Want to Use Eye Control AF on the Canon EOS R3? Check This Out

The Canon EOS R3 is finally official. It’s obviously targeting sports, wildlife, photojournalism, and wedding photographers. One of the most exciting features is Eye Control Autofocus (Eye Control AF). It’s a revolutionary feature that’s been available to Canon users that’s received a major upgrade. In a nutshell, you can control and move the autofocus point on the Canon EOS R3 just by looking at a spot in the frame. But make sure your eyes are ready.

Editor’s Note: We’re experts on most things, but we haven’t used the Canon EOS R3 just yet. We’ve got one coming to us for review. All of this information is based on previous experience and what we’re told from Canon. And like everything The Phoblographer does, we’re applying practicality to it.

What Is Eye Control Autofocus?

Eye Control autofocus is a technology that observes where your eye is looking in the frame and manipulates the camera and lens to lock onto a part of the scene. It’s not new. Eye Control AF was implemented in film cameras back in the day of the Canon EOS Elan 7. We wrote about it many years ago and said Canon should bring it back. Here’s a quote from an article we wrote in 2011 summarizing how it worked:

“The user calibrated their viewfinder. When the user looked straight at the middle, the middle focusing point was chosen and the lens shifted accordingly. The according focusing point was also chosen.”

With the Canon EOS R3, Eye Control AF is stepping up. It now involves a lot more autofocus points, tracking, can work with more eye shapes and with glasses better, and it’s been updated for mirrorless. With a mirrorless camera like the Canon EOS R3, Eye Control AF isn’t anywhere as limited as it was with film SLR cameras. 

TL;DR: You can look at an autofocus point or a space in the scene, and the Canon EOS R3 will focus the lens on it. We don’t know yet how it will work with third-party lenses. The only one with autofocus that we’ve used and liked is the Rokinon 85 mm f1.4 AF.

Who Will Use Eye Control Autofocus on the Canon EOS R3? How Does It Work?

In our meetings with Canon, they said photographers either liked it or hated it. So this will mean various things. First off, Canon quickly notes that it won’t work with all eye shapes and physical conditions. “The system uses corneal reflection – there are limitations to how the system works acquiring and some physiology is not conducive to this technology at this time,” says Drew MacCallum, Advisor, Technical Information, Canon USA. Drew is the same rep who confirmed that the Canon EOS R3 sensor is made by Canon.

So basically, here’s a breakdown:

  • If you wear glasses, it might be diffucult to use Eye Control AF.
  • If you have perfect vision and no astigmatism, cataracts, or other visual conditions, Eye Control AF will work just fine.
  • Mr. MacCallum tells us that it may not work with sunglasses or some glasses with coatings such as UV or IR blocking lenses. This means that transition lenses could be an issue.
  • The diopter settings don’t affect Eye Control AF.
  • Blackout-free shooting should make this easier.

Even if you have perfect vision, we can imagine that Eye Control AF will cause eye strain after a while. Ever sat and stared at a screen for a mindless amount of time? You most likely felt eye strain after it. And that’s bound to happen here. I did this years ago when I worked a day job, and it wrecked my eyes.

Further, you need to calibrate it to work best with your eyes. Canon tells us that the more you calibrate it, the better it becomes over time. You calibrate using the new 5.76 million dot EVF and by looking at six different points. To use it, you’ll look at the target in the viewfinder and then press the M-fn button to activate it.

As Drew stated earlier in our article, it uses corneal reflections to focus. There are infrared LED sensors around the back-top area of the camera that constantly monitor and read the position of your eye.

When Would You Use Eye Control Autofocus?

Canon says that Eye Control AF isn’t for every situation. They demoed the Canon EOS R3 tracking a motorcycle as it moved on a track. I could imagine wanting to use it for quick shots such as:

  • Wildlife photography: where you’re putting your eye in the viewfinder for a while, shooting and tracking a subject, and then giving your eyes a break and exploring.
  • Wedding photography: where you do pretty much the same thing as wildlife. However, you’re more likely looking in the viewfinder, focusing, shooting a single frame, and then moving on. That’s how I used to shoot anyway.
  • Photojournalistic events where you’re shooting similar to a wedding or party.

You won’t want to do it for sports photography where your eyes are stuck in the viewfinder most of the time, because your eyes definitely won’t get a break.

We also asked Canon about how Eye Control AF works in low light and rain.

Does Eye Control AF Work in Low Light or Rain?

This is a big question. If you’re shooting a wedding, and the scene is very dark, how will the various sensors be able to track your eye movement in low light? And because the sensors are infrared LEDs, how will that work outdoors in bright sunlight? What’s more, what if you’re in the rain and that stuff gets on your camera? Will the Eye Control AF become out of whack? 

Drew answered:

“Eye control is only affected in low light in the same way that AF is affected- if you are drastically under exposed, AF performance could be reduced. Keep in mind, Eye Control AF is only a method of where the focus point is placed- similar to the Smart Controller, joystick or even the control dials – its not a different method of AF.”

So there you have it. This could be a super exciting feature!

Chris Gampat

Chris Gampat is the Editor in Chief, Founder, and Publisher of the Phoblographer. He also likes pizza.