Future Tech; Shutterbug Contributors Get Out The Crystal Ball Page 3
It wasn't too long ago that Canon introduced an EOS film camera with a built-in intervalometer. Granted, I didn't appreciate this feature in the new 10S at the time, but kept the camera around anticipating a need for the interval timer one day. But when push came to shove, and my collection of EOS film cameras began to look like a crèche of bunnies, I'd decided this camera would have a new home and gave it to a friend.
Fast forward to the present day. My workhorse camera is an EOS 5D. But it's missing something. I could say the missing element is the intervalometer, but, again, I know it's something I'd like but would rarely use. Besides, I have the TC-80N3 Timer Remote Controller that can serve as intervalometer as well as electronic release. But what's really missing is something I didn't know I could get in a camera until I started playing with a very neat little gadget, the ZigView S2 (from Argraph). I'll have more about this device in a separate review, but it did trigger some neurons to speculate about a camera incorporating one of its features. You see, what the ZigView can do that no other camera I know of can is detect motion and trigger the camera to fire when the motion detector has reached a specified level of sensitivity.
In the past, motion triggers were either optical- or sound-sensitive. Noteworthy examples were the Dale Beam or PocketWizard WaveSensor (both apparently are no longer available). Perhaps oversimplified, they would operate by way of an interrupted beam that would trigger the camera. It's been a while since I worked with such devices, but as I recall, it was a tricky operation and success was often dictated by a fair amount of luck, at least for this novice user.
The ZigView works on a different principle: contrast detection, somewhat akin to what some AF sensors use. If we can have automatic face detection, then why not automatic motion-sensing? Imagine never missing that moment when baby takes its first steps--because the camera would detect the movement and capture the image. Wishful thinking? Perhaps. But the same could be said of that first digital camera as well. There are countless moving moments waiting to be captured and an aptly sensitized camera could make it happen. Camera makers, I'm waiting. Hopefully this has triggered some R&D department to get moving on what could become the next major enhancement in digital photography.
Sensors And Image Processors
Okay, Nikon fans, get out all your "old" Nikkor lenses, because now you're back in the full-frame game. The Nikon D3, which by now should be making its way into stores, is the first "full frame" (OK, 23x36mm, but close enough) pro Nikon D-SLR, which may just set the trend as to what differentiates "pro" from "amateur" and advanced amateur models. It will be difficult for other makers aside from Canon to play catch-up on this one, as many have dedicated their entire design around the Four Thirds system or similar approaches. As one pro recently told me, the only D-SLRs he and his peers can take "seriously" in the future are those with full-frame sensors, especially those of CMOS design where the chip itself plays a part in providing the speed required for high framing and burst rates.
Sensors and image processors will continue to be the areas in which digital capture and quality will advance. Kodak's new "panchromatic" sensor promises better image quality, especially at higher ISOs, due to the lack of color filters over part of the sensor field. We have seen test samples where noise is considerably lowered at higher ISO settings. No doubt this approach will first be introduced in digicams, slated for release early next year. New image processor capabilities will also include more in camera processing tasks, making "out of the box" fixes common. While nuanced controls will remain the domain of post-processing software, general exposure, color balance, contrast, and especially highlight control will be more common with one-button, in camera techniques.
Image processors will also be dedicated to addressing particular lens aberrations, something foreshadowed in the new Nikon processor. Once the province of post-processing software, on-board anti-vignetting, anti-distortion, and even further fixing of chromatic and even ghosting and flare will become part of the lens-customized software. Now those electronic connector pins, and lens dedication, will play an even greater role than feeding distance, focal length, and aperture to the on-board microprocessor.
Hardware & Software
Canon will finally come out with a wide-to-long tele superzoom lens for the APS-C format (an 18-200mm or 18-250mm) to contest this expanding niche. Canon will also unleash a compact 10-megapixel D-SLR to go up against the Nikon D40/D40X that's now eating their lunch.
Somebody will come out with a fully integrated digital electronic stereo camera that will allow you to shoot and view stereo pictures electronically and view them with a dual-LCD viewfinder version of the classic stereo viewer. It will have an adjustment to vary the stereo effect based on varying the virtual interocular distance.
