Canon unveils exciting lens & camera innovations for 3D & VR content creation
Canon is showcasing VR and 3D innovations at CES 2024. Our expert Daniel Pohl takes a closer look.
Canon already has a solid foothold in VR content creation with the professional 5.2mm VR180 Dual Fisheye lens. Now, the company has shown further products for the 3D VR sector at CES 2024. I report on the exciting new lenses and cameras and give my assessment of the relevance for VR, the areas of application and whether the new products are worthwhile overall.
Canon's previous equipment for VR180-3D
For almost two years, Canon's 5.2mm VR180 Dual Fisheye lens (Amazon) was only available with the EOS R5 (Amazon) and R5 C (Amazon) camera bodies at a price of around $2,000 for the lens. Canon recently released support for a slightly cheaper camera body via a firmware upgrade.
However, the additional EOS R6 Mark II (Amazon) body does not perform as well in our review of the R6 Mark II with the Canon 5.2mm lens. The cost savings come at a high price in exchange for the image quality of the immersive experience in virtual reality.
Canon's novelties at CES 2024
In this article, I will discuss the three exhibits on display: Consumer 180/360 Foldable, 5.2mm lens for APS-C and a new short-angle 3D lens.
Canon's consumer 180-3D / 360-2D foldable prototype
We already know the first model. This is Canon's prototype of the foldable 180-3D / 360-2D camera (min. 8K photo, 8K @ 30 fps video). As a smaller camera for the consumer market, I estimate a price of less than $1,000. The retail release date remains unclear.
However, this is the third time Canon has shown this prototype, partly in newer versions. This gives us hope that the release could happen soon. There is definitely a need for it. The perceived predecessor, the Insta360 EVO (6K photo, 6K video), is now being traded on Ebay at 2–3 times the original retail price, as there are currently no other alternatives in the consumer market.
As you can see in the current pictures, the camera has two buttons on the side. There is another button and a small display on the back. The display looks as if it can only show grayscale in the current prototype. We are hoping for at least the possibility of a real-time approximation of a water scale, which is particularly important when recording VR180-3D. This is the best way to avoid unwanted rotations, which otherwise lead to a conflict between the headset orientation and the camera orientation when viewing in VR. This can lead to motion sickness for viewers.
It is interesting to note that the CE mark can already be seen on the back of the opened camera. The EU explains regarding CE: “CE marking indicates that a product has been assessed by the manufacturer and deemed to meet EU safety, health and environmental protection requirements.” This could only have been printed on the prototype as an example for positioning. However, I do not think Canon would risk appearing at a public trade fair with a non-approved, official mark. This could be another indication of an imminent release.
The 5.2mm lens for APS-C
The previously available 5.2mm Dual Fisheye lens from Canon only works with camera bodies with Full-Frame sensors (36.0 x 24.0mm). The presented prototype of the new 5.2mm lens, however, is designed to work with camera bodies with APS-C image sensors (22.2 x 14.8 mm).
What is the difference? In most cases, bodies with Full-Frame sensors are more expensive, larger and heavier compared to APS-C. The larger sensor allows more light to be captured, which usually results in images with less noise.
Nevertheless, APS-C sensors are high-quality sensors whose image area is often significantly larger than standard compact cameras and even more so than smartphone cameras.
Because of the smaller APS-C sensor, it is also possible to build correspondingly smaller lenses for it. We can see this immediately in the new prototype: while the width of the lens seems to have remained the same due to the approximation of the lenses to the human eye distance, this lens is less deep. Consequently, this makes it somewhat lighter and hopefully cheaper to manufacture. The original 5.2mm lens for Full-Frame sensors has the “L” designation for “Luxury”, which Canon uses to signify particularly high-quality and high-priced lenses.
The materials used are typically of higher quality and therefore heavier and pricier. These lenses are often water-repellent, and in the case of the current 5.2mm, have a special coating that reduces internal lens reflections (lens flares). No details in this area are known about the new APS-C lens yet. However, a deliberate step outside the “L” range could be taken, which could make the lens appear significantly cheaper, perhaps even at half the price. This would certainly help with the further penetration of VR180 in the prosumer sector.
How does Canon's current APS-C camera body compare to the Full-Frame versions of the 5.2mm lens and the resolutions possible for shooting VR180 media? Canon itself shows the lens mounted on the APS-C camera body EOS R7 (Amazon). The following table shows the differences:
The following table shows the differences:
|EOS R5 C
|EOS R6 Mark II
|07 / 2020
|03 / 2022
|11 / 2022
|06 / 2022
|Photo resolution equirect
|Video resolution equirect
|8192×4096 @ 30 fps
|8192×4096 @ 60 fps
|4096×2048 @ 60 fps
|4096×2048 @ 60 fps
As my review of the EOS R6 Mark II with the 5.2mm lens has already shown, the cost savings compared to the R5 in terms of image quality reductions were not worthwhile. Now, however, with the EOS R7, the cards are being reshuffled. The R7 is significantly cheaper and still has a higher resolution than the R6 Mark II, even if not as high as the R5.
