A Look At What's Ahead For Photography In 2005...And Beyond Page 2
The End Of Megapixel Wars
It's no secret that digital cameras are already selling like hotcakes at the expense of conventional 35mm and medium format equipment, and this trend will certainly continue. Almost overnight, 7- and 8-megapixel models have become the norm in "prosumer" digicams, but will the megapixel wars continue? In other words, will we see 10- and 12-megapixel compact cameras in the near future? While that may sound like a logical prediction, it's unlikely, at least based on current technology.
That's because the sensors used in such cameras are too small (8.8x6.6mm, on average) to accommodate a substantially larger number of photodiodes (pixels). While it is theoretically possible to cram 12 million of those little devils on the tiny CCD sensor, they would need to be microscopic in size. That would create serious technical problems because very small photodiodes are less sensitive to light. They cannot record as much detail in both highlight and shadow areas in contrasty scenes and they produce more digital noise, particularly at ISO 400 and higher settings. Consequently, 8-megapixel resolution will probably be the highest available for quite some time.
The new high-end digicams to be announced in the next year or two are likely to have other benefits instead: larger LCD monitors optimized for outdoor use, built-in image stabilizers, greater speed for instant response, superior processing engines for improved image quality, and longer built-in zooms. Such features are already available in a few of the latest cameras, and they'll become the norm in an increasing number of models intended for photo enthusiasts. For greater resolution--at affordable prices--in the next couple of years, look to the digital SLR cameras from all manufacturers. The larger (approximately 23.7x15.5mm) sensors can accommodate far more photodiodes of acceptable size, making ultrahigh resolution consumer-grade digital SLRs possible, and probable as soon as prices for CCD and CMOS chips drop substantially.
--Peter K. Burian
Digital Will Continue To Up The Ante And Make Life Easier
When I was a kid my folks used to watch a television program called Criswell Predicts. This guy, billed as The Great Criswell or some such, would spend a half-hour or so making predictions about the future of the world. I don't know what his success rate was but I vividly remember that he once stated that when man finally reached the moon it would be paved with diamonds reducing their value to mere pennies per karat. While my predictions for the future of photography won't be that outlandish, I can state with certainty that I am at least as qualified as Criswell to make the following prognostications.
As I look back on my photographic career and the technological advances that have been introduced in the last 40 or so years, each new technology was at first scoffed at but was eventually accepted by the pros. Automatic through the lens metering, automatic flash exposure, and the one that brought the biggest guffaws, autofocus, each in turn upped the ante and made life a little easier. Today, for most photographers, these advances have become indispensable tools and we can't imagine working without them.
Digital photography has also had its share of detractors and critics but in a few short years it has taken over a huge portion of both the amateur and professional photographic markets. One very safe prediction is that this trend will continue, forcing manufacturers of traditional cameras and silver-based products to either restructure their product lines or pull out of the marketplace altogether. This means that in the future, and probably sooner than I'd like to think, traditional photographic processes will be used only by those interested in preserving photographic history. I used to think that this wouldn't happen in my lifetime but now I'm not so sure.
In the short term, digital cameras, lenses, digital storage media, printers, papers, and all the rest will continue to improve at a rate that will seem impossible. In the long term, maybe 5-10 years down the road, I think that there will be technologies that we can't yet imagine that will make today's digital imaging tools look quaint by comparison.
For those of us struggling to keep abreast of these new technologies this can be a frightening thought. But keep in mind that no matter how advanced the technology or how modernistic the media, it is the eye, the heart, and the soul of the man or woman behind the camera that really matters. That's how it has always been and how it will always be.
--Joseph A. Dickerson
Something To Crow About: It's The Year Of The Rooster
Ever since I was Mathew Brady's assistant, photographers have been complaining about the pace of technological change. I've got some advice: Get over it!
In 2003 I predicted creeping improvements in digital cameras, a lackluster and Euro-centric photokina, and no real breakthroughs until the world economy sees blue skies. Or did I mean creepy improvements in digital cameras? I also predicted a digital Voigtländer that turned out to be a sheep in wolf's clothing dressed up as the Epson R-D1. Whether "photographers line up round the block for one" as I also predicted remains to be seen. That's the past, what's in the future?
Ever since early digicams began using camcorder chips, the digital imaging movement has been more influenced from outside, not inside, the traditional photo industry. Today that means two words: High Definition (HD). Innovative filmmakers such as George Lucas, Robert Rodriguez, and others are shooting Hollywood films, including the upcoming Episode Three: Revenge of the Sith, in HD. I didn't even know that Rodriguez's Once Upon a Time in Mexico was shot in digital until I looked at the "extras" on the DVD. It just looked like a movie to me.
