PetaPixel

Stanford’s Open Source Camera Project

frankencamera

The web is abuzz over a project over at Stanford that aims to revolutionize how we think about photography by building an open source camera (dubbed Frankencamera).

That’s right…

Open. Source. Camera.

While you try to wrap your mind around this new paradigm, I’ll point out of a few of the important aspects of the project and throw in some of my thoughts on it.

Linux, Firefox, and now Frankencamera

The established order of things up to this point has been for behemoth camera corporations (i.e. Canon, Nikon, etc…) to sell consumers (i.e. you and me) hardware and software that they spend years and billions of dollars developing and tweaking. The same was true of operating systems and browsers before open source projects like Linux and Firefox crashed the party.

If this research group at Stanford successfully releases an open source platform for imaging, a whole new world of opportunity opens up for photographers and developers alike. Instead of attempting to have features added to future cameras by making noise and requesting them, we would be able to take matters into our own hands, building hardware or developing software to suit our needs.

Advanced In-Camera “Post”-Processing

Imagine if you could program your DSLR with some common Photoshop actions that you always run when post-processing your images, so the photos come out the camera with your edits already applied.

Even more advanced post-processing techniques could be moved into the camera, providing photographers with features that the large camera makers would never add to their DSLRs, since they prefer sticking to the fundamentals and leaving post-processing up to the photographer. For example, a photographer could choose to have his camera automatically bracket, merge, and tone map, allowing him to download HDR photographs directly from his camera.

Camera Apps

The team behind the Frankencamera also envisions a future where photographers can download applications onto their cameras, just like apps can be downloaded to the iPhone from the App Store. Wifi on your camera? Directly uploading photographs to Flickr? Different photo styles and camera effects? The possibilities are endless, and it would definitely be interesting to see what applications developers would come up with.

As Apple’s App Store has shown, it definitely pays to put application development in the hands of individuals rather than keep it behind closed doors with your relatively small group of developers and engineers.

Hardware

How would an open source software platform change the game in terms of hardware? The Frankencamera is currently being developed with a hodgepodge of parts — everything from Nokia cameraphone sensors to Canon lenses. If an open source camera gained any significant piece of the camera market pie, then third party lens manufacturers such as Tamron and Sigma would no doubt join in on the fun.

I’ve read elsewhere that third-party lens makers are forced to reverse engineer the mounting and focusing systems of camera makers such as Canon and Nikon. This would be completely unnecessary for an open source camera, and the third-party companies would even be able to contribute towards the software side to improve the functionality of their lenses.

A critical piece of the puzzle, however, is the issue of sensors. I’m sure the bulk of the billions spent on R&D has to do with sensor technology, and pretty much no one can compete with the larger companies on this front. No matter how popular an open source camera might be, adopters will likely have to take a hit on sensor quality unless one of the big players decides to contribute their sensors.

Final Thoughts

Personally, I think this is a great idea and really hope the research group succeeds in getting something off the ground and into our hands. I only wish it were a project being done over here at UC Berkeley, though I do know there’s some pretty interesting work being done related to camera sensors and bokeh rendering.


To learn more about the project, you can read the Stanford news article, or watch this YouTube video put out by Stanford.


 
 
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  • zuco

    Great idea, I hope that this project will continue, of course economical resources are needed to achieve such a project.
    I'm thinking about the idea to download software into the camera. This will open the possibility to create a photo scripting language that people can download or create their own scripts to perform batch operations on their photos.

    For example I would love to have a function button to perform exactly what I want or just change the configuration of some buttons to perform different functions.
    For example in a Nikon D200 I can create for configuration sets from A to D but I can not trigger these sets from the function button.
    So just imagine the possibilities of a camera that let us perform any configuration, from “remap” our buttons, create configuration sets, convert formats, send only the pictures with ISO less than 500 and F1.4 to some email account and rename them as IMG_500_F1.4_1.JPG or whatever… just imagination, everything could be possible.

    What about proprietary RAW formats? A camera like this could incorporate the DNG format, PNG and so forth…

    It's too nice to be true? I don't know, maybe. Let's see what happen.

    Great post and great blog.

  • http://www.davidson-igd.co.uk/ DocDelete

    Ah, but there's the rub: in the world of DSLR, sensor quality is king.

    Speaking as a keen amateur, I'd much rather post-process, and have a camera devoid of bells'n'whistles but with a kick-ass sensor. And I think you'll find most DSLR consumers have the same desire.

    I'm sure there's a market for this kind of soft-camera, especially at the point'n'shoot end of the market – where common consumers value a few key special FX processes within the camera – but not at the DSLR level, UNLESS a suitable (and cheap?) sensor could be sourced.

    Until that point this project must remain an interesting, but crippled, geek toy.

  • http://twitter.com/res2216firestar Sam Smoker

    I wouldn't mind having GIMP built right into my camera, but I would still do most post-processing on the computer. It would be great to be able to run unsharp mask or tweak the contrast on a few “maybe” photos when the memory card is filling up, but the big screen and fast processor of a computer makes it best for me.

    Also, open sourcing good camera software would even out the market and cut prices.

    I have to admit that the apps would be cool…if you had wifi everywhere. Unless you are a street photographer, are you normally to be at a location with wireless internet? Plus, if you post-process your photos on a computer, what use will a wifi camera be? And don't say 3G, upload speed is painfully slow. You would need more like 8G at the rate mobile speed is increasing. More effects would be nice, however.

    This sounds interesting, but parts of it are 90-100% useless.

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  • http://mute.rigent.com/ Miles

    I like the idea of being able to swap out parts without too much hassle, like the Red cameras promise, and I like the idea of being able to manipulate the focus, but I doubt in-camera processing will be too popular. Post processing is all about tweaking, especially for effects like blending different exposures together, there's no single magic formula that works for all images in all conditions. Even for pros on the move, like journos, the LCD will not provide enough detail for them to establish what processing has been successful and what hasn't. Cameras already provide some basic post processing, like contrast, sharpening and very basic b&w conversion, beyond that I think people, especially at the level this camera will cost, will want more control.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Erwin/1281902462 Scott Erwin

    i'm surprised that camera makers haven't come up with a option that would give photographers more post processing in camera, with things like iphone and all the apps out there now for that, putting something like a iphone and digital camera together would make perfect sense and would be out of this world for creativity and the future of photographic artist! don't you think its about time for camera makers to take notice to whats going on in much smaller equipment out there and blending it all together to make super camera, i tell you what, these people are on the right track and this defiantly has a place in this world. keep up the great work!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Scott-Erwin/1281902462 Scott Erwin

    i'm surprised that camera makers haven't come up with a option that would give photographers more post processing in camera, with things like iphone and all the apps out there now for that, putting something like a iphone and digital camera together would make perfect sense and would be out of this world for creativity and the future of photographic artist! don't you think its about time for camera makers to take notice to whats going on in much smaller equipment out there and blending it all together to make super camera, i tell you what, these people are on the right track and this defiantly has a place in this world. keep up the great work!

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