New point-and-shoot technology: ‘It’s a camera, Jim, but not as we know it…’

Alex Hare

camera blogs2 300x225 New point and shoot technology: ‘It’s a camera, Jim, but not as we know it…’The future of camera technology has picked up pace recently and two cameras in particular are breaking new ground.

Both amount to a new type of point-and-shoot; the Lytro, is on the market in the US and the Iris, is in R&D but these two indicate the path our camera technology may be following, including the DSLR market…

The Lytro camera is the first game changer; it makes focussing errors a thing of the past, something yet not possible with even the latest top DSLR.

Until now, the focus point was fixed at the time of capture and the aperture set how much of the scene was in focus; known as the depth of field.  The Lytro is not restricted by the depth of field from any given aperture; it produces photographs with limitless focussing points that can be set at any point we choose in post production.

camera blogs 300x225 New point and shoot technology: ‘It’s a camera, Jim, but not as we know it…’Depth of field is one of the few things you can’t increase in post production with the digital cameras we use.  You can simulate decreasing it by adding blur, if you want to make a portrait stand out against a background, but you can’t ‘un-blur’ something that is out of focus at the time of capture.

In this sense, the Lytro is redefining how light is captured by a camera; it captures information about where the light is travelling and instead of fixing what’s in acceptable sharpness via the aperture it leaves the scope of what can be in focus or not entirely open.  Using the postproduction software we can then recalculate what’s in focus and what’s not.

Whether the market will take to it may hinge on when we feel that it’s a better, simpler more flexible option than any regular point and shoot camera.

Conceivably, even the DSLR’s of the future will make use of this technology and aperture choice at the time of capture will also become a thing of the past.  Given that depth of field is one of the major settings for any exposure, both in a creative and technical sense, this would offer remarkable flexibility to us in post production to shape how a photograph can look without shooting a whole sequence at various different apertures.

The second camera is the Iris, designed by Mimi Zou.  She has looked at the fundamental relationship between us and the camera technology we use and turned it on its head.  Instead of us acquiring a piece of equipment and having to learn how it works; from finding the ‘on’ button to learning to set the more advanced settings involved in picture taking, the Iris will instead adapt and learn about us and our photographic impulses.

The camera works by using eye tracking technology and biometric detection to work with our sight to take a photograph of what we see.  Of course Canon had similar eye tracking technology in some of their film SLRs so the concept of eye tracking isn’t new.  What it’s new is how it works and the scope for a device that is operating around your physiology.

The Iris is a small, handheld device with a lens which zooms as we squint our eyes, zooms out when we open them and fires the shutter either via a fixed stare or a double blink.

The bio-metric relationship with the device is designed to make the camera recognise us as a user, set things like the dioptre to reflect our eye sight, colour perception or our preferred style of depth of field for portraits.  As it’s in product development the final capabilities could be much greater than this.

Now, I’ve seen my fair share of Bladerunner movies and the idea that a machine is going to ‘learn’ about me and my behaviour is both exciting and scary.  Given that we all have an emotional response to a scene we like, perhaps a quickening of the heartbeat or a more complicated electro magnetic reaction in our brain, conceivably a device could one day appear that understands these emotions we have when we see something we want to shoot and will be able to detect and respond to them by capturing the scene before us based on simply how we ‘feel’ about it.  Is this still going to be classed as photography, I wonder, or will it take on a artistic form of it’s own?

Perhaps, further still, it will be available to us in a way that doesn’t require our carrying some cumbersome gadget.  Either way, I’m just pleased that in the future, however distant and however much the technology evolves, photography seems to still have a place in our world.   In fact, I find it quite reassuring that capturing and recording something we have seen still has appeal to us in the future as much as it did to the cavemen that first inscribed the walls of their caves with images of themselves and their experiences.

And Finally….

This week Jessops went into administration.  I can’t remember the last time I bought anything from them.  Market forces seem to be at play making the same goods available at less cost online and, coupled with the point and shoot camera technology in Smartphones, Jessops has felt the pinch across the market from top to bottom.

Jessops’ decline follows in the wake of Jacobs, another national high street camera retailer, and one wonders whether camera shops can have a future at all.  Is the personal service, support and human interaction enough to sustain a few small independent retailers?  Perhaps it will become only specialist camera equipment that can be profitably sold from a high street shop.

Have your say:

1. Does the new camera technology excite you or fill you with apathy about investing again in another camera and new software?

2. When auto focus first came to the mass market some said it was cheating and not ‘real’ photography.  Can photographs taken with cameras like these new products still count as photographs in the sense that we understand it now?

3. Do you have a view on Jessops closing and the disappearance from our high street of shops like this and the sort of shops that may replace them?

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  • pete_suffolk

    Sadly the last time I used my local Jessops I was served by someone with most corrosive BO I have ever encountered. Management really should have had a quiet word!

  • Lecso

    The Jessops thing is just part of the general transformation of retail trade. I worked there in the late ’80s, when autofocus in SLRs was still regarded as a gimmick. Back then, Jessops was undercutting smaller shops in the way that the internet is now undercutting Jessops. The “Jessops price list” was a huge piece of paper, unfolded like a map, with a small plastic magnifying glass we used to give away free because the writing was so small. We were all pretty clued up about the equipment and photography in general, but camera models didn’t come out at anything like the speed or in the numbers as they do now. On the other hand, we did a lot of trade in darkroom equipment, photographic paper etc. as well as just the cameras.

    It was a huge chain, so I’m sure a few bad stores are pretty much unavoidable, but on the whole I remember my colleagues as being enthusiastic about cameras and photography, and always more than happy to devote time to “newby” customers, helping them to choose a camera that really suited their needs. (The semi-pros and keen amateurs usually had a much better idea of what they wanted anyhow.)

    It’s a long time since I even set foot in a Jessops, as I emigrated from the UK some 20 years ago, but I do feel sorry for all those people who will now be looking for a new job. Not only from Jessops, but from the many high street chains that will inevitably go the same way over the next few years.

  • Michael Ernest Corby

    Jessops was a ne product high street company – a dangerous place to be.

    It had high fixed costs but income was variable – the kiss of death.

    As to new developments they are always exciting and to be welcomed.

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