Future Tech; Shutterbug Contributors Get Out The Crystal Ball Page 2
The Pro/Am Gap
The last few decades of the 20th century were unusual in that they saw a very considerable convergence of professional and amateur equipment and techniques. Even in the late 1990s, the inroads of digital capture were negligible, and serious amateurs and professionals both used much the same cameras and materials in 35mm and medium and large format.
Today, sheer technical quality counts for less than speed and economy. In the early 21st century, so-called “medium format” digital cameras of under 20 megapixels entered professional use, albeit at several times the price of rollfilm cameras delivering higher image quality. The advantage in speed of these cameras was undeniable, and although it may seem hard for the average amateur to believe, so was the economy. Even in the ’70s, when I started in professional photography, we spent a fortune every week on Polaroid tests, film, processing, and motorcycle couriers to and from the lab. It’s hard to translate this into modern terms, but I suspect that a $40,000 camera pays for itself in savings on these expenses in a few months.
The time savings were bigger than most amateurs may realize, too. It used to be half an hour each way between the studio and the lab, and 90 minutes to two hours processing unless you paid the 100 percent extra “rush surcharge.” That was a lot of downtime, especially when the client was trying to arrange a date with the model…
Now, at last, we’re beginning to see half-decent technical quality coming back—at a price. In the near future, 50 megapixels will be the entry level for high-quality professional work in advertising and the like; and 50+-megapixel cameras ain’t never gonna be cheap.
But it is coming back at a handsome price, and I suspect it is a price that few amateurs—even the most serious of serious amateurs—will see any reason to pay. So, for a few years at least, and possibly even for a few decades, we’re going to see the same sort of gap between amateur and professional kit that existed for most of the 20th century.
—Roger W. Hicks
A Resurgence In Film Photography
I have a perhaps prejudiced and unrealistic vision of the near future wherein conventional film-based photography and the equipment needed to produce these images will undergo a resurgence. This comes after the massive preponderance of all types of digital imaging technology and products in recent years. True, there are a lot of advantages to digital imaging, such as the capability of recording an extraordinarily large number of images on one high-capacity memory card and the excellent capability of viewing the recorded image immediately to determine if you actually captured what you wanted. That’s coupled with the capability of deleting this image if unwanted. But, there is still lots to admire about shooting on film even though it means having a limited number of images on each roll—which causes you to take more time and deliberation in composing and making each image.
Another major plus for film is anyone who has ever done any type of darkroom work well knows the inherent positive feeling of making a really good print, dodged and manipulated to become just as you previsualized when you first took the picture. It’s magical when that image slowly appears before you in the dim light of a darkroom developing tray. This is not the cold, impersonal type of printing done digitally. I don’t have any statistics from equipment sales to substantiate this thought, just six decades of practical experience in all facets of photography combined with a gut feeling about the near-term future. When viewing a digital image you really don’t know if it’s real—or manipulated. Maybe this is just a wistful feeling showing my age and fondness for conventional film image recording, but sometimes the new and radically different technologies just are not suitable for everybody to readily embrace—especially when this means sacrificing techniques and technology that have proven to be so reliable for well over 150 years. For the near-term future, I see us keeping some of the recent past nearby to fondly embrace and actively use in our various photographic endeavors.
—Robert E. Mayer
Shrinking Hardware And Larger, More Affordable Displays
Hey Honey, I shrunk the camera. Hardware miniaturization continues to be a major trend. Today, there’s a plethora of external hard drives that can fit in your shirt pocket, and before too long I predict that they’ll be the size of a flash memory card. Indeed, this year saw the introduction of laptops that use high-speed flash memory instead of hard drives, such as the MacBook Air, measuring a mere 3⁄4 of an inch at its thickest point. Camera megapixel counts keep mounting as the form factors shrink, especially with pocketable models.
While most devices are getting smaller, I’m pleased to say that displays, both those on the back of your D-SLR and those that connect to your computer, are getting larger and less expensive. I still have a D-SLR from the “early days” with a 1.8” LCD, which is painfully miniscule compared to the 3.5” touchscreen LCDs available now. As far as monitors, 24” models are now on the shelves of most local megastores. They’re getting thinner and less expensive. Before too long, they’ll be a thin membrane that we affix to the wall. It will soon be that much easier to see you in cyberspace…
As Technology Moves Forward, Will Photography Keep Up?
I’ve been getting press releases from Intel about future technologies, and it started me thinking: Will those future technologies revolve more around the world of business and consumerism, or will they address photography as well?
