A Revolutionary Picture

A Revolutionary Picture

A Revolutionary Picture

If, in the not so distant past, the mythical megapixel was a measure of the quality of digital camera output, nowadays both marketing people and the general public have ceased to “count pixels.”

More importantly, the digital photography industry has stopped pursuing more pixels, and is investing instead in developments that are about to cause a revolution in the world of photography.

The first harbinger of these new developments came from researcher Ren Ng, whose doctoral thesis addressed “Digital Light Field Photography,” and who founded start-up Refocus Imaging, which later became Lytro.

The camera developed by Lytro, which entered the market in early 2012, was the first light field camera available to the general public. The camera, in taking a picture, “captures” all of the light arriving at the camera, simultaneously, from various sources and various angles. This is in contrast to a conventional camera, which focuses all the light rays and passes them through a narrow space.

What this development means is that it turns photography on its head: you can focus on an object in the picture even after taking it, rather than having to decide, before taking the shot, who or what it is you want to focus on, as is the norm in traditional photography. The pictures come out sharp, even in poor light conditions, and 3D photography is also possible.

In recent years, cell phones have begun to chip away at the functions of dedicated cameras. But, till recently, capabilities such as optical zoom or image stabilization were not available on cell phones. Now, this is changing as well.

Samsung recently announced a version of a camera for its flagship model, the Galaxy 4S, that includes optical zoom.

Nokia last year launched the Nokia 808, the first telephone to come with Pureview technology, and just recently they announced the Nokia Lumia 1020, the first Windows Phone device with Pureview. This technology attacks the lower optical quality of cell phone cameras, compared with regular digital cameras, in an interesting way:

So as to still be able to produce phones that are thin, and that don’t have a large lens on the back, but which nonetheless overcome the optical limitations imposed by these conditions, the Finnish manufacturer chose to go with digital zoom, combined with a 41 megapixel sensor (many times the number of pixels in the average digital camera). This allows the photo to be enlarged, without affecting its quality.

HTC went in a different direction: instead of loading the sensor with an enormous number of pixels, the company’s engineers enlarged the pixels themselves in the camera  sensor of the HTC ONE phone, so that, with only four megapixels, they improved the device’s ability to take photos in the dark, as well as image stability, and more.

But it’s not only camera lenses and sensors that are contributing to innovation in the world of photography. With more powerful processors, a larger number of shots can be taken in a short period of time. This allows us to choose the exact moment we want to capture, to delete someone who steps into the frame without our noticing, to film video and stills at the same time, and more. The capabilities demonstrated by Lytro’s camera will soon be seen in cell phones, thanks to a company named Pelican Imaging, which is working with a number of manufacturers (among them Nokia) to bring light field photography, with which we opened this post, to the palm of your hand, as early as next year: