Digital Cameras

Capturing the future: Game-changing innovations in photography

Digital technology has transformed photography over the past couple of decades, and the changes are set to continue
Digital technology has transformed photography over the past couple of decades, and the changes are set to continue
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Electronic contact lenses - the point-and-shoot camera of the future?
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Electronic contact lenses - the point-and-shoot camera of the future?
Argus retinal impant
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Argus retinal impant
Throwable ball camera
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Throwable ball camera
Canon Wonder Camera Concept
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Canon Wonder Camera Concept
Canon Wonder Camera Concept
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Canon Wonder Camera Concept
Eyez video camera sunglasses shoot 720p
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Eyez video camera sunglasses shoot 720p
GigaPan EPIC
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GigaPan EPIC
Gigapixel camera
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Gigapixel camera
Holgraphic displays still have a way to go
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Holgraphic displays still have a way to go
Lytro Light field camera
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Lytro Light field camera
Samsung's liquid lens patent
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Samsung's liquid lens patent
Swinglet CAM
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Swinglet CAM
Tactile holographic display
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Tactile holographic display
UNDERABOVE camera concept
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UNDERABOVE camera concept
Zeal's HD recording ski-goggles
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Zeal's HD recording ski-goggles
Digital technology has transformed photography over the past couple of decades, and the changes are set to continue
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Digital technology has transformed photography over the past couple of decades, and the changes are set to continue

If you ever need an example of the exponential rise of technology, look no further than the digital camera. The ability to capture images on an electronic sensor has transformed photography and the way we record life's precious moments (and plenty of the un-precious ones as well) in less than 25 years. So how will we capture our holiday snaps when another two decades have passed? By 2030, will today's spanking new DSLR be as unrecognizable as a box brownie is today? Here's a look at some of the significant innovations and ideas we've encountered in recent times that may hold some clues to what lies ahead.

Out of focus: Lytro Light field camera

Lytro Light field camera
Lytro Light field camera

Powerful photo development software and the exceptional capabilities of modern digital cameras have given us the ability to tweak key parameters like exposure and white balance after the fact. If a photo is out of focus though, it can't be saved ... or can it?

The ability to shift the focus point of an image after it has been taken is one of the features of light field cameras (also called plenoptic cameras). Though first proposed more than a century ago, this technology is only now finding its way into the consumer space with the release of the Lytro light field camera.

As well as its seemingly magical focus shifting capability, the Lytro offers exceptional low light performance, reduced shutter lag, simultaneous 2D and 3D shooting and the ability to subtly alter the viewing perspective after the shot is taken. Definitely a space to watch.

Gigapixel panoramas

GigaPan EPIC
GigaPan EPIC

The ability to create panoramic images has evolved rapidly in recent times with many consumer models featuring impressive "sweep-panorama" capability – but none can match the pixel count obtainable from using the GigaPan EPIC. This robotic camera mount system lets you use your digital SLR to create ginormous gigapixel composite images including 360-degree and time-lapse panoramas.

The term gigapixel is definitely one we'll hear regularly in the near future ... and not just in relation to systems like Gigapan. Researchers at Duke University and the University of Arizona have already built a prototype one-gigapixel camera that essentially takes the same approach and wraps it into a single device. The prototype uses an array of 98 14-megapixel microcameras, but the researchers say that creating images at resolutions of up to 50-gigapixels is possible by simply adding more cameras. Storing and transferring these images is another story, but technology will no doubt rise to that challenge, too.

Recording what you see

Action cams have exploded in the last decade and rugged models that allow you to take high-quality video and stills of what you are seeing are now thick on the ground.

Eyez video camera sunglasses shoot 720p
Eyez video camera sunglasses shoot 720p

The arrival of video glasses from companies such as Pivothead and Google, and the likes of Zeal's HD recording ski-goggles have taken this further, so what's next.

Electronic contact lenses - the point-and-shoot camera of the future?
Electronic contact lenses - the point-and-shoot camera of the future?

The answer is almost certainly image capturing prostheses – i.e. bionic eyes. Systems designed to restore sight to the blind by replacing the retina with an image capturing electrode are already well on their way to maturity. Of course, the idea of just anyone undergoing surgery to have a "camera-eye" implanted is ludicrous – for now – but there may be another avenue in the form of electronic contact lenses.

