What’s Ahead For Digital Cameras?
New Technology Changes The Game Page 2

Lens Quality And The Image Processor
In order to design a lens that zooms from wide angle to 10x, manufacturers are forced to make compromises. With film cameras, the results of those compromises were permanently recorded on the film. But with powerful digital processors running the show, manufacturers can digitally counteract those compromises in the camera. To do that, engineers quantify the lens characteristics at each focal length and in multiple lighting situations. Then, they write software to correct lens issues like spherical and chromatic aberration and sharpness. The processor executes the software fixes in real-time, after image capture and prior to memory write, while still maintaining short shot-to-shot delays. The result? An image that's sharp and color correct edge to edge and throughout the entire zoom range.

In Camera Editing Functions
Of all the new features we've discussed so far, none compare to the phenomenal potential of in camera photo editing. This concept is simply revolutionary. In camera editing fixes the most common photo problems right in the camera and gives you far more creative control over your photos. That means you can go right to print, without having to upload images to your PC. Here are some of the features you'll be seeing on these new models:
Redeye correction--Snap the picture and leave the retouching to the in camera software. Light years ahead of the old redeye reduction technique that strobes the subject prior to exposure, redeye correction instead uses software to detect the telltale signs of redeye in the image. Once it finds them, it automatically corrects the offending red spots and writes the image to your memory card. Redeye correction requires no user input, making it a powerful selling point to any photographer who takes indoor photos of people.

Image enhancement--Imagine a camera that has the power to fix contrast, noise, edge definition, mosaicing, color balance, and blur issues right in the camera. Contrast extremes have always been a problem for camera meters. For example, traditional camera meters look at a bride and groom and expose for the bride's dress, leaving the groom in the dark. Or, the meter simply gets confused by backlighting. Not anymore. Cameras with integral image enhancement are smart enough to recognize extreme contrast situations and correct them right away. So, you get the proper exposure of the bride, the groom, and in backlit scenes.

The demosaicing process is unique to digital cameras and is a little harder to understand. But that doesn't make it a less important feature. Here's how it works: Since the majority of digital sensors only record images in monochrome, manufacturers cover the sensor with a checkerboard array of red, green, and blue filters. As you can imagine, the resulting image is a mosaic pattern that matches the checkerboard filter array. The camera must then demosaic the pattern and interpolate the results to render a color image. Each manufacturer writes its own unique algorithms to perform this task, which is why the same shot from two different camera manufacturers may look different.

Professional photographers with high-end SLRs often choose to download the raw monochrome image to their PCs and perform the demosaicing and interpolating process themselves, based on their own preferences. But with in camera editing, you can exercise some of that same creative control yourself right inside the camera. These image-enhancing options will allow you to get sharper edge definitions, eliminate noise, and end up with colors that more closely match the real scene.

In-camera video editing and still picture imaging from video--The video editing feature is based upon facial recognition techniques. As you review the video, you can have it advance from person to person, finding only the frames you want to keep and discarding the rest. Plus, you can instantly convert a video frame to a printable still image. Think of the possibilities. You could shoot video at Uncle Joe's birthday party, search for all the frames with Uncle Joe and then pick the best ones to convert to prints--all without having to change from Still mode to Video mode.

Creativity options--Shooting should be fun and the new creativity options will let you express yourself on the spot. For example, you'll be able to select fun borders from an in camera library and assign them to individual pictures. You can also add thought balloons to your pictures to add even more humor. Then, have the pictures printed at any photo retailer or image them on your direct-dock printer--all without having to touch a computer or learn any photo-retouching software. These options may not sound like much to someone who's proficient at performing those tasks on a PC. But it's a long overdue creative option for shooters who have no interest in learning a photo-editing program or who simply enjoy printing direct from their camera.

Scene modes have proliferated, and there are more to come. From Fireworks mode to Snow and Night Landscape to Sunset mode, manufacturers are adding every possible mode to cover their bets. Sure, 23 shooting modes look good on paper, but will you ever actually remember to change modes between shots? Or, will you shoot the horse race in Sports mode, then forget to change modes before you get the shot of your wife tearing up your losing stubs? The answer to this problem is simple--automatic mode selection. Using software similar to the kind that detects extreme contrast situations, these highly intelligent cameras will automatically change modes to match the subject matter.

The latest trend in high-tech products is "wireless," and digital cameras are about to join the pack. True, camera phones offer an easier way to get photos off the camera by e-mailing them right from the phone. But that option costs extra and those are low-resolution shots with small file sizes. Plus, the cell phone network was never set up for transferring megabyte-sized
photo files.

Point-and-shoot digital cameras with integrated Wireless LAN (WLAN) are coming this year. While one of the future standards is not finalized, some manufacturers are also already working on integrated Wireless USB (WUSB), which will allow easy download from your camera to either your PC or a printer, without any cables. Fortunately, there's a very user-friendly option already in the works today for WLAN use with cameras, the new Media Transfer Protocol (MTP) from Microsoft. MTP is specifically designed for transferring large graphic files. Some of the major digital camera manufacturers have already endorsed the new protocol and are working hard to get it into their designs as soon as possible. When fully implemented, users will be able to transfer their images to a photofinisher via a local hotspot, or to their home computer with the touch of a button on the camera.

John Daniels is the worldwide marketing manager for the Digital Still Camera Product Group at Texas Instruments (TI) Incorporated. He is responsible for customer interface, product marketing, and product definition for TI's digital media processor platforms to support the digital still camera market.