Tucked in a corner on a shelf at Canon’s booth are the two most exciting cameras the company has brought to CES in years. They’re not wholly unique ideas (and one of them doesn’t even work yet), but compared to the iterative releases and myriad of camcorders that usually make up Canon’s announcements for this particular show, they’re a welcome breath of fresh air.
The concept camera that does work is shaped a bit like the Samsung Gear 360, though it only has one lens. That lens and the sensor architecture sit on a movable platform inside the camera’s dome, which itself can quickly swivel a full 360 degrees.
The point is for the camera to be able to follow and film objects or faces in almost any direction. Canon imagines it using AI to track objects or faces and even learn to capture them better over time, something that sounds a lot like Google Clips. The company showed a working version of this concept, which was wired to a small external display that showed what the camera was seeing.
The second camera was just a dummy model, but it offered up other interesting ideas. It’s a small brick-shaped thing with a flip-out Lightning port on one side, which also pivots, meaning you would be able to plug it into your iPhone to use as a viewfinder. It would also presumably allow for the fast transferring of images from the camera to your phone.
This is almost exactly the same idea as the DxO One, a small connectable camera from image quality experts DxO. One difference is that Canon imagines its camera having a 100-400mm zoom lens built in, as opposed to the fixed wide-angle lens on the DxO One. (The Canon rep I spoke with said it’s unclear whether this would be a mechanical or digital zoom.) The other key difference is that Canon’s camera would come with an attachable viewfinder so the photographer could shoot with the camera up to their eye.
The company showed off a few different takes this concept, including two sphere-shaped versions with different button layouts and viewfinders.
Canon has the two concept cameras on display in a nondescript section of its setup in the Las Vegas Convention Center, and the company’s representatives stressed that these are concepts, not prototypes — a word that could imply that a product is coming.
It’s an understandable caution. You don’t want to mislead existing or potential customers, business partners, or investors. But the company should understand that some of those people also want it to be more vocal about these ideas, and any others it has in the works. (To its credit, Canon had cards out asking for feedback on the projects.)
The two new concepts borrow ideas from products that already exist in the market, but they twist those ideas in clever ways. And they conjure up questions worth asking. For example: is there a place for a camera that can mechanically point in all directions in a world where a true 360-degree camera will eventually be able to simulate the same kind of ability with software?
The rate at which some of these companies choose to innovate (especially in the face of a world full of startups with fresh ideas) leaves a lot to be desired, which is why it was disheartening that they all seemed happy to hibernate through CES in both 2017 and 2018. Seeing these two concepts on the show floor was like spotting a blade of grass in a yard full of snow. I want to believe it means a spring awakening is coming, but sometimes you just know in your gut that it’s about to snow again.