HD is coming to digital still photography, too; it's just a matter of time. Cameras such as the Canon EOS-1Ds already produce film-quality images and digital backs such as those Phase One has been making for a while. The next frontier is to create images that are better than film and that's spelled HD. The format will stick its nose under our tent first in the form of DVD-HD. Sooner or later as raw camera files get too big, DVDs ain't gonna cut it as a storage medium anymore. That leaves DVD-HD as the obvious solution and it will be the camel's nose that introduces HD into digital still photography.
The film industry already has cameras that create HD images--it's just a matter of time before your next still camera will, too. Why schlep two cameras--still and video--around when you can use just one HD device that does it all? Shake out the cobwebs, Waldo, and start creating images in 16:9 format, the redcoats are a'coming.
Small Is Beautiful In The Hands Of Enthusiasts
The easiest way to envision the future for photography is to look at the American automobile market. Fifty years ago it was considered downright eccentric, possibly even a little suspect, to drive anything other than a big, heavy, domestic sedan. Oh, sure, there were people who drove imports, or sports cars, or Jeeps, but not, you know, our kind of people.
Fast forward to today. Imports? Look around you. And look at the proliferation of different kinds of vehicles: sports cars, luxury cars, super-economy cars, SUVs, serious off-roaders, crew-cab pick-ups, people carriers...
The photographic market is fragmenting the same way. Almost all the small players at photokina were singing from the same hymn sheet. Our best year ever; 75 percent growth last year; very happy with our market share; maybe the industry is in decline but we are growing; can't keep the stock on the shelves; the show has gone better than we could have imagined; the litany went on and on.
This is the future. Small is beautiful. The big guys must adapt--think Dodge Viper--or go under. Of course the mass-market boosters try to talk down the small guys, but 'twas ever thus. Ignore them. The future of photography is today more in the hands of enthusiasts than it has been for a century or more. And in case you aren't sure who the enthusiasts are, that's you and me. Vote with your pocketbook: we'll get what we want.
--Roger W. Hicks
Ever More Powerful Microprocessors Will Benefit Images
In 1965 Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel, wrote a paper that postulated that every 18 months the power of microchips will double and the cost will drop in half. This was dubbed "Moore's Law" and has been a remarkably accurate prediction for nearly 40 years. The practical result of Moore's Law for photographers is that digital cameras will continue their rapid development, producing better images, coming down in price, and having ever more features.
More than just the megapixel count of the image sensor will be improving. The ever-increasing processing power available to camera designers will be used to solve problems like optical distortion. Astigmatism, spherical and chromatic aberrations, and other image degradation will be corrected by sophisticated post-processing of the image right in the camera body. Just as the Hubble Space Telescope's flawed optical system was "fixed" by powerful image processing, your images will benefit from ever more powerful microprocessors in tomorrow's digital cameras.
Digital Won't Stop, But Neither Will The Devotion To Film
My multi-coated aspheric lens used for predicting the future trends in photography is becoming more and more blurry due to static bursts from the proliferation of digital electronics. This relentless digitization juggernaut is about as unrelenting as the hurricanes have been on poor Florida during the fall of 2004. It's everywhere you look. Both image capture and printing are rapidly going digital. Digital image recording devices are so multipurpose today that you don't have to carry much with you in the field. Your trusty new cell phone now doubles as a memory maker camera and can also transmit the image, even though it's grainy and lacking in detail.
I firmly believe that in the immediate future there still will be a bunch of us diehards who will continue to embrace conventional film photography as their preferred and dominant method of recording top-quality images that we can retain as prints for a lifetime--and beyond. After all, we can still look at and enjoy images originally made on glass plates (and similar wet process recording media) that were taken well over 150 years ago. Will precious family record images captured digitally today still be as crisp and clear in just a few decades in the future--or will they slowly fade away until nothing remains visible? Call me a pessimist, but I remain skeptical about many aspects of digital imaging today, especially their longevity. Give me a decent film camera, even a completely manually operating model, for recording images coupled with the sheer joy of working in a darkroom all by myself to produce enlargements. I know that with that method I can proudly display and show friends my photographs that will stand as really long-lived memories.
--Robert E. Mayer
All-In-One Communciation Devices
What does the future of imaging hold? While "plastics" was the prediction for Dustin Hoffman in the film The Graduate, the 21st century will go well beyond polymers. Miniaturization and multi-tasking are the trends today, and imaging devices will be a large part of that. Already in Japan, camera cell phones with multi-megapixel capture have been developed. Recently at the top of the Empire State Building, I saw a senior lady photographing with her handheld organizer (like a Palm Pilot). Before too long, we will have it all (or most of it, anyway) in one device. Poking out from our pockets will be a tiny device that incorporates a cell phone, high-res camera, camcorder, and computer, with full voice recognition, wireless web surfing and e-mailing, all with full color video. Want to view your movies and photos? Press a touch pad and they'll be brightly projected on any wall.