A few thoughts on the future of digital capture

Apple had a live webcast of their breathless product announcement of new iPods, AppleTV and, importantly, iOS4.1 and 4.2. Yes, iWant the new iPod Touch for its video options (this is stupid iKnow). These new devices are available for your drooling pleasure on their website and because I'm sure many of you aren't necessarily Apple fanboys, I'll explain why I mention this via The Golden Sieve. I'm writing a bit about why photographers should not only use HDR but understand it as well - one of my principle arguments is that the future of digital capture is about to change. Soon your DSLR, camera/video phone and little hand-held devices are going to be sampling at higher dynamic range than you previously appreciated. Currently high-end DSLR cameras from Nikon sample at about 45 dB (the blog will explain all the math and terminology in a (hopefully) cogent but meaningful way) - in layman's terms this is more dynamic range than film, but less than multi-capture HDR methods. This will change soon - I support this claim with three links, which in actuality are just the latest in a continual stream of research and development into digital sensor and processing technologies.

Within the decade you will be able to capture at 32-bit with a DSLR and within a week you will generate adaptively masked in-camera JPEG files. This means that your camera phone or point and shoot camera will allow you to generate natural-looking "HDR" photographs in-app, in-phone, etc.

iOS4.1 supports in-camera HDR processing - hopefully it is a natural and simple tone curve applied that lets the user finish the photograph in their own way. It likely works by taking three very fast exposures with different electronic shutter values and then masking them together using an Enfuse/Enblend like technique - or so the sample photographs would have one believe. Simple but effective - this is going to become hugely popular throughout the entry-level camera market and, of course, in cell phone cameras.

The folks at Stanford think this is old news and have been working on the Frankencamera for quite a while! I need to email them ... I wonder if you could hard-wire a simple, high-throughput system to produce the admittedly simple photoshop adjustments I make to my images. In either case, these same folks gave a talk at SIGGRAPH demonstrating the Frankencamera and the use of an amazingly open Nokia camera phone to achieve the same results. Click the "Frankencamera" link above and navigate down the page to find the .pdf of their SIGGRAPH talk powerpoint. You have to check out their in-cellphone HDR panoramas. Cool. As. Hell. h/t to my wife for point this out to me

Canon made two announcements last week as to sensor building milestones: a APS-H sized 120 MP sensor (13,280 x 9,184) and the world's largest CMOS sensor at a whopping ~200 by 200 mm which can purportedly do video and still in moonlight - handheld. Surely you won't (and probably shouldn't) see these in DSLRs soon - but expect the advances from the bench to trickle into your cam within a few years.

Digital photographers of the future will have the option to pull 32-bit data off their memory cards from single capture. You better learn how to do it now and play a part in the development of processing techniques to produce output from HDR.