(This is a modified version of a post I originally wrote for Waggleverse, another blog to which I contribute)
Generally, when people think about the game changers in the digital photography world, they think about improvements in sensors (more megapixels!) or lens quality improvements. If you go to the trade shows, you’ll also see a lot of activity around moving smarts and processing onto the camera (e.g., using face detection before the snap to decide where to autofocus the lens).
There are definitely advances going on all the time in those areas, but I’m going to take the slightly contrarian position that, at least in the consumer space, we’re close to maxing out the innovation in those domains. Honestly, the pictures my camera take today look pretty good. We’ll see some advances in how they handle low-light conditions and some other weak areas, but overall, we’re getting close to good enough.
Instead, here are three technologies that I believe may lead to a sea change in the way that people think about and use photos in their daily lives:
At January 2007’s CES, Microvision announced an ultra-miniature full-color digital projection display about the size of a Thin Mint (and yes, that’s an actual Thin Mint in the picture if you don’t believe me).
Who wants to watch a tiny projection of a photo? Well, you do!
How often have you huddled around the digital screen on a camera back for a quick post-picture re-enjoyment session? Or passed a camera or cellphone around a table to show off pictures of your vacation?
Face-to-face photo sharing is an emotionally appealing, satisfying experience that lets you tell an interactive story and see the reactions on the listeners faces. Unfortunately, print-less photography and web-based photo sharing has largely wiped this phenomenon out. With the advent of the ability to carry a projector built into your cell-phone, the dynamic changes and the types of photos that people take, as well as how they share them, will change, too.
via Uber Review
Cameraphones promised to change the way people thought about picture taking by making camera carrying ubiquitous. But let’s face it, the pictures your cameraphone take are very often very poor quality. They look grainy and out of focus and all your 2x digital zoom is doing is cropping an already low resolution photo down smaller, then stretching it.
There are a host of reasons that the photos taken by cameraphones lag in quality: sensor quality and lack of a flash are two big ones, but lack of a meaningful optical zoom is more important than you think. If what you’re trying to take a picture of is far away (as it often is) and you can’t zoom, you end up spending much of your valuable photo on the thing around the thing you want to take a picture of. Unfortunately, due to the size constraints of a cameraphone and the traditional structure of a zoom lens (two lens set apart, with the distance between them being a factor in the magnifying power of the pair), we have seen very few cameraphones with much optical zoom capability.
Along come liquid lenses. As reported by Nature Photonics, using electrical impulses to control the curvature of the meniscus on a drop of liquid, it’s possible to create a variable focal length lens much in the way the human eye works. This will eventually allow cameraphone manufacturers to create reliable, responsive zoom lenses at sizes that make sense for a cameraphone, vastly widening the situations in which the cameraphone can be an effective replacement for a standard point and shoot.
These lenses haven’t made it into production yet, but several companies are in a race to productize their prototypes.
No, this isn’t just for geocachers looking to document their success. Imagine you’ve got a GPS built into your camera such that every photo is stamped with the exact location it was taken. I’m not even going to mention the most obvious use (viewing your photos laid out on a map) (oops, I mentioned it). Instead, let’s focus on what new scenarios it opens up:
- You’re at a wedding, and want pictures but without the hassle of actually taking them yourself (maybe you want to be in the picture instead of behind the camera). Don’t bother exchanging e-mail addresses with everyone there, just do a search for the time and location of the event and start enjoying the slideshow.
- Want to know what it’s like to be at the Super Bowl from home? Go to any photo sharing site and search for cameraphone pictures taken now at the Super Bowl stadium and get a real-time multi-perspective view of the event unfolding.
- You’re a newspaper publisher looking for photos of a political rally (or riot). Just name the time and the place, and you’ve got the photos.
- Wondering what a particular lake or beach is really like (not just what the travel agent’s picture says it’s like)? No problem, click the spot on a map and start flipping through all the pictures taken there. You can even order them by season, so you get a sense of what the weather’s going to be like at that time of year.
Sure, all that could have happened if people applied tags manually to their photos, but for many, many people, they don’t and they won’t because it’s just plain tiresome. Automating this process adds a critical piece of metadata to every photo, making it relevant to day-to-day lives.
– Jordan Schwartz, Program Manager