Sunday, July 16, 2006

Is the future of digital photography (in part) already here ?

Just a short time ago I was rambling about some of the things that I would like to see in future digital cameras - and somehow the future is now coming much, much faster than expected :) The bad news are that no new or amazing non-Bayer sensor was launched (but at least for the moment I can still hope), however the good news are that what I was calling 'cumulative exposure mode' / 'multi exposure mode' is already (partially) here !

The technology is now coming from Casio (another small player - remember how I was saying that most revolutionary ideas will not come from the major players?) and instead of using it for a much higher dynamic of the image they use it for something a lot different - it is now called "anti-shake" (you can see some pictures here) and in theory the image taken with a short exposure is used as a non-shaken base on which color is added from the long exposure image - the results are not so great (and IMHO are vastly inferior to both sensor-based and lens-based image stabilization) - and the camera itself is not so amazing after all - both here and here you can see that my prediction on the megapixel race on small sensors is for the moment quite true :(

But the most important part of the story is HOW EASY that idea is to implement - I believe that in the most basic form a simple FIRMWARE UPDATE can add a 'dual exposure mode' to most of the decent digital cameras from the last year or so by simply taking two images as fast as possible one after another - the first with a (very?) short exposure time and the second with a (much?) longer one - and then just provide a PC-based program to 'join' them together for either better 'sharpness' (as Casio is trying to do in-camera) or just for a much better dynamic range !!! And yes, many cameras already have an "auto-bracketing mode" but only a few have a usable bracketing range and probably no camera is optimized for the minimum time between shots - and with only 2 images a smart firmware can take the second shot only 1-10 ms after the first even without any extra special RAM while with the standard 3 shots you either need a LOT of fast RAM or the delay will be in the 200-500 ms interval (or worse - meaning 'as fast as you can push again') as it is with most cameras :(

And speaking of "High Dynamic Range" imaging or HDR - there are at least two links that I should have added to my previous post but I will correct that mistake now - one is to the High dynamic range imaging page from Wikipedia (and contains lots of links itself) and the other is a page called The Future of Digital Imaging - High Dynamic Range Photography - and on that page you can see what amazing results a "tone mapping filter" might be able to do with the right input (maybe even the two images from the firmware-only suggestion from my previous paragraph!)

So in conclusion - even if digital cameras are becoming almost disposable there are still hopes for interesting things to be seen in the near future :) Maybe even a 'cumulative exposure mode' in which the first image is read from the sensor without 'erasing' it and the longer exposure is started 'on top' of the initial image - but probably not possible to be done on 'normal' sensors :(

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