Photography

Canon and Nikon are reportedly both planning full-frame mirrorless cameras this year

Posted by | Canon, Gadgets, hardware, mirrorless, Nikon, Photography | No Comments

It’s going to be an exciting year for photographers — finally — as both Canon and Nikon are reportedly planning full-frame mirrorless cameras for debut before the end of 2018. It’s good news for consumers, because it means that both companies have been investing heavily in the next phase of digital photography, and that competition in the mirrorless world is about to heat up.

Photography is a difficult space right now because smartphones have been eating up the low-end and increasingly the mid-range market. Point-and-shoots are effectively extinct, and DSLRs are reserved for serious shooters — though those occupying the middle ground, such as Fujifilm with its lively X series and Olympus with its PENs and OM-Ds, have been prospering modestly.

Mirrorless cameras, which basically do away with the bulky mechanical bits of a single-lens reflex camera but have virtually no drawbacks from their absence, allow for a more compact camera that still seriously outperforms phones.

They seem quite clearly to be a big part of the future of photography, which is why every company has been investing heavily into the technology. Early results weren’t great, and it was clear that Canon and Nikon in particular have had their priorities divided: DSLR sales have been dropping, but flagship full-frame (that is, with sensors the size of 35mm film) DSLRs still represented the best of the camera world, embraced especially by professionals.

But inroads have been made, especially by Sony and Fujifilm, into even that professional space. The Alpha and X-Pro series have shown that mirrorless cameras can perform at least as well as DSLRs, and boy are they easier to carry around.

So, faced with either innovating and cannibalizing their own sales, or allowing competitors to eat their lunch, Canon and Nikon have chosen to do the former… after a couple of years of the latter, anyway. We’ve seen the early results from Canon in the form of the mid-range M50, but it seems Nikon has kept theirs under wraps.

Canon Rumors and Nikon Rumors report that the companies both plan to sell full-frame mirrorless cameras by the end of the year — in Nikon’s case maybe even by the end of the month.

Going full-frame means several things:

  • They believe their mirrorless systems are good enough to compete with SLRs at a professional level
  • They believe professionals are ready to make the transition to mirrorless
  • They are ready to do so themselves, cannibalizing and eventually winding down SLR sales

That last point is likely the scariest for them. These are companies that have been making SLR cameras for the better part of a century — it’s not just part of their core competency but key to their identity as camera makers. This is essentially a point of no return for them. Sure, SLRs will stick around for a while longer, but sooner or later the burden of improving and manufacturing them as sales decline and mirrorless systems take over will prove too much.

What about the cameras themselves? There are supposedly two from each company. Nikon’s have lots of rumored details, the most important of which are that there will be one high and one low megapixel model, in-body stabilization (allows for smaller lenses), a new lens mount and naturally an electronic viewfinder. Less is known (or rumored anyhow) about the Canons, but they will likely share many of these characteristics.

Don’t expect a lower cost to accompany this shift. These cameras will likely cost in the $2,500-$4,000 range, just like the SLRs they’re replacing.

This is also a chance to really go to town on the features and shooting experience; both companies need to make a big impression, not just with the customers they’ve lost to rival systems but to their own loyal shooters. So there may be other major changes, such as to the interface, layout and so on. Expect lots of digital integration like wireless tethering as well — better than the junk they’ve been foisting on us for the last few years.

Will this reverse the tide of smartphones taking over the photography world? No, but it’s heartening to see these rather inertia-bound companies finally embrace the future. I love SLRs, and I plan to shoot on them forever in one way or another, but as an occasional serious photographer I’ll be glad to give these new systems a try.

I’ve asked both companies about the rumors, but I doubt they’ll comment. On the other hand, if the rumors are true, we won’t have long to wait before they turn into facts.

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Under a millimeter wide and powered by light, these tiny cameras could hide almost anywhere

Posted by | cameras, Gadgets, hardware, Photography, science, Solar Power, University of Michigan | No Comments

As if there weren’t already cameras enough in this world, researchers created a new type that is both microscopic and self-powered, making it possible to embed just about anywhere and have it work perpetually. It’s undoubtedly cool technology, but it’s probably also going to cause a spike in tinfoil sales.

Engineers have previously investigated the possibility of having a camera sensor power itself with the same light that falls on it. After all, it’s basically just two different functions of a photovoltaic cell — one stores the energy that falls on it while the other records how much energy fell on it.

The problem is that if you have a cell doing one thing, it can’t do the other. So if you want to have a sensor of a certain size, you have to dedicate a certain amount of that real estate to collecting power, or else swap the cells rapidly between performing the two tasks.

