Future of photography

Started Jan 19, 2014 | Discussions thread
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Future of photography
Jan 19, 2014

There are a lot of musings on the future of photography...

I'll give my guess.

The camera will be a sensor+lens with wifi communications, very similar to a Sony QX or GoPro. I will wear a wireless EVF (similar to Google Glass or any of the other heads-up displays) to show what I'm shooting, review photos, and similar. This will be liberating in the same way as a pivot LCD is liberating, only more so. I'll be able to immediately shoot from below, overhead, or where ever else. If I have multiple bodies, I can switch between them; perhaps one will be mounted on a tripod far away, and I'll hold another. The controls will be redundant -- I'll be able to trigger the camera from itself, from my cell, my computer, and anything else.

Professional photographers will regularly work controlling many cameras in fixed locations. Amateurs will have smaller devices and better mobile integration.

My hope -- but not optimism -- is that in the process, we'll move away from relics of an era where film size was fixed, where changing ISO involved changing film, and where camera bodies needed to be sized and shaped to hold a film roll and a pentaprism. Hopefully, we'll see a move away from PASM to a single mode where you have control to set ISO, aperture, shutter, focus, and perhaps focal length to either AUTO or whatever setting you want. Hopefully, we'll move away from f/stops and ISO to equivalent apertures (m/stops) and total sensitivity (mISO). We'll also figure out new shapes for camera bodies -- although honestly, I have no idea what those might be (perhaps a tube you hold with one hand, with knobs for ISO/focus/aperture/shutter under each of the four fingers, click to auto, rotate to change?). Soft settings -- like white balance -- should be as easy to configure after the fact as before the fact.

The current operating systems in the cameras will go away, in favor of something open and connected. There will be an open market for apps which will do things like transform the live view in different ways (e.g. show a zone system visualization of the image, transform it upside down, show different grid systems, etc.), intelligently pick camera settings, or do things like sweep panorama.

Once I take a photo, I'll be able to immediately both review, and if desired, edit it. The EVF will have sufficient resolution that, combined with a controller (like a cell phone), I'll be able to do everything I do on my computer today. Once it's ready, it will integrate with workflow, be that Facebook, a journalistic workflow, or Flickr. Whether I do editing/publishing now or later will depend on what I'm doing.

To make this work, I suspect technology may change. For example, the workflow may be mixed resolution. The camera might keep full RAW images on a local SD card, but immediately beam a low-res JPEG over. Editing may happen at one resolution, and a computation back-end may reprocess the full resolution RAWs. Etc.

The sensors will keep improving, but more in terms of function than image quality. Major advancements will be things along the lines of:

  • Light field imaging. Initially, quad pixels, along the lines of the Canon 70D dual pixels, which will dramatically improve autofocus performance (since AF will receive 100% of the light over 100% of the image), and improve editing possibilities (since we'll have distance information per pixel). Eventually, we may see camera arrays as well, which would be able to offer full-frame or better performance in a (rather expensive) cell-phone sized package.
  • A gradual shift away from RGB. There are more colors in the spectrum, and combinations of RGB, CMY, W, UV, and IR pixels will offer much better white balance in difficult conditions (e.g. low light), as well as better low-light (especially combined with an IR or UV flash).
  • Speed. The system will be able to take dual photos -- for example with and immediately after flash, and integrate into a final image. Multiframe noise reduction and stabilization will become much smarter. We may see per-pixels shutter and ISO settings to improve dynamic range. Much more information will come into the system.

Lenses will continue the progress we've seen recently from Sigma, but eventually will move in a direction where rather than maximizing sharpness and minimizing distortion, those will be designed to be digitally correctable (this is already done, to a much more limited extent, on fixed lens cameras).

My hope is that brands will start to rally around open standards (u43 for lens mount, common flash hotshoe and wireless protocol, common protocols for talking to cameras, Android-style open OS, etc.), but I'm less optimistic. That's not in the DNA of the existing players; the main way this might happen is from new players.

Canon EOS 70D
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