Monday, October 12, 2009

Frankencamera Downloads Apps Like an iPhone

Imagine if your camera worked like an iPhone and enabled you to download applications that could alter your images while they were being shot?

Currently your camera can tweak your images in numerous ways -- and once an image is shot, you can revamp it endlessly in a program like Photoshop.

But even the world's greatest digital camera is limited by what's in its body. So imagine trying to take a single image in which one side is well lit, but the other side is not. Your camera can currently adjust so that part of the frame will be properly exposed, but the other part will be too dark or too light.

Frankencamera to the rescue! That's the invention of Stanford University computer science professor Marc Levoy (pictured), which will rapidly fire two shots -- one exposed correctly for the dark park, the other exposed correctly for the light park -- and then merge them into one perfectly exposed image, using the best parts of both images.

The Frankencamera could perform the same way for focusing -- taking several shots, each focusing on different parts of the frame, and then instantly merging them into a perfectly focused shot.

The idea is that, by using an open-source digital camera, programmers can create software to teach cameras new tricks -- and that, like your iPhone, your camera will no longer be limited to the manufacturer's software that it came packaged with.

Obviously the Frankencamera, made from a hodgepodge of existing parts, is a monstrous prototype, destined for downsizing and redesign. But rather than compete with manufacturing giants, Levoy intends to convince camera makers to incorporate open-source capabilities into their existing closed-end proprietary products.

Consequently, all the existing controls -- focus, exposure, shutter speed, flash -- will no longer be limited by what comes pre-installed with the camera, but can be commanded and superceded by external programmers. Users can upgrade their capabilities with the touch of a download button.

The innovative algorithms will be generated by a new breed of "computational photography researchers," who will be able to take their experiments out of the lab and bring them to photo studios, and everywhere that cameras go.

In addition to using algorithms to create optimal lighting or focus throughout a single frame -- currently not possible with current commercial cameras -- the Frankencamera can enhance a 30 fps low-res video by periodically capturing a high-res still image, and using the extra data in that image to imbue the entire video with richer detail.

In essence, by opening up your camera to a network or community of developers, your technical possibilities will catapult exponentially beyond today's capabilities.

This will clearly have exciting ramifications for still photographers and videographers. But let's not lose sight of the fact that, ultimately, images will always require human spirit, creativity, and imagination. And there will never be an app that can replace that.


* Stanford University News Story

* NPR Report

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