Four Innovations that Could Revolutionize the Photography Industry


Good or bad, photography as a medium is closely tied to the technological heritage of our cameras. As a result, technological developments often influence the type of gear we use and the type of photographs we take.

With that in mind, here are some areas of innovation that are likely to create even more change in the way we take pictures and the way manufacturers design cameras in the future.

1. Liquid Lenses

As much as I love a fancy new lens, they’re pretty inconvenient when you think about it: they’re basically bulky, expensive, fragile tubes of glass. Imagine, then, a lens that didn’t need glass at all. What about one that uses water instead?

The liquid lens uses electrical signals to shape a drop of liquid to focus light on the film plane. According to some, liquid lenses offer the potential for an 85% size reduction in lenses, and they’ve already been used in a number of imaging devices like security cameras and barcode scanners.

So far, no one’s been able to build a liquid lens large enough and sharp enough for use on a high-end digital camera, but the potential isn’t lost on lens manufacturers. Olympus, Sony, Samsung and Canon have all filed patents for liquid lens systems.

Perhaps some day, one of them will be wheeling out super-telephoto lenses just a few inches long with lightning fast focus based on these designs. One thing’s for sure: the first one to get it right will be a force to be reckoned with in the lens market.

2. Film-to-Digital Conversion


Right now, all over the world, there are millions of perfectly functional film cameras sitting in attics and basements, lying in dusty glass cases behind sales counters, and for sale online at a fraction of their original price.

For more than a decade, inventors have looked for a way to easily convert these neglected film bodies into digital cameras, and they’re getting closer. One man, a photographer named James Jackson, has designed an insertable sensor shaped like a film cartridge called the Digipod, while Badass Cameras has designed a special back for a Hasselblad V-System that allows you to take photos through the camera’s lens using your iPhone.

Once there’s an effective way to convert film cameras, decades worth of legacy camera systems will be able to easily produce images geared towards modern workflows. Not only will this be popular among photographers with retro sensibilities, but it will provide an affordable way for photographers to access professional-quality equipment.

Plus, if we’re talking about a modular system with a removable sensor, these converted film cameras will be far easier to upgrade than purpose-built digital cameras. That’d be a major hit to camera manufacturers, who will suddenly have to compete against their own former products for sales.

3. Apps for Snaps


Tech savvy camera-owners have already found plenty of ways to tinker with their gear on the back-end. The folks at Magic Lantern, for example, have already figured out how to grab RAW video from certain Canon DSLRs, and have even put a simple video game on the Canon EOS 7D.

But just recently, Sony released the Application Programming Interface (API) for a small portion of its camera lineup, allowing developers to build apps for smartphones that can communicate with wireless Sony cameras. It looks like Sony hopes third parties will use this information to build wi-fi remotes for its cameras. It’s a positive sign that Sony is open to distributing proprietary data to the public, just like Apple did for its iPhones back in 2008.

If Sony, or another camera manufacturer, continue down this path and open up more of their private development tools, they’re sure to see new and inspired programs created for their cameras.

It’s hard to say what these might look like (from modded menu screens to innovative autofocus systems), and it’s likely that we couldn’t yet conceive of the most promising possibilities. Imagine, for example, trying to predict ahead of time how Instagram would ultimately revolutionize both photography and smartphone usage.

4. Super-High Definition Video


Next time you pass by a magazine stand, consider this: some of the cover pages on those shelves were likely taken with a video camera. Top-of-the-line cinema cameras now feature high enough resolutions that video stills are almost indistinguishable from still photographs at intermediate print sizes.

Canon released a promotional video for its EOS 1D C illustrating this fact. Red, another manufacturer of high-end cinematography cameras, points to dozens of magazine covers created from video stills shot with its products.

Using video stills allows photographers to plow through footage moment by moment, ensuring they’ve caught the precise moment or micro-emotion that they intended to. This is most useful for still subjects because of the cameras’ weight, but resolutions continue to rise and cinema cameras continue to shrink, allowing for tiny models like the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera.

Video won’t soon replace still photography for all purposes, but it’s not hard to see nature and sports photographers (among others) making greater use of video in the future. I sure wouldn’t want to be a camera manufacturer without a comprehensive video system when that happens.

