Canon Voice Recognition Camera Patent: “Say Cheese”

We’ve got menus, buttons and touch screens to help use operate our cameras.  However, imagine telling your subjects to “say cheese” and the camera listens to your command as well, waits for people to smile and handles the shutter button for you.  The latter portion of those operations is are already available on today’s cameras with features like SmileShot and ShutterSmile, which wait for smiles before releasing the shutter.  And, if one of Canon’s latest patents comes to life, we could have the voice recognition features on our cameras in the near future.

While I took the liberty of putting words in mouths of the “photographers” in the above image, the rest of the image comes from a Canon patent application (USPTO Appl. No. 12/625,441) filed on November 24 of last year.  The patent application doesn’t quite get to the point of carrying on a conversation with the photographer, and my “say cheese” example isn’t specifically mentioned; however, Canon is looking to provide an abundance of control through voice recognition within the camera.

Specifically, Canon provided a chart that sets out voice recognition commands for both shooting and image review.  Camera function adjustments include everything from changing flash settings, exposure compensation and image quality, to setting drive modes, lens zoom and display brightness.

Now, before you get all flustered about having to talk to your camera to get it to work, the patent refers to these controls in a supplementary role.  And, you’ll actually have to press a button to activate the voice recognition feature – not too different from your cell phone: “call mom.”  So, you don’t have to worry about discussing your aperture settings with another photographer and the camera going haywire.  And, if you’re the type that likes to use the menu to navigate to C.Fn III-8-3, you’ll still be able to do that.

Significantly, the Canon patent application discussing this feature in terms of both point and shoot cameras and DSLRs.  A voice recognition feature is something that Michael Reichmann over at Luminous Landscape has suggested for a Canon 1-series DSLR at least as far back as 2006.  Moreover, Konica Corp. has a US patent for a voice recognition camera, which was awarded in 1990, and it covered a more basic voice recognition interface.  (See US Patent No. 4,951,079.)  Canon’s interface also accounts for determining the camera distance to photographer and attenuating the mic sensitivity as necessary.  Still yet, it’s surprising that the foundation of this functionality has been sitting around for 20 years without a solid, mainstream implementation brought to the market.

I tend to agree with Reichmann’s points for DSLR users, as well as point and shoot users.  In addition to the convenience factor, I am also thinking about many visually impaired photographers who have a tough time navigating the menus or finding the right buttons on any digital camera due to the small menu print and tiny icons on pretty much any camera these days.

What do you think about voice recognition on a camera?  Would you prefer such a feature on a point and shoot or DSLR?  Do you think Canon will actually bring this product to market?  Will it show up at Photokina 2010?



  1. says

    Here’s one visually impaired photographer who would vote for this,on both point-and-shoots and DSLRs. More than that, I would welcome speech output for the menus and buttons as well. The nearest thing I know of here is the iPhone, which has gone down very well among visually impaired people.

    Whether these features would make a camera successful in the marketplace is anyone’s guess. I can’t help thinking back to the Sonus digital radio with talking menus, which wasn’t exactly a blockbuster – but then it was expensive, hard to get, and the menus wen’t out of date, so that may say something for the company’s half-hearted approach.

    Cameras generally are way behind many other devices in the accessibility stakes, and so I hope that Canon does make this idea a reality.

    • says

      @Kevin – Menus and button icons can be hard to see for those with less than perfect vision. And, the Engadget post that you referenced refers to the Canon patent above, as well as a Sony patent for a touchscreen DSLR, which you can read more about here.