Sony took the unusual (and honest) step of stating in the invitation to its ‘Strategic Update’ at Photokina that there would be no new products announced. Nevertheless, the press assembled at the event. And sure enough, we were treated to an update on how much Sony has achieved since entering the interchangeable lens market. Naturally, the focus was on the company’s full-frame mirrorless cameras.
The fact that Sony develops its camera technology in-house was a key theme. It enables the company to develop components and technology such as 5-axis stabilisation, stacked sensors and Eye AF so that they work in harmony with each other. According to Yann Salmon-Legagneur, Sony Europe’s Product Marketing general manager, it also fuels innovation and helps develop future products or technology.
Eye AF has been an especially successful technology for Sony. It was introduced in 2013, but, it was only when it became possible to use it in continuous AF mode that the company (and many users) realised its significance. It’s particularly popular amongst wedding and social photographers as it does a great job of keeping the focus on a subject’s eyes.
Helpfully, it works in both stills and video mode. It means that the most important part of the scene is kept sharp. Combine that with silent shooting and you have a powerful tool for wedding photographers.
Currently, Eye AF only works with human eyes. However, at the Photokina strategy update, Sony stated that Animal Eye AF will be coming soon. What’s not clear though, is whether this will come to existing products via a firmware update or if it will be rolled out with new products.
I pressed Salmon-Legagneur on the matter but he was unable to shed any light on the situation. I’m hopeful for a firmware update. When I interviewed Yosuke Aoki, Vice President and Head of Digital Imaging Group at Sony Europe, back in June 2017, he indicated that new functionality might be added to Sony’s cameras via firmware updates. It’s an approach that has won Fujifilm many fans.
Salmon-Legagneur explained that the difficulty with technologies like Eye AF is the data transfer speed that’s required. It’s especially problematic full-frame cameras.
The camera has to use artificial intelligence (AI) to recognise a face. Once the face has been found, it can then latch on to the eyes. This has to be done very quickly so the camera can get the eyes sharp in the shot.
Extending the Eye AF system to animals means that the camera concerned has to be capable of recognising different faces. Even with dogs, for instance, a Dalmatian’s face looks very different from a Border Terrier’s.
We’ve already seen this kind of technology in action in the Huawei P20 Pro. It can distinguish a cat from a dog for instance. It even displays an icon to let you know what type of subject it has detected.
If Sony does manage to achieve this level of sophistication (I think it’s unlikely that it won’t now the expectation has been raised), it could be a huge step forward for wildlife photography. Meanwhile, I’m really hoping that Border Terriers make it to the identification list!