Image credits: Liquid Lenses by Optilux and DSLR Remote App by torgeaux

  • Jan

    liquid lenses.. well the concept is old.
    but i dont see them replace glass in the next 15 -20 years.
    i work for zeiss in germany.

  • Rick

    #2…Or, you could just get a roll of film and rediscover the medium again. It’s not obsolete, you know.

  • sayithere

    I agree with you Jan.
    what I think will be the next game changer in the near future in photographic lenses is optics made of graphene layers.

  • dannybuoy

    Surely in the future cameras will be able to capture single photons or something

  • Daz

    how can a video frame be as good as a stills frame? i mean when filming you add some blur so you don’t have that stuttery high shutter speed effect unless this camera does high frame rates i don’t see how the image would be any good.

  • Joey Duncan

    “Things that might revolutionize the industry based on other stuff we’ve already posted here rather than actually doing research or knowing how the actual engineering works in the industry”

    Honestly to me the only relevant item here is the #4, and it will actually assist the INDUSTRY, and not just a market segment.

    Number 2 would be cool, but on fortunately I think it will fail due to the low quality of the camera sensor. WHY oh WHY would you want to change from this beautiful high quality medium to use low quality one? (in regards to the sensor quality in the product not digital)

    Number 3 should have happened industry wide years ago, bluetooth hit a price plato like 5 years ago, the tech has been available for some time, Canon and Nikon just don’t care to pull it off.

    Number 1 will be good, if it can actually put into application, from what I read it’s either not going to happen or were MANY MANY years away from that.

  • Matt

    I’m sure the first few enteries into the market for #2 will not be great. But, I see them as able to be better than film. Maybe my old MF cameras would get a new lease on life.

  • hail___hail

    What about film is better than digital? There has to be something, otherwise, yes, it is obsolete. I’m actually curious why some photographers still use film.

  • Espen Johansen

    That’s a bold statement without explanation. and useless, since “better” depends on the user.

  • Mescalamba

    I would add, that I wouldnt want such lens anyway. Imagine effect it would have on “draw”? No thank you.. I want my slightly imperfect and thus perfect as whole lens. Preferably slightly older, without too much over-corrections. :)

  • Mescalamba

    Better? Subjective. Whats good or comparable? That can be quantified.

    1) tonal transitions

    2) contrast curves (impossible to make with digital, everything can be so smooth with film, yet natural.. well, companies invested a lot of money to be that way)

    3) what you shoot is (mostly) what you get, sure PP was possible and is even today easy.. there is no problem to have 48-bit scan and work much like with RAW file in PhotoShoop

    4) highlights (where digital clips, film simply continues until it vanishes into white, yellow.. or different color :D)

    5) everything bigger than 645 format (no real digital options for that .. there isnt 6×7 back, nor 4×5 etc).

    6) colors, to some degree.. not more accurate, just sometime a lot more pleasing

    I do a lot of PP to make digital look a bit like film. But its never “it”. Simply cause film looks different, even that look is reason to shoot it.

    Yea and BW.. no digital is that good as BW film, not even pure BW cameras (doesnt mean Leica M-M or Achromat back is bad, no, its amazing.. just not film).

  • Mescalamba

    CinemaDNG stills are pretty decent.. Not amazing, but rather good. Plus you can make still from multiple frames (merge together, rather useful).

  • TooTiredForThis

    The issue with film is that development costs and materials are either getting more expensive, or harder to find. It’ll run you at least $10-15 to get a roll of Fuji Superia 400 (the cheapest film still sold) developed, and if you shoot B&W and develop at home, the chemicals are $30 each, the equipment can run you even more, and all in all the only argument left is that it leaves you with better picture quality after a lot of small expenses and a long period of time and inconvenience. That’s the core reason why film is only single percentages of today’s market: convenience. Technology is *almost* at the point where we can exceed the quality of film, especially in speed of production and delivery. Even if your costs to produce on film end up being less than a top-of-the-line camera system, you’re still going to make less photos, slower. And the bottom line will end up being that the quality of the photos isn’t as reflective of the medium than it is the photographer: so, the convenience and speed of Digital has and will continue to win over the rest of the market, introducing more people to the art and allowing further expression of photography. And if we can reduce the price of quality gear and increase competition in the industry, breathing life back into the production and consumption of all those wonderful old cameras, maybe it’ll turn out for the better.