The Chinese will flood the market with inexpensive carbon-fiber tripods.
New "enhancement for dummies" software will automatically "Photoshop" your images based on a simple style selector and will vary the actual parameters based on subject and scene identification.
A new revolutionary system of electronic lighting software will enable you to light your picture totally in postproduction by controlling the position, intensity, direction, and diffusion of multiple virtual lighting sources, and displaying the results of varying lighting setups so you can choose and save the effect that you prefer.
You upload the image, we do the rest.
Clearly this is borrowed from George Eastman's famous "You press the button, we do the rest." Arguably, though, it is the only way that the people of the 22nd century are ever going to see the vast majority of pictures made in the early 21st century.
The past survives only on average. A tiny fraction of all dinosaurs fossilized; a tiny percentage of all photographs survive. This is as it should be, or we would be knee-deep in bones and Kodak moments. Yesterday's fossilized photographs are in shoeboxes and attics and family albums. Where will today's end up?
The only answer for digital images is if storage can become as democratized as shooting. Millions of people take millions, maybe billions, of pictures every day. Most of these images are little longer lived than mayflies.
But even flies can be preserved in amber, and if we want our pictures to be seen by future generations, we'd better start thinking about where to get the amber.
The first strategy is to distribute copies as widely as possible, almost like a chain letter. Send images to anyone who might be interested: parents, children, brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins, and old friends. Send e-mails or (better still) CDs or DVDs. Impress on everyone the importance of making copies for anyone they think might be interested. Encourage them to mix-and-match: family pictures from both sets of grandparents, the children's first attempts with a camera phone.
With any luck, someone in the chain that you start will take heed. And someone in the chain they start. And someone in the chain they start... That way, migration to new media is automatic.
After a century, after all, pictures are rarely very personal. Of course it is fascinating to know what your great-great-grandmother looked like, but at that point, she is, in a sense, everyone's ancestor from that moment in time, that place, that social stratum. Obviously a small shopkeeper in a cow town will be different from a Boston society lady, but their portraits tell us something about all cow town shopkeepers, all Boston society ladies.
This brings us to the second strategy, the one I proposed in the opening sentence. Get as many of your pictures online as you can. It doesn't matter where: your own website, forums, genealogy sites, universities, online libraries... The Internet isn't organized at all, in many senses: there are backwaters, and mirrors, and data no one can be bothered to delete, even if you aren't actually paying to have your pictures stored in perpetuity, the way medieval merchants paid to have masses said for their souls. These pictures will be among tomorrow's fossil images.
Is this a prediction? Not necessarily, but with any luck, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because if people don't democratize the storage and sharing of electronic images, there will be a vanishingly small visual record of the early 21st century. That's already been predicted, often. Which future would you rather see?
--Frances E. Schultz
I've Seen The Future And It Is Transparent
The key concept camera makers must keep in mind is transparency. No, not the Ektachrome slide kind of transparency, transparency in the sense of "you know it's there but you can't see it." Before it can become popularized, technology must become invisible. Canon got it right when they coined the phrase "So advanced it's simple" to describe the AE-1 back in 1976.
For example, downloading images from a digital camera to a PC is the opposite of transparent: it's downright technologically clumsy. We'll look back on it someday (soon) the same way we remember manually rewinding 35mm film back into its canister.
Here's how image transfer should happen: Images should "leak" from your camera to a WAP (Wireless Access Point) connected to your home network. You place the camera on a plastic plate that's about the size of cocktail napkin and several things happen. Your images are uploaded to your media server, archived on Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) for permanent storage, and made ready to be displayed on your choice of devices (e.g., your home PC for editing or your home theater TV for family viewing). If you have a prearranged agreement with an online printing service you'll be shown a menu on your PC (or TV) from which you can order prints.
Simultaneously, the camera's battery is recharged (by induction, and only if needed) and a quick diagnostic examination is performed on the camera's firmware. If necessary, the firmware is updated automatically.
