Future Tech; Shutterbug Contributors Get Out The Crystal Ball

Each year we ask our contributors to pitch in on their take on what’s in store for photographers and photography in the year and years ahead. Most base their assumptions on bits and pieces of news and technological advancements that happen to rise above the din and onrush of digital developments. Some just stick their necks out and make bold predictions that, from reading past installments of this annual survey, might come true, or might not. For the most part the sky seems to be the limit on what’s ahead as the image and the information world keep melding. We hope you enjoy their thoughts. With that in mind here’s my two cents:

Increased “Convergence” And Web 2.0 (+) Will Bring Even More Innovations
These past few months have certainly begun to change the photo game, again. Developments have included the Alpha 900, the new full-frame camera with enhanced megapixel counts from Sony, a convergence D-SLR from Nikon, the D90, and enhanced web imaging opportunities from companies such as Microsoft and Adobe. Plus we saw the first glimmers of an entirely new digital camera format, the so-called Micro Four Thirds. All of this points to an expansion of the photo industry and changes that will make today’s “normal” seem old hat. We are about to see an explosion of image users that will include more than the “traditional” enthusiast; that explosion will come from those who make photos solely for the World Wide Web.

The likes of Phase One, Leaf, Hasselblad, and others are pushing and will continue to push the super-megapixel realm with cameras exclusively for the commercial pro market. But with full-frame D-SLRs now anticipated to drop further in price, there will come a point where the division between pro and advanced amateur D-SLR models will become blurred, as has happened in the middle to low range D-SLR race, where amateur and advanced amateur models will also continue to blur those lines.

Olympus Imaging and Panasonic have announced the development of a “new standard” in digital cameras that is said to give “dramatic reductions in size and weight.” What are the supposed benefits?

According to the companies, when compared to the Four Thirds System standard, the primary distinguishing characteristics of the Micro Four Thirds System standard are: approximately 50 percent shorter flange-back distance (mount-to-sensor distance); 6mm smaller lens mount outer diameter; and electrical contacts in mount increased from nine to 11. Oddly, the image sensor remains the same size in both “standard” and “micro” systems. The result is said to be even more compact bodies and powerful lenses, on both the long and short focal length range, plus even more automated functionality due to the increase in contacts between the lens and body. Users, it is said, will be able to mount their existing Four Thirds System lenses on Micro Four Thirds System bodies via an adapter.

Does the world need yet another digital camera system? While the mirror box assembly will be eliminated, thus separating it from SLR class consideration, perhaps the makers see the need for extending the point-and-shoot compact form factor with one that takes interchangeable lenses as well.

Another development will be the increased convergence of cameras into so-called “multimedia” devices. One large step was taken by Nikon, who, with their D90, (finally) brings motion video to a D-SLR camera. Equipped with three resolution levels and a built-in microphone, the quality of the video does not rival those produced with full-fledged camcorders, to say the least, but the step in this direction has been anticipated for some time and should appeal to those for whom video is a clip-type activity rather than a full-time passion. The D90 has appeal to both amateur and advanced amateur photographers, plus, and this is a big plus, to those who shoot more often for the Internet than not. The importance of this camera should not be understated, as it starts to bring in “new blood” and recognizes the fact that the Internet photographer is becoming as important as, and will soon rival and surpass in size, those who shoot for prints. That’s a game changer on many, many levels, and should make all of us pause to think about the implications. Will others follow suit? Will Internet- and geotagging-capable cameras become the norm? I think so.

You can see this new attention paid to Internet imaging happening all around, from Adobe’s web-based applications to the rather amazing development from Microsoft they dub “synthing.” (Not syn thing, but synthing, a new verb akin to “chimping.”) A synth is a world view based on the contextual relationship of subjects within a series of shots. Let’s say you enter a room. You take a picture of the full view of the room, and then move around the room shooting details. You dovetail the shots, like making a panorama, but instead of dealing with a linear or circular relationship among images you go in and out of the scene making images of details and different points of view. You might even make a scan of certain documents on the wall, like a school diploma, and incorporate that into your synth.

You then upload the images to the synth website and as they upload a relationship among the images is created simultaneously by the software. Then, as you move around the “contact sheet” of the images different aspects emerge full screen. And, most amazingly, when you mouse around the full-context shot (the room) various grids or boxes appear that you can then click on to reveal the other images, shot from different points of view or distances, and they become the full-screen shot. You can even do a 360? shot of some objects; these appear with a sort of donut around them which you can then rotate to see different sides of the object.