    (sorry for ranting. been having one of *those* days.)

  • Zos Xavius

    Indeed and in 35mm digital has surpassed film long ago in terms of resolving power and quality. This fact. Even my lowly k-7 turns out better files than any film scan I have seen. Larger formats are still quality with film, but honestly a d800 is going to give better quality than a 645 and a roll of 120 if you ask me. Sensors now have much greater DR than most films too. Sure the highlights clip, just expose with them in mind and push your shadows in post. Easy with digital. With film you can’t push shadows hardly at all. They are just different mediums with different properties. I think digital is vastly superior though despite its drawbacks and FWIW I shoot film from time to time just because it is a wholly different experience.

  • Zos Xavius

    I like the lenses that have character. :)

  • jim feldman

    No comment on #4 as it has no interest to me
    #2, RLY? Think about all the controls a decent DSLR exposes. Even if the sensor were comparable. No interest. Now where you had digital backs for medium and large format, there is an interest, since the back can expose all the features even if the camera still controls shutter/aperture (I think we’re in agreement).
    #3. Um, you need to check the bandwidth of Bluetooth. You’re not passing anything but controls and maybe VERY compressed video. It just keeps up with compressed audio streams. Notice they talk about wireless, but what they’re really talking is 802.1b or g which IS what Nikon and Canon have implemented.
    #1, While focusing would be ultra quick, you can’t alter physics. unless you can shrink the sensor sites down to a quantum level, you need big lenses to pull in the light and cover the sensor. Even at that, they’d have to be sealed in their barrel to prevent contamination, and other forces impacting the fields required to hold them in shape. In the end, they’d have to be cheaper and work as well as plastic/glass

  • Jak Hammer

    Top marks for James Jackson and his digipod invention but he
    is far too late to the party. The vast majority of photographers have crossed
    over to digital and will not want to spend money on a digital back for their
    old inferior camera. Cameras have evolved and are vastly superior to what
    people where shooting with 20-30 years ago, it just doesn’t make sense to peruse
    that path. If this was 1913 it would be akin to trying to fit a car engine to
    your old cart because your horse has died.

  • Gabriel

    We’re pretty close to that today, especially with cooled CCDs used for astronomy. For certain wavelengths they reach almost 90% quantum efficiency and the read noise can be on the level of ~2 electrons even for consumer camera sensors.

  • Shawn Hoke

    What B&W chemicals are $30 each? I develop my rolls of 120 film for about a $1.50 a roll and the photos are on par or better quality than any DSLR. I have a Hasselblad with a Zeiss lens.

    I also shoot 8×10 film and there is no DSLR that even belongs anywhere near the same conversation as 8×10 film. The 8×10 film is about $3 per sheet, but I develop with HC110, so it’s super cheap to develop. Have also started shooting 8×10 X-ray film which costs about 30 cents a sheet. My 8×10 camera cost me $300.

    Yes, I make less photos with my a Hasselblad or 8×10, but the quality is way better. And what you call inconvenience, I call fun. I like to get my hands wet and make prints.

    And I do agree that digital is way more convenient to shoot, and I do so for my day job, but film still is better for my personal work.

  • Shawn Hoke

    I’ve yet to see any digital camera that can match an 8×10 negative or transparency in any way. Can’t wait for it to happen though.

  • Zos Xavius

    Well comparing large format to 35mm is silly. Film or digital irregardless. I did mention that larger formats are where film really shines.

  • jkantor267

    It’s pretty ironic that all of the sample magazine covers from the RED site were lit and posed exactly like stills. All the motion capture did was eat up more MBs. But, of course, lazy wannabe photographers (and newspapers) will still just randomly shoot video and pick out the least bad of the frames to make a still.

  • Guest

    Just over $10 for a 4-pack on Amazon. Free 2-day shipping (with Prime, no reason not to have it these days). You are massively overpaying for film.

