During the DSLR era, Canon built a reputation for its quality tilt-shift lenses. It seems as though just porting over those designs to mirrorless isn’t enough, however, as the company has an idea of making what was manual tilt and shift operation instead fully electronic.
Tilt-shift lenses have historically lacked autofocus because camera systems typically need to work with some assumptions on an attached lens — basically, the system will work under the assumption that the focal plane is flat. As a result, the electronic components in a tilt-shift lens have been limited to an electronic connection to transmit EXIF data and manage aperture while the rest of the lens is fully manual — manual focus and manual control of tilt and shift.
Canon seems interested in addressing at least the second factor with its latest design patent, spotted by Asobinet, where the traditional tilt and shift knobs are replaced by an integrated, fully electronic system.
The patent, published on September 28, describes a system where a switch allows a photographer to select between tilt and shift and the degree each is moved is controlled by a four-way “D-pad.” The patent also describes a “Reset” button that would presumably return the lens to its first, standard, position.
“In recent years, situations in which tilt and shift shooting are used have increased, and there is an urgent need to reduce the labor and time of operations in such shooting,” Canon says in the patent, translated from Japanese. “This patent describes an invention which provides a control device capable of reducing the labor and time of an operation and improving the convenience of tilt and shift photography.”
The tilting and shifting effects happen by moving optical components internally rather than moving the entire barrel of the lens, which is another advancement and shift (pun intended) compared to traditional tilt-shift lens designs.
While an electronic motor would perhaps provide more control over fine adjustments, this system does bring up some concerns regarding long-term durability as well as speed. Making a shift on a current Canon tilt-shift lens takes no time at all and changing to an electronic system would likely make movements far slower. Adding internal moving parts to something like this also sound like a situation that would be susceptible to breakage.
Two years ago, a rumor emerged that Canon’s next-generation RF-mount mirrorless tilt-shift lenses would find a way to support autofocus, but electronic control over the tilt and shift wasn’t part of that discussion. That rumor also proposed that we would see the lens in 2022, which never happened.
Whether or not Canon actually releases a lens with this capability is yet to be seen, as many companies will file patents like this just to own the idea, regardless of their intent to actually produce them in consumer products.