieve that. The high ISO sensitivity is a very tough point to achieve.

In order to achieve the high ISO sensitivity the sensor and engine were developed. It's a very high precision development as even small discrepancies can appear as a bigger difference in the final result. For example, with the noise reduction with the effort with the R&D people they tried to reduce the error precisely to the end. So, that's very hard work to achieve that.

Another big point was autofocus. To explain, a very high level of balance between quick response and stability is required in order to satisfy professional photographers - otherwise it doesn't make sense. So, in order to satisfy the professionals the algorithm is improved almost daily - it's very hard work to achieve the 'complete' level.

We had a lot of field tests for the autofocus, a lot of field work, and various situations have to be considered when making algorithms after the analysis of various cases. That's also very tough."

CPN: You mentioned that some aspects of a camera can be improved daily. With the EOS-1D Mark IV as it is today if you get feedback from photographers do you sometimes work, find an element, and think maybe you could add firmware or something else to slightly improve the camera even further?

TO: "In R&D every day, continuously, we try to improve the performance of the EOS-1D Mark IV. We can't always tell when we are going to launch a new firmware but, internally, we are always developing daily and trying to improve the performance of the Mark IV according to the feedback from the field."

CPN: So, that feedback may or may not result in immediate firmware or it may be something considered for a new product?

The EOS-1D Mark IV's shutter system.

TO: "Yes, you're right. Sometimes we'll make a new firmware for the current model or just use it as feedback for the next model - that's also possible."

CPN: At a certain point in a camera's 'life' do you stop and say 'OK, we're not going to add anything, we're happy with the Mark IV'?

TO: "Not everything is always implemented. For example, autofocus in the latest digital SLR is very important because even if focus is a little bit 'not sharp' it directly influences the image quality. That's why autofocus is the first thing in order for professional users to achieve a high picture quality. That's key - that's why autofocus is a very important point. As we mentioned before autofocus is not always 100%, so that's why we always try to improve the quality or precision of the autofocus in order to achieve the ideal autofocus in the future."

CPN: Some photographers have said that they would have liked the EOS-1D Mark IV to have been a full frame camera because of the relationship between lenses, particularly wideangle, not giving exact focal lengths. Why was the Mark IV not full frame?

TO: "This camera has a 1.3x APS-H sensor, which is somewhere between full size and APS-C size. The 1.3x magnification means it's very close to full frame and it also has the mobility and usability when handling the camera with longer focal length lenses - 300mm and 400mm for example. That's a key point as to why we kept the APS-H format."

CPN: A lot of Canon photographers have been talking about the new EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens that was launched at around the same time as the EOS-1D Mark IV. When you are developing a camera such as the EOS-1 Mark IV does the development of such a lens happen with the Mark IV in mind?

TO: "We had originally planned a combination of the Mark IV with the (new) 70-200mm lens because the Mark IV has achieved a brand new level for high image quality, high ISO sensitivity, and higher precision autofocus. With the 70-200mm L-series lens we also tried to achieve high image quality, so that's why we sought this timing to launch to the market. It's more effective this way."

The EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM zoom lens featured completely new elements to help to increase sharpness.

CPN: A lot of photographers that CPN has spoken to have said that the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens seems to be a lot sharper than the previous 70-200mm zoom. What within the technology of the lens has helped to achieve this?

TO: "Actually we did develop the sharpness to be better in the 'Mark II' version of the lens - meaning the EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM - than in the first version of the lens. The 70-200mm Mark II lens has been improved, especially in terms of high image quality and increasing the sharpness. In order to achieve higher sharpness and less distortion completely new lens elements were developed.

The second point is, after hearing from lots of professionals, in the new generation, Type II, of this lens we especially wanted to achieve an improvement in operability. For example, the shortest focusing distance being 1.4m to 1.2m - that's where the improvement has been done in response to requests from photographers."

CPN: In future EOS cameras where do you see the technology going? What areas for improvement are there?

TO: "The first point is a quite major point. In order to achieve what we have been talking about - high image quality, high ISO sensitivity and improved autofocus - ideally photographers want to shoot in the way that they want. In order to achieve that there's no end for this kind of basic function, for example responsiveness and operability should always be improved and developed in the future.

This is, of course, digital camera equipment. That's why further expansions can be made to the transmission of the images or making the movie function more powerful - these areas are more open for development for the future.

To come back to the original features, as we mentioned, the photographers want to shoot as they want - really like the human eyes. So that's still a huge distance; a long way to go, so that development will always be continuing for the basic features in the camera. But 'a camera is a camera', so that's why we should always come back and try to improve the original features."

CPN: Has the lift-off of the EOS Movie function in EOS DSLRs, and the way in which it has been so widely used throughout the world, come as a surprise to you?

TO: "Obviously, it (the response) has been more than we expected. With regard to the movie function in digital SLRs the most important point is the same as for still images - the high image quality. So, less noise and a wide dynamic range should be appearing in movies as well otherwise it (the movie function) doesn't make sense in digital SLRs. That's the starting point. This kind of idea eventually will be accepted, more than expected, in the movie world."

The EOS-1D Mark IV body shell is made from tough, lightweight magnesium alloy for great durability.

CPN: In terms of your work with the EOS range over the years is there one thing, or one camera, that you are most proud of having achieved?

TO: "My most memorable camera is the EOS-1D because it was the first digital EOS-1 series model. Before the EOS-1D was the DCS series that we launched (in conjunction with Kodak). It was a digital SLR that achieved many of the original EOS-1 features. At that time (2001) four megapixels and eight frames per second was a tremendously advanced technology compared with earlier (digital cameras). It was a very challenging technological target and, finally, in combination with the technology, myself and my team achieved it. This was quite epoch-making and made sense to the professional world. Of course the target in terms of hardware and performance was very high, but after achieving it the satisfaction was much higher than usual."

CPN: What would you like to achieve in the future? Do you have a dream camera you'd like to develop?

TO: "I can't tell you. It's my dream, so I can't tell you." (laughs)

CPN: What are your final thoughts on the EOS-1D Mark IV?

TO: "At the beginning we were talking about the fact that the EOS-1D Mark IV is the latest model of the EOS-1D series. This camera has been achieved based on the previous EOS model's features and lots of new technological elements. For example, we already mentioned high ISO sensitivity and autofocus and we think we have achieved a very high level of performance. That's why we think that lots of professional photographers should be using this model in order to achieve good results when they are shooting."