  • Vin Weathermon

    You may be right, but I don’t know too many lazy wannabes with RED cameras and the gear to go with it. Just sayin…

  • jrconner

    Old film cameras are just that: old film cameras. I have several, but I wouldn’t spend a cent to convert any one of them to digital. My hat is off to the ingenuity of the tinkerers trying to stick a sensor where 35mm film used to go, but even if they find a way to do it I’m still not spending money to convert an old camera. The only exception would be equipping an old view camera with a scanning back.

  • sheepdog

    Kodak used to allow you to run scripts on their earlier digital cameras. You could write a script in their proprietary language, drop it onto the CF card and restart the camera. You could use it to execute timed exposures, bracketed exposures and to guide a user through a controlled capturing process, automating some parameters and accepting user input from others. It never seemed to take off but it was fun.

  • Helk

    Your lowly k-7 turns out better photos than another digital camera- a scanner. The better comparison would be your k-7 versus an enlarger.
    Like you I like both film and digital but if we we are to make comparisons we should do these carefully. Or even better, not get into film vs digital arguments which I am finding irksome now.

  • Shawn Hoke

    Yeah, sorry about that. I didn’t notice your 35mm qualifier. Just that “digital has surpassed film long ago…” And I agree with that statement, for 35mm my D700 works better for me than a 35mm film SLR.

  • Shawn Hoke

    Agree. If I want to use a film camera, I’ll put film in it and really use it.

  • Rabi Abonour

    The video/still thing is all hype. Resolution is not the problem with frame-grabs, shutter is. Shooting at 24fps, your shutter speed for cinematic motion is 1/50th. Try grabbing a frame of sports from a video shot at 1/50th and tell me how it looks. And if you’re argument is that you’re just shooting for the stills so you can bump the shutter… that’s just crazy. The workflow is inherently going to be hell. It already takes long enough to sort through a game motor driving during action, does anyone really want to be recording *constantly*?

  • Brian Fulda

    Am I the only one that’s pretty irked about high end video cameras being used for cover photos now? Talk about letting a machine do all the work for you. It’s basically the concept of spray and pray – except you don’t even have to pray because you know that the right moment was captured at some point. Sure, all of the prep work still goes into it, but man, the fact that people aren’t even clicking a shutter button to capture moments these days sure is bothersome.

  • Gaël Jaffrain

    For liquid lens, I think you should also mention Varioptic, that is one company the most advanced in this field. It is now owned by Parrot. Another variant for the future : liquid crystal lenses, as developed by LensVector.

  • Mordy Kaplinsky

    I recently came across a Bell Lab’s publication on a potential ceramic lens you might wanto find and take a look at.

  • justin

    I love the ergonomics and build of my old nikon f100 that is currently collecting dust. If it was possible to put a digi back on it, I would. But thats just me!

  • genotypewriter

    It’s just another manifestation of the spray and pray approach that professional photographers heavily rely on. The price of proper 4K equipment (e.g. 1D C) is used as an excuse to justify its suitability for professional work… and weirdly, it works.

  • genotypewriter
  • genotypewriter

    I agree with most parts except the part where you said a d800 gives better quality than 645 film. In which world does a wide open 50mm f/1.2 lens (on 35mm) produce better quality than a wide open 80mm f/2 lens? :)

    Resolving the heck out of an image that is already created doesn’t compensate for physics limitations that were present at the time if creating that image.

  • hail___hail


  • hail___hail

    No thanks. Read my post next time before simply classifying it as “anti-film”. I was seriously asking a question.

  • hail___hail

    Awesome, thank you!

  • Espen

    Damn, have to give you that one! Read the first sentence the other way around ;)

  • Bill Morris

    Both have their plus and minuses. When I think of film I think of positive film – transparency – as in slide film, which was the professional medium. It preferred sunlight. Digital is more like negative film – print, which is more shade/low light friendly and lends itself to way more applications but as for capturing vibrant colours, like the blues of the ocean for instance, I think film did it better.

  • genotypewriter

    Digital’s better with shadows because digital is more efficient (per unit area). Strictly speaking, digital works just like slide film… i.e. you need to expose to the right.

  • Zander

    unless they can figure out how to make the liquid not freeze in cold conditions i dont see this as something practical.