Canon patent details AI-powered auto-zoom feature: Digital Photography Review

An illustration from the patent application showing how the auto-zoom feature would detect a subject within a frame and adjust the composition accordingly through digital and/or optical zoom.

Canon has been granted a patent that highlights the details of a new technology that uses AI to automatically detect a subject within a frame and adjust the zoom of a camera or lens to better frame the subject.

Patent number 2021020239, published May 23, 2022, highlights the underlying technology and interface that would enable Canon to effectively have ‘auto-zoom’ technology in its cameras. As explained in the patent literature, this technology could work with both digital and optical zoom to keep subjects within the frame with minimal input from the camera operator.

Additional illustrations showing how the auto-zoom feature would detect where a subject is within the frame and adjust the zoom based on the parameters set by the camera operator.

Canon says the camera operator would be able to choose from various composition options in the camera’s menu to control how much of the subject is kept within the frame. Specifically, options ‘such as “face up,” “bust up” and “whole body”’ would ‘determine the size of the subject image as the basis for zoom control based on the selected composition.’ There’s also mention of touch-based tracking, which would enable photographers to tap on a subject within the composition on the touchscreen display and have the camera keep focus on that particular subject.

It all sounds very similar to the subject tracking and capture technology Canon is using in its PowerShot PICK PTZ camera. But based on the fact this was only recently granted suggests this is different than the technology used in the PowerShot PICK, considering it’s been available to purchase for some time now (albeit through very limited channels).

Canon’s PowerShot PICK camera automatically tracks subjects and captures images with minimal input, effectively serving as a little robot camera for events.

The patent application explains how this feature could work with both handheld and tripod shooting modes, but the handheld shooting modes almost exclusively refer to this technology in the context of shooting selfies. So, at least in its current form, it appears as though this auto-zoom feature is less an all-encompassing creative solution for framing all kinds of subjects and more of a Center Stage-style feature, which Apple uses in its iPad models to help digitally frame subjects during video calls by digitally cropping into the image as the subject(s) move around the scene.

It could be years before we see any hint of this technology being implemented into consumer Canon cameras, but it goes to show that software and AI-powered technologies will continue to be a driving force and differentiator between cameras and camera companies as digital photography continues to evolve.

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