All this points out that the uses of the image, and the number of people who will be using photography and images for things we never imagined, is going to change radically and grow exponentially over the next few years. Those of us who stressed shooting for image quality for prints are still going to be around, but the new pioneers of imaging are making advances that can only leave us breathless and amazed. Once the image became information the game changed. Now that the web is becoming a major venue for imaging—its uses and applications—the game is set to change again.
—George Schaub

Megapixel Wars
“640KB ought to be enough for anybody.”—Bill Gates, 1981

In the early part of 2009 the megapixel wars between D-SLR companies will slow down but not end. The trend will be toward creating better micro lenses to be placed over the sensors in order to increase the efficiency of light transmission. This will result in higher resolution and lower noise at all ISO levels. When the micro lenses catch up, as they are already doing, the megapixel wars will start up again, probably by the end of the year. Eventually, resolution and color gamut will outstrip anything the human eye can resolve or differentiate but that won’t stop the manufacturers from using the “improved” technology to sell more cameras and photographers will have to buy them to keep up.

However, the digital back people will still be pushing the megapixel advantage as this is the only way they have to compete with D-SLRs. In 2009 we will see 50- to 60-megapixel backs. When the count on current 6x6 sensors reaches its limit, due to the limitations of medium format lenses, it will be followed by a move toward larger sensors, as much as 3x4”, perhaps eventually 4x5”, which will take advantage of the 4x5” view cameras and APO-quality lenses that are moldering on the shelves of used camera stores. The larger sensors may not appear in 2009 but they are the logical extension of digital backs.

There will be an increase in video capture replacing still photography. Not only among photojournalists who can take a video slice and reproduce it on the front page of a newspaper, and take the entire video and upload it to the paper’s website, but among amateurs who can make videos with their 8-megapixel cell phones and immediately stream them on their blog site. And, like the pros, they can then go to a Kodak kiosk at Wal-Mart and make 4x6” prints to pass out to friends and for their scrapbook.

Increasingly in 2009 people, especially but not limited to young people, will question the need for anything other than a cell phone camera which they always have with them. With this will come an increasing interest among amateurs in recording every event of one’s daily life. An increasing number of events, from clipping one’s toenails to Rodney King-style beatings, will be recorded by non-photographers and presented for viewing on YouTube.

As a result of everyone being a digital photographer, silver-based prints made from negatives, regardless of the image quality, composition, or subject matter, will become more highly prized by collectors, though there will be less photographers interested in working in silver, which means that fine art galleries will increasingly accept digital work as mainstream. We will also see more photographers, silver and digital, limiting print editions to five or less.

Finally, in 2009, you will find major advances in printer technology. The current generation of printers will be made obsolete by printers with far higher resolution and extreme color gamuts; these will take advantage of the ProPhoto RGB color space. As we go to press I anticipate these will already have been announced at the PhotoPlus Expo in October 2008, but they will continue to get better throughout 2009.

The Adobe RGB (1998) color space will become obsolete and photographers will have a need to re-evaluate their workflow, from color space to sharpening, to take advantage of the new printers. This means, among other things, that the hundreds of thousands of images carefully archived on multiple hard drives and stored in remote locations will not be able to be reproduced at an acceptable quality according to the new standards. They will be both oversharpened and lacking in color by today’s printer standards. While it may be possible to resharpen them, one by one, it will not be possible to increase the color gamut which was set at time of capture.

As I have often said, digital is a money machine for those involved in the design and manufacture of digital technology. It is a mixed blessing for those of us who use it either for our livelihood or as a means of self-expression. Onward and upward.
—Steve Anchell

The End Of D-SLRs?
Now that a very broad range of consumers are buying D-SLRs—from families to professionals—we’re already seeing a great diversity in this category of camera. Entry-level models (some selling for $500-$600), mid-range D-SLRs (with APS-size or full-frame sensors), and professional models each target a certain type of buyer. Over the next few years, we should see some major growth in a new type of camera that accepts interchangeable lenses but does not require a reflex mirror or a penta-prism.

Panasonic and Olympus were the first to announce the development of this concept, called Micro Four Thirds, in these brands. The first such camera, the 12-megapixel Lumix DMC-G1, should be available by now. It’s likely that other manufacturers will also develop similar equipment using their own sensors (of different sizes). Initially, they will target snapshooters who want smaller/lighter cameras and lenses that are half the size/weight of D-SLR lenses. (Sensor size has not been reduced, but eliminating the mirror box allowed for much shorter flange back length and back focus for a thinner body and significantly smaller lenses.) The “digital interchangeable lens camera” technology will provide other benefits: nearly silent operation and more convenient Live View without the display blackout caused by reflex mirror action; video capture will also become standard in the near future.