Incidentally, you can do all of this from your hotel room while you're traveling, or when you're at work pretending to be laboring over an Excel spreadsheet. Eventually there will be a mobile version of the upload plate that you can keep in your car--or gadget bag--so you can upload and recharge on the run.
As professional and serious amateur photographers we may not be interested in such conveniences. Or we may tell ourselves that we don't need these transparent facilities. We must keep in mind, however, that the most potent innovations we enjoy today began as a quest to make things easier for amateurs. Autoexposure. Auto winders. Autofocus. Anti-Shake. Heck, even auto diaphragms, for those of us old enough to remember preset lenses. Transparent innovations are coming our way so we might as well prepare to enjoy them.
What's driving it? Digital images are precious to you and me. But countless thousands of next-generation adolescents are snapshooting their way toward adulthood using cell phones with built-in cameras. Most are no more serious about long-term storage of their digital images than they are about saving voicemail messages. We older folks still revere the notion of a portable telephone as being innovative. But to the youngsters, cell phones--and the imaging technology they embody--are completely transparent.
Images And Information
Pure optical photography is not the future. New systems will capture images that are not images in a normal sense. Computer algorithms will convert mere "data" to something that resembles today's photographs. In some way using multiple shots for stitching, HDR, super resolution, or extending depth of field are starting points. In today's digital photography the computer is not really used to its maximum theoretical capabilities. In the future the image-capturing apparatus and the post-processing computer will be a unit that creates the image. The capturing devices are designed to produce the best data (not necessarily ready-to-use images) and the computer uses this data to create what we call today photos.
We are really in the Stone Ages of what is called digital photography, and digital capture is only a small part of this process. A first step is to correct lens imperfections and other capture artifacts in software. This works today but not as good as it could because profiling all devices (sensors and lenses) is a complex process. Camera manufacturers can already today improve the image quality by having in-depth knowledge of their own lenses (distortions, aberrations). Still, in most cases, the computer is an afterthought. In the future we will see systems that capture the data needed, which will be defined by highly sophisticated software. I am certain it will happen but have no idea how it will evolve. Again, some people will call it the death of photography and others will embrace the challenge.
Here's what I see as I peer into my crystal ball: a very interesting trend is beginning. Several newspapers no longer use still image cameras. They shoot video and edit out video captures for their newsprint images. Right now a good consumer HD video camera for around $1200 can shoot high-quality HDV and can capture a 6-megapixel image JPEG on a Memory Stick. That's pretty good for a lot of things, but as with all things, the day will come when the video captures will be 10MB or larger TIFF-quality images, which will rival digital camera capture. As much as I love still photography, and I hope it's around forever, I think it may be time to ease into digital video.
Software, Formats, And The Future Of APS-C
First off, my friends and I agree that Microsoft Vista is going to be a hard sell, mostly because of the gear compatibility issues between XP and Vista. I have a new Apple computer on order and now that I can switch from the Apple OS to the Microsoft XP OS, I'm having both installed. This will give me a seamless transition between the two and all of my printers, hard drives, and card readers. As a footnote here, trying to purchase the Microsoft XP program has been a chore as most office supply stores I've been to have sold out, a further sign of the displeasure with Vista.
Further down the line I see both Canon and Nikon getting together in a serious attempt to allow photographers to use Canon lenses on Nikon cameras, and vice-versa. With all of the software now within each camera, this might be a possibility that could afford complete interchangeability with proper focusing, flash, and distance calculations. (Editor's note: !!??)
Medium format cameras will start to come down in price. Serious photographers will turn to this medium for larger prints and more detail. In this regard, current "APS-C" sized cameras will also reach a saturation point: full-size sensors will be more commonplace, leading to a lower price point for all. Additionally, with the surge of full-size sensors, film use will diminish even more. Photographers now using film cameras to get full coverage on their lenses will switch over to digital.
Finally, I believe there will be a wide array of programs that match the camera and printer to each other. You could purchase a program for, say, a Nikon, and it would not only have their Capture program on it, but also allow the use of a wide choice of printer configurations (Epson, Canon, HP) to dial in for the best quality possible from each.