Stacked sensors could mean faster autofocus, better video, patent suggests

canon patent details stacked sensors with autofocus layer 47498039 l
Missisya/123rf
Sony’s stacked sensors are giving cameras an edge in speed but Canon thinks it can take that idea even further. In a patent published on December 21, Canon describes a layered CMOS sensor that uses a second chip for autofocus in order to improve the camera’s performance.

A stacked sensor dedicates a layer to collect the image data and a layer dedicated to processing that data, which allows high-resolution cameras to perform at faster rates — the tech is one of the reasons the Sony a9 is able to achieve 20 fps burst speeds. The design allows cameras to handle large quantities of data at faster speeds.

Canon’s patent describes a layered sensor that has that imaging layer and signal processing layer, but also gives the second layer the task of detecting the correct autofocus value as well as processing the image. The goal, the patent says, is to shorten “data transfer time,” or make those stacked sensors even faster. Patent language includes both contrast and phase difference, suggesting that dedicated AF layer uses a hybrid version of the two most common autofocus methods.

With this arrangement, the patent suggests, the design also allows for smaller devices, along with that enhanced performance. How the pixels and circuitry are arranged allows for both a rolling or global type shutter, which means the pixels could be exposed one at a time (which can create distortion at extreme speeds) or with a global sensor where all the pixels are exposed at once, eliminating that rolling shutter distortion.

Another potential perk of the design is a live view. The imaging diagrams and accompanying descriptions suggest that live view and the autofocus function can be done simultaneously. That is an important feature if the technology is going to be used to record video since DSLRs require using live-view mode in order to shoot video. This is achieved by using some of the sensor’s rows for autofocus and some of the live view, the patent says.

The patent uses both still cameras and video cameras as examples for where the sensor could be integrated and there is no indication of if the design makes its way into a DSLR, mirrorless, compact or dedicated video camera. Another potential possibility for video, however, is that the sensor could also generate less heat than current designs. The internal temperature of the camera is one of the reasons DSLRs have limits to recording 4K video — the camera can only shoot for so long before it would overheat, so setting a time limit avoids the issue.

Further patent language suggests that the sensor design could also use less energy, leading to better battery life.

Patents don’t always make their way from paper diagrams to actual consumer technology, but if the tech actually lives up to those claims, Canon could be working on a camera with faster autofocus performance and higher resolution video without overheating.

Photography

2018 was a terrific year for new cameras. Here are our favorites

This year, we saw the unveiling of several exciting new cameras. We look back at our favorite models -- each delivering something unique, yet all are powerful and feature-rich. Camera fans, rejoice!
Photography

Canon holiday sale features the Rebel T6 2-lens kit for just $449

If you have a budding photographer in your life in need of a real camera, the Canon EOS Rebel T6 could make the perfect gift. Canon is currently offering the camera in a two-lens bundle for just $449 through December 29.
Photography

These are the best action cameras money can buy

Action cameras are great tools for capturing videos of your everyday activities, whether it's a birthday party or the steepest slope you've ever descended on your snowboard. These are the best money can buy.
Product Review

Meet Z6, the breakout star in Nikon's new mirrorless lineup

The Nikon Z6 is the sibling to the new mirrorless Z7 -- but for some photographers, the cheaper Z6 may be the better option. Read where the $2,000 camera beats the $3,400 one (and where it doesn’t) in our Nikon Z6 review.
Photography

Photographers can now customize the layout of Lightroom Classic controls

Tired of scrolling past Lightroom tools that you don't use? Adobe Lightroom Classic now allows users to reorganize the Develop panel. The update comes along with new sharing options in Lightroom CC, and updates to the mobile Lightroom app.
Social Media

Instagram could be making a special type of account for influencers

Instagram influencers fall somewhere between a business profile and a typical Instagram, so the company is working on developing a type of account just for creators. The new account type would give creators more access to analytical data.
Mobile

Leave the laptop at home, the iPad Pro is the travel buddy to take on vacay

The iPad Pro is a powerful tablet that's perfect for creatives and professionals. How does it fare when traveling with it as a laptop replacement? We took it on a two week trek in Japan to find out.
Cars

Best Products of 2018

Our reception desk has so many brown boxes stacked up, it looks like a loading dock. We’re on a first-name basis with the UPS guy. We get new dishwashers more frequently than most people get new shoes. What we’re trying to say is: We…
Emerging Tech

Light, speed: Lighting kit for DJI Mavic 2 lets you fly and film in the dark

Lume Cube, maker of small battery-powered LED lights for mobile photography, has announced a new lighting kit built specifically for the DJI Mavic 2 -- the first of its kind. Already our favorite drone, this makes the Mavic 2 even better.
Social Media

Instagram’s 2018 year in review shines a light on where our hearts are

What did Instagram users share the most in 2018? A lot of heart emojis, heart face filters, and heart GIFs. The platform recently shared the year's top trends, including hashtags like #fortnite and #metoo along with a few surprises.
Deals

Want a fun, affordable instant camera? The Fujifilm Instax Mini 7S is just $49

Instant cameras have had a surprising resurgence of late, and no brand is better recognized in the instant photo space today than Fujifilm Instax. Walmart is currently offering the Instax Mini 7S for just $49.
Photography

Not just for Lightroom anymore, Loupedeck+ now works with Photoshop

Loupedeck+ can now help photographers edit in Photoshop too, thanks to physical controls for swapping tools, running actions, and more. The photo-editing console expanded to include Photoshop in the list of compatible editing programs.
Emerging Tech

The best drone photos from around the world

Most of today's drones come equipped with high-end cameras, which are quickly revolutionizing the world of aerial photography as we know it. Here are some of the best drone photos from around the world.
Computing

Need a monitor for professional photo-editing? These are the very best

Looking for the best monitor for photo editing? You'll need to factor in brightness, color accuracy, color gamut support and more. Fortunately, we've rounded up the best ones for you, to help you make an educated purchase.