For example, one very recent release brought a number of pending technologies to light. Let’s start with this: “Imagine being able to walk into an airport or room with your laptop and instead of consuming battery (power), it is recharged. Based on principles proposed by MIT physicists, Intel researchers have been working on a Wireless Resonant Energy Link (WREL).” The principle was actually demonstrated by “powering a 60w light bulb without the use of a plug or wire of any kind, which is more than is needed for a typical laptop.” The release continues: “With this technology enabled in a laptop, for example, batteries could be recharged when the laptop gets within several feet of the transmit resonator (think of it as a cell tower).” So, why stop at laptop batteries? Sounds reasonable that the technology could easily be extended to any rechargeable battery, such as the one in your camera. They’re still putting the finishing touches on this technology, but it’s certainly promising.
Here’s other news Intel revealed at the same time: “Intel researchers are also investigating how millions of tiny micro-robots, called catoms, could build shape-shifting materials. If used to replace the case, display and keyboard of a computing device, this technology could make it possible for a device to change physical form in order to suit the specific way you are using it. A mobile computer, for example, could be tiny when in a pocket, change to the shape of an earpiece when used as a mobile phone, and be large and flat with a keyboard for browsing the Internet or watching a movie.” They admit the technology is a ways off, but could a shape-shifting D-SLR be far behind? And lenses and flash to go with it? Imagine how it would ease your travel woes, or would it put an extra strain on airport security and perhaps lead to a ban on shape-shifting technology aboard the plane? Some sci-fi writer is probably having a blast with this one.
Yet more startling news: “Looking further out, Intel is exploring a variety of non-charge-based technologies that could one day replace CMOS altogether.” If I get a clear picture on this, I believe it would lead to totally noise-free digital images. Now won’t that be a kick! The physics students among you could probably prognosticate even further.
The ability to click within the image and to make selective edits to a photograph has been cropping up in the last few years in several editing and filter applications, including Nikon’s Capture NX, Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro and Sharpener, and Adobe’s Lightroom 2. I see a blending of this capability with the next generation of computers that will feature touch-sensitive displays. Though such technology has been available from Wacom, it’s been prohibitively expensive for most users. However, with this next step in display technology I suspect we’ll begin to see a shift in workflow that moves away from the mouse, stylus, and keyboard and emphasizes the interaction between the photographer’s fingers and the screen.
This “direct-contact” image editing will likely offer both novices and advanced users the promise of a user interface that will reduce the need to navigate menus and submenus in order to make fundamental improvements to a photographic image. I think such technology will be especially beneficial to those photographers who don’t want to spend their time learning a photo-editing application and want a simple and straightforward way to improve their images.
The Full-Frame March
Let me put this on TIME Magazine’s predictability scale. Shockingly predictable—a notable expansion of the full frame-format D-SLR sector which is already underway—as recent entries from Nikon, Canon, and Sony amply demonstrate. Will this trend migrate downward, so to speak? Yes, I think we will see some attractively priced enthusiast models in full frame before too long.
Way back when, I asked a Fujifilm tech from Japan when the megapixel race would level off, and he replied “Never!” He had a point—once the camera is essentially a computer that can take pictures, you’re on the consumer electronics paradigm and relatively rapid obsolescence is a given. However, with professional-quality imaging clearly possible at the 10- to 12-megapixel level, I really have to wonder about the necessity of 20+ megapixel cameras in what is essentially a handheld 35mm-derived D-SLR configuration. Maybe I’m wrong because, to coin a phrase, nothing exceeds like excess. Of course, all those huge files will have to be stored in some relatively secure place and that’s why there will be a proliferation of accessory hard drives employing mirroring (RAID 1) file storage systems. These will come down in size and price as the market expands. Secure, convenient, and accessible storage is the next big thing in digital imaging.
On the unpredictable end of the scale, I think there will be a number of fascinating new compact digital point-and-shoots incorporating APS-C-format sensors. Bigger pixels ultimately yield better image quality and subtle color differentiation, and if the feature mix is right, these cameras will appeal to many enthusiasts as compact alternatives to the D-SLR. I don’t think this genre will be as radical as the Sigma DP1, a single-focal-length (28mm equivalent) model that points in this direction. However, the DP1’s comprehensive and convenient manual focusing and manual exposure systems are features that could well find their way into the broader-spectrum versions of this fascinating new species.
A Meeting Of Minds?
How will posterity view us? As blinkered, or as visionaries? The choice is ours: we can make any prophecy self-fulfilling.
