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.