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HOME > PAST ISSUE > March-April 2008 > Article Detail

COMPUTING SCIENCE

Computational Photography

New cameras don't just capture photons; they compute pictures

Brian Hayes

The digital camera has brought a revolutionary shift in the nature of photography, sweeping aside more than 150 years of technology based on the weird and wonderful photochemistry of silver halide crystals. Curiously, though, the camera itself has come through this transformation with remarkably little change. A digital camera has a silicon sensor where the film used to go, and there's a new display screen on the back, but the lens and shutter and the rest of the optical system work just as they always have, and so do most of the controls. The images that come out of the camera also look much the same—at least until you examine them microscopically.

Two floral imagesClick to Enlarge ImageBut further changes in the art and science of photography may be coming soon. Imaging laboratories are experimenting with cameras that don't merely digitize an image but also perform extensive computations on the image data. Some of the experiments seek to improve or augment current photographic practices, for example by boosting the dynamic range of an image (preserving detail in both the brightest and dimmest areas) or by increasing the depth of field (so that both near and far objects remain in focus). Other innovations would give the photographer control over factors such as motion blur. And the wildest ideas challenge the very notion of the photograph as a realistic representation. Future cameras might allow a photographer to record a scene and then alter the lighting or shift the point of view, or even insert fictitious objects. Or a camera might have a setting that would cause it to render images in the style of watercolors or pen-and-ink drawings.




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