As photographers, we are all concerned with the same thing: an image on paper or (increasingly) on the computer screen. And yet it seems that there is an ever-decreasing willingness to learn how to make these images. Photographers don’t talk to each other. Instead, they split into hostile and mutually exclusive media-based camps: silver and digital.
I love film. I see no reason to give it up. But using a digital camera has taught me a lot, very quickly and very economically, about subject brightness ranges and how to meter them. Set to manual, it has helped hone my ability to “guesstimate” exposures. It’s encouraged me to be more adventurous with composition, too. That’s with a quarter of a century of experience. It could teach a novice even more, even faster.
On the other side of the argument, the ability to delete unsuccessful exposures on a digital camera can be a boon—but so can the inability to delete unsuccessful exposures on film. You are forced to confront your mistakes. What did I do wrong? Why? With film, you can’t sweep it under the carpet and pretend, even to yourself, that you know what you’re doing, when you don’t.
In the darkroom, anyone who has ever done endless wet-color-print ring-around must surely be able to learn a lot about color corrections when all that is needed is the click-and-drag of a mouse. Equally, anyone who has only ever worked with a computer screen can learn a lot from making wet monochrome prints, including dodging and burning and the manipulation of contrast and curves, quite apart from toning.
There are countless other examples of how silver can learn from digital, and digital from silver. But unless both camps come together in a genuine spirit of willingness to learn from one another, posterity may not look kindly upon us. We will be seen indeed as blinkered, and not as the visionaries we like to think
—Frances E. Schultz
For many photographers, capturing an image as they see it with their own eyes is more of a dream than a reality. Color film is still incapable of reproducing the dynamic range from dark to light that we see. Early digital cameras didn’t improve on this very much, but that is improving with modern D-SLRs and especially with medium format backs.
However, photographers must still resort to capturing multiple exposures and post-processing to produce the full visual dynamic range. Using High Dynamic Range (HDR) software, it is possible to capture full detail in the shadows and highlights, just as the eye sees it. However, these programs are relatively complex to use, even for professionals who can envision the result they want to achieve.
In the not too distant future I can see HDR technology being built into high-end digital cameras and their associated automated post-processing software. Soon after it will filter down to the advanced amateur level, much as stitching panoramic images has. When this happens, we will finally be able to capture with our cameras what our eyes see.
For the past several weeks I have been secretly testing a prototype compact digital camera. It does not have face recognition, cannot detect a smile, and has zero built-in Program modes. Instead, it scouts photo subjects for you. When worn around the neck it continuously scans your surroundings, looking for a picture—the kind of picture you like to take.
Here’s how it works: You configure the artificial intelligence module as often as you like by answering a series of questions about the type of images you want to capture. It’s sort of like three-dimensional Google. If you’re taking the family to the zoo, for example, you might type in “funny shots of kids and animals.” Next you shoot a test shot of your children’s faces—so that the camera knows which little monkeys are yours. The camera then monitors the landscape and when it detects the sort of picture it thinks you’re looking for, it beeps. The rest is up to you.
Sound far fetched? I am making this up, to be sure. But on the other hand, I recently explained the operation of my new BlackBerry handheld device (Curve, model 8330) to my 7-year-old daughter. When I was her age, blackberries grew by the roadside and telephone calls were placed by reading a number to a soft-spoken operator who manually connected some wires. Really. Today I can whisper a number into my shirt pocket and my BlackBerry dials automatically, connecting me wirelessly to anyone in the world. I can click a colorful icon on the BlackBerry’s LCD and read the news, send a text message, or get directions. And I can press the button on the side and take a picture.
Future technology will develop faster over the next 50 years than it did during the past half century. We all know that. What will cameras look like in the year 2060? As different as the blackberry looked 50 years ago.
It’s Only Getting Better
I see that in the near future the newer cameras will have the capability to program the basic working personal parameters that each photographer might use in his or her raw program. In addition, these requests will be done in camera, saving work later in post-processing.
To the naysayers out there who think that increasing the pixel count will degrade the image, at the present time it might, but later, as technology starts to pass today’s state-of-the-art sensors, I think you’ll see up to 30 megapixels as the norm, with untold amounts of sharpness and definition. In addition, you might just see cameras that are slightly larger than present-day D-SLRs but smaller than conventional medium format cameras. They will contain sensors that sit between both formats.
Finally, the art of lens making will improve with better design features and coatings to surpass what’s out there now. Super telephotos will continue to drop in size and weight thanks to expanding optical technology.