Photosynth takes many snapshots of a place and arranges them into a 3D environment (Image: Microsoft)
For years, consumers have been sold digital cameras largely on the basis of one number – the megapixels crammed onto its image sensor. But recently an industry bigwig admitted that squeezing in ever more resolution has become meaningless.
Akira Watanabe, head of Olympus' SLR planning department, said that 12 megapixels is plenty for most photography purposes and that his company will henceforth be focusing on improving colour accuracy and low-light performance.
That will surely raise the quality of most home snaps, but his admission suggests something much bigger for the future of photography. As most of the technological hurdles of capturing still and moving images on consumer-grade cameras have been met, the real frontier of innovation now lies in what happens to images after they have been captured.
Already we are seeing how powerful software tools are making still photos just an intermediate on the way to something more interactive.
One example, Microsoft's Photosynth, which organises collections of photos of the same scene as a 3D space. It's an approach that can be more easily understood by watching video of it in action.The latest project on Photosynth meshes photos into an almost seamless 3D environment in which you can even walk inside buildings (see video).The way Google Street View presents realistic views of the world using linked still images is another example of the potential of this kind of technology.Gigapixel gains
A recently released robotic tripod called Gigapan that makes it much simpler to stitch together incredibly large, detailed images from hundreds or thousands of individual shots, puts new powers in amateur hands. The technology is also helping scientists to record vulnerable environments, or create super-accurate photographic archives.Another technique, dubbed super resolution, combines multiple photos to reveal detail not visible in any of the originals.One-click methods to make a face in a photo more attractive, or turn 2D photos into realistic 3D models are also now possible.
And it's not just stills photography that is benefitting from advances in tech. Sites like YouTube have got us used to the idea that anyone can edit and share a rough and ready video, but the tricks of Hollywood studios are also being democratised.Researchers from the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, have made a package that lets you edit the surface of objects in a movie just once and have the changes persist throughout the footage – with more traditional techniques, every frame would have to be edited. Software firm Adobe is working on a similar package that also makes it possible to move objects inside a movie with just a few clicks. Smart software can make previously unthinkable post-production techniques available to anyone.
So, in the future, our cameras will no longer merely provide snapshots and footage to be viewed in the traditional ways – increasingly, their output will be aimed at feeding software and online tools that roll them into novel ways to experience photography.The basics of capturing images will still undergo gradual evolution, but for a technological revolution we should look to the software that works on a camera's output. link....