While advanced photo enthusiasts may view the first cameras of this type without enthusiasm, the concept definitely has a lot of merit. I predict that the reflex mirror will be considered “archaic” in all brands by 2015, except in the professional and medium format categories. Granted, the manufacturers will need to develop electronic viewfinders that are as desirable as optical through-the-lens finders. And because phase-detect autofocus is not practical in a Micro camera using current technology, contrast-detect AF will need to be improved for the cameras to satisfy serious sports photographers. Panasonic has already addressed both aspects; the DMC-G1 is equipped with a superior Direct-View LCOS (Liquid Crystal On Silicon) viewfinder and surprisingly fast/reliable autofocus. With a bit of additional R&D, any major manufacturer should be able to develop a pro-caliber Micro format camera that’s fully competitive with the best of today’s D-SLRs. The extra expense will pay off in my opinion, eliminating all of the drawbacks and limitations of the single lens reflex camera.
—Peter K. Burian

Find Where You Took That Image, And Then Find Your Images
I’m expecting to see GPS become more common with a broad range of cameras. If they can add it to a phone, it shouldn’t be difficult to include in a camera without compromising usability. Geotagging is more popular than ever, and many programs, like Photoshop Elements, Lightroom, and others, have automatic support for this data.

Along with GPS, look for more wireless support, giving you the option of shooting directly to your computer, or transferring images online automatically. There are a couple of cameras already that upload to proprietary services, but we’re not there yet for uploading high-res files to our own website or online storage location.

Along with higher resolution, I’d expect to see dramatic improvements in image quality; 14-bit capture and better noise handling at higher ISO settings will enable you to shoot in more situations with quality that would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago.

Finally, the safe bet, megapixels will go up, prices will go down, and keeping track of all these images will be more important than ever. If you’re not already using a cataloging program, I suggest making that a New Year’s resolution!
—Jon Canfield

Be Careful What You Wish For
I’m guessing that last year not one of the budding Nostradamus’ forecasts in this section predicted a 60.5-megapixel sensor would be available seven months after their words appeared in print and just days after Kodak announced a 50-megapixel chip. Just a week later, Leaf announced a 56-megapixel 6x6 format imager. All this was going on after most of the photo pundits had widely predicted that the megapixel race was over. Finito.

Such is the nature of conventional thinking, but manufacturers and consumers obsessed with bigger, faster, and newer don’t care what pundits believe or what they forecast. They just want their Maypo and a 14-megapixel point-and-shoot camera. While few of us can afford $39,900 for a 60.5-megapixel digital back for our Hasselblad, many of us can and will buy a Sigma DP1 ($799.90) or a Panasonic FX150 ($399.95). The real point of this megapixel mania is that somebody, maybe even a whole lot of somebodies, is going to buy that 60.5-megapixel Phase One digital back for the same reason that Bentley pre-sold 549 of the 550 of the $340,000 (plus options) Brooklands automobiles it planned on building.

I’m not surprised. One of my photo-marketing mentors was Herff Jones’ Dan Wiltgen, who taught me you should always give your customers an opportunity to spend money if they want to. Earlier this year I suggested in the pages of Shutterbug that Canon should build a premium version of their EOS-1D Mark III using a carbon ceramic chassis instead of aircraft metals like magnesium alloy. Professional cameras are more like cars than airplanes that are maintained by armies of highly skilled mechanics. Porsche uses carbon ceramic in their brakes because no part of a performance automobile gets more abuse than brakes. I never heard back from Canon about my suggestion (big surprise) and they never gave their customers the opportunity to spend their money to get a truly unique high-performance camera.

But sooner or later this rush to technology is going to encounter blowback and I predict that somebody—a different somebody than who’s going to buy that 60.5-megapixel back—is going to discover that film is a pretty interesting medium for capturing photographs, much as some audiophiles are rediscovering the joy of using amplifiers with vacuum tubes because of the warmth that they add to the musical listening experience. All this comes along with a renewed consumer interest in vinyl albums and turntables, proving once again that what’s old is new and vice versa. Maybe that’s why the RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) reports sales revenue from vinyl records grew 46.2 percent over last year. All of this action caused our sister publication Stereophile, in a story called “Vinyl Daze,” to ask, “So is analog the wave of the future?” That may be what I’m asking, too.

Does this mean that film is going to replace digital photography? Nope. The genie is so far out of the bottle and you can’t stuff that big blue Robin Williams back inside. What I expect to happen is that photographers excited by the digital monochrome experience provided by Imagenomic’s RealGrain or Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro software are gonna want to have a go at the real thing. Don’t believe me? Did you think a 60.5-megapixel sensor was possible in 2008?
—Joe Farace