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Canon EOS R1 could be first camera with Quad Pixel AF, new patent suggests

The Canon EOS 1D X Mark III DSLR on a blue background
(Image credit: Canon)
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A new patent suggests that Canon is stepping up its plans to develop a next-gen autofocus system, with rumors tipping the Canon EOS R1 as the most likely pioneer of the new tech.

As spotted by Asobinet and Canon Rumors, a Canon patent (see below) was published on January 6 for a new focus detection method that shows so-called "dual cross" autofocus points within a quad-pixel structure. 

This leap forward from Canon's current Dual Pixel AF tech would theoretically make it even more reliable at locking onto horizontal and vertical edges (which can still be a weakness on the latest mirrorless cameras), whatever orientation you're holding the camera in.

While it's just a patent and there's naturally no specific reference to the Canon EOS R1, Canon Rumors says it "thinks we'd see such technology appear on the Canon EOS R1 first". The EOS R1, which we named in our guide to the most exciting cameras of 2022, has been tipped to be Canon's next flagship camera.

This isn't the first patent we've seen for Quad Pixel AF, with Canon News highlighting a separate one back in October 2020. But it does explain in a little more detail how the autofocus tech might work, with the pixels not only split into four photodiodes, but also including 'dual-cross' AF points that can detect lines in horizontal, vertical, and diagonal directions. 

Currently, Dual Pixel AF works by splitting each pixel into two photodiodes, with the differences between the two respective images analyzed by a processor, so it can drive the lens in the right direction to achieve sharp focus. While this generally works well, it can fail in specific situations, like when the edge you're focusing on is parallel to the orientation in which you're holding the camera. 

Splitting the pixel into four photodiodes and including 'dual cross' AF points would theoretically get around this issue and could be a big boon for sports and wildlife photographers, along with videographers.


Analysis: A fitting new tech for a flagship?

A diagram showing Canon's Quad Pixel AF technology

A patent diagram showing the 'cross-type' AF points Canon is exploring for use within its Quad Pixel AF structure. (Image credit: Asobinet)

Canon's Dual Pixel AF technology dates back to 2013 when it arrived on the Canon EOS 70D, but it remains one of the best systems around for stills and video. That's particularly the case when it combines with Canon's latest AF subject-tracking algorithms, as we've seen on the likes of the Canon EOS R3.

But Canon was keen to point out that the EOS R3 isn't its flagship mirrorless camera, which leaves a gap in its lineup for a true Sony A1 rival – hence the growing rumors about a Canon EOS R1.

Most of the latest advances in mirrorless cameras have been in areas like burst shooting speeds and video, thanks to the arrival of 'stacked sensors'. These chips bring super-fast read-out speeds that mean we're starting to see some cameras, like the Nikon Z9, arrive without mechanical shutters.

But autofocus continues to be one of the main battlegrounds for the latest flagship cameras. If Canon is making strides with its Quad Pixel AF tech, as this new patent suggests, then the rumored Canon EOS R1 would be the ideal camera to introduce it on.

In theory, it could deliver near-faultless autofocus performance, which would be particularly appealing for sports and wildlife shooters. And with other autofocus technologies like Lidar, which we saw arrive on the DJI Ronin 4D, also able to lock onto subjects in the dark, it seems there's still another big step in the evolution of hybrid cameras coming down the pipeline. Whether we see it arrive in 2022 on the Canon EOS R1, though, remains to be seen.

Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson

Mark is the Cameras Editor at TechRadar. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.