Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Camera of the Future

Recently one of the Spanish newsgroups had interviewed me (and my very talented Spanish translator, Francesc Garcia) about the books, photography, and other general stuff.  (If you're interested you can read the whole thing here, but it's in Spanish.  A Google translated version is here.)  One of the questions I was asked was "What would your dream camera be like?"

It was a fun question, as it gave me an opportunity to highlight prior cameras which I thought were of a particularly good design (the Konica Minolta 7D with its plethora knobs, rings, and buttons) and designs which I have always wanted to see (the optical viewfinder should be on the BOTTOM of the camera.  This way your nose doesn't get in the way or grease up the display on a hot day and you can get your eye right next to the eyepiece!).

But then I started to think outside the box a little, and in doing so came up with one of those "Aha!" moments I used to get all the time when I was an engineer and inventor.  And at once I started wondering "Why hasn't anyone done this yet?" and "I really want this capability NOW!!"  Here's the gist of the idea:

"What I would really like to have is a device which captures not only light and color, but also a spatial representation of the scene. (Kind of like the machines that build 3-D wire frame models of a solid object placed in front of it used in computer animation.) Once you develop an internal 3-D model of the scene you're shooting, you can "re-render it" using CGI techniques with whatever kind of dramatic light you choose later on.  Bad light will become a thing of the past!  Every image can look like it was shot in a studio with a professional lighting designer."

It seems to me that all the technology is already in place to build such a camera.  There are numerous methods of capturing a 3D object and converting it to a wireframe (3D laser scanners, 3D stereoscopic analysis, inferring 3D structures by analyzing visual cues in 2-D images such as shadows, etc.).  It should be possible to develop a camera that can capture both 2D (yielding color and texture) and 3D (using any of the above techniques) at the same time.  Then, once you have that information, you can use the same tools that Pixar uses to light their wire-frame and textured characters.  Professional lighting results without the professional lighting!  A more advanced version would have the rendering engine inside the camera - just choose from several formula lighting setups and it creates the .jpg for you automatically.

Remember, you heard this idea here first!  I'd patent it but that's a lottery I'm no longer interested in entering.  Instead I'm hoping this would inspire someone to develop a system like this and then give it to me for evaluation.

(The other thing I wanted on a future digital camera, "Pulitzer Mode", will have to wait until a future newsletter. :-) )  

Florida and Nova Scotia seminars are open for enrollment!

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