Euisik Yoon and post-doc Sung-Yun Park at the University of Michigan came up with a solution that avoids both these problems. It turns out that photosensitive diodes aren’t totally opaque — in fact, quite a lot of light passes right through them. So putting the solar cell under the image sensor doesn’t actually deprive it of light.

That breakthrough led to the creation of this “simultaneous imaging and energy harvesting” sensor, which does what it says on the tin.

The prototype sensor they built is less than a square millimeter, and fully self-powered in sunlight. It captured images at up to 15 frames per second of pretty reasonable quality:

The Benjamin on the left is at 7 frames per second, and on the right is 15.

In the paper, the researchers point out that they could easily produce better images with a few tweaks to the sensor, and Park tells IEEE Spectrum that the power consumption of the chip is also not optimized — so it could also operate at higher framerates or lower lighting levels.

Ultimately the sensor could be essentially a nearly invisible camera that operates forever with no need for a battery or even wireless power. Sounds great!

In order for this to be a successful spy camera, of course, it needs more than just an imaging component — a storage and transmission medium are necessary for any camera to be useful. But microscopic versions of those are also in development, so putting them together is just a matter of time and effort.

The team published their work this week in the journal IEEE Electron Device Letters.

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A system to tell good fake bokeh from bad

Posted by | bokeh, cameras, dxomark, Gadgets, Mobile, Photography, Portrait mode, TC | No Comments

 The pixel-peepers at DxOMark have shared some of the interesting metrics and techniques they use to judge the quality of a smartphone’s artificial bokeh, or background blur in photos. Not only is it difficult to do in the first place, but they have to systematize it! Their guide should provide even seasoned shooters with some insight into the many ways computational bokeh varies in quality. Read More

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Foxconn is working with RED to make cheaper and smaller 8K cameras

Posted by | 8k, Asia, cameras, digital cinema, Foxconn, Gadgets, hardware, Photography, red, TC | No Comments

 Foxconn, AKA Hon Hai Precision Industry, AKA the company that made your iPhone, is working with digital cinema pioneer RED to create affordable 8K cameras, the company announced. Chairman Terry Gou told reporters in Taipei, the Nikkei’s among them, that the goal is to reduce both the price and the size of such camera systems by two thirds. Read More

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NASA engineers stare at the sun to see shockwaves from supersonic flight

Posted by | Gadgets, NASA, Photography, Schlieren imaging, science, supersonic, TC, Transportation | No Comments

 Before the eclipse this summer, NASA warned us over and over again not to stare directly at the sun — but now they’re doing just that. Its researchers have reinvented a photography technique more than a century old, using the sun itself as a backdrop in order to capture the shockwave produced by a new supersonic jet. Read More

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Lytro’s ‘living pictures’ cease to live

Posted by | Gadgets, Lytro, Photography, TC | No Comments

 As part of its move away from consumer gear towards professional cinema hardware, Lytro has killed off the site that once hosted “living pictures,” still photos taken with its cameras that could be refocused after the fact. This will turn a handful of those pictures, where they had been embedded on the web over the past few years, into empty frames. Read More

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Reflex aims to Kickstart film photography with a new old SLR

Posted by | 35mm, Crowdfunding, film, Gadgets, Kickstarter, Photography, reflex, SLR, TC | No Comments

 Mating digital photography with film seems to me an alluring yet ultimately quixotic endeavor; who doesn’t love the idea of a camera that combines the weight and handling of a 35mm SLR with the convenience and precision of a digital one? Yet it has never been done, and likely never will be. Reflex is the latest to try, though, with a new 35mm camera built for the modern tech-loving… Read More

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A dormant chip in the Pixel 2 will soon let developers write better camera and AI apps

Posted by | AI, Developer, developers, Gadgets, Google, hardware, image-processing, ML, Photography, Pixel 2, TC | No Comments

 Here’s a surprise: Google’s Pixel 2 phones include a custom system-on-a-chip (SoC) that’s optimized for image processing — but it currently just sits there, doing nothing. Google says it’ll turn this chip on in the coming weeks as a developer option in the preview of Android Oreo 8.1. Read More

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Google Photos gets more pet-friendly

Posted by | Apps, Cats, Dogs, Google, Google Photos, Mobile, Pets, Photography, photos | No Comments

walking the dog If you’re a pet owner who uses Google Photos, you’ve probably typed in “dog” or “cat” before in order to surface photos of your furry pal – like anytime someone asks you about your pet, for example, which clearly means they would like to see a picture of Mr. Fluffypants. Today, Google is introducing an easier way to aggregate your pet photos in its… Read More

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