These devices combine a flexible contact lens with an imprinted electronic circuit and lights and could logically become the ultimate in "always on" image capture devices ... as well as opening up a whole new world of augmented reality scenarios. Talk about never missing a moment.

New angles

There are many ways to get a shot without actually being behind the lens and the options aren't likely to start shrinking any time soon – here's a couple of perspectives you may not have seen.The brainchild of Jonas Pfeil from the Technical University of Berlin, the throwable ball cam is just that – a spherical array of cameras that snaps photos when you toss it in the air. The prototype device features 36 small, two-megapixel mobile phone cameras that can be viewed on a special panoramic viewer.

Throwable ball camera
Throwable ball camera

Another aerial innovation that brings a new angle to photography is the Swinglet CAM. Using UAV spy-plane technology that's long been the preserve of the military, the Swinglet can be remotely controlled or programmed to autonomously follow a predetermined flight path while capturing 12-megapixel images of your neighborhood ... which of course the locals may not be too impressed with.

Swinglet CAM
Swinglet CAM

Liquid lenses

The rapid advancement in the quality of pics that your smartphone can deliver has taken phone-cams from last resort to viable plan B, particularly if a photo opportunity takes you by surprise. The capabilities of these tiny cameras will continue to expand and one technology that's been in the wings for some years will play a key role in this – liquid or fluid lenses.

Samsung's liquid lens patent
Samsung's liquid lens patent

A liquid lens bypasses the limitations of fixed optics by altering the shape of the lens so that the focal length can be changed in a similar way to how the human eye works. Zoom functionality could also be achieved in this way and big players like Samsung and Philips have already signaled their intention to bring this technology to market. Samsung's patent is particularly interesting because it uses two separately controllable liquid lenses in a single array to provide both autofocus and zoom functions.

Holographic displays – the new 3D

With all of the advances in 3D image capture it's unlikely that we'll be satisfied with viewing images on a flat screen for too much longer – with or without glasses. The next step is of course the full-blown holographic display and while we are still a long way off, the technology is evolving. In 2010 researchers from the University of Arizona, Tucson, unveiled a holographic system capable of transmitting a series of rudimentary three-dimensional images in near-real-time, and last year MIT scientists managed to transmit and display a holographic subject on-the-fly using primarily off-the-shelf components.

Tactile holographic display
Tactile holographic display

There are even more mind-blowing developments in the pipe, however – the University of Tokyo is working on a "tactile holographic display" that not only enables you to see floating images, but feel them as well!

Canon Wonder Camera

Canon Wonder Camera Concept
Canon Wonder Camera Concept

The last item on our list deserves a mention because it is one of the very few examples of a "concept camera" we've seen and, on top of that, it comes from one of the world's biggest and best known camera companies – Canon. While sticking to a familiar, although slightly space age, version of the traditional DSLR form factor, the Canon Wonder Camera proposes features that could well become a reality coming decades – massive resolution, spectacularly long zoom, sophisticated subject recognition, and lightning fast transfer speeds. Futuristic – yes, but hardly fanciful given the exponential trends in camera technology we've seen in the last 20 years.

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3 comments
JPAR
In the future all children will be blinded at birth and an artificial lens inserted to restore perfect eyesight, but at the same time sending everything 'seen' back into the government cloud for use by the authorities. They will also be controlled remotely, and the authorities will shut you down if they don't like what you're doing ! This is my utopian vision of the next 25 years....
John Gochnauer
*dystopian?
Leo.G
"As well as its seemingly magical focus shifting capability, the Lytro offers exceptional low light performance" I have a first gen Lytro and while it's a fun toy to play with and does shoot 2D and 3D images (selected format in post editing) and is amazing at macro photography, though only low resolution, it does not have exceptional low light performance. In fact, it's dismal at best, introducing way too much noise. I originally purchased it through the Gizmo store at a considerably reduced price compared to what I could get it for in Australia but had to get an online friend in the US to purchase and send it to me. My original interest was in astronomy if low light was capable, more accurately, photographing the Milky Way due to it's wide angle capabilities. However, stating that, I purchased it out of curiosity and what it does well is give you the opportunity to shift focal point and focal stop (increase/decrease depth) after shooting and, for what I paid it is still an amazing little camera, just not the every day shooter but as a new field in photography I believe Lytro will improve. I'd love to have the money to play with the newer second generation and, it may have better low light capabilities but I've not seen mention anywhere. Maybe by the 3rd model......