Unfortunately, the camera can only use that high resolution with 7K photos. In terms of the number of pixels, the resulting sharpness and the better noise behavior thanks to the larger sensor, it easily beats all previous consumer cameras such as the Insta360 EVO, Lenovo Mirage Camera and Vuze XR. This puts it in the same league as the Kickstarter VR180 camera Calf (8K photo, 6K video) for photos. However, compared to the Canon camera bodies, the Calf camera does not offer any water scale or horizon correction.
Unfortunately, as with the R6 Mark II, the videos on the EOS R7 are still only in 4K. As already mentioned in our review of the R6 Mark II, I do not consider 4K a suitable option for VR180 and can therefore only advise against it for video. Nevertheless, if you mainly want to create VR180-3D photos, you will find a very intriguing offer in terms of price, with which you can create high-quality 7K 180°-3D photos.
The biggest competition to the EOS R7 with the Dual Fisheye lens is provided by Canon itself with the folding 180/360 camera. The advantage of the R7 over the folding camera is the large color display for an excellent preview of the images. The water scale for alignment is also available on the R7. This important feature has not yet been confirmed for the folding model and may not be available. The APS-C sensor size will presumably also be larger than the sensor of the folding camera, which should deliver better results when taking pictures with less light. However, the foldable camera is expected to capture at least 8K photos, vs. the 7K photos of the R7.
On closer inspection, I notice another difference to the previous 5.2mm lens. There is a switch on the left side, which is currently not labeled. The previous 5.2mm lens only had manual focus. This is not as inconvenient as it might first appear.
On a normal city tour for sightseeing, the lens is often focused on an area that is further away. You can therefore use the setting a little longer until you have to change it again for closer shots. Unfortunately, the large focus ring of the 5.2mm lens frequently moves when I take the camera out of the camera bag. My guess is that the switch will provide one of the two functions:
- Autofocus on/off: this would certainly be an interesting upgrade, even if it wouldn't be needed as much as with some other 2D lenses
- Focus lock on/off: preventing unintentional turning of the manual focus
The short-angle 3D lens
Now that the hype surrounding “Spatial Video” and “Spatial Photo” has been started by Apple's new functionality in the iPhone 15 Pro, the short-angle 3D format is also attracting more attention again. Unlike the VR180-3D, you cannot view the entire hemisphere stereoscopically by moving your head, but instead focus on a smaller area that is displayed like a 3D movie screen. However, the limitations of the field of view result in a higher resolution per degree of field of view, which can result in sharper images.
The lens distance on the iPhone 15 Pro is very small and in an entirely different category than the average human eye distance of 6.3 cm. It is speculated that Apple makes some adjustments when saving the “spatial videos”, which gives the video a better impression of depth than one would expect.
In the third prototype from Canon, a new lens, we also see a very small distance between the two lenses. It is reminiscent of one of the old Loreo 3D macro lenses that appeared in 2007.
It is not yet clear whether this Canon lens is also specifically for macro or whether you can take short-angle shots similar to the iPhone and add more depth effect in post-processing. In general, the 3D macro area can be an exciting field for photographers. Stereoscopic shots of insects or flowers can leave a gigantic impression on the viewer.
This prototype of the lens was also shown on the APS-C camera EOS R7. Whether there will also be a variant for camera bodies with Full-Frame sensors is still unclear.
Speaking of Full-Frame: A few months ago, the rumor mill was still talking about the successor to the current R5, the R5 Mark II, which was expected to be released in Q1 / 2024. Meanwhile, the forecasts at CanonRumors have become more cautious. It is now assumed that this new camera body will not be released until after the Olympic Games in July 2024.
While this means that more patience is required, we can still hope for some news at the next CP+ camera trade fair. It starts in Canon's home country, Japan, on February 22, 2024.
Conclusion on Canon's 3D and VR innovations
With three prototypes in development in the area of regular 3D and 180°-3D, Canon is charting a pleasing course for VR headset owners who enjoy creating and viewing immersive media. I think it is commendable that Canon is taking a riskier route here that many other established camera manufacturers are shying away from.
Presumably, Canon has also learned from the fact that in the past they reacted rather “cautiously” to the advent of smartphone cameras, which led to the practical extinction of their compact camera division. This time they are at the forefront and I hope to be able to use the shown prototypes myself soon.
Article image: Hugh Hou
The author, Daniel Pohl, is CEO and founder of immerVR GmbH. There, Daniel works daily on innovations in the field of immersive media, mostly in the area of VR180 stereo photography. With his app immerGallery, you can experience immersive photo galleries with voice-overs and background music in various VR formats on